Category Archives: Veterans Issues

One death-a-day: Military suicides reach terrifying rate


US soldiers (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

RT | Jun 8, 2012

More US soldiers are losing their lives to suicide than from enemy forces, the Pentagon reports this week.

According to findings released on Thursday by the US Department of Defense, the suicide rate for active duty soldiers so far in 2012 is around one per day. In just the first 155 days of the year, 154 soldiers have committed suicide, a statistic only made more ghastly by comparing it to the number of American troops killed by insurgency this year — the website iCasualties.org reports that only 139 US soldiers died in battle this year.

“We are very concerned at this point that we are seeing a high number of suicides at a point in time where we were expecting to see a lower number of suicide,” Jackie Garrick, head of the Pentagon’s newly established Defense Suicide Prevention Office, tells the Associated Press.

In analyzing the report, the AP notes that the suicide rate among active-duty soldiers has plateaued in the preceding two years, creating confusion for researchers caught off guard by the alarming numbers released this week. Even with the Iraq War officially over and the Obama administration promising an expedited end to its military operations in Afghanistan, troops are taking their own lives in shocking numbers. Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, a retired Army brigadier general and a practicing psychiatrist, explains to the AP that the latest figures aren’t all that surprising to him, though.

“It’s a sign in general of the stress the Army has been under over the 10 years of war,” says Dr. Xenakis. “We’ve seen before that these signs show up even more dramatically when the fighting seems to go down and the Army is returning to garrison.”

A separate study published in 2011 revealed that the rate of attempted suicide among all US soldiers — both active-duty personnel and veterans — is around 18-per-day. Many have suggested that dire economic times awaiting returning soldiers exiting the battlefield have driven many veterans over the edge even after war.

After losing a friend and fellow US war vet to suicide last year, vet Matthew Pelak told the AP, “We know we have a problem with vets’ suicide, but this was really a slap in the face.”

The Pentagon’s latest report takes into account suicide data from the first of the year through June 3, 2012. Compared with the same span of time one year earlier, there has been an 18 percent increase in suicides already; the January-May total, adds the AP, has gone up 25 percent from two years prior.

The tally of those that did take their own life between 2005 and 2009 — 1,100 — comes close to exceeding the number of military personnel killed in Afghanistan in nearly a decade.

 

US Military Eager To ‘Microchip’ Troops

U.S. military developing spychips for soldiers

WND | May 6, 2012

by Bob Unruh

The U.S. military wants to plant nanosensors in soldiers to monitor health on future battlefields and immediately respond to needs, but a privacy expert warns the step is just one more down the road to computer chips for all.

“It’s never going to happen that the government at gunpoint says, ‘You’re going to have a tracking chip,’” said Katherine Albrecht, who with Liz McIntyre authored “Spychips,” a book that warns of the threat to privacy posed by Radio Frequency Identification.

“It’s always in incremental steps. If you can put a microchip in someone that doesn’t track them … everybody looks and says, ‘Come on,’” she said. “It’ll be interesting seeing where we go.”

According to a report at Mobiledia, the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has confirmed plans to create nanosensors to monitor the health of soldiers on battlefields.

The devices also would report data to doctors. But privacy analysts have expressed concern that the implants could be used not just to monitor health but to keep track of and possibly control people.

DARPA describes the technology on which it is working as “a truly disruptive innovation,” which would diagnose, monitor vital states and “even deliver medicine into the bloodstream.”

According to LiveScience.com, “Solving the problem of sickness could have a huge impact on the number of soldiers ready to fight, because far more have historically died due to illness rather than combat.”

The report suggested that for special forces, “the practical realization of implantable nanosensors capable of monitoring multiple indicators of physiological state could be a truly disruptive innovation.”

Already being researched is the concept of nanosensors diagnosing disease.

DARPA expects to launch a second effort focused on treatment later this year.

Albrecht said the move is another step in the trip down the road of having every person implanted with a chip that might very well monitor health but also other areas of life.

Microchipping, she said, already is “par for the course” for pets in many parts of the nation, and that acceptance will make it easier to require it for people.

