Janet's Conner

This Blog tell the Truth and will never not tell the Truth. Impeach Bush

Monday, May 15, 2006

IRAQ: MENTALLY UNFIT, FORCED TO FIGHT---PART II......................................

PRESERVING THE FORCE

Military officials insist they have made aggressive efforts to improve mental health services to troops in Iraq in the past two years. After the spate of suicides in 2003, the Army dispatched a mental health advisory team, which issued a report recommending additional combat-stress specialists to treat troops close to the front lines, and encouraging training ond outreach to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems.

A follow-up report, released January 2005, cited the drop in suicides in 2004 as evidence that the Army's efforts were successful. It also highlighted a decline in the number of soldiers who were evacuated out of Iraq for mental health problems--from about 75 a month in 2003 to 36 a month in 2004. In 2005, an average of 46 soldiers were evacuated each month, Army data show.

Overall, barely more than one-tenth of 1% of the 1.3 million troops who have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanastan have been evacuated because of psychiatric problems.

Both advisory team reports recommended that soldiers with mental health problems be kept in the combat zone in order to improve return-to-duty rates and help soldiers avoid being labeled unfit.

"If you take people out of their unit and send them home, they have the shame and the stigma," said Ritchie, the Army's mental health expert.

But with the suicide rate climbing, the emphasis on treating psychologically damaged soldiers in the war zone is raising new questions.

"You think it's a stigma to be sent home from the war in Iraq? That might be the line they're using" to justify retaining troops, said Dr. Arthur S. Blank Jr., a psychiatrist wqho formerly served as national director of the Veterans Administration's counseling centers. "I wouldn't say that."

Mental health specialists who have served in Iraq acknowledged that their main goal, under military guidelines, is to preserve the fighting force. Some have grappled with making tough calls about how much more stress a soldier can handle.

"You have to be comfortable with things we wouldn't normally be comfortale with," said Bob Johnson, a psychologist in Atlanta who counseled soldiers last year as chief of combat stress control for the Army's 2nd Brigade. "If there were an endless supply [of soldiers], the compassionate side of you just wants to get these people out of here. They're miserable. You can see it in their faces. But I have to kind of put that aside."

Army statistics show that 59 soldiers killed themselves in Iraq through the end of last year---25 in 2003, 12 in 2004, and 22 in 2005. 12 Marine deaths have also been ruled self-inflicted.

The only confirmed Connecticut suicide is tht of Army Pfc. Jeffrey Braun, 19, of Stafford, who died in December 2003. His father, William Braun, told The Courant he still did not have a full explanation of what happened to Jeffrey, but said, "I've chosen not to pursue it or question it. It's over and done with."

Military data show that deaths in Iraq due to all non-combat causes, such as accidents, rose by 32% from 2004 to 2005. Of the more than 500 non-combat deaths among all service branches since the start of the war, gunshot wounds were the second-leading cause of death, behind vehicle crashes but ahead of heart attacks and other medical ailments.

While many families of service members who died of non-combat causes say they are not familiar with military deployment policies, some question whether the military knowingly put their loved ones at risk.

Among them are relatives of Army Spec. Micheal S. Deem, a 35-year-old father of two, who was deployed to Iraq in January 2005 despite a history of depression that family members say was known to the military. Shortly before Deem deployed, a military psychaitrist gave him a long-term supply of Prozac to help him handle the stress, his wife said.

Just 3-1/ weeks afters he arrived in Iraq, Deem died in his sleep of what the Army determines was an enlarged heart "complicated by elevated levels of fluoxetine"---the generic name for Prozac.

Family members of some troops whose deaths have been labeled suicides complain that the military has been given them limited information about the circumstances of the deaths. Some have had to wait more than a year for autopsies and investigative reports, which they say still leave questions unanswered.

Barbara Butler, mother of Army National Guard 1st Lt. Debra A. Banaszak, 35, of Bloomington, Ill., says she has trouble understanding why her daughter would have taken her own life in Kuwait last October, as the military has determined. She said that while Banaszak, the single mother of a tenage son, was proud to serve her country and had not complained, the stresses of the deployment may have exacerbated her depression.

"She was used to being in charge and being a leader, but never in these circumstances," said Butler. "If the Army is right that she did this, it was nothing she would have done ordinarily. It was that war that brought it about."


RECOGNIZING TROUBLE

Some autopsy and investigative reports obtained by The Courant make clear that service members who committed suicide were experiencing serious psychological problems during deployment.

In the months before Army Pfc. Samuel Lee, of Anaheim, Calif., killed himself in March 2005, an investigative report says, the 19-year-old had talked to fellow soldiers about a dream in which he tried to kill his sergeant before taking his own life, and of kidnapping, raping and killing Iraqi children. Three times, a soldier recounted in a sworn statement, Lee had pointed his gun at himself and despressed the trigger, stopping just before a round fired.

But two of Lee's superiors gave statements saying they did not realize Lee was having trouble until the day he balanced the butt of his rifle on a cot, put his mouth over the muzzle and fired.

But a number of other reports on 2004 and 2005 suicides indicate that military superiors were aware that soldiers were self-destructing.

Among them was Army Staff Sgt. Cory W. Brooks, 32, of Philip, S.D., who shot himself in the head on April 24, 2004. In sworn statements, a major and first lieutenant acknowledged they had conducted "counseling" with Brooks, and a first sergeant "detailed his knowledge of SSG Brooks' suicidal ideations."

Brooks' father, Darral, said he believes his son;s death stemmed from a combination of personal and combat-related stress, and he does not blame the military for retaining him in Iraq."

"Cory was a dedicated soldier. He wanted to be there," he said. "If his captain told him to walk off a cliff, he'd do it."

But in other cases in which superiors retained a soldier who was experiencing mental health problems, families are not so forgiving.

Ann Scheuerman, mother of the soldier who shot himself after his suicide note was discounted by Army officials, said her family had a frustrating time getting the militatry to acknowledge mistakes in the way her son was treated.

"We wanted to make sure that whatever potocol they have in place is used, and if it doesn't work, fix it," Scheuerman said. "And to date, we're just not getting anything at all."

"Nothing can bring back my son," she said. "But if something can be done to prevent more deaths, then if I offend a couple of people, I'll go ahead and apologize up front. Go ahead and come after me, but something needs to be done."

Family members of Jeffrey Henthorn, the Choctaw, Okla., native, are concerned that the Army ignored blatant warnings that Henthorn was suicidal.

An investigative report into Henthorn's death contains statements indicating that Henthorn's "chain of command" was aware that he had tried to hurt himself in November 2004---by slashing his arm "intentionally, in a [horizontal] manner"---in the weeks leading up to his second deployment to Iraq, while he was stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas.

Then, soon after his deployment in December, a distressed Henthorn took his gun into a latrine in Kuwait and charged it, in what fellow soldiers feared was a suicide gesture. Although his superiors at the scene grabbed the weapon away, his platoon sergeant returned the gun the same day, after talking to Henthorn for about a half-hour, according to a sworn statement. The platoon's first lieutenant was notified, but there is no indication that Henthorn was referred for a mental health evaluation or counseling.

Eighteen days later, after crossing into Iraq with his unit, Henthorn finished what he had started.

"If you lock yourself in a latrine for 10 minutes with your gun and threaten to hurt yourself, you don't just get your gun back. You get relieved of duty and sent home," said Henthorn's father, Warren, who is still struggling to understand what happened to his only son.

"It's the same as Vietnam---all they care about is the numbers in the field," he said. "That's all that matters, having the numbers."

Ritchie insisted that the military is working hard to prevent suicides, which she said is a challenge, given that soldiers have access to weapons.

"When you go back, in retrospect, there may be warning signs," she acknowledged.

Addressing The Courant's findings, she added, "What you don't see from that are the other cases that perhaps had the same warning signs and were kept in [the combat] theater and went on to do OK in their job."

While they would not comment on particular cases, Ritchie and other military officials said they beleive most commanders are alert to mental health problems and open to referring troubled soldiers for treatment. It is commanders, not medical professionals, who have final say over whether a troubled soldier is retained in the war zone.

"I think the majority of our commanders are very receptive," Ritchie said.

But some service members say commanders' sensitivity to mental halth issues varies.

"As a practical matter, the quality...of the military's mental health care professional is uneven," said Maj. Andrew Efaw, a judge advocate general officer in the Army Reserve who handled trial defense for soldiers in northern Iraq last year. "Likewise, the understanding of mental health issues be commanders may also be spotty."

He said commanders weighing whether a service member should be retained have to be mindful of how their troops will perceive the decision.

"Your average commander doesn't want to deal with a whacked-out soldier. But on the other hand, he doesn't want to send out a message to his troops that if you act up, he's willing to send you home," Efaw said.

Some troops and their families say the military has not made good on its pledge to make mental health care easily accessible in the field.

Summer Lipford of Statesville, N.C., said she urged her son, Pfc. Steven Sirko, to talk to a counselor in April of last year, after he complained in a phone call from Iraq that he was having nightmares, losing weight and not sleeping.

"I asked Steven, 'If you're having dreams that are so [messed] up, why don't you go talk to somebody?'" Lipford recalled. "He said, "yeah, Mom, like that's gonna happen.' He said it was an act of God to get to see somebody."

Four days later, Sirko, a 20-year-old medic, injected himself with vecuronium, an anesthetic that causes muscular paralysis, and died of an accidental overdose, according to what the military has told Lipford.

Some returning troops acknowledge that their own fear of being stigmatized kept them from seeking psychological help during deployments. Despite the military's efforts to improve mental health care, soldiers' perceptions of a stigma associated with seeking such care remained unchanged between 2004 and 2005, with more than half of the soldiers surveyed by Army teams expressing concerns that they would be viewed as weak.

Matthew Denton, a Camp Pendleton Marine and helicopter mechanic, said he spent most of his six-month deployment in 2005 quietly contemplating his own death aboard a ship in the Persian Gulf.

"My head was in a scary palce, I remember thinking, 'I can't beleive I'm working on a $14 million aircraft. I just don't care about this,'" he said. "When I'd come outof my daze, I worried about messing up and endangering the life of my guys."

Denton, 30, said his depression was easy to keep secret---pre-and-post deployment health screenings were self-reported, and commanders hustling Marines through six-month rotations never probed his mental state.

Now back home, Denton, who is being treated for depresion, isn't sure whether he managed to stay below the radar---or whether ther was any radar to sat below.

Source: The Hartford Courant
Story By: Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman
May 14, 2006

*Since this problem isn't really being brought to light, maybe it would be a good idea for those reading this to send it to their local newspapers. Maybe then it will hit the national airways. Belive it or not, this is going to affect us all as a society if it isn't put under control. Leave it to the military to make the pharmaceutical companies richer. These troops are going to have to pay for all of this on their own once they are out of the service. I don't think I troops should be treated like this, do you?





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