Friday, June 25, 2010

Soldier Surprises His Daughter at Graduation

With her father away on military service in the Middle East, Chelsea Jusino was resigned to attending her high school graduation without him.
But when she donned her graduation gown and went to the ceremony at a baseball stadium in Clearwater, Fla., she got a surprise.

After Gary Schlereth, principal of Countryside High School, spoke to the students about adulthood, he introduced a video on the stadium's JumboTron screen. There was Chelsea's dad, Edgar.

"Chelsea, I know due to certain circumstances, I have not always been there for you and that I have missed many important dates in your life," the elder Jusino said, according to Tampa Bay Online. "I want you to know that I will always be there for you in your most hardest, most difficult, most lonely times. I will be there to pick you up when you fall. Wipe your knees and hands. Clean your feet. Wipe your tears. Give you a shoulder to cry. Give you a hug, with a kiss."

Before shipping out with the Army National Guard in December, Edgar Jusino went to the school's video studio and recorded his three-minute message aimed at the class in general and his daughter specifically. He ended the message by telling her that he loved her. The school kept the video, and kept it quiet, for nearly six months, Tampa Bay Online said.

Chelsea, who watched the message with tears in her eyes, was touched and amazed.

""I was definitely surprised," Chelsea told ABC. "Seeing him there, just seeing him, made me feel so good."

Chelsea and the other proud graduates of Countryside High School then stepped up to the stage and collected their high school diplomas.

Military's pain relief programs fall short

Army surgeon general Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The military's failure to provide consistent and coordinated pain relief to troops contributes to suicides, prescription drug abuse and aggravates cases of mental illness and brain injury, according to an Army task force investigation.

Prescribing doctors rely too often on narcotic pain relievers, while a "no pain, no gain" military culture encourages troops to ignore injuries until discomfort becomes chronic, says the 169-page task force report released Wednesday.

The 22-member task force was created last year to examine how the military treats wound and injury pain — a growing consequence of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and develop a comprehensive plan to treat it.

The Pentagon must reorganize how it deals with troops in pain, including training and hiring more pain-management specialists and finding different methods of pain relief other than narcotics, the report says.

Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, said in a statement that the report will help the entire military improve how it handles pain management.

Prescription drug abuse in the military is rising, records show. About 22% of troops said they abused pain drugs in the previous year, a 2008 Pentagon health survey showed, and 13% said they had done so in the previous 30 days.

The military fails to screen ailing servicemembers for their risk of substance abuse, the report says. It calls for screening troops to help doctors better manage those prone to drug dependency. Forty-five percent of troops in the military health care system may be at risk for substance abuse, the report says.

"It is basically saying, 'Let's take a look at what we need to do and why we need to do it and be very honest with ourselves,' " says Rollin Gallagher, the Department of Veterans Affairs' pain management director and task force member.

The military health care system doesn't identify ailing troops early enough or say, " 'We know that you guys have come off a really hard deployment. Everybody's got aches and pains. … Let's give you time to heal and get better,' " says Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired Army brigadier general who assisted the task force.

Schoomaker said the military will examine alternatives to painkillers.

Gunshot sensors missing in battle

Lt. Gen. James Thurman, deputy chief of staff for Army operations, wrote in a September directive that nearly 15,000 gunshot detectors could be required just to meet immediate needs.

By Peter Eisler and Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Army remains months away from giving most combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan sensors that locate enemy gunmen, seven years after troops first requested them and a year after Congress granted the service's request for $50 million to buy them, military records show.

The Army spent $13 million in March for 2,050 of the iPod-size gunshot detectors, which use the sound of an attacker's bullet and muzzle blast to locate him. That's far short of the 15,000 to 38,000 that the service has estimated it needs for troops in the two wars.

The detectors bought so far, called a Soldier Wearable Acoustic Targeting System (SWATS), are going to combat units with urgent needs. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings says the Army plans to begin larger-scale purchases in July, with deliveries into 2012.

"The slow pace of (spending) available funding for the life-saving SWATS … causes concern," the panels warned in a report attached to the 2010 Defense budget. "The Army is expected to correct the situation quickly."

Combat units began asking for the detectors in 2003, Army records show. By 2007, an early version was deemed safe and 1,200 were sent to combat troops the next year for evaluation. The Army Infantry Center at Fort Benning in Georgia proposed in August 2008 that a formal purchasing program be set up to buy up to 37,660 over time, according to its records. The program still is not set up.

"There's a lot of evaluation that has to be done," Cummings said. "Are you providing soldiers with the right technology? Do you give every soldier one, or does every unit get so many? If you're providing more than is required on the battlefield or if it's not the right technology, you waste taxpayers' money."

Small-arms fire has eclipsed roadside bombs as the most common attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Ambushes, sniper fire and other shootings rose from 250 a month in October 2006 to more than 1,000 a month at points this spring, Pentagon data show.

By contrast, shootings in Iraq have fallen from 1,500 a month in late 2006 to fewer than 50 a month.

Lt. Gen. James Thurman, deputy chief of staff for Army operations, wrote in a September directive that nearly 15,000 gunshot detectors could be required just to meet immediate needs.

The March contract for 2,050 SWATS was issued by a "rapid equipping" office that can buy a limited amount of equipment outside a formal purchasing program. But without a formal program in place, $37 million of the $50 million the Army requested from Congress to buy the devices still is unspent.

Army Secretary John McHugh ordered a "comprehensive review" of Army purchasing programs in May after several internal and external studies

U.S.'s Afghan pullout still set for 2011

The Obama administration reaffirmed Sunday that it will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan next summer, despite reservations among top generals that absolute deadlines are a mistake.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said a plan to begin bringing forces home in July 2011 still holds.

"That's not changing. Everybody agreed on that date," Emanuel said on ABC's This Week. He named the top three officials overseeing the policy girding the war: Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Petraeus, the war's top military boss, said last week that he would recommend delaying the pullout if conditions in Afghanistan warranted it. Days after the date was announced in December, Gates pointedly said it was not a deadline.

Gates pledged Sunday that some troops would begin to leave in 13 months, but he was more cautious. "We clearly understand that in July of 2011, we begin to draw down our forces," he said on Fox News Sunday. � The Associated Press

Army ditches Velcro for buttons

By Tom Vanden Brook

WASHINGTON � The Army is ripping space-age Velcro from its uniforms and replacing it with the humble button, which turns out to be tailor-made for the rigors of Afghanistan.

Hook-and-pile tape � the generic term for Velcro � strains to keep jam-packed cargo pants pockets closed. And when the Taliban attacks, the last thing soldiers need to worry about is spilling their gear.

Soldiers told superiors that Velcro didn't suit their needs, and the Army began testing alternatives last year, says Debi Dawson, an Army spokeswoman. In August, the Army will begin issuing new pants to soldiers heading to Afghanistan.

"When concerns surfaced in surveys that the hook-and-pile tape was not holding under the weight of full pocket loads, the Army evaluated several solutions," Dawson says. Velcro has been part of the latest Army combat uniform since it was introduced in 2004.

Dirt and rocks also clog the pile portion of the fastener. That requires soldiers to clean it regularly. An Army website offers this helpful hint: a soldier's small weapons cleaning brush has been "working very well" in removing dirt and sand.

"This is the latest proof that dust and debris are the biggest enemy for the U.S. military," says Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute and a defense consultant.

Sgt. Kenny Hatten cut to the heart of the matter in this posting on an Army website:

"Get rid of the pocket flap Velcro and give us back our buttons," Hatten wrote. "Buttons are silent, easy to replace in the field, work just fine in the mud, do not clog up with dirt and do not fray and disintegrate with repeated laundering."

Somebody, apparently, was listening.

Snaps and buttons were identified as possible fixes for failing Velcro. Soldiers testing prototype uniforms favored buttons. In the end, the Army decided to substitute three buttons for Velcro on the cargo pockets of its pants.

It's cheaper, too. The Army will save 96 cents per uniform, Dawson says.

The new uniforms will still have plenty of Velcro, the sticky fabric popularized in spaceflights. (Astronauts use it to keep pens and other items from floating in the weightless environment.) Velcro will remain on the cuffs of sleeves and be used for nameplates and patches.

Burial load, poor records stress Arlington site

Scott Adams, 46, carries his daughter Alyssa Adams, 13, followed by his niece Charlotte Akers, 3, as he and other family members visit his father's grave site in Section 66 of Arlington National Cemetery in Northern Virginia.

ARLINGTON, Va. — After the Army announced that Arlington National Cemetery mishandled the remains of more than 200 troops, Margaret Timmons decided to trek out to her husband's headstone on Sunday to make sure he was still where she laid him to rest 34 years ago.

The plot of her husband, Navy Senior Petty Officer Jerome Timmons, is near the corner of Bradley and MacArthur drives in Section 66, one of the cemetery areas where the Army says it uncovered several cases of misidentified or improperly buried remains.

With a bouquet of red carnations and her youngest daughter by her side, Timmons felt a bit more at peace after visiting her husband's grave, which appeared to be in good shape. But Timmons, 75, of New Carrolton, Md., said she's disturbed about the situation.

"I am really shocked. This is the most prestigious cemetery in the world," said Timmons, whose husband served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. "I just can't believe they let this happen."

ARLINGTON VISITORS: Cemetery mix-up 'upsetting'

By Sunday, spokeswoman Kaitlin Horst said the cemetery had received more than 500 calls from family members concerned about their loved ones' grave sites.

Aggrieved family members, veterans groups and members of Congress are all asking the same question: How could officials at Arlington — the hallowed final resting place of presidents, generals, astronauts and troops that fought in conflicts going back to the Civil War — let this happen?

The Veterans of Foreign Wars believes one explanation could be an antiquated record-keeping system that is used to keep track of the 330,000 servicemembers buried at the sprawling cemetery.

Cemetery officials use handwritten, 3-by-5 index cards to track the graves and maps of the cemetery are sometimes inaccurate, according to an Army report released last week.