She said it was expected that captive audiences, such as prisoners and troops, would be the first subjected to the requirement, which would make it easier for the general populace to accept it as well.

“It’s interesting,” she said. “I’m stunned how this younger generation is OK. They don’t see the problem. … ‘Why wouldn’t everyone want to be tracked?’”

But she said Americans will have to decide to say no to incremental advances, or by the time officials finally roll out the idea of chips for all, whether they want them or not, it will be too late to decide.

“The analogy that I draw is [that of a train], and if I’m in California and I do not want to wind up in New City, every stop brings me closer,” she said. “At some point I have to get off the train.”

Albrecht also has helped develop and launch a new project called StartPage, which now is handling some 2 million search requests per day.

The benefit of the page is its privacy. The site explains that every time a person uses a typical search program such as Google, “your search data is recorded.”

“Then they store that information in a giant database,” she explains.

As a result, corporate America and the government have access to “a shocking amount of personal information about you, such as your interests, family circumstances, political leanings, medical conditions and more

WND reported previously that owners of pets have reported cancer in their animals after microchipping. The report documented how a dog developed a highly aggressive cancer right at the point where a chip was embedded.

Albrecht told the story of another dog, a 5-year-old Yorkshire terrier named Scotty that was diagnosed with cancer in Memphis, Tenn. Scotty developed a tumor between his shoulder blades, in the same location where the microchip had been implanted. The tumor the size of a small balloon – described as malignant lymphoma – was removed. Scotty’s microchip was embedded inside the tumor.

Verichip, a major manufacturer of the microchip implants, touts the technology’s capability to identify a lost pet and enable its return home, while dismissing potential health risks.

“Over the last 15 years,” stated the VeriChip website, “millions of dogs and cats have safely received an implantable microchip with limited or no reports of adverse health reactions from this life-saving product, which was recently endorsed by the USDA. These chips are a well-accepted and well-respected means of global identification for pets in the veterinary community.”

WND also reported there were warnings about a radio chip plan that would allow identification of individuals by government agents simply by walking through an assembly.

The proposal, which was supported by Janet Napolitano, the chief of the Department of Homeland Security, would embed radio chips in driver’s licenses, or “enhanced driver’s licenses.”

“Enhanced driver’s licenses give confidence that the person holding the card is the person who is supposed to be holding the card, and it’s less elaborate than REAL ID,” Napolitano said in a Washington Times report.

REAL ID was a plan for a federal identification system standardized across the nation that so alarmed governors many states have adopted formal plans to oppose it. However, a privacy advocate today told WND that the EDLs are many times worse.

WND also previously has reported on such chips when hospitals used them to identify newborns, a company desired to embed immigrants with the electronic devices, a government health event showcased them and when Wal-Mart used microchips to track customers.

DARPA creates “virtual humans, programmed to appear empathetic” for soldiers with PTSD

telepresenceoptions.com | Apr 26, 2012

by Katie Drummond

The Pentagon hasn’t made much progress in solving the PTSD crisis plaguing this generation of soldiers. Now it’s adding new staff members to the therapy teams tasked with spotting the signs of emotional pain and providing therapy to the beleaguered. Only this isn’t a typical hiring boost. The new therapists, Danger Room has learned, will be computer-generated “virtual humans,” used to offer diagnostics, and programmed to appear empathetic.

It’s the latest in a long series of efforts to assuage soaring rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD that afflict today’s troops. Military brass have become increasingly willing to try just about anything, from yoga and reiki to memory-adjustment pills, that holds an iota of promise. They’ve even funded computerized therapy before: In 2010, for example, the military launched an effort to create an online health portal that’d include video chats with therapists.

But this project, funded by Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm, is way more ambitious. Darpa’s research teams are hoping to combine 3-D rendered simulated therapists — think Sims characters mixed with ELIZA — with sensitive analysis software that can actually detect psychological symptoms “by analyzing facial expressions, body gestures and speech,” Dr. Albert Rizzo, who is leading the project alongside Dr. Louis-Philippe Morency, tells Danger Room. The therapists won’t treat patients, but they will help flesh-and-blood counselors by offering a general diagnosis of what ails soldiers, and how serious the problem is.

Opiates killed 8 Americans in Afghanistan, Army records show


56 soldiers, including the eight, were investigated for using, possessing or selling the drugs

More soldiers in the Army overall are testing positive for heroin use

CNN | Apr 23, 2012

By Michael Martinez

(CNN) — Eight American soldiers died of overdoses involving heroin, morphine or other opiates during deployments in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, according to U.S. Army investigative reports.

The overdoses were revealed in documents detailing how the Army investigated a total of 56 soldiers, including the eight who fell victim to overdoses, on suspicion of possessing, using or distributing heroin and other opiates.

At the same time, heroin use apparently is on the rise in the Army overall, as military statistics show that the number of soldiers testing positive for heroin has grown from 10 instances in fiscal year 2002 to 116 in fiscal year 2010.

Army officials didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment on Saturday. But records from the service’s Criminal Investigation Command, obtained by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, provided glimpses into how soldiers bought drugs from Afghan juveniles, an Afghan interpreter and in one case, an employee of a Defense Department contractor, who was eventually fired.

The drug use is occurring in a country that is estimated to supply more than 90% of the world’s opium, and the Taliban insurgency is believed to be stockpiling the drug to finance their activities, according to a 2009 U.N. study. While the records show some soldiers using heroin, much of the opiate abuse by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan involves prescription drugs such Percocet, the Army documents show.

Judicial Watch obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information of Act and provided them to CNN. Spokesman Col. Gary Kolb of the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led command in Afghanistan, verified the documents to CNN on Saturday.

One fatal overdose occurred in June 2010 at Forward Operating Base Blessing, after a soldier asked another soldier to buy black tar opium from a local Afghan outside the base’s entry control point. The first soldier died after consuming the opium like chewing tobacco and smoking pieces of it in a cigarette, the documents show.

The reports even show soldier lingo for the drug — calling it “Afghani dip” in one case where three soldiers were accused of using the opiate, the Army investigative reports show.

The United States has 89,000 troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. death toll since the September 11, 2001, attacks that triggered the war has risen to more than 1,850, including 82 this year, according to the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Central Command.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said his group was interested in soldiers’ drug use partly because the risk was present during the Vietnam War.

“You never want to see news of soldiers dying of drug use in Afghanistan,” Fitton said. “Our concern is, will the military treat this as the problem that it is, and are the families of the soldiers aware of the added risk in this drug-infested country?

“There is a dotted line between the uses. Prescription abuse can easily veer into heroin drug use,” Fitton added. “Afghanistan is the capital of this opiate production and the temptation is great there and the opportunity for drug use all the more.”

The group is concerned that “there hasn’t been enough public discussion, and we would encourage the leadership to discuss or talk about this issue more openly,” Fitton said.

In one case, a soldier bought heroin and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax from five “local national juveniles at multiple locations on Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, and consumed them,” one report states. Soldiers also distributed heroin, Percocet and other drugs among themselves, according to the reports.

Another soldier fatally overdosed in December 2010 after taking several drugs, including morphine and codeine, though the drugs were not prescribed for him, the Army documents show.

One female soldier broke into the Brigade Medical Supply Office at Forward Operating Base Shank and stole expired prescription narcotics including morphine, Percocet, Valium, fentanyl and lorazepam, the documents show.

The investigative reports show soldiers using other drugs, including steroids and marijuana, and even hashish that was sold to U.S. servicemen by the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police personnel, the reports state.

Army encourages new way of looking at PTSD


A new Army policy document says symptoms often associated with combat stress — hyperarousal, anger, numbness and sleeplessness — may be signs of illness at home but also responses crucial to survival in a war zone. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times / April 25, 2012)

Traditional definitions of post-traumatic stress disorder may not fit in the case of a trained warrior, a new policy document states.

Los Angeles Times | Apr 25, 2012

By Kim Murphy

SEATTLE — In a move to improve treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, the Army is discouraging the use of traditional definitions such as feelings of fear, helplessness and horror — symptoms that may not be in a trained warrior’s vocabulary. It also is recommending against the use of anti-anxiety and antipsychotic medications for such combat stress in favor of more proven drugs.

The changes are reflected in a new policy document released this month, one that reflects a growing understanding of the “occupational” nature of the condition for many troops. For them, the symptoms often associated with combat stress — hyperarousal, anger, numbness and sleeplessness — may be signs of illness at home but also responses crucial to survival in a war zone.

Doctors who adhere strictly to traditional PTSD definitions could withhold lifesaving treatment for those who need it most, Army doctors now warn, passing over soldiers or accusing them of faking problems.

“There is considerable new evidence that certain aspects of the definition are not adequate for individuals working in the military and other first-responder occupations,” such as firefighting and police work, according to the policy, developed by the U.S. Army Medical Command.

“They often do not endorse ‘fear, helplessness or horror,’ the typical response of civilian victims to traumatic events. Although they may experience fear internally, they are trained to fall back on their training skills [and] may have other responses such as anger.”

Charles Hoge of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, who for seven years oversaw the institute’s research on the psychological consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the document reflected work already underway by a committee of the American Psychiatric Assn. to refine the standards for treating PTSD based on an abundance of new research.

Clinicians will continue to use an algorithm of symptoms to help screen for combat stress, but PTSD should no longer be summarily ruled out if a soldier meets most of the definitions but fails to exhibit classic signs of fear or helplessness, he said.

“There is greater recognition now of the occupational context,” Hoge said in an interview. “For me as a clinician, this can change how I talk about the condition with my clients. It kind of normalizes a lot of their experiences and helps them understand why they’re reacting and experiencing things in certain ways.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, called the new policy “an overdue but very welcome step toward improving the diagnosis of the invisible wounds of war … [that] will help standardize Army mental healthcare through the use of proven treatments and assessments.”

The new Army policy document estimates that up to a fourth of all service members who have deployed to combat zones come back with full-fledged PTSD but that only about 20% complete a full course of treatment.

The policy addresses growing concerns over soldiers’ use of powerful psychiatric drugs for the condition, finding that anti-anxiety drugs such as Ativan, Klonopin and Valium may do more harm than good and “should be avoided” unless specific cases warrant their use. Likewise, the new policy advises against the “off label” use of second-generation antipsychotics, especially risperidone, for PTSD because of potential long-term health effects.

The policy endorses both antidepressants such as Prozac and psychotherapy as equally valid methods of treating PTSD.

While there has been criticism of the use of these drugs among young adults because they can in some cases encourage suicidal thoughts, Army officials have long said the benefits outweigh the risks. Hoge said it was not possible to know for sure whether the two forms of therapy were equally effective because not enough studies had been done.

“There are a lot of instances when individuals need to talk through these events,” he said. “So in a lot of cases, individuals get a combination of medications and psychotherapies.”

The new policy on diagnosing PTSD could shed light on an investigation underway at the Madigan Army Medical Center near Seattle. There, about 300 combat stress cases are being reviewed after a number of PTSD diagnoses were set aside by a local Army forensic review team. Some soldiers were accused of faking PTSD symptoms, presumably to receive disability payments.

The new policy says clearly that faking PTSD is not something doctors see often.

“Although there has been debate on the role of symptom exaggeration or malingering for secondary gain … there is considerable evidence that this is rare and unlikely to be a major factor in the vast majority of disability determinations,” the policy says.

Veteran victims of secret drug experiments abandoned by the government

Vets feel abandoned after secret drug experiments

CNN | Mar 1, 2012

By David S. Martin

(CNN) — The moment 18-year-old Army Pvt. Tim Josephs arrived at Edgewood Arsenal in 1968, he knew there was something different about the place.

“It just did not look like a military base, more like a hospital,” recalled Josephs, a Pittsburgh native. Josephs had volunteered for a two-month assignment at Edgewood, in Maryland, lured by three-day weekends closer to home.

“It was like a plum assignment,” Josephs said. “The idea was they would test new Army field jackets, clothing, weapons and things of that nature, but no mention of drugs or chemicals.”

But when he went to fill out paperwork the morning after his arrival, the base personnel were wearing white lab coats, and Josephs said he had second thoughts. An officer took him aside.

“He said, ‘You volunteered for this. You’re going to do it. If you don’t, you’re going to jail. You’re going to Vietnam either way — before or after,'” Josephs said recently.

From 1955 to 1975, military researchers at Edgewood were using not only animals but human subjects to test a witches’ brew of drugs and chemicals. They ranged from potentially lethal nerve gases like VX and sarin to incapacitating agents like BZ.

Read the secret (now unclassified) Army document revealing BZ tests on soldiers (PDF)

The military also tested tear gas, barbiturates, tranquilizers, narcotics and hallucinogens like LSD.

In 1968, Tim Josephs was told he would be testing gas masks, boots and other clothing, he said.
In 1968, Tim Josephs was told he would be testing gas masks, boots and other clothing, he said.

Read the confidential (now unclassified) Army document uncovering LSD tests on volunteers (PDF)

This top secret Cold War research program initially looked for ways to defend against a chemical or biological attack by the Soviet Union, thought to be far ahead of the United States in “psycho-chemical” warfare. But the research expanded into offensive chemical weapons, including one that could, according to one Army film obtained by CNN, deliver a “veritable chemical ambush” against an enemy.

“This incapacitating agent would be dispersed by standard munitions, and the agent would enter the building through all nonprotected openings,” the film’s narrator boasts.

President Nixon ended research into offensive chemical weapons in 1969, and the military no longer uses human subjects in research on chemical agents, said a spokesman for Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, as the facility is known now.

Tests began for Josephs almost as soon as he arrived at Edgewood for a two-month assignment on January 1, 1968.

“Sometimes it was an injection. Other times it was a pill,” Josephs told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Josephs said he didn’t know what drugs he was getting. “A lot of chemicals were referred to as agent one or agent two.”

Some weeks, he would undergo one test; other weeks, more, Josephs said. And when he questioned the staff about whether he was in any danger, they reassured him: “There is nothing here that could ever harm you.”

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“They want to use young men as guinea pigs and throw them away,” said Josephs, now 63.
But Josephs, 63, believes the chemical agents he received during his two-month stint at Edgewood did harm him, triggering health problems that continue to plague him four decades later. Even when he talks about Edgewood, he said, “I get a tightness in my chest.”

Parkinson’s symptoms

Days before his Edgewood duty ended, in February 1968, Josephs was hospitalized for days with Parkinson’s-like tremors, symptoms he said have followed him on and off throughout his adult life.

From Edgewood, Josephs said he went to an Army installation in Georgia, where he experienced tremors so severe, he had to be admitted to the base hospital and given muscle relaxers. The Army then sent Josephs to Air Force bases in Thailand, in support of the war effort in Vietnam. He was told never to talk about his experiences at Edgewood and to forget about everything he ever did, said or heard at the Maryland base.

Josephs left he service when his three-year tour ended, and he began a career as a real estate agent. He married Michelle, a nurse, in 1977, but the couple decided not to have children, fearing his chemical exposure might somehow affect them.

In his mid-50s, Josephs was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition that forced him to retire early. Medications cost $2,000 a month, which he was paying for out of pocket.

Josephs applied for veterans benefits based on chemical exposure at Edgewood. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs granted him partial benefits for his Parkinson’s for Agent Orange exposure during his time in Thailand, giving Josephs 40% disability. The letter granting him benefits made no mention of Edgewood.

Josephs says he now takes two dozen pills daily. His symptoms vary from day to day. Sometimes, he has trouble swallowing. Other times, he experiences numbness in his joints or or tremors. He says he tires easily.

He blames his time at Edgewood for all this, and he has joined a lawsuit on behalf of Edgewood veterans seeking medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Read the lawsuit complaint document (PDF)

… They gave him such high doses that he … in the vernacular, he flipped out.
Gordon Erspamer, lead attorney in suit against VA

Gordon Erspamer, lead attorney in the suit, has reviewed the partial Edgewood medical records that Josephs was able to obtain with the help of his wife. Erspamer said Josephs probably received an injection of sarin or another nerve gas, because the records show that he received the drug P2S on February 1, 1968, to treat “organophosphate poisoning.”

During experiments that began on February 19, 1968, Josephs experienced Parkinson’s-like tremors after receiving Prolixin, an antipsychotic medication, Erspamer said, prompting the Edgewood medical staff to give the young soldier Congentin and Artane, two drugs used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms.

Erspamer said he sees a connection between Josephs’ Parkinson’s disease and the drugs he received at Edgewood.

“Those substances affect the same region of the brain,” Erspamer said. “Tim clearly had adverse health effects because they gave him such high doses that he ranged from overdose with one substance to the antidote, back and forth, and he actually had to get … a very powerful antipsychotic drug because, in the vernacular, he flipped out.”

In addition to medical benefits, the lawsuit is asking that the Defense Department and Department of Veteran Affairs find all Edgewood veterans and provide them with details of the chemicals they received and their possible health effects.

Army guinea pigs: Before and after Army guinea pigs: Before and after
Erspamer said the government has reached very few of the 7,000 or so Edgewood veterans, and the VA has turned down almost all Edgewood-related health claims. Court documents show that the Veterans Benefits Administration rejected 84 of 86 health claims related to chemical or biological exposure.

“The whole thing stinks, and if the American people knew about it, they would not tolerate it. This kind of behavior toward our veterans would not be allowed to happen,” Erspamer said.

Josephs has not received any health benefits related to his time as a human test subject at Edgewood.

“They’re hoping we die off, so you apply [for benefits], you get turned down,” Josephs said. “And it just goes on for years and years, and they just want to wear us down. They want to use young men as guinea pigs and throw them away.”

The Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs declined face-to-face interviews with CNN, citing pending litigation. In a statement, the Defense Department said that it “has made it a priority to identify all service members exposed to chemical and biological substances … and the VA has contacted and offered free medical evaluations to thousands of veterans.”

[The VA] has made it a priority to identify all service members exposed to chemical and biological substances.
Department of Defense statement

Josephs received his letter from the VA in 2008, four decades after he arrived at the Maryland base.

“In order to best serve veterans and their families, VA continues to study the possibility of long-term health effects associated with in-service exposure to chemical and biological weapons,” the letter promised.

At the Army’s request, The Institute of Medicine, an independent nonprofit organization that is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, produced a three-volume report in the 1980s on the long-term health of Edgewood veterans. The IOM decided in the end there wasn’t enough information to reach “definitive conclusions.”

Josephs enlisted in the military fresh out of high school — at the height of the Vietnam War.

“I really felt a duty to my country to go and serve,” he said. “Things were different back then. You believed in your government. And you just wouldn’t think they would give you something that would harm you intentionally.”

Iraq vet comes home to get shot in the face by Oakland police with “projectile”


Scott Olsen was marching because he felt corporations and banks had too much government influence. He had served two tours in Iraq. PlanetEarthAwakens1 via YouTube

Iraq vet gets skull fractured during clash with cops at Occupy Oakland protest

Scott Olsen was marching because he felt corporations and banks had too much government influence. He had served two tours in Iraq.

ASSOCIATED PRESS | Oct 26, 2011

OAKLAND, Calif. — Among demonstrators injured during a clash between Oakland police and protesters is a 24-year-old Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq.

Dottie Guy, of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, an advocacy group for vets, said member Scott Olsen suffered a fractured skull. A spokesman for Highland Hospital in Oakland says he was in critical condition.

Related

Olsen was hit by a projectile while marching toward City Hall. Guy said it was not immediately clear if he would need surgery.

She said Olsen was marching Tuesday because he felt corporations and banks had too much government influence.

The clash Tuesday came after officials complained about deteriorating safety, sanitation and health issues.

Occupy Protesters Rally Around Wounded Iraq Vet