On October 10, 2008, the VA finally awarded me my Veterans Disability Benefits after over 7-years (7/8/2001) of being insulted and denied my entitlement to service connection.
MY (Jonathan Melle's) STAND AGAINST THE VA BUREAUCRACY!
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Re: Jonathan A. Melle, Veteran
Today is a sad day for me. I have taken the time to read the VA’s enclosed letter to me, dated June 09, 2005, from K.M. Wilson, Director, Appeals Management Center.
I have the following statements and disagreements with the VA’s recommendations to the VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington, D.C. per my case for Veterans Disability Benefits:
Statement Number One.
I will NOT waive my 60-day comment period! Moreover, I will work with all of the above-mentioned public servants, family members, organizations, and the like to oppose your recommendations to the Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington, D.C. The VA and the psychiatrist I saw on May 19, 2005 have both done me a great disservice by their recommendation that I be denied any and all Veterans Benefits. I render only my dissent!
Statement Number Two.
The first of two Army stories.
When I was in training at Fort Lee, Virginia, site of the last battle of the Civil War and named after the great American Confederate General Robert E. Lee, I watched the tragedy play, “The Diary of Anne Frank.” …
(Internet Web Link: www.annefrank.com ).
How it emboldened me to serve our great nation that half-a-century earlier defeated Nazi Germany and their ruthless, evil dictator Adolf Hitler. In the play, there was the innocence of childhood, the joy of love and family, and the tragedy of evil.
Let me say one thing that I have stated to any authoritarian bureaucrat: I WILL ALWAYS SPEAK MY GOOD CONSCIENCE AS LONG AS I LIVE. I WILL ALWAYS STAND FOR FREEDOM AND THE GREAT FLAG THAT REPRESENTS OUR GREAT REPUBLIC, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
As I write these words at the Manchester Library, tears are rolling down my eyes and my face is shaking beyond my control. To think that I live in a nation that allows bureaucrats that have allowed me to be TORTURED me in the U.S. Army that I have served honorably and with justice and sacrifice to recommend that I receive no benefits for being a Veteran is utterly unconscionable. I am so upset. I cannot contain my anger at the VA, Tiger Team in Cleveland, Ohio. I LOVE MY COUNTRY! I LOVE GOD! My life is dedicated to serving the moral and just ways of our American Democracy! I graduated cum laude from college with a Political Science Major. I went to U Mass Amherst and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. I served my country—excuse me, our country—honorably in the U.S. Army.
WHY IS OUR COUNTRY TREATING ME LIKE ANNE FRANK? I am a human being for crying out loud. I have humanity. I have love in my heart. I have followed all of the rules. I don’t deserve this mistreatment by the VA! When I sat in the playhouse theater at Fort Lee, and watched the play about Anne Frank, I was saddened by the police state that had ruled Europe, the land I would later go to for over one year, and the unjust fate of the Frank family and their fellow Jewish people. The Nazi’s corrupted everything that society stood for in order for them to murder millions of innocent people.
I REPRESENT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND THE CITIZENS OF THE WORLD. AS LONG AS I LIVE, I WILL FIGHT TO PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE LIFE OF ALL PEOPLES! The Nazi’s killed Anne Frank! This play had a profound effect on my life.
I cannot write. I am so shaken.
Statement Number Three.
The second of two Army stories.
My Army duty came under attack by TORTURE in the Army and by the Army!
TORTUROUS ACT NUMBER ONE: A soldier lower in rank held a steel bar to my head. He had abused me by bullying me like this in the past. I had made statements against this soldier, including to my Army Commander. When this soldier held a steel bar to my head, I told him to go to hell. I then went to my immediate superior and reported the incident in full. I was told by my Sergeant and Staff Sergeant that they did not have time to deal with my complaints and that I was to written up for speaking disrespectfully to a fellow soldier.
TORTUROUS ACT NUMBER TWO: I was sleep deprived during the same time period as the first aforementioned act for 3 days and nights. This was not so for the rest of the soldiers in my Platoon. These torturers, in the sorry name of my superiors, were sleep depriving me to TORTURE me. During this time period, I was in the line of duty, in the field in the middle of January, 2001, in a cold German Winter, and I was being picked on immeasurably by my Platoon. As I understood it, there were 11 different false complaints that later had to be thrown out by my Army Command that were filed against me under the direction and control of my TORTURER, Staff Sergeant (Clovel) Oliphant. I even fell asleep as a passenger in a sitting and freezing 5-ton Army Vehicle with a weighty Kevlar helmet on because I was so tired. Moreover, now, in the post-9/11 world, when I watch “CNN”, the television pundits say that when an enemy Muslim terrorist is sleep deprived for even one day and night it is labeled TORTURE. WELL, I WAS SLEEP DEPRIVED FOR 3—COUNT THEM 3—DAYS! I WAS TORTURED!
TORTUROUS ACT NUMBER THREE: I was given ILLEGAL orders, that I would rather have died than ever followed, to drive a 5-ton Army vehicle with no sleep for three days and nights, being picked on immeasurably by my unit, having my life threatened and being written up one of many times during this time period for barking back at this bullying soldier lower in rank than me, and I was not trained and certified to drive an Army 5-ton. I was only trained to drive a HMVVV. I refused the illegal orders given to me by my torturer, Staff Sergeant Oliphant.
Just one month earlier, my entire battalion was sent to the Schweinfurt Army Theater to hear of the tragic death of a German mother and her child as they were driving to their elementary school. A soldier in a separate battalion had been sleep deprived and fell asleep at the wheel of an Army 5-ton vehicle. Asleep at the wheel, this soldier jackknifed into the civilian vehicle of the German mother and son as they were on their way to school that sad morning. Later that winter, I flew home to spend the holidays with my mother and father. I flew into the J.F.K. Airport in New York City. My parents treated me and my Aunt and Uncle, who live in Manhattan, to a beautiful meal at nice New York City Italian restaurant. I told my parents and Aunt and Uncle I was being abused in the Army. I was even flinching as people walked behind me. My Aunt said it was sad to see me in such bad shape mentally. This episode of my true story was one month before the mid-January, 2001, 3-days of TORTURE. My parents also voiced their concerns to me. They let me know that they loved me. I told my parents and Aunt and Uncle what had happened to the German mother and child on their way to school. My Uncle, who is a Navy Veteran, pounded his fist on the table, and shared in my dismay and anger over this tragedy. My parents took me to the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass. for Christmas dinner [of 2000]. They offered their support to me because they knew I was being abused in the Army. They saw my mental breakdown coming—as my mom has known me since the day I was born in beautiful Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Speaking of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, my native hometown is supportive of me receiving Veterans Disability Benefits. I am so grateful for my friend Larry Caprari, Pittsfield’s Veteran Agent. Pittsfield’s Veterans Office has put a lot of time and energy into helping me to have a life with dignity and progress, and if the VA denies me any and all Veterans Benefits, the VA will be hurting not only me, but also the City of Pittsfield. If I have another breakdown, with no care, and I have to go back to Pittsfield for help, as they have helped me in the past, the VA will be putting all of the cost that the federal government should be bearing onto a city that can ill afford this type of case. The appropriate and proper place for my case to be handled is through the federal government, which saw fit to allow me to be tortured and now recommends that I receive no VA benefits. Think about the impact the VA is having on my native hometown, which has been helping me for nearly 4-years! Think about what the VA has already done to my parent’s bank account. My parents have had to pay for my living expenses, especially the time period of May 23, 2002 to June 03, 2003 when I was unemployed and possibly mentally disabled for over one whole year, my mental health appointments, my dental appointments, my medical doctor appointments, and the like. BY THE GOVERNMENT DENYING ME ANY RIGHTS, ENTITLEMENTS, PRIVILEGES, after I served my country HONORABLY, the federal government is really saying, here municipalities and state governments, we tortured your son, your citizen, your resident, your friend, he had a bad mental breakdown, but we are not going to help this Veteran. The federal government goes on to say, “Here Pittsfield, Massachusetts, or here Manchester, New Hampshire, pay for this Veteran because we have recommended that he be denied all of his legal rights to care and compensation.” If the federal government makes me into a social problem, I will be a social problem for Pittsfield or Manchester! This is and will further aggravate my Anxiety Disorder.
I have sat for 4-years and asked for the VA’s help, only to be shut out of any and all care, only to receive a recommendation from the VA in Cleveland, Ohio that I be denied care. Only to have done the right things my entire life, such as not putting anyone in harms way, including myself, by refusing to drive a 5-ton Army Vehicle with no sleep for 3 days and nights, to have served my country HONORABLY. To have worked with President Bush, Senators Kennedy and Gregg, my native hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, my mom and dad, who love me, my long-time friend Richard Delmasto, my long-time friend Larry Caprari, and my new friend Ron Reilly (DAV). I have worked with all of you, and I want to let you all know that the VA is FAILING ME! I am crying badly again in a public place (the Manchester [NH] Library)! I need your help. I cannot write anymore about this.
Later and still in Germany, my last duty station, I was approached by a good man named First Sergeant Harris. He came up to me and told me how much he admired me. I asked him why? He said because I am a human being first and that I take the time to reason things out. During this time, terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed for blowing up the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Timothy McVeigh also served in the U.S. Army, but he was evil. First Sergeant Harris said that he knows everything that was done wrong to me in the Army. He told me that he knew that I never threw a punch or hurt anybody, even as I was being abused. He said that he was a lot like me. He said that he gets mad about a lot of things that goes wrong in the world, whether it is in the Army or with Timothy McVeigh’s contentions with both the FBI and federal government. First Sergeant Harris told me that I am a good man because I get angry, but that I reason things out. He told me that I am the opposite of Timothy McVeigh. He told me that he writes letters like I write letters, such as this one, and sends them to his Congressman and President. He cares about political issues and people like I care about political issues and people. First Sergeant Harris told me that he really admired me. That still makes me feel very good and positive about life. I am a good person. I am on the side of love, peace, democracy and justice. I want to help people in this world and make a positive difference for my communities and country.
MY DISAGREEMENTS WITH THE VA!
The VA has CORRUPTED the ISSUE of my claim for Veterans Disability Benefits! The VA CORRUPTLY states on the bottom of Page 7 of the enclosed 06/06/2005 Supplemental Statement of the Case that, “The previous denial of service connection for personality and adjustment disorder with social phobia, claimed as anxiety disorder is confirmed and continued.” That is NOT my claim!
My claim for Veterans disability benefits, as filed on July 19, 2001, was (and is) that:
MY ANXIETY DISORDER WAS AGGRAVATED DURING MY MILITARY SERVICE!
That is the claim, not the twisted language of corruption that the VA has put in its place. If the VA thinks, even for one second, that they can change my claim by twisting and corrupting language then they are strongly mistaken!
I will not allow this injustice and disservice to pass. If the VA maintains my claim to be their twisted version of it, then I will see the VA in U.S. Court!
[Note: I have since won my VA Case in U.S. Court in January of 2007. They remanded my VA Case back to The Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington, D.C. with the order that the 12/5/2005 decision to deny me my benefits be vacated. On 10/23/2007, the Board of Veterans Appeals issued a decision to REMAND my case in order to obtain additional information. 10/29/2007.]