From 2002 to 2009, officials at Arlington awarded more than 35 contracts valued at more than $5.5 million to help digitize records — an effort that largely failed, according to the report. Army investigators said the lack of an automated system contributed to repeated mistakes in the interment process.

"This is the year 2010," said Joe Davis, a VFW spokesman. "Electronic record-keeping is not a new thing. This is off-the-shelf technology."

By comparison, the Department of Veterans Affairs has automated records for its 131 cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico. The VA has a website that allows users to locate graves using basic biographical information of a veteran, Katie Roberts, the VA press secretary, said Sunday.

The VA introduced its online grave locator in 2004, spokesman Drew Brookie said.

Perhaps further complicating matters is the spike in demand for Arlington burials, said Robert Fells of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, a trade group.

Troop deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and rising numbers of veterans dying from World War II, Korea and Vietnam have forced delays in Arlington burials of up to six weeks, the Army report said.

The Army said Arlington held 2,740 funerals in 1972. Now, it handles 6,400 services annually.

Still, digitizing could have helped avoid mistakes, Fells said. "It's much easier to save them on a computer," he said.

Former Navy aviator Dan Coffman, who was visiting the cemetery on Sunday, said the mistakes were unforgivable and the mismanagement astounding. The cemetery's superintendent, John Metzler, announced before the report was made public last week that he will retire July 2.

"I know the politicians love to play the blame game, and I'm always critical of that," said Coffman, 77, after touring the cemetery with his wife and daughter. "But in this case I am not. I hope heads start rolling."

After visiting her father's grave on Sunday, Megan Timmons-Nies, 39, said she's unsettled by the problems at Arlington, a place her dad first took her only two weeks before he died.

Her mother, Margaret Timmons, said she still wants to be buried with her husband at his plot in Section 66. Timmons-Nies has called cemetery officials and asked them to confirm that it is, indeed, her father who has buried under his headstone. "It's a little unnerving or unsettling to think you can be buried with someone you think is your spouse but may not be due to what they refer to as mishaps," she said.

Family members concerned about Arlington grave sites can call 703-607-8000.

Veterans Report More Cases of Sleep Apnea

Posted by Al Tompkins

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it is seeing a sharp rise in reported cases of the breathing disorder sleep apnea. USA Today reported that over the last two years, the number of sleep apnea patients receiving disability benefits from the VA has risen 61 percent, at a cost of close to a half-billion dollars a year.

USA Today reported on the risk factors:

"More than 63,000 veterans receive benefits for sleep apnea, a disorder that causes a sleeping person to gasp for breath and awaken frequently. It is linked to problems ranging from daytime drowsiness to heart disease. The top risk factor for contracting the disorder appears to be obesity, though a sleep expert at the VA and a veteran's advocacy organization cite troops' exposure to dust and smoke in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq as contributing factors.

"More claims are likely to be made in the future as Baby Boomers age and get heavier, says Max Hirshkowitz, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"Veterans are four times more likely than other Americans to suffer from sleep apnea, Hirshkowitz said. About 5% of Americans have the disorder, he said, compared with 20% of veterans."


VA Makes Filing Claims Easier and Faster for Veterans

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--As part of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s effort to break the back of the backlog, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reducing the paperwork and expediting the process for Veterans seeking compensation for disabilities related to their military service.

“These reductions in paperwork, along with other improvements to simplify and speed the claims process, symbolize changes underway to make VA more responsive to Veterans and their families,” said Secretary Shinseki.

VA has shortened application forms to reduce paperwork for Veterans. The new forms, which are being made available on VA’s Web site at, include:

  • A shortened VA Form 21-526 for Veterans applying for the first-time to VA for disability compensation or pension benefits. This form has been cut in half – from 23 to 10 pages. It is immediately available to Veterans via Web download, and will be available through VA’s online claim-filing process later this summer at
  • VA Form 21-526b for Veterans seeking increased benefits for conditions already determined by VA to be service-connected. This new form more clearly describes the information needed to support claims for increased benefits.

In order to make the claims process faster, VA has also introduced two new forms for Veterans participating in the Department’s new fully developed claim (FDC) program, which is one of the fastest means to receive a claims decision.

Gathering the information and evidence needed to support a Veteran’s disability claim often takes the largest portion of the processing time. If VA receives all of the available evidence when the claim is submitted, the remaining steps in the claims-decision process can be expedited without compromising quality.

To participate in the FDC program, Veterans should complete and submit an FDC Certification and VA Form 21-526EZ, “Fully Developed Claim (Compensation),” for a compensation claim, or a VA Form 21-527EZ, “Fully Developed Claim (Pension),” for a pension claim.

The forms were designed specifically for the FDC program. These six-page application forms include notification to applicants of all information and evidence necessary to “fully develop” and substantiate their claims. With this notification, Veterans and their representatives can “fully develop” their claims before submission to VA for processing.

Along with the application and certification, Veterans must also submit all relevant and pertinent evidence to “fully develop” their claims. A claim submