Janet's Conner

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Veterans Issues: PTSD---WHEN WAR NEVER ENDS

New study estimates about one in five combat veterans experiences it

The Orange County Register
By: Blythe Bernhard
August 2006

COMBAT STRESS BY THE NUMBERS

20-30% Vietnam veterans who experience post-traumatic stress disorder

19% Iraq veterans believed to be experiencing the disorder

8% Americans who may have the disorder

11.5% Vietnam veterans with the disorder convicted of a felony

The psychological toll of combat can be overlooked as death and casualty counts climb. But a recent study has renewed the debate surrounding the mental-health problems of veterans.

Post-traumatic stress disorder may not affect as many Vietnam veterans as previously thought, according to a study published last week in the journal Science. The count is significant, both because of funding levels for veterans' mental-health programs and as an early indicator of the diagnosis in Iraq veterans.

A previous federal survey counted one in three Vietnam veterans are suffering from the stress disorder. New analysis of the same data lowered that number to one in five. Still, the numbers are significant---an estimated 630,000 Americans have experienced the stress disorder since their service in Vietnam.

The 1988 study surveyed 1,200 Vietnam veterans around the country for symptoms of psychological distress---nightmares, flashbacks and easy irritability. The study concluded that 30% of the veterans experienced symptoms at any point after the war.

The new report "re-evaluated" 260 of the veterans from the original study. The researchers corrected for other possible causes of PTSD and found that 19% of the veterans developed it from the war.

Some veterans question the science behind the lower figures, calling it a political ploy engineered by lawmakers leery of the Department of Veterans Affairs' yearly $3B budget for mental health.

Others said the study further legitimatizes the disorder and establishes the need for continued treatment.

"We can't quibble about the numbers, but the point is that it's a lot of people," said Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, executive director of the National Center for PTSD for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Q: What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

A: It's a mental disorder that occurs in some people who experience a life-threatening event such as combat, natural disasters, rape or even serious car accidents. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia and depression. Sufferers may have trouble keeping jobs and relationships and often abuse alcohol or drugs. The disorder can only manifest through high blood pressure, night sweats, anxiety, phobias and headaches.



Q: What causes it?

A: It is thought that stress hormones or adrenaline released by the body during an emotionally traumatic event can, sear those memories into the brain.

"The bottom line is once you know you're going to die and then you don't, at that moment you lost your personal sense of safety," said Sharon Simrin, a mental-health nurse practitioner with the Veterans Affairs Long Beach health-care system, which treats about 400 local veterans for the disorder. "They never feel safe so they can never trust anybody, can never get close to anybody."

Q: How many people in the general population have the disorder?

A: About 8% of the adult U.S. population has experienced PTSD. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the disorder. The most common triggers include rape, molestation and abuse.

Q: Why do some people get the disorder and others don't?

A: That remains a mystery. PTSD develops over time. Some experts feel that a person's coping skills can play a role in whether they develop it.

Q: Can you block it from happening?

A: Researchers at UC Irvine have found that the formation of strong memories from emotional experiences might be prevented with medication.

"They'll still remember the rape, the mugging, but the memory is not going to be so strong that it is overpowering," said UCI neurobiologist James McGaugh. "The social and economic benefits would be just wonderful if the research of the clinicians pans out in the way we hope it will."

Q: Is the disorder permanent?

A: Most cases of post-traumatic stress will subside. However, about 20% of people with the disorder will have it for the rest of their lives, experts said.

Q: What does this all mean for Iraq veterans?

A: Early data show that the number of Iraq veterans affected by post-traumatic stress resembles that of Vietnam veterans. Nearly one out of five Americans serving in Iraq report mental-health problems, according to a March report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Exposure to combat increases the risk of post-traumatic stress. Nine out of ten Army soldiers in one combat unit reported experiencing enemy fire in Iraq, according to a 2004 report in the New England Journal of medicine.

"I think the Iraq vets are going to end up worse off," said Bobby Muller, director of Veterans for America in Washington. "Because of the shortages in military manpower, they've already got multiple deployments."

"There really is no end in sight."

Exposures to the horrors of war---fearing, killing, death---renders soldiers emotionally vulnerable. And though only formally recognized as a mental illness in the second half of the last century, trauma-related mental-health issues have long been talked up in popular culture. Here's a look at some of that history:

A SHORT HISTORY OF COMBAT STRESS

1860s: Phrases such as soldier's heart and longing are used to describe the mood of some Civil War veterans returning home after battle.

"People were...trying to understand why they had been changed, because there was a general recognition that they had been changed, and that many of those changes were not for the good," said Dr. Matthew Firedman, director of the National Center for PTSD, in a recent interview with the PBS show "Frontline." The Civil War vets' problems are linked to geographical displacement---time away from home amd family---as much as battle. Physicians note long-term physical changes in some veterans, including higher blood pressure and heart rate. Others note higher suicide rates and unemployment among some veterans.

1920s: Shell shock enters the daily language when Americans see news accounts of soldiers incapacitated by trench warfare. In the late 1920s, the issue becomes a topic of popular discussion. Some Americans---though not all---are sympathetic to the plight of the battle-scarred soldiers.

1940s: The Army adds psychiatrists to each division in World War II, the first official recognition that battle can cause mental-health issues. When Gen. George S. Patton slaps a soldier suffering from what was then known as combat fatigue, he is both lionized and vilified in the American press.

1970s: The Vietnam War brings first widespread acceptance of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Movies, novels and news accounts start to show soldiers with PTSD in a sympathetic light. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Asssociation adds PTSD to the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). Critically, the condition is seen as being caused by outside factors, not a failing by the individual.

Politics: BUSH AND REPUBLICANS LOSING THE 'WAR ON TERROR'



In much as there is such a thing as a "war on terrorism," George W. Bush and Republican policies and strategies are losing that war. Though Bush and Republicans have managed to con the American people into believing they are strong on national security and that they are fighting a winning strategy against global terrorism, none of the "boots on the ground" facts support such assertions.

Commentary By: A. Alexander
August 20, 2006

Indeed, in the past five years Bush and Republicans could lay claim to only one successful anti-terror mission: Afghanastan. Unfortunately, for the people of Afghanastan and the world, Bush and Republicans have only managed to squander this singular victory in the global war on terrorism. Having routed the Taliban and removed al Qaeda's historical safe refuge, Bush quickly removed both military and intelligence resources from Afghanastan and redirected them to Iraq---a country in no way linked to global terrorism, September 11, or al Qaeda.

***But, as we now know, Afghanastan has been reconquered by the Taliban and the Afghani people seem to prefer it that way! So as for Bush's singular success, I don't think so...Not anymore!

In Afghanastan today, the world watches in horror as the disastrous Bush and Republican decision to abandon the country plays itself out. The Taliban, which had been all but eradicated have returned with a vengeance. Schools are burned to the ground, rural communities have fallen under Taliban control, bombs explode across the country, and Taliban fighters attack coalition forces at will and often with deadly success. With each passing day, the once defeated Taliban grow in strength and influence.

The onetime Bush and Republican "victory" in the war on terrorism, has all but crumbled into another sobering defeat.

Generally speaking, terrorism has been, by definition, a stateless proposition. Under Bush and the Republican national security leadership this is changing and changing rapidly. Afghanastan had once been a "sponsor" of terrorism, but still seperate from their guest al Qaeda. It is likely that when Afghanastan falls again, it will be a terrorist-controlled State. Prior to Bush and Republican policies and strategies, Islamist terrorists only had the hope of toppling regimes unfriendly to their cause. Today, however, Islamist forces and movements have beome nation States. Recent events in Somalia, sadly, highlight perfectly this new reality.

The Bush administration was aware of the Islamist movement threatening to takeover Somalia, so they sponsored and supported warring factions who were by all accounts, thanks to the Bush strategy, doomed to failure. Bush and his people refused to follow the advise of CIA field operatives and failed to properly arm and train the anti-Islamist forces. It was a blunder that eventually led to to U.S. sponsored forces being defeated and allowed Somalia to join the ranks of radical Islamic Statehood.

Ultimately, the objective of "war" is to gain and control ground either once held by enemy forces, or to prevent ground from falling under enemy control. In a war on terrorism, it is incomprehensible that onetime Stateless forces could actually be physically gaining and controlling ground. Yet, under Bush and Republican national security leadership, terrorist organizations have, for the first time ever, been able to do just that.

Prior to Bush's ill-conceived and foolhardy decision to invade Iraq, the country was more-or-less stable and absolutely under no threat of falling into Islamist radical's hands. Today, however, as Iraq's tentative and weak government teeters on the brink of collapse and the nation explodes in civil war, there is a very real threat that after the dust finally settles, Islamist forces will have staked out another State. If war is about winning, controlling, and holding ground then it is safe to say that Bush and Republicans are losing the war on terrorism.

Like nothing ever has, the Bush and Republican war in Iraq has rallied Islamist forces. Onetime moderate Arabs and moderate Islamic people of faith have joined ranks with global terror organizations. Today, thanks to Bush and Republican national security policies and strategies, Amercia and the world faces a much larger and more diversified terrorist threat. Even Muslim people living in the West have taken up the Jidadist call.

British authorities have linked last year's attacks on London's tube system, to having been motivated by the war in Iraq. Terrorist groups like al Qaeda have used Iraq as a sort of university campus for hands-on training in the art of asymmetric warfare. Highlighting this new reality, worldwide intelligence agencies have warned that these terrorist "graduates" are not staying in Iraq. Instead, once they have become proficient at their craft they are spanning out across the globe and returning to their homes, often in Western countries, where they are awaiting an opportunity to employ their newly acquired Iraq-tested skills.

In the final analysis, by all measures of warfare, i.e. taking, holding, controlling ground, and reducing the number of enemy on the battlefield, Bush and Republican national security strategies and policies have been unmitigated failures. Indeed, there is only one conclusion that can be reached: In much as there is such a thing as a "war on terrorism," George W. Bush and Republican policies and strategies are losing that war.

LET'S HOPE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE FIGURE THAT OUT BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

Iraq: IRAQ'S SECTARIAN BLOODSHED 'MADE IN THE USA'



As each day is greeted with news of Iraq's death toll, the media debates whether Iraq is embroiled in an all-out civil war. While conventional wisdom holds that the country is being cleaved apart by religious differences, this conflict actually stemmed from the U.S. government's political miscalculations.

AlterNet
By: Erik Leaver and Raed Jarrar
August 21, 2006

Foreign politicians have a history of misguided analysis about the potential for civil war in Iraq. In 1920, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George warned of civil war if the British army withdrew from Iraq. The exact same thing is heard today in the United States. Ironically, the same Iraqis George wanted to protect from each other instead united a revolution against the British occupation forces. With rising opposition within the Shi'ite ranks against the occupation, the United States could see a similar revolt in the coming months.

Iraqi Shia and Sunnis have lived in harmony for centuries. Historically, the two sects lived in the same areas, intermarried, worked together and didn't fight over religious beliefs. During the decade of U.S.-imposed santions, Iraq's generally secular society became far more religious. This transformation even affected the secular Baathist regime, which gave Islam a bigger role in schools and other aspects of everyday life. Still, there were no social conflicts based on religious differences in the country.

When the United States ousted Saddam Hussein in April 2003, crime spiked and full-scale looting erupted. But there were still no signs of sectarian clashes. That quickly changed, however, as the U.S. administration assumed control over Iraq, led by Paul Bremer.

Bremer, attempting to put an Iraqi face on the occupation, appointed members to the Iraqi Governing Council. Instead of reflecting how Iraqis saw themselves, the council's makeup mirrored and reinforced the U.S. sectarian view of the population---13 Shia, 5 Sunnis, 5 Kurds and 1 Christian and 1 Turkoman.

Instead of bringing political unity, this reflection of Iraq's diversity, when thrust into the political playing field, became the basis of sectarian division in Iraq. The U.S. plan to allocate seats at the political table by ethnic and religious identity turned this political conflict into a more complicated sectarian one. It would have been better to divide power along the spectrum of political beliefs.

As a result, new fractures in Iraqi society appeared as Iraqis began to grapple with the foreign troops occupying their country.

The splits in Iraq were exacerbated by the timing of Iraqi political events according to domestic U.S. politics. Starting with the June 2004 "transfer of sovereignty," which was pegged to the 2004 elections, each subsequent political benchmark in Iraq was set by the United States for public relations purposes and ignored the security situation. That resulted in an election that didn't even allow the names of candidates to be made public. The outcome of the first Iraqi elections essentially became a sectarian census and futher divided the country; it was a complete failure of the democratic process our nation's forefathers espoused.

The final straw fueling the ethnic and religious splits is the open-ended occupation. The occupation has split the Iraqi population into two major groups: those who are against getting invloved in any political action as long as the occupation continues, and those who are building their new regime despite the occupation. Ironically though, as the death toll mounts on both sides, both groups want the occupation to end.

Seeking a point of commonality, most of Iraq's leaders have asked the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal. When President George W. Bush last visited Iraq, Iraq's vice president asked him to set a timetable for withdrawal. Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, requested a similar "road map" for complete withdrawal. These leaders aren't alone. The vast majority of Iraq's parliament, religious leaders and political leaders want to know when the U.S.-led coalition troops will leave.

***Bush has more up his sleeve! Didn't he always say that he would leave when he was asked too?

But instead of using the only issue that actually unifies the country to build a lasting peace, the United States continues to interfere in the political and military affairs of the country, adding more fuel to the budding civil war. U.S. intervention in Prime Minister al-Maliki's reconciliation plan effectively scuttled perhaps the best chance for peace Iraq has had since the initial invasion.

Even worse, U.S. actions are now even dividing its stalwart Shi'ite supporters. Shi'ite Muslim religious leaders are speaking out against the government because of U.S. actions. Recent U.S. aerial bombings of Sadr City were condemned by Prime Minister al-Maliki, but many Shi'ites see him as still being too close to his U.S. handlers. Meanwhile, the United States continues to signal its intent for a permanent presence as construction of the embassy marches ahead of schedule.

Given the political blunders made by the United States, a lack of any ability to learn from these past mistakes, and with all sides in the conflict seeking an end to the occupation, the only option left is to begin the process of leaving Iraq completely. In recognition of the failed U.S. policy, 12 Senate and House Democratic leaders and ranking members from the key national security committees wrote to the president on July 31, stating, "We believe that a phased deployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006."

But setting a timetable for withdrawing the U.S. troops would be only the first step in the right direction. The Bush administration has the bigger task of dealing with its consequences within Iraq and now throughout the region. With over $320B spent, more than 2,500 U.S. soldiers dead and countless Iraqis killed, the time for an alternative is now.