When President Bush ordered me a hearing with the VA Board of Veterans Appeals one block from The White House in Washington, D.C. on July 19, 2004, the VA’s Administrative Judge told me that the VA’s Boston District Office’s original decision to deny my claim was scientifically and medically unsound. I find it interesting that the VA psychiatrist in Manchester, N.H. would uphold the original decision by the VA’s Regional Office in Boston based on their faulty logic, medical science and psychiatric findings. The Administrative Judge, as I recall her name was Kathleen Gallagher, told me that a psychiatric patient could, indeed, have both a Personality Disorder and an Anxiety Disorder. She went on to say the issue was NOT that my Personality Disorder fostered the Anxiety Disorder, but the issue was that of my claim, which was that my Anxiety Disorder was aggravated during my military service. She went onto tell me that the issue of whether or not my Anxiety Disorder was aggravated during my military service was what needed to be addressed.
THIS ISSUE WAS NOT ADDRESSED IN THE 6/6/2005 VA’s Supplemental Statement of the Case! On Page 8, Reasons and Bases, the VA again misrepresents my claim for Veterans Disability Benefits. Moreover, the VA cites my 5/19/2005 psychiatric evaluation. I want to note that this evaluation only lasted approximately 30-minutes and the VA psychiatrist asked me very few questions concerning my Army psychiatric treatment, evaluation and painful experiences that led me to receive Army psychiatric care. Rather, this psychiatrist mostly read from a written text with a list of generalized questions. This psychiatrist did NOT address the issues laid out in the December, 2004 remand by the Board of Veterans Appeals in Washington, D.C. In fact, the VA, since the remand, has made no effort to address my claim. Rather, they twisted my language and relied on the faulty medical science of the original decision by the Boston Regional VA Office, resulting in the denial of my claim.
How can the VA’s psychiatrist, Dr. Valdez, whom I saw on 5/19/2005 rule out that I have a generalized anxiety disorder when it was diagnosed in the first of the two Army psychiatric evaluations? That further proves the VA is twisting things around, using faulty medical science, and the like. If I was diagnosed with a Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and it is in black and white, by an Army psychiatrist, then that means I have an Anxiety Disorder! This is such a corruption of evidence, language and medical science by the VA against me!
Given what I documented, addressed to the Army and the VA, and all of the evidence in this case, I find it incredible that the VA can state:
“However, the anxiety disorder, in the VA examiner’s opinion, would have progressed in the way it did regardless of whether or not the veteran was in the military, and thus was not aggravated beyond natural progression because of the veteran’s active military service.”
Give me a break! First, I was, indeed, diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder by an Army Psychiatrist! Second, I was abused and TORTURED in the Army. I had a mental breakdown. I believe, as I claimed nearly 4-years ago, that this aggravated my Anxiety Disorder and that I must be afforded Veteran Disability Benefits.
Please respond to my letter, President Bush, Senators Kennedy and Gregg, John Olver, Richard Delmasto, VA, Larry Caprari, Ron Reilly (DAV), Mom and Dad!
Please write to the VA to tell them that I deserve my Veterans Disability Benefits.
Please help me, as you have done so in the past. Thank you so very much!
Jonathan A. Melle
GOD BLESS AMERICA!
December 9, 2014
Re: The Federal Government knew
When I was in the U.S. Army, my 2 supervisors were black, and they treated me like shit! My fellow black soldiers were treated a lot better than me. Other black Seargents told me they thought my black Staff Sergeant was racist against white people. I endured so much stress in the military from my black supervisors that I am now a 100 percent rated service connected disabled Veteran for mental health who served our country with Honor. That's how government works sometimes. I also want to note that I was bullied at other points in my life, mostly by white people. I have learned not to go down to other people's level of bullying even if it hurts to not react or retaliate. Once I engage a bully, I usually lose the conflict because I gave him or her ammunition to use against me.
In terms of today's news propaganda about the CIA breaking the law by using torture against Muslim extremists, I don't think the Bush II White House, U.S. Congress, and the rest of our federal government was "lied to" by the CIA. I believe in conspiracy theories. I believe the Bush II White House and U.S. Congress knew full well that we were torturing Muslim extremists. Over one decade ago, we knew about "renditions" and torture. Movies were made about our war against Muslim extremists.
We should support peace for the State of Israel. We should ensure political stability in the Middle East. We should work with most Muslims by promoting Human Rights and Justice with them.
- Jonathan A. Melle
November 6, 2015
When I was a Soldier in the US Army about 15 years ago, I was stationed in Germany when another Soldier fell asleep behind a 5 ton military truck and smashed it into a civilian car that killed a mother driving her son to elementary school. After being apprised of that tragedy, I was given the order to drive a 5 ton military truck without the required 6 hours of sleep and without a training license. To protect life, I refused to follow the illegal order! Now today, I read the following news article.
- Jonathan Melle
“U.S. Army Truck in Trailer Caught in Deadly Rail Crash in Germany”
By Alexander Smith, NBC News, November 6, 2015
Two people were killed after a commuter train collided with a semi-trailer transporting a U.S. military vehicle in Germany, officials said.
The train hit the truck late Thursday at a railway crossing near the Bavarian town of Freihung, around 10 miles from the U.S. Army's Tower Barracks in Grafenwoehr.
The 30-year-old truck driver was killed and another body was found in the train-driver's cab, German police told Reuters. Sixteen passengers were injured, four of them hospitalized, according to the news agency.
There were no U.S. military personnel on site, and despite "significant damage" to the train and transport truck, there was only "minimal damage" to the U.S. vehicle, according to a statement from the U.S. Army in Europe.
The military vehicle being transported was a five-ton truck known as a FMTV, Christian Marquardt, spokesman with the U.S. Army in Europe, told NBC News.
"We offer our sincere condolences to the families of those affected by this tragedy," the U.S. Army statement said. "The incident is under investigation and we will assist the German authorities who are in control of the scene."
"VA employees rack up $2.6 billion in credit card charges for veterans care"
By Associated Press, April 6, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, General Politics
WASHINGTON - Veterans Affairs employees last year racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in government credit-card bills at casino and luxury hotels, movie theaters and high-end retailers such as Sharper Image and Franklin Covey — and government auditors are investigating, citing past spending abuses.
All told, VA staff charged $2.6 billion to their government credit cards.
The Associated Press, through a Freedom of Information request, obtained the VA list of 3.1 million purchases made in the 2007 budget year. The list offers a detailed look into the everyday spending at the government’s second largest department.
By and large, it reveals few outward signs of questionable spending, with hundreds of purchases at prosthetic, orthopedic and other medical supply stores.
But there are multiple charges that have caught the eye of government investigators.
At least 13 purchases totaling $8,471 were charged at Sharper Image, a specialty store featuring high-tech electronics and gizmos such as robotic barking dogs. In addition, 19 charges worth $1,999.56 were made at Franklin Covey, which sells leather totes and planners geared toward corporate executives.
Government reports in 2004 said these two companies, by virtue of the types of products they market, would "more likely be selling unauthorized or personal use items" to federal employees.
Many of the 14,000 VA employees with credit cards, who work at headquarters in Washington and at medical centers around the nation, also spent tens of thousands of dollars at Wyndham hotels in places such as San Diego, Orlando, Fla., and on the riverfront in Little Rock, Ark. One-time charges ranged up to $8,000.
On at least six occasions, employees based at VA headquarters made credit card charges at Las Vegas casino hotels totaling $26,198.
VA spokesman Matt Smith the department was reviewing these and other purchases as part of its routine oversight of employee spending. He noted that many of the purchases at Sharper Image and other stores included clocks for low-vision veterans, humidifiers, air purifiers, alarm devices and basic planner products.
Smith said all the casino hotel expenditures in 2007 were for conferences and related expenses. He said the spending was justified because Las Vegas is a place where "VA is building a new medical center and an increasing number of veterans are calling home."
"The Department of Veterans Affairs, like many public and private groups, hosts conferences and meetings in Las Vegas due to the ease of participant travel, the capacity of the facilities, and the overall cost associated with hosting a conference," he said.
According to VA policy, purchase cards may be used at hotels to rent conference rooms or obtain audiovisual equipment or other items for VA meetings. They should not be used to reserve lodging. Auditors long have urged the VA to adopt policies to encourage use of free conference rooms. Auditors previously faulted the agency for booking rooms at expensive casino hotels without evidence it first had sought free space.
In the coming weeks, auditors at the Government Accountability Office and the VA inspector general’s office are to issue reports on purchase card use and spending controls at the VA and other agencies. The reports are expected to show lingering problems at the VA, which auditors cited in 2004 for lax spending controls that wasted up to $1.1 million.
The list of charges provided to the AP gives the vendor, amount purchased, location and employee name; in most cases it does not indicate the specific item purchased. Requests by the AP for lists of the additional data in a timely manner were repeatedly declined on privacy and proprietary grounds.
The VA list shows that some credit-card holders took a modest route. VA employees in locations such as Portland, Ore., Gainesville, Fla., and Sheridan, Wyo., had charges for Motel 6 and Travelodge inns. One VA headquarters employee appears to have passed up casino hotels by booking at a Holiday Inn Express in Las Vegas for $787.75.
"For government travel and other spending, you have to be mindful of the appearances you’re creating," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. "If you’re staying at a hotel at a strip in Vegas, you better have a pretty good reason for why a taxpayer should be funding the stay."
"It’s not like the VA hasn’t gotten into trouble for credit card abuses in the past," he added. "I find it hard to justify any government purchase from Sharper Image — unless you get something really goofy, it’s going to be cheaper elsewhere."
Penalties for misuse of government credit cards range from suspension of the credit card to a reprimand and disciplinary action. Employees may be criminally prosecuted for fraud. More serious cases in recent years involved purchases of computers, televisions, DVD players and other items that were then sold to friends or kept for personal use.
"It’s all being looked at," said Belinda Finn, the VA’s assistant inspector general for auditing, in a telephone interview. Pointing to Sharper Image purchases in particular, Finn said many of the VA expenses identified by the AP raised serious "red flags."
"For a lot of the transactions on purchase cards, to be effective you really need to keep a close watch," she said. "It’s really the first-level supervisors who know what’s going on the most."
Congressional leaders said the expenditures were troubling.
Rep. Harry Mitchell, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on oversight, said he would question VA officials about the purchases at a hearing set for July. Mitchell, D-Ariz., said he feared there may be "a growing culture of wasteful spending at the VA."
He noted that former VA Secretary Jim Nicholson had awarded more than $3.8 million in bonus payments to senior officials despite their roles in crafting a flawed budget that fell $1 billion short.
"It seems irresponsible that while our veterans are waiting months for doctor’s appointments, the VA is spending thousands of dollars at Las Vegas casino hotels and high-end retail shops instead of seeking out more affordable or cost-free alternatives," Mitchell said.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, who heads the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he planned to closely review the upcoming audit reports to see if spending controls needed to be tightened.
"I remain concerned that the federal government may end up paying more than necessary when employees purchase items one-by-one," said Akaka, D-Hawaii. "While I am confident that the vast majority of these charges are appropriate and legal, I urge VA to aggressively investigate allegations of fraud."
Over the years, lawmakers and watchdog groups have pointed to the potential abuse of government purchase cards, particularly at large agencies such as Defense, Homeland Security and VA, where card spending for goods ranging from defibrillators and prosthetics to Starbucks coffee has climbed from $1.7 billion in 2003 to $2.6 billion today.
In the past, purchase cards have been improperly used to pay for prostitutes, gambling activity and even breast implants.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the GAO estimated that 45 percent of Homeland Security purchase card spending during a six-month period was improper and included iPods, designer rain jackets and beer-making equipment. The credit-card bills are directly payable by Uncle Sam.
In 2004, the GAO faulted the VA for at least $300,000 in questionable charges, citing 3,348 movie gift certificates totaling over $30,000 that lacked documentation. Echoing similar concerns by the department’s inspector general, investigators urged greater use of volume discounts and flagged several high-end retailers as questionable vendors that would require detailed paperwork to justify.
Among the other areas investigators say raise "red flags":
—Movie expenses. VA employees in 2007 made 68 charges totaling roughly $21,000 at Regal Cinemas. In light of previous questionable purchases of movie tickets, investigators say they will review the transactions case by case to see if the 2007 purchases are supported by the proper paperwork.
—Charges of $227.50 for harbor cruises in Baltimore and seven expenses totaling more than $6,603 at various Macy’s locations. Such vendors were cited by the GAO in 2004 as questionable by virtue of the goods they typically provided and would need full documentation by VA employees to justify.
In response, the VA said it often pays for movies or harbor cruises as part of outpatient recreational therapy it provides for patients with schizophrenia and other problems. The VA did not immediately say whether all the required paperwork was submitted.
"I’m very concerned about frivolous, wasteful spending at the VA," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. "With hundreds of thousands of veterans homeless, VA employees don’t need to be staying at ritzy-glitzy high-priced hotels, possibly gambling with taxpayers’ money."
On the Net:
Veterans Affairs Department: http://www.va.gov/
Government Accountability Office: www.gao.gov
VA inspector general: http://www.va.gov/oig/contacts/hotline.asp
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/national/politics/general/view.bg?articleid=1085349
Stepped-up Army recruiting enlists many with problems
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff | November 27, 2007
WASHINGTON - Two weeks ago, the Pentagon announced the "good news" that the Army had met its recruiting goal for October, the first month in a five-year plan to add 65,000 new soldiers to the ranks by 2012.
But Pentagon statistics show the Army met that goal by accepting a higher percentage of enlistees with criminal records, drug or alcohol problems, or health conditions that would have ordinarily disqualified them from service.
In each fiscal year since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, statisics show, the Army has accepted a growing percentage of recruits who do not meet its own minimum fitness standards. The October statistics show that at least 1 of every 5 recruits required a waiver to join the service, leading military analysts to conclude that the Army is lowering standards more than it has in decades.
"The across-the-board lowering of the standards is buying problems in the future," said John D. Hutson, a retired rear admiral, dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center, and a former judge advocate general of the Navy. "You are going to have more people getting in trouble, more people washing out" of the service before finishing their tour of duty.
The Army Recruiting Command, based in Fort Knox, Ky., insists that it carefully reviews each applicant. "We look at the recent history, such as employment, schooling, references, and signs of remorse and changed behavior since the incident occurred" on how recruits with criminal records are regarded, the command said in a statement to the Globe.
But Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he is concerned that the the Army is sacrificing quality for quantity.
"While quantity is of course important, quality must remain the highest priority," Levin said at a Nov. 15 congressional hearing. "The Army must continue to uphold high standards - moral, intellectual, and physical - for new recruits, to ensure that these young men and women are capable of handling the great demands that they will face . . . We must find a way to both increase the size of the Army and to maintain its standards."
Anxious to reduce the strain the Iraq war has placed on ground forces, Congress earlier this year approved the Pentagon's proposal to bring the active-duty Army to at least 547,000 troops, an increase of 65,000 and the biggest buildup of conventional forces since the end of the Cold War. The plan is predicted to cost as much as $70 billion.
Army leaders say they are on pace to complete the expansion two years early by beefing up recruiting efforts and offering mid-level officers and enlisted soldiers bonuses of up to $35,000 if they reenlist.
But the recruiting data for October show that accepting applicants who would previously have been disqualified is likely to be a key way of reaching the numbers, according to Hutson and a military recruiting analyst. Of the 6,434 enlistees who signed up last month, 792, or 12.3 percent, required waivers for past criminal activity that would have disqualified them, including misdemeanor and felony convictions, according to Army data.
By comparison, 11.2 percent of Army recruits were granted criminal waivers in all of fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30. The 2007 figure was the largest percentage of recruits admitted on waivers since the Iraq war began.
Because the Army has used different methods to track waivers, no one can say for sure if the current percentages are records. But recruiting officials believe that the percentage of recruits admitted on waivers is the highest the Army has seen in recent decades.
The data, which include active-duty soldiers as well as Army reservists, show that the percentage of waivers for recruits with criminal records more than doubled in the past few years, from 4.6 percent in 2003 to 11.2 percent in 2007.
Those "moral character waivers" must be approved by an officer the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher. The waivers are required when an Army applicant has been convicted of committing four or more "minor offenses" such as littering or disorderly conduct, or two to four misdemeanors such as larcency, trespassing, or vandalism.
Recruits who have committed a felony such as arson, burglary, or aggravated assault must also receive a moral waiver to join. Applicants with multiple felonies - or with a single conviction for a more serious crime such as homicide, rape, or drug trafficking - are automatically disqualified.
The share of new recruits granted waivers for medical reasons, such as failing Army physical fitness standards or for testing positive for marijuana or cocaine use, has also soared in the past five years.
The percentage of medical waivers more than doubled, from 4.1 percent in 2003 to 8.6 percent last month. Drug or alcohol abuse waivers increased by half, from 1 percent in 2003 to 1.5 percent last month.
Medical waivers can be granted for a host of physical deficiencies, including being overweight - as long as the condition is not progressive, will not be aggravated by military service, will not impede a recruit's ability to train, and will not jeopardize comrades' safety.
Drug and alcohol waivers are granted by the head of the recruiting command to applicants who test positive for marijuana no more than twice and cocaine no more than once in tests given during the recruiting process.
Although the Army has pledged to accept only quality recruits, military analysts predict the percentage of recruits admitted on waivers will keep rising with the demand for more soldiers.
Recruiters "have a tough year ahead of them," said Beth Asch, an economist at the government-funded Rand Corporation who specializes in military recruiting issues.
Asch believes that despite the Army's assurances, an independent body should "spot-check" the waiver approval process to make sure each recruit has been rehabilitated or is otherwise of high caliber. "I think it needs to be monitored carefully," she said.
But Hutson worries that lower standards "may be the only way we can grow the force."
Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Uncle Sam wants anybody
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The declaration of principles President Bush signed Monday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is designed to tie the United States to Iraq through the end of the president's term, sticking his successor with the job of actually putting an end to a war that will be nearly six years old when the next president is sworn in. That chore may actually be comparatively easy compared to another task that will be left for the next president — rebuilding a decimated military.
As the unpopular war has dragged on, the United States has lowered its recruiting standards each year since 2003 in a frantic effort to meet quotas. A Boston Globe analysis has found that roughly 20 percent of recruits in October received a waiver of criminal records, drug or alcohol problems or health issues that would have disqualified them ordinarily. By handing weapons to recruits who by the military's own definition have no business in the service, the Pentagon is risking another incident like Haditha or situation like Abu Ghraib that will be long remembered by our enemies and mourned by our allies.
Though failed utterly by the armchair warriors of Washington, our military has managed to bring about a relative calm in Baghdad and parts of Iraq in recent months. Calm, however, is not to be confused with peace, which only Iraq's lazy and quarrelsome elected officials can bring about. Last week, as parliamentarians pounded tables and shouted at one another over whether or not to allow members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party back into government, peace seemed far away. Now come worrisome reports of escalating attacks in Baghdad by Shiite extremists linked to Iran.
An ongoing war in Iraq, a massive debt caused by that war, and a broken military await the next president of the United States. Still want the job?
Don't let malingerers give brave vets a bad name
The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Monday, December 3, 2007
To the Editor:
Michael Morin, you wrote a great letter to the editor concerning post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), published on Nov. 29.
It is a condition veterans of all wars have experienced; it has been known by other names over the years as each generation has experienced it as part of doing their service.
I thank you for your service to your country in the U.S. Marine Corps. Once a Marine always a Marine. Most veterans recover from PTSD, some very quickly, some not so quickly. Others take a long time, and there are those who live with it all of their lives. Then there are those who see it as a meal ticket to live off of for as long as they can.
When a veteran loses a hand due to a wound or an accident in the service, he or she can be ruled as disabled and receive treatment and monetary compensation from the Veterans Administration. As the veteran recovers from the wound or the service-connected accident, extensive treatment may be reduced, and a lower amount of compensation maybe authorized.
Those of us who have had military service can well remember some individuals who routinely were reporting to sick call or sick bay. If it was cold and raining and an outdoor task had to be accomplished, they enjoyed waiting an hour or two at sick call, nice and dry with the hope of being assigned to light duty, thus missing the undesirable task of working in the cold and rain that day.
As you observe your fellow veterans who have had PTSD for a long time, who fail to report for VA treatment, who make an issue by bragging they have PTSD and the VA owes them the monthly compensation check, just remember they are spending valuable VA funding — funding that you may need as your service-connected condition becomes more negative to your well-being and overall health.
The malingers of your military service can become a serious drain on VA funding and services for the true veteran who needs help. One thing our country does not need is the professional sick veteran who just does not wish to work and earn a living.
Fort Myers, Fla.
Nov. 30, 2007
The writer is a native of Adams, Massachusetts.
WASHINGTON POST: EDITORIAL
"'An Intolerable Fraud': Money-grubbing veterans charities need better oversight."
Sunday, December 16, 2007; B06
ORGANIZATIONS that cynically exploit America's best impulses to help its wounded veterans give a perverse new meaning to the notion that charity begins at home.
Troubling activities by some of the nation's largest veterans charities were revealed by a watchdog group and were spotlighted Thursday in a congressional hearing. The American Institute of Philanthropy studied 29 groups and found 20 guilty of such shoddy practices as high overhead costs, high-priced solicitations and big salaries to leaders. Even well-established groups such as the Disabled Veterans Association, AMVETS National Service Foundation and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation got F's on the institute's report card. Help Hospitalized Veterans, The Post's Philip Rucker reported, paid its founder and wife a combined $540,000 in compensation and benefits. That some groups spend as much as 91 cents of every dollar raised on fundraising is, as Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said, "an intolerable fraud."
How intolerable was revealed in the searing testimony of Edgar Edmundson, whose son Eric suffered serious brain injuries while serving in the Army in Iraq. The family has been fortunate to be helped by an honorable charity. But the father is enraged that veterans like his son are being used as a commodities by opportunistic fundraisers. Then, too, good charities -- the Wounded Warrior Project in the Edmundsons' case -- stand to be hurt if the backlash caused by these outrages curtails public generosity.
Action is needed to ensure that money raised in the name of wounded veterans actually benefits them. Pennsylvania has pioneered in cracking down on suspect groups, and other states should follow its lead. States need to share information so that a charlatan charity chased out of one state cannot easily set up shop elsewhere.
Better federal oversight is needed too. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), long concerned about the dubious practices of charities, rightly notes that these groups receive billions each year in tax breaks. The Internal Revenue Service needs to toughen its guidelines and its enforcement. At the very least, charities should be required to give a good, public accounting of how much of each dollar actually benefits the ostensible beneficiaries. As Congress studies what laws are needed, it also should clean up the government's house. The Combined Federal Campaign, which raises tens of millions of dollars from federal workers, should require any charity receiving those funds to meet high standards.
"Bill must benefit disabled veterans"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
In the coming week, the Senate will be acting on the administration/House economic stimulus package. This bill does not include disabled veterans among those to be recipients.
Sen. Baucus, a Montana Democrat and chair of the finance committee, wants to include disabled veterans. Please e-mail Sen. Baucus encouraging him in this effort.
The high number of homeless veterans is directly related to the out-dated and obsolete VA schedule for disability benefits.
Army recruiters hope new incentives, including a school for high school dropouts and an offer of home mortgage aid to those who complete four years of service, will help boost the ranks. (The New York Times/File 2005)
"Army to boost perks for recruits: $15b plan includes mortgage aid, school; Effort is in response to drop in enlistees"
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe Staff, February 9, 2008
WASHINGTON - To relieve the wartime strain on ground troops and meet a mandate to expand the force, the Army plans to offer a series of new and costly incentives, including a home mortgage fund and a military prep school for high school dropouts, to help draw in a shrinking pool of eligible volunteers, according to military officials and federal budget documents.
After lowering its own education standards and accepting a rising number of recruits who would have been considered unfit a few years ago, the Army's initiatives - costing a large part of the $15 billion it will receive to add more soldiers - underscore the difficulty it faces in signing up enough young men and women to add 65,000 soldiers to its ranks over the next three years.
The new push also highlights growing concern that the Iraq war and the need to lower standards in order to meet recruiting quotas may be causing long-term damage to the all-volunteer force.
"Some of these [new recruiting efforts] are unprecedented, " said David Johnson, a senior political scientist at the government-funded Rand Corporation who specializes in national security affairs. "They have to get people to join in a very tough market. Everybody knows part of the contract [for enlisting] in the ground forces is you are going to go to Iraq and Afghanistan at least once."
Because it has struggled to enlist highly qualified young people, the Army has already resorted to accepting more recruits who have not finished high school, even though the military considers a high school diploma a key predictor of success. The service has also granted a rapidly increasing number of waivers to young men and women who have failed other fitness standards, including those with criminal records and medical problems.
The military has historically provided a variety of benefits to compensate troops for their service - most notably the GI Bill, which gave World War II veterans money for college. In recent years, the Army has emphasized to recruits the advanced training they will receive, skills that could help them land a high-tech civilian career, and the force has provided increasingly sizable cash bonuses to lure enlistees and persuade more soldiers to reenlist.
Now the Army is taking its efforts to find qualified 18- to 24-year-old recruits to another level, through a combination of financial benefits that would accrue long after new soldiers complete their Army career and a series of new programs intended to help less qualified young people meet the military's eligibility requirements.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the percentage of Army recruits with a high school diploma has plunged from 94 percent to 71 percent. The percentage requiring so-called "moral" waivers for past criminal behavior or drug abuse and others waivers for medical conditions has nearly tripled since 2003, to 12 percent.
In the budget he presented to Congress this week, President Bush allocated $15 billion to meet Congress's mandate to expand the Army, including nearly $700 million for enlistment and reenlistment bonuses, according to Pentagon budget materials and senior officials. But about $4 billion has been set aside for pay and benefits, including the new recruiting incentives.
Anticipating that it will get the money, the Army has launched a new preparatory school at Fort Jackson, S.C., to simultaneously train and educate high school dropouts. The school, already partially funded by the Army and available to any recruit nationwide, is designed to prepare volunteers who want to join but don't meet the education standards.
"This is an opportunity to bring [in] highly qualified young men and women who don't have an education credential," Major General Thomas P. Bostick, chief of the Army Recruiting Command, explained to a Senate panel on Jan. 31.
Another novel recruiting initiative is an Army extension school, located in a Pittsburgh mall, where high school dropouts can earn their diploma by attending classes part-time before enlistment. The Army plans to expand the program to other locations around the country if the pilot program in Pittsburgh proves successful.
Meanwhile, a new Army website - called Mission 2 Success - offers study aids and other instructional materials to help applicants pass military entrance exams. And the service is recruiting volunteer civilian tutors to help enlistees pass the military aptitude test.
Better educated recruits, especially those with high school diplomas, are considered critical to the success of today's high-tech military. "The technology today is so much superior than it was when I was in the Marine Corps," US Representative John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday. "Today I couldn't find my away around, the technology is so much greater. You have to have the ability to work this technical stuff, and it's not there."
Other new recruiting incentives offer lifetime benefits to enlistees.
One new program would offer financial benefits now available only to retired military veterans of past wars - money from the Army to purchase a home or start a business in return for a four-year term of service.
"Through this exclusive Army program, soldiers can receive up to $40,000 to buy a home or start a small business upon completion of service," according to a program description. "Whatever your goals are, the Army provides you with more ways to help achieve them."
The first recruiting battalions to offer the benefits to its enlistees will be in Alabama, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington, officials said.
Johnson, the Rand national security specialist, said it remains unclear "what the attraction will be" for these new incentives, given that many of them are untested. But even if they draw more enlistees, the incentives may not be enough to overcome the deterrent factor of Iraq and help the Army grow.
An independent government study recently warned that the Army "may have to increase recruiting and retention incentives" to reach its goals.
Bryan Bender can be reached at email@example.com.
"Sergeant says he ordered soldier to kill Iraqi civilian"
By Bradley Brooks, Associated Press, February 9, 2008
BAGHDAD - The former commander of a US Army sniper team testified yesterday that he ordered one of his soldiers to kill an Iraqi who had stumbled upon their hiding place, saying that was the only way to ensure the safety of his men in hostile territory.
Sergeant Michael A. Hensley, who was a staff sergeant at the time of the killing last spring but was later demoted, gave his testimony on the opening day of a court-martial hearing a murder charge against Sergeant Evan Vela.
Another member of the sniper unit testified the soldiers had been pushed to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion before the May 11 killing of Genei Nasir al-Janabi.
Hensley said that he and the other members of the sniper team had all fallen asleep, then awoke to find an Iraqi man squatting about three feet from them.
Hensley said he ordered the Iraqi to lie on the ground and was searching the man when he saw "military-aged men" who he thought were carrying weapons about 100 yards away.
He said the Iraqi on the ground began yelling and he decided that killing the man was the only way to keep the sniper hideout from being discovered by what he believed was a group of approaching insurgents.
"I told Sergeant Vela to pull out his 9-mm [pistol] and 'crack it.' I told Vela to shoot," said Hensley, who has been acquitted of murder charges in this shooting and two earlier killings but was convicted of lesser charges. He received immunity for testifying yesterday.
When asked why he didn't kill Janabi himself, Hensley said: "Sergeant Vela happened to be the guy with the pistol. The Iraqi's head was at his [Vela's] feet. I would have gladly shot him myself."
Military prosecutors say the killing of Janabi - along with two other slayings April 14 and April 27 - occurred near Iskandariyah, a mostly Sunni Arab city 30 miles south of Baghdad.
Vela, of St. Anthony, Idaho, also is charged with planting a gun on the dead man's body in an attempt to cover up what happened.
Mustafa Ghani al-Janabi, Janabi's 17-year-old son, testified that he had been detained by the soldiers along with his father. He said that after about an hour, the soldiers let him go but kept his father.
Earlier, Vela's lawyer said during his opening statement that his client was too exhausted to know what he was doing or to make any sort of moral judgment about the order Hensley gave him.
"He was suffering from sleep deprivation and had no ability to think that morning," attorney James Culp told the court.
Another defense lawyer, Daniel Conway, told reporters during the lunch break that Vela had slept just 2 1/2 hours during a 74-hour period last spring. "The Army took the best and brightest and pushed them beyond their breaking point," he said.
On June 22, Vela gave a statement to military investigators saying he killed one of the Iraqis. But Culp said yesterday that the statement was given under duress, saying Vela was not permitted to use the latrine or to eat during a seven-hour interrogation.
Two other soldiers, Hensley and Specialist Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., have faced similar charges in Janabi's killing as well as two others. They were acquitted of murder but convicted of planting evidence on the dead Iraqis.
"GI Bill falling short of college tuition costs: Pentagon resists boost in benefits"
By Charles M. Sennott, (Boston)Globe Staff, February 10, 2008
WASHINGTON - Halsey Bernard made it through a tour in Iraq as a machine gunner. The question for him now is will he make it through the University of Massachusetts.
It isn't a question of academics for the 24-year-old Boston resident. It's about money - and about the obligation of a nation to its fighting men and women. Bernard, who served with the Second Battalion Eighth Marines in Nasariyah, Iraq, in 2003, is one of thousands of veterans who have returned from combat service only to find that their GI Bill college benefits fall far short of actual costs.
"What they tell you on TV and what the recruiters tell you when you go to sign up is: 'Don't worry. College is taken care of.' And it is not true," said Bernard. "Today it is a serious financial struggle and bureaucratic struggle and personal struggle to try to go to college after serving in combat."
The original GI Bill provided full tuition, housing, and living costs for some 8 million veterans; for many, it was the engine of opportunity in the postwar years. But, in the mid 1980s, the program was scaled back to a peacetime program that pays a flat sum. Today the most a veteran can receive is approximately $9,600 a year for four years - no matter what college costs.
Now, five years into the Iraq conflict, a movement is gathering steam in Washington to boost the payout of the GI Bill, to provide a true war-time benefit for war- time service. But the effort has run headlong into another reality of an unpopular war: the struggle to sustain an all-volunteer force.
The Pentagon and White House have so far resisted a new GI Bill out of fear that too many will use it - choosing to shed the uniform in favor of school and civilian life.
"The incentive to serve and leave," said Robert Clarke, assistant director of accessions policy at the Department of Defense, may "outweigh the incentive to have them stay."
Such administration objections infuriate the lead advocate in Congress for upgrading GI Bill benefits, US Senator James Webb, Democrat of Virginia. Webb, a Vietnam veteran and the only serving senator with a son who has seen combat in Iraq, said he simply can't understand why veterans struggling to pay for higher education is not on the nation's political radar screen, particularly in the presidential primary season when the war and the economy are both at the center of the debate.
"I worry about this and what it says about our nation's view of the value of service," Webb said. "We hear from those opposed that it is too expensive and it's too complicated. Excuse me? In 1946, they worked out how to provide for veterans on the back of a memo pad with a stubby pencil. . . . We are five years into the war in Iraq, we need to get this done."
Webb's bill, which has drawn 31 cosponsors but no Senate action since he filed it a year ago, would cover the full cost of attending state university for in-state residents as well as a stipend for living expenses. It is projected to cost about $2.5 billion per year.
The benefit is capped at the cost of the most expensive public state college or university in any given state. In Massachusetts that would be UMass-Amherst, where total student costs for a year - tuition, fees, room, board, and books - run over $20,000.
Reservists - who now get a fraction of the benefit available to active-duty troops, controversial in a war that leans heavily on reserve forces - would also gain from Webb's plan. Under a draft of his bill, all operational troops who served at least two years of active duty would receive the same benefit.
Massachusetts already offers more higher education help to veterans than other states, an $800 annual stipend on top of GI Bill benefits. That has enabled Bernard to hang on financially at UMass-Boston. If the Webb bill were to pass, Bernard's full costs at the university would be comfortably covered, and he could focus on his studies without having to worry every week about making ends meet.
Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war veteran and director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an organization based in New York, said that enhancing the GI Bill is a solid investment in the country's future. One study he cites suggests that every dollar spent on the original GI Bill created a seven-fold return for the economy.
"Funding the GI Bill as Senator Webb proposes it for one year would cost this country what it spends in Iraq in 36 hours," he said.
Cause of frustration
That promise of an education in return for serving the country is one of the most frequently cited reasons that young men and women join the military, and it is plastered all over recruitment banners and television advertisements.
The limited return on the promise is one of the most common sources of bitterness and frustration that emerge in interviews with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
They are people like Liam Madden, a 23-year-old who served with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in Anbar Province in 2004 and 2005 and now attends Northeastern University. "They dangle the promise of education before you when you are recruited, but then they flip it around when they don't want you to leave and warn you that it will only cover a community college and you are better off staying in the military."
Madden, who hails from a pocket of rural poverty in Vermont, said he is barely able to make his tuition payments at Northeastern and has gotten by in part through paid speaking engagements for the small-but-growing organization known as Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Beyond the financial struggle is a daunting bureaucratic obstacle course that can confound veterans and sometimes steer them away from the benefit altogether. That struggle starts with the requirement that all participants buy into the program with a $1,200 upfront payment.
William Bardenwerper, an Army veteran of Iraq with an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, described a six-month odyssey of paperwork in trying to navigate the current GI Bill. He kept a detailed log of his frustrating, and to-date fruitless, effort to access his benefits for graduate school.
"Not to sound elitist," said Bardenwerper, "but if a 31-year-old Princeton grad has a hard time deciphering what he is entitled to, then I have no idea how a 21-year-old armed only with a GED could navigate this system."
Signs of progress
There have been, in recent weeks, some signs that the political logjam blocking Webb's bill may be easing. He has picked up new cosponsors, though there are still only three Republicans among them, including the two senators from Maine. And the Bush administration has hinted at a desire for compromise on the issue. In his State of the Union speech last month, the president spoke of one relatively small shift - making unused GI Bill benefits available to spouses and families of veterans.
But there are few if any indications of a breakthrough. Meanwhile, some private efforts are underway to try to fill the gap for veterans.
One key player is James Wright, president of Dartmouth College, who believes the current GI Bill is outdated and an insult to combat veterans. A Korean War veteran from a working-class background who tapped the GI Bill to launch his academic career, Wright has helped begin a privately funded program in coordination with the American Council on Education to offer college counseling to veterans and help them find financial aid to supplement the GI Bill.
Efforts by Wright, other academic institutions, and individual philanthropists, such as billionaire financier Jerome Kohlberg, who last year announced a $4 million scholarship fund for veterans, are helping a few soldier-scholars. But only a few.
"There's a moral imperative for us to provide for veterans, and there is a practical benefit to educating these men and women who have served their country," said Wright, who last week announced that he will step down at Dartmouth but plans to continue his advocacy for GIs and an enhanced GI Bill. "For us to be failing to live up to that responsibility is unconscionable."
Webb believes such efforts, as noble as they are, do not relieve the federal government of its obligation to provide an opportunity for higher education to those who serve the country.
But Pentagon officials say the risk that an expanded benefit could cut into reenlistment rates is real. Clarke, of the Department of Defense, said it is simply off-base to compare what was offered to World War II veterans to the situation today. There was no concern about retention rates back then, he said; rapid demobilization was the order of the day.
And Clarke said he doubts reports that military recruiters are painting an overly rosy picture of education benefits. "I think recruiters are always going to play up the best case, but I don't think they are going to take that past what is the truth."
Whatever compromise emerges in Washington - if any does - it will do little for veterans like Todd Bowers, 28, who dreamed of attending an elite private college after returning, after being shot in the face, from his second combat tour.
Severely wounded but also incredibly lucky, he recovered well. Ambitious, he enrolled at George Washington University - transferring from the community college in Arizona he had attended before his first tour.
But George Washington is one of the nation's most costly colleges, with total expenses running over $55,000 a year. His GI Bill benefit as a Marine reservist would cover only a small fraction of that, and his savings - all $18,000 he had earned while overseas - and loans couldn't close the gap.
The military sent him his Purple Heart in the mail but told him there was nothing else they could do to help him pay for college. The financial stress, on top of his war trauma symptoms - insomnia, nightmares, memory loss - was too much. In the end, he dropped out.
Today, Bowers spends his time roaming through the Capitol as a lobbyist on veterans issues for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, pressing the case for Webb's bill.
"You end up feeling that the military thinks that all you deserve is a community college. It's pretty disgraceful. I think I can do better, and I think anyone who served the country in combat deserves better," he said.
Charles Sennott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Veterans keep on giving"
The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Friday, February 22, 2008
To the Editor:
Over my tenure as the veterans agent in Adams, I have learned from early on how cooperative and supportive our local American Legion Post 160, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1995 are.
Whenever I have asked for help, whether it was for information, advice or financial help for a veteran's family or a brother veteran, it has been given with kindness, compassion and a spirit of brotherhood. These acts of kindness are never divulged to the public, and most citizens are unaware of this aspect of a service organization's ongoing support to veterans and their families.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank these organizations for their support of my efforts on behalf of our veteran community. You truly make a difference! I would also ask all veterans who are not already members of a service organization to please join. Your membership dues make it possible for these groups to provide help, not just on a national level, but on a local level as well. The more members nationally a veteran's organization has, the more influence it has when lobbying for benefits like health care for our veterans.
William T. Bradley
Feb. 18, 2008
February 26, 2008
Manchester Daily Express
49 Hollis Street
Manchester, NH 03101
Letters – NH Union Leader
Post Office Box 9555
Manchester, NH 03108
Re: Governor Lynch’s inequitable fiscal policies hurt the poor
To the Editor:
Between last year’s excessive $10.3 billion state budget and this year’s $50 million in budget cuts due to the poorly performing economy, the constant thematic storyline is Governor John Lynch’s inequitable fiscal policies that hurt the poor.
I am a Veteran, but I only receive public assistance from the State of NH and the Social Security Administration, which includes Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicaid & Food Stamps. On July 19, 2004, I attended a VA hearing that President Bush ordered for me one city block from The White House because I protected innocent lives at the cost of my own interests as a Soldier in the U.S. Army. To this day, the VA only mocks me with terrible and disparaging medical opinions that have since been rebuked by a professional clinician.
What are my thanks for serving my nation honorably, receiving regards from our president, protecting innocent lives at the cost of my own interests, and being a Veteran? I will tell you what I get in return: Having a millionaire, elitist Governor who raises revenues and cuts services on the backs of the poor!
While Governor John Lynch favorably does not choose the VA’s cruel path of directly insulting me for my disabilities, instead he impersonally and indirectly mocks me (and other poor people like me) by his inequitable fiscal policies of regressive taxation via (a) the expansion of the state lottery with its new $30 scratch ticket, (b) increases in the cigarette tax and auto registration fees, and now (c) $22 million in nominal (not actual) reductions in the state’s Health & Human Services (HHS) Department budget.
Well, I rely on NH’s HHS’ public assistance programs for my survival and subsistence. Moreover, Governor Lynch is cutting $7 million in payments to hospitals for Medicaid patients. I want to know how I am going to be impacted by Governor John Lynch’s continual inequitable fiscal policies and now budget cuts against the interests of poor people like me.
Jonathan A. Melle
Manchester Daily Express, Monday, February 25, 2008, Page 9
“State News Briefs” –– “[John] Lynch sharpens budget axe: Governor wins approval for $50 million in cuts”
Concord, NH (AP) – [NH] Governor John Lynch won legislative approval Friday [, February 22, 2008,] for $50 million in cuts to this year’s state budget and warned he will be back soon with cuts to next year’s spending.
“The national economic situation continues to be volatile and we must continue to monitor revenues carefully,” Lynch told the legislative Fiscal Committee.
[John] Lynch also is seeking another $3 million in cuts from this year’s budget from the courts and Legislature. Lynch said legislation is needed for those cuts.
The cuts include freezes on most hiring, equipment purchases and out-of-state travel paid with general tax revenue. The hiring freeze does not apply to direct care, custodial care or law enforcement positions.
The cuts do not include layoffs, [John] Lynch said.
The Health & Human Services Department–the state’s largest agency–provided almost half the savings with $22 million in reductions. The biggest cut was $7 million in payments to hospitals for Medicaid patients.
Health & Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas said he asked the hospitals to get back to him with their ideas on how to implement the reductions. The plan must be sensitive to northern New Hampshire hospitals which would have a harder time absorbing across-the-board reductions, he said.
The department uses state money to get matching federal funding so the total impact on the agency’s budget is much larger.
The loss of federal funding and the hospital payment cuts drew the most attention from the committee members who helped write the budget.
“It is a difficult reduction to make. I acknowledge that,” Toumpas said.
[State] Senator Bob Odell, R-Lempster, said the hospitals have only 4-months to absorb a sizable cut.
“Then we want the hospitals to provide services to Medicaid patients,” he said. “There must be some other way to deal with this.”
“No matter which group it impacts, it is going to be a real challenge,” Toumpas replied.
[John] Lynch told the committee he will be back soon with another round of cuts to next year’s budget.
[John] Lynch and Democrats defended the $10.3 billion, two-year budget they approved eight months ago. What has happened since was unforeseen at the time, they said.
"Veterans can get more help"
The North Adams Transcript - Letters
Saturday, April 5, 2008
To the Editor:
In the past, the Veterans Administration held health fairs to inform veterans of entitlements and benefits and to enroll them into the VA Health Care system. Because of lack of funding, the VA no longer runs health fairs, so this responsibility for informing veterans falls on the state Department of Veterans Services and veterans agents.
Today, I want to tell you about Telehealth. In my opinion, this service is the future of medicine, and the VA is in the forefront of developing and implementing it, as well as incorporating it into its sophisticated computerized systems. Patients using Telehealth are instantly linked to the hospital. The information transmitted is evaluated by a nurse practitioner, and a special team assigned to the Telehealth program. Vital signs such as: blood glucose, peak flow, pulse oximeter readings, blood pressure, blood oxygen, pain, PT/INR, temperature, fluid level, and pulse monitors can be taken.
The VA program includes training the veteran, and/or his family members, so that they can learn to operate the systems. The patient or others helping to care for the veteran can also ask questions and receive instructions or educational information to better understand and take a more active role in their health care.
With Telehealth, the patient is engaged in an interactive daily contact with his health-care providers. This contact is very personal, and confidential, and it's in your home. In a way, it is like having the services of all of the hospital's resources visit you at home every day. I believe Telehealth will advance health care to another level of preventive medicine and improve the overall qualify of care. Telehealth allows the patient to be more independent and in control of his/her health care.
Who is eligible and how does one qualify for Telehealth? That is determined and authorized by your primary VA care physician. Qualification is determined by many factors, such as:
* Veterans who are using the VA medical services often.
* Veterans whose cost to the system indicates their conditions are not well controlled.
* House-bound veterans with long term illnesses.
* Veterans who are at risk of needing assisted-living situations or nursing homes.
* Veterans with high-risk health conditions.
The Telehealth Care system can provide a better qualify of life and help one maintain independence.
To learn more about Telehealth, send your questions to Gary Kuck, R.N., B.S.N., program coordinator, Care Coordination/Home Telehealth (CCHT), Northampton, VA Medical Center, Leeds, MA 01053, or call 413-584-4040, ext. 2242. Fax: 413-582-3178.
We seldom hear much good about the VA. Recent negative stories have brought to the public an awareness of the many shortcomings of the VA and the Department of Defense health-care systems. Because of these stories, the public is now aware of the results of years of under-funding for both health-care systems. Even though the Veterans' Administration has been under-funded, it is still at the forefront of medical research and in the use of technology to better serve our veterans' community.
William T. Bradley
April 1, 2008
The writer is veterans agent for the town of Adams.
"Our forgotten veterans"
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Sunday, April 13, 2008
It's been more than half a century since American soldiers returned home as conquering heroes, but the soldiers who fought more than three decades ago in Vietnam or within the last five years in Iraq are no different from those who fought in World War II, the last of the "good wars." They went overseas to do a job, and the soldiers back from Iraq or Afghanistan deserve to return to more than the spectacle of a few faded "support the troops" decals on the sides of SUVs. Unfortunately, far too many of them don't.
Last week's series on returning Iraq War veterans by Evan Lehmann of The Berkshire Eagle's Washington bureau (along with one contribution from David Perry of The Lowell Sun) used more than 1,500 pages of U.S. Labor Department documents to paint a shameful portrait of soldiers struggling to receive what a grateful nation should eagerly grant them. Veterans coming home with crippling injuries must fight bureaucrats within their branch of the service and the Veterans Administration to get the help they deserve. Others, primarily reservists, have found that their employers will not give them their jobs back when they return, and even though this is a violation of the law, the government bureaucracy is often slow or reluctant to help. This is an embarrassment to a nation that wears its patriotism on its sleeve.
The Walter Reed scandal blew the lid off shoddy treatment of physically and mentally crippled soldiers at the nation's premier military hospital. Those soldiers and many others ultimately disappear into the bureaucracy, where military boards deny them treatment without explanation and the Veterans Administration brushes them off. The military's medical system, much like the civilian one Americans deal with, is designed to deny care, to cut costs, and in this case, to push soldiers back into civilian life, ready or not. A White House that arrogantly thought the war in Iraq would be over in months didn't anticipate the return of thousands of severely injured soldiers, and the federal bureaucracy remains better equipped to frustrate them than to help them.
James Mitchell, communications director at the Office of Special Counsel, told Evan Lehmann he feared a "Walter Reed moment" if veterans continue to be denied their pre-service jobs in substantial numbers. A Defense Department survey found that 77 percent of returning soldiers had difficulty getting their jobs back, even with the law on the their side. Whatever the motivation is of employers, their behavior is not only immoral it will contribute to the difficulty ahead in rebuilding the reserve units in Massachusetts and elsewhere decimated by deaths, injuries and extended tours as the war drags on.
A bill introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy to force the U.S. Labor Department to act more quickly on veterans' complaints remains stalled in a Congress full of flag lapel-wearing war proponents. Matthew Tully, whose Albany, N.Y. law firm has sued more than 8,000 employers on behalf of returning veterans since 2003, asks why the government hasn't brought more lawsuits itself, but the answer is clear. A politicized Bush administration Justice Department whose lawyers were hired on the basis of right wing ideology has no interest in the plight of the working solider trying to get back into the workplace.
Many of the soldiers forgotten by their government and their employers, suffering from undiagnosed posttraumatic stress syndrome, alcoholism or other ailments, end up homeless. Roughly 1,500 veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan were homeless in 2006, and that number has likely increased. Soldier On, a nonprofit group based in Pittsfield and Northampton, has been at the forefront of the issue, and as president and CEO John E. Downing testified last week before Congress, the nation needs to provide more affordable housing for veterans along the lines of a project in Pittsfield that may serve as a pilot.
Our returning veterans need the help of groups like Soldier On as well as Congress and a government bureaucracy that is part of the problem. For that help to arrive, a nation that pays lip service to its appreciation of our fighting men and women must start fighting for them and for their cause.
"Troops and mental trauma"
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The finding by the Rand Corporation that roughly 20 percent of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have mental health issues is sobering, but hardly surprising. Other studies had hinted that the number was high, and the Rand's is the first independent report on the mental health of returning soldiers. This is a problem that Washington has only barely begun to address.
The mental health problems confronting returning soldiers generally fall equally among two categories. According to the study, about 300,000 current and former service members contacted in the Rand survey have symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress. Serving in a war zone is obviously stressful, and many of today's returning soldiers are suffering from what was called "shell shock" in World War I. As Colonel Loree Sutton, leader of a new Pentagon center on brain injury, said in response to the Rand report, soldiers have traditionally seen anxiety and depression as a sign of weakness, but now must realize "that seeking help is a sign of strength." When that help is sought, it must be there for them.
Another 320,000 soldiers have suffered head injuries, according to the study, many of them closed head injuries that are difficult to diagnose, many others traumatic penetrating head wounds. The concussive effects of the roadside bombs that are a major weapon of the Iraqi insurgency can cause brain damage that leaves no external marks. Medical science is only now beginning to fully understand the dramatic consequences of concussions, which can have long-term, personality-offering consequences. Returning soldiers suffering from head injuries will in most or many cases need assistance for the rest of their lives.
A recent three-part series by The Eagle's Evan Lehmann, discussed in The Eagle editorial of April 13, chronicled the federal government's inadequate and often dismissive treatment of returning veterans, including those with mental health issues. The Rand report, which was based on surveys of 1,965 service members from all branches, including those still in the military and those who have completed their service, was necessitated by the refusal of the Defense Department to release figures on the number of soldiers it had treated for mental problems. This secrecy, whether born of institutional paranoia or a cover-up of the seriousness of the issue, creates skepticism about whether the federal government intends to do what it is right for returning veterans.
Besides overcoming the culture of denial that prompts soldiers to keep mental problems a secret, Colonel Sutton says the Pentagon must add thousands of mental health professionals to handle this onslaught of mentally injured soldiers and improve and expand training and prevention programs. America owes soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with these serious problems the best care possible, regardless of the expense.
"Army recruits with bad pasts reviewed: Those who needed waivers to enlist more likely to reup"
By Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press (via The Boston Globe Online), April 30, 2008
WASHINGTON - Soldiers who need special waivers to get into the Army because of bad behavior go AWOL more often and face more courts-martial. But they also get promoted faster and reenlist at a higher rate, according to an internal military study obtained by the Associated Press.
The Army study concluded late last year that taking a chance on a well-screened applicant with a criminal, poor driving, or drug record usually pays off. And both the Army and the Marines have been bringing in more recruits with blemished records. Still, senior leaders have called for additional studies to help determine the impact of the waivers on the Army.
"We believe that so far the return outweighs the risk," said Army Colonel Kent M. Miller, who headed the team that conducted the study.
The information has not been released to the public, but the AP obtained a copy of the study.
The statistics show that recruits with criminal records or other drug and alcohol issues have more discipline problems. Those recruits also are a bit more likely to drop out of the Army because of alcohol.
On the brighter side, those with waivers earn more medals for valor and tend to stay in the Army longer.
In a key finding, the study said nearly one in five, or 19.5 percent, of the soldiers who needed waivers to join the Army failed to complete the initial term of enlistment, from two to six years. That percentage is just a bit higher than the 17 percent rate for those who did not need a waiver.
About 1 percent of those with waivers appeared before courts-martial, compared with about 0.7 percent of those without waivers.
Also, infantry soldiers with waivers were promoted to sergeant in an average of about 35 months, compared with 39 months for those without waivers.
The Army study compared the performance of soldiers who came in with conduct waivers against those who did not during the years 2003-2006.
In that time, 276,231 recruits enlisted in the Army with no prior military service. Of those, 6.5 percent, or nearly 18,000, had waivers.
In a comparison of both groups the study found that soldiers who had received waivers for bad behavior:
Had a higher desertion rate (4.26 percent vs. 3.23 percent).
Had a higher misconduct rate (5.95 percent vs. 3.55 percent).
Had a higher rate of appearances before courts-martial (1 percent vs. 0.71 percent).
Had a higher dropout rate for alcohol rehabilitation (0.27 percent vs. 0.12 percent).
But they also:
Were more likely to reenlist (28.48 percent vs. 26.76 percent).
Got promoted faster to sergeant (after 34.7 months vs. 39 months).
Had a lower rate of dismissal for personality disorders (0.93 percent vs. 1.12 percent).
Had a lower rate of dismissal for unsatisfactory performance (0.26 percent vs. 0.48 percent).
Waivers have been a controversial issue for the military in recent months, with the news that the Army and Marine Corps have increased their use of the exemptions to bring in more recruits with criminal records.
The Army and the Marine Corps are under pressure to attract recruits as they struggle to increase their size to meet the combat needs.
Lower-level officers have raised concerns with their leaders that the waiver-trend might increase disciplinary problems within their units.
"Springfield soldier killed in car crash in Germany"
The Associated Press, Monday, July 14, 2008
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — A memorial service will be held later this month for a soldier from Massachusetts killed in a single-car crash in Germany.
In a statement released today by the Heidelberg-based V Corps, the Army said Pfc. Jose Castro of Springfield, Mass. was killed Friday in the accident in downtown Grafenwoehr in southern Germany.
The 21-year-old was a decontamination specialist assigned to the 12th Chemical Co. at Grafenwoehr.
A memorial service for Castro will be held on July 24 at the Grafenwoehr chapel.
"Rough job market boosts Army"
By John Milburn and Stephen Manning, Associated Press, Wednesday, December 03, 2008
FORT RILEY, Kan. — Sgt. Ryan Nyhus spent 14 months patrolling the deadly streets of Baghdad, where five members of his platoon were shot and one died. As bad as that was, he would rather go back there than take his chances in this brutal job market.
Nyhus re-enlisted last Wednesday, and in so doing joined the growing ranks of those choosing to stay in the U.S. military because of the bleak economy.
"In the Army, you're always guaranteed a steady paycheck and a job," said the 21-year-old Nyhus. "Deploying's something that's going to happen. That's a fact of life in the Army — a fact of life in the infantry."
In 2008, as the stock market cratered and the housing market collapsed, more young members of the Army, Air Force and Navy decided to re-up. While several factors might explain the rise in re-enlistments, including a decline in violence in Iraq, Pentagon officials acknowledge that bad news for the economy is usually good news for the military.
In fact, the Pentagon just completed its strongest recruiting year in four years.
"We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society," said David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "What difficult economic times give us, I think, is an opening to make our case to people who we might not otherwise have."
The retention rate of early-career soldiers in the Army has risen steadily over the past four years and now stands 20 percentage points higher than it was in fiscal 2004. As for the Navy and the Air Force, early- and mid-career sailors and airmen re-enlisted at a higher rate in October than during the same period in 2007. The Marine Corps was not immediately able to provide comparative figures on re-enlistments.
Alex Stewart joined the Army two years ago, when the factory where he worked as a welder started laying off.
He was sent to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, which suffered 87 deaths last year, the highest total suffered by the 20,000-member unit since the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan began.
When his hitch was up in earlier this year, the 32-year-old from Grand Rapids, Mich., didn't hesitate to re-up for five more years.
"I want a stable life for my wife in a very shaky economy," Stewart said. "There were no other options."
Stewart's new assignment will take him to Germany, where he will serve as a truck driver, though it is always possible he could be sent back into combat.
"I figure if I do another five or 10 years in the Army," he said, "the economy will turn around and I can get a truck-driving job."
Army Spc. Alicia Fauls, 20, of the Woodlands, Texas, had two years to go when she re-enlisted last week at Fort Riley, home of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, which has one brigade in Iraq, one headed home and another preparing to ship out.
She has not been sent into the war zone yet but knows an assignment in Iraq or Afghanistan is probably in her future.
"I did have only two years left, but I'm not sure what I would do," Fauls said. "It's harder to find jobs. If I do wait to get out, the economy should be in better shape."
When Nyhus' tour in Iraq ended last April, he talked to his wife about getting out of the Army and working toward a college degree. But the father of a 2-year-old daughter opted for the job security, even though he is likely to be sent back to Iraq as a member of the 4th Infantry Division, which has shouldered a heavy burden of the fighting.
Marine Staff Sgt. Angela Mink, who was injured in a helicopter accident in Iraq in 2004 and now works in public affairs at the Corps' New River air station in North Carolina, said the thought of taking a civilian job "without my fellow Marines just didn't appeal to me."
Moreover, she had little hope of finding a private-sector job that pays as well as the Marines.
"Equivalent pay is nonexistent, once you factor in insurance premiums, housing costs," said Mink, 37. "And we would definitely have had to relocate. I have a child with a disability and what civilian employer is going to take that into consideration when they think of moving you somewhere?"
And so the married mother of five signed up recently for four more years.
Roughly 208,000 men and women left the military in 2007. Some were rank-and-file warriors, while others worked in specialized fields such as satellite communications or computer networking. Only about 30 percent of enlisted soldiers hold a bachelor's degree.
The job market is still fairly good for veterans with technical skills, especially those coveted by defense contractors, said Carl Savino, a retired Army major who runs a company outside Washington that offers employment services to new veterans.
Sgt. Michael Rodriguez, 29, of San Antonio, decided to get out after he landed a job with a defense contractor working on communications systems. "I feel pretty secure with them," said Rodriguez, who will leave the military soon.
But even defense-contractor jobs could dry up as the economic crisis deepens, Savino said.
"Jobs are getting harder to come by for veterans," Savino said. "The farther they deviate from the defense contractors, who are still in reasonably strong shape, the more challenging it is."
"Job cuts at highest level since '02: Planned payroll reductions surge 61% in November, according to an outplacement firm."
By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer, December 3, 2008, 9:13 AM ET.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Jobs took another painful hit in November, with planned cuts rising to the highest level in seven years, according to a report released Wednesday by an outplacement firm.
Job cut announcements by U.S. employers soared to 181,671 last month, up 61% from October's 112,884 cuts, and 148% higher than the same period a year ago, when 73,140 job cuts were announced, according to the report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
November's total represents the second highest on record, shy of the 248,475 planned layoffs in January 2002, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Financial and retail industries were hit the hardest, Challenger said. Citigroup's plans to cut its staff levels by more than 50,000 brought the financial sector's announced job cuts to 91,356 last month. The financial industry has announced 220,506 job cuts so far in 2008, representing 21% of all layoffs this year.
Retailers added another 11,000 cuts in November, ahead of the holiday season.
Of the 25 industry categories that the Challenger report tracks, 12 reported higher job cuts in November compared to the previous month. Nine industries announced hiring plans, led by energy, industrial goods and construction.
Challenger said November's numbers bring the total of planned job cuts to 1,057,645 for 2008 to date, surpassing 1 million for the first time since 2005.
Separately, payroll manager ADP said Wednesday that the private sector lost a seasonally adjusted 250,000 jobs last month - worse than expected and the largest decrease since November 2002.
The reports set the tone for another dismal employment report expected from the Department of Labor on Friday. That report is expected to show that 325,000 jobs were lost in November, and that the unemployment rate grew to 6.8% from 6.5% a month earlier, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.
The outlook for the current month isn't any brighter.
"The spirit of the holidays will not preclude further job-cutting if economic conditions continue to deteriorate," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "In fact, December has historically been among the larger job-cut months of the year, with many employers making last-minute staffing adjustments to meet year-end earnings goals."
First Published: December 3, 2008: 7:30 AM ET.
"Ways to support wounded soldiers"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Thursday, December 04, 2008
In response to a recent letter about mail to wounded soldiers, Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials will not accept letters addressed to "any wounded soldier" in support of the decision by then deputy undersecretary of defense for transportation policy in 2001. This decision was made to insure the safety and well-being of patients and staff at medical centers throughout the Department of Defense. In addition, the U.S. Postal Service is no longer accepting "any service member" or "any wounded service member" letters or packages. Mail to "any service member" that is deposited into a collection box will not be delivered.
Instead of sending to "any wounded soldier" letters or packages to Walter Reed, please consider making a donation to one of the more that 300 nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping our troops and their families listed on the "America Supports You" Web site, www.americasupportsyou.mil
Those wishing to send holiday cards to recovering soldiers should instead look to the Holiday Mail for Heroes program.
"Army Sends 'Dear John Doe' Letters to Families of Fallen Troops"
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post Staff Writer, Thursday, January 8, 2009; A05
The Army mistakenly sent letters addressed "Dear John Doe" to 7,000 family members of soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, unleashing calls from troubled relatives and prompting a formal apology yesterday from the Army's top general.
"The indication that anyone would perceive that a hero is not significant, that they would not direct this personally to them, is shattering," said Merrilee Carlson, whose son, Sgt. Michael Carlson, died in Baqubah, Iraq, on Jan. 24, 2005. "While it's a simple mistake, it's a very tragic mistake," said Carlson, who learned of the letter from other families and expected to receive one yesterday.
The letters, mailed late last month by the Army's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center in Alexandria, contained information about private organizations that assist families of the fallen. But in what the Army called a printing error by a contractor, the letters did not contain specific names and addresses; instead, they had the placeholder greeting "Dear John Doe."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. is sending a personal apology letter to the 7,000 family members, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said yesterday. "Obviously, this is insensitive, and we wanted to apologize," said Boyce, adding that the Army became aware of what he called the "glitch" when several families began contacting the service in recent days.
"There are no words to adequately apologize for this mistake or for the hurt it may have caused," Brig. Gen. Reuben D. Jones, the Army adjutant general, wrote yesterday in a statement.
At the same time, he said, "it is important the original intent of the letter is not lost. The organizations mentioned are dedicated to honoring loved ones and recognizing their sacrifice and commitment."
Carlson said she is contacting other Army Gold Star mothers -- a designation for mothers of troops who died in military service -- to warn them about the letter and explain that it was a mistake. "The Army treasures its heroes, and they will work hard to make sure it never happens again," said Carlson, president of Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, a Washington-based nonprofit coalition that includes family members of fallen troops and supports the mission of building democracy in the Middle East.
"Sleep deprivation and negative emotions"
By Judy Foreman, Boston Globe Staff, August 3, 2009
Q. Is sleep deprivation linked to negative emotions?
A. It certainly is. In fact, after being deprived of just one full night’s sleep, people not only have stronger negative emotions the next day, they are much more likely to remember bad experiences than good.
One key study showing the strength of negative emotions after sleep deprivation was conducted by radiologist Seung-Schik Yoo of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and others. Twenty-six healthy young men and women (ages 18 to 30) with no history of psychiatric problems were divided into two groups, one that was deprived of sleep for 35 hours and one that was not. Both groups were then tested in functional magnetic resonance imaging scanners and were shown pictures that ranged from neutral to extremely upsetting, such as images of mutilated animals.
When viewing the upsetting pictures, those who were sleep-deprived showed much more activation of the amygdala, a primitive part of the brain that governs emotional arousal, especially responses to fear. At the same time, the sleep-deprived folks showed less activation of the medial-prefrontal cortex, the front part of the brain that puts a brake on amygdala activity, than the control group.
The reasons for these changes are not known, says Yoo, whose study was published in 2007 in Current Biology, but it’s clear that sleep deprivation is linked to “negative feedback all over the place.’’ And that may be true even if you don’t miss an entire night’s sleep.
Sleep doesn’t immediately chase away the negativity, according to a 2006 review published in the Annual Review of Psychology. Robert Stickgold, associate professor of psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says data suggest that even after sleep-deprived people get a couple of nights of good sleep, there is still a “horrible bias shift’’ in their memories of events from the day after their lost sleep.
They “remember twice as much of the bad stuff as the good stuff. If you were living a life of four to five hours’ sleep a night, you might after a while only remember the bad things that happen. If that’s not a route to depression, I don’t know what is.’’
Moral of the story: If you want to be happy, don’t skimp on sleep.
E-mail health questions to email@example.com.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, CHARLES A. CZEISLER
"Drowsy-driving tragedies preventable"
By Charles A. Czeisler, August 3, 2009
RECENTLY, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that drowsy driving was the probable cause of the fatal collision of two MBTA Green Line trains in Newton last year. The safety board concluded that MBTA operator Ter’rese Edmonds, who was killed in the crash, did not respond to a red stop signal, likely because she briefly fell asleep at the wheel.The board concluded that she was at high risk for having an undiagnosed sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea. Urine drug testing also revealed her prior use of a sedating antihistamine commonly used in over-the-counter treatments for insomnia, allergies, and the common cold, although the chemical was no longer detectable in her blood at the time of the crash.
Drowsy driving is one of the most common causes of crashes in all modes of transportation. The board has also found that fatigue is the most common cause of fatal-to-the-driver truck crashes - equal to drug- and alcohol-related crashes combined. Auto drivers are no exception. Every day in the United States, 250,000 motorists fall asleep at the wheel, causing 8,000 deaths and 60,000 debilitating injuries annually. Fortunately, such tragic drowsy-driving crashes are preventable.
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Drowsy Driving Commission, chaired by state Senator Richard T. Moore of Uxbridge, made a series of recommendations to reduce drowsy-driving crashes. Education about the risks of drowsy driving is a critical first step, which is why the safety board faulted the MBTA for having an inadequate program for educating train operators about the risks of fatigue. The diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders is a second critical step, which is why the board faulted the MBTA for having an inadequate program to identify and treat sleep disorders among train operators.
Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation - which affect 50 million to 70 million Americans - increase the risk of attentional failures and distraction, lengthen reaction time, degrade cognitive performance, impair immune responses, increase mood swings, and interfere with memory consolidation and learning. Yet the Institute of Medicine recently estimated that 90 percent of Americans with the sleep disorder known as obstructive sleep apnea are undiagnosed and untreated.
Sleep disorders medicine is given scant attention in most medical schools and academic medical centers, which chronically sleep-deprive physicians-in-training by scheduling them to work 30-hour shifts twice each week, to the detriment of both the trainees and their patients. Consequently, even when a patient seeks help from a doctor for the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, it can often take several years to be correctly diagnosed. Then, only half of those diagnosed comply with treatment, yielding a 5 percent success rate.
We can and should do better because obstructive sleep apnea is a serious disease. It robs individuals of the restorative value of sleep, since they have difficulty breathing during sleep. Many awaken more than 100 times a night in order to breathe. Choking off the air supply during sleep activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases blood pressure. In fact, untreated obstructive sleep apnea is the leading known cause of hypertension, or high blood pressure, likely accounting for an estimated one-third of cases. Obstructive sleep apnea alters metabolism and may increase risk of obesity, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, ventricular arrhythmias, and sudden cardiac death at night.
Obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes by 500 to 700 percent and raises medical costs. Schneider Trucking recently reported that introduction of a screening and treatment program for obstructive sleep apnea among drivers in its trucking fleet reduced fatigue-related truck crashes by 30 percent, cut medical costs in treated drivers by 58 percent, and increased its driver retention rate.
The effects of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation on driver performance are comparable to those of elevated blood alcohol concentrations, and should be taken just as seriously. Identification and treatment of sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea can reduce the risk of crashes and improve public safety. It is time to implement the recommendations of both the safety board and the Massachusetts Drowsy Driving Commission to reduce the risks of one of the leading preventable causes of transportation crashes: fatigue.
Charles A. Czeisler, a professor and director of sleep medicine divisions at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was a member of the Massachusetts Drowsy Driving Commission.
Starting this fall, every soldier will have to take a test designed to target potential mental or emotional problems caused by repeated deployments. (Chris Ryan/Getty Images)
"Army's New Bid to Promote Mental Health: 170 questions.: Every Soldier Will Soon Take Test for Mental Problems From Repeat Deployments"
By GORDON LUBOLD, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor via ABC News, August 23, 2009 —
The Army is set to introduce a new mental-health test of unprecedented size and scope as part of its increasing efforts to improve soldiers' mental wellness amid the strain of repeated deployments.
Come October, the service will require all its active duty, National Guard, and reserve soldiers to take a test that will help identify potential problem areas for soldiers. The 170-question test will look at physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and family issues and then recommend follow-on training as needed.
The program comes as the Army is tackling rising suicide rates, divorce, and depression among thousands of soldiers returning from war. But unlike other programs, which seek to intervene when a soldier's issues have already been flagged by other screening methods, this program aims to be more proactive.
About 4,000 soldiers have already taken the test under a pilot program begun with the help of the University of Pennsylvania.
"We recognized that we did not have a good preventive and strengthening model for psychological health," said Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, chief the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. "We talk about it a lot we say all the time, being 'Army Strong' is not just being physically fit, it's about mental and emotional maturity, compassion and all those great qualities. But we didn't know how to measure them and improve them."
Cornum is particularly well-suited to lead the effort. During the 1991 Gulf War, she was riding in a helicopter that was shot down inside Iraq. She was held captive for eight days and experienced the indignities of being a female prisoner of war, including sexual assault.
For an institution that molds warriors, the program will test the ability of the rank and file to move beyond the natural stigma of talking about feelings. James Quick, a fellow at the American Psychological Association and a retired Air Force colonel, says such a program aims for more thorough wellness.
"Most people understand the physical rigor that is required of combat troops," he said. "But the mental-health attributes are equally as important."
Army's New Bid to Promote Mental Health
The results of the assessment will remain confidential withheld even from soldiers' commanders. The results are intended to help the soldier find appropriate training or counseling.
The effort is a good one, but it doesn't get to the root of the problem, says Larry Korb, a former Pentagon official and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "The fundamental problem that they're not dealing with is that they're not giving people enough rest between deployments," he says.
The military has long pushed its force to the brink and must take substantive steps to give its force the rest it needs, he says.
That seems unlikely as the Obama administration girds for a surge of forces in Afghanistan.
"I understand they have no choice, but somebody's got to say enough is enough," Mr. Korb adds.
Some of the soldiers who returned to Fort Carson, Colo., from Iraq in 2005 have had problems with post-traumatic stress. (Kevin Kreck/ The Gazette/ Associated Press)
"Veterans forsake studies of stress: Stigma impedes search for remedies"
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe Staff, August 24, 2009
WASHINGTON - Researchers testing ways to treat the psychological wounds of war among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are encountering a serious roadblock: a shortage of willing study participants.
A strong stigma in the military associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is blamed for the reluctance of combat veterans to take part in a pair of treatment programs being evaluated by staff from the Veterans Administration in Boston at facilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, study directors said.
The VA and the Pentagon hope the studies will lead to a standard intervention when veterans and returning soldiers exhibit signs of post-battle stress, reducing domestic abuse and other violence. In one study, they are measuring the effectiveness of intensive couples counseling; in another, they are schooling veterans in anger management.
But since recruiting began at the beginning of the year, only 10 couples have signed up for the first study, far short of the 440 needed, according to officials. Out of 135 male veterans needed for the second study, mean while, only 13 have been accepted so far.
“The problem is that part of PTSD is not really wanting to talk about your PTSD - not wanting to talk about anything that might bring up traumatic memories,’’ said Dr. Casey Taft, a psychologist who is overseeing the work at the National Center for PTSD at the VA Medical Center in Boston.
Researchers are expanding their outreach, meeting with military and veterans groups several times a week, distributing fliers at VA hospitals across the region, and placing ads in military outlets. A new website, www.strengthathome.com, has also been launched to drum up more participation in the studies, which are supported by $3.5 million in grants.
The Pentagon is sponsoring the research into treatments for individual service members, and the Centers for Disease Control is backing the work with veterans and their spouses.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to threatening situations or physical harm. It generates emotional detachment and a propensity to be easily startled, often resulting in aggressive behavior and violence. The government estimates that at least one-third of all service members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from some form of mental trauma after their tour of duty. Those who have served repeat tours have been found to be more prone to psychological problems.
The disorder was found to be a major contributor in as many as 11 murders in 2007 and 2008 allegedly committed by members of an Army unit that returned from its second tour in Iraq, according to a recent Army study of the brigade based at Fort Carson, Colo. Soldiers in the unit were also found to be involved in a rash of other crimes, including beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug abuse, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnappings, and suicides.
While the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs have made significant strides educating service members about stress disorders and encouraging active duty service members and veterans and their families to seek help from a variety of new counseling programs, officials say there remains stiff resistance in the ranks to acknowledging mental wounds from combat.
Such resistance is seen as a major impediment to tackling the traumatic stress problem.
In some of his most expansive comments on the subject, President Obama recently said he has instructed top veterans officials to focus on “making sure that we are doing the screening that’s necessary so that problems don’t fester, and eliminating the stigma that may have historically existed when somebody is showing symptoms of PTSD, particularly if they’re still in [Iraq or Afghanistan], or still on active duty.’’
One of the Boston-area studies is looking specifically at the effects of PTSD on families and ways to prevent psychological problems brought on by combat from escalating into domestic violence, Taft said. The 10-week program begins with sessions to educate couples about the ailment and how it can lead to confrontation.
Taft said a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder tends to disconnect emotionally from his or her partner even as the spouse wants to return to the intimacy they enjoyed before deployment. Combined with the veteran’s ability to be easily irritated and inability to sleep, “that can really lead to problems,’’ he said.
Subsequent phases of the couples study introduce new combinations of techniques to manage conflict in the home better and improve communication skills.
The second study, a 12-week program, is designed only for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and focuses heavily on anger management.
Taft said his researchers have done a lot of work on therapies to help veterans overcome what he called a “heightened level of threat perception.’’
Due to the nature of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan - where an innocent-looking bystander can be a suicide bomber or enemy insurgent - service members must be constantly aware of their environment, scanning their surroundings for the smallest sign of a threat. That vigilance can be hard to turn off at home, sometimes leading to the false impression that a family member or other person wants to cause harm.
But getting veterans to agree to treatment is proving to be the toughest part, Taft said. And, he warned, “the more they avoid seeking help the worse their symptoms will get.’’
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"Army worries about 'toxic' leaders in ranks"
By Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post, 6/26/2011
A major U.S. Army survey of leadership and morale found that more than 80 percent of Army officers and sergeants had directly observed a "toxic" leader in the last year and that about 20 percent of the respondents had worked directly for one.
The survey of some 22,000 Army leaders was conducted by the Center for Army Leadership and comes during a year when the Army has removed or discipline three brigade commanders who were en route to, or returning from. war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Selection to command a combat brigade, which consists of about 5,000 soldiers and is commanded by a colonel, is highly competitive in the Army.
The survey also found that 97 percent had observed an "exceptional leader" within the Army in the last year.
The Army defined toxic leaders as commanders who put their own needs first, micro-managed subordinates, behaved in a mean-spirited manner or displayed poor decision making.
About half of the soldiers who worked under toxic leaders expected that their selfish and abusive commanders would be promoted to a higher level of leadership.
The Army began conducting annual surveys of its leaders in 2005 to determine trends in morale, the overall quality of leadership and the willingness of Army leaders to stay in the military until retirement.
The strain of combat in Afghanistan, which has seen an increase of about 65,000 troops since President Obama took office, did not appear to cause a major drop in morale. Over all, about 43 percent of active-duty Army leaders serving in Afghanistan reported high morale in 2010, compared with 47 percent in 2009.
About 55 percent of Army leaders in the United States reported high morale in 2010, down from 63 percent in 2009, a sign that some leaders, accustomed to repeated battlefield tours, may be chafing at the the regimented and rule-oriented nature of garrison life as the pace of combat deployment slows.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was recently selected to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has led a series of initiatives aimed a producing quicker-thinking and more flexible Army leaders.
As part of that effort, the Army is exploring whether subordinates' views should be factored into the evaluations of commanders being considered for higher-level posts.
"Disabled Vets Memorial to Open in 2014"
Military.com - By Bryant Jordan, August 12, 2013
ATLANTA -- A different kind of war memorial will open to the public next year in Washington, D.C.
It may be the most unique tribute to veterans since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund surprised the design world by building the somber and powerful wall of names more than 30 years ago. Unlike the Vietnam Wall and scores of other memorials, this one will honor wounded warriors.
“You had your whole lives ahead of you, but you were willing to risk all of it for this land that we love,” President Obama said on Saturday to more than 3,000 veterans who gathered here for the Disabled American Veterans national convention. “And next year, your profound sacrifice will be recognized in the heart of our nation’s capital when our country dedicates the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.”
The $81.5 million memorial, which will feature 48 glass display panels, will open on Oct. 12, 2014, according to the Disabled Veterans' Life Memorial Foundation. It will sit on a 2.4-acre site across from the U.S. Botanic Garden. Its centerpiece will be a star-shaped fountain -- each point representing a service branch -- and pool that will capture the reflection of the nearby U.S. Capitol.
“We looked at 22 sites that were given to us by the National Park Service. We selected [the C Street] location because of its proximity to the U.S. Capitol,” said Rick Fenstermacher, chief executive officer for the project. “We wanted Congress to be able to look at the memorial and see that the cost of war is more than [the price] of bullets and bombs.”
Inscribed on the thick, transparent panels will be quotations that help tell the story of war’s wounded and crippled, along with historic images of servicemembers and veterans reproduced from archival photos. Behind the images -- seen through the transparent panels -- will be bronze sculptures depicting the returned wounded veterans.
For Barry Owenby, the construction marks his second turn as project executive on a major memorial for veterans in Washington. Owenby also was project director for the World War II Memorial.
A common question Owenby has received thus far has been: “Where do the names go?”
Since the Vietnam War Memorial went up three decades ago, there is often a perception among many that a memorial will, or should, include the names of those being memorialized. But with more than 400,000 American troops killed in World War II and nearly 700,000 others wounded, Owenby said he had to explain to some that “there’s not enough room.”
That’s even truer in the case of a memorial to disabled veterans, of which there are currently more than 3 million, he said.
The foundation behind the project was established in 1998, largely through the drive and initial funding of Lois Pope, a Florida philanthropist. Pope previously told interviewers that during her days as a singer in New York City she performed for a group of wounded veterans just back from Vietnam. She was so moved by them that she hoped to one day honor them in some way.
In the mid-1990s, Pope, the wealthy widow of National Enquirer founder Generoso Pope, was reportedly surprised during a trip to Washington to learn there was no memorial to disabled veterans. She formed the non-profit foundation with Arthur Wilson, national adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans, as president, and former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown.
The project is entirely funded by contributions -- from individuals, organizations and corporations -- with Congress providing the space and authorizizing the organization to establish the memorial. To date, more than 1.1 million donors have contributed, according to Fenstermacher.
While the foundation received sizeable contributions from some organizations and individuals, including more than $5 million from Pope, it also took in much smaller amounts at times.
“Some people sent in envelops with just loose change, and a note saying ‘This is all I can afford,’ ” he said. “They didn’t have much, but it’s obvious they had a strong feeling for what the memorial is about and were compelled to donate.
“It kind of rips your heart out,” he said.
- Jonathan Melle
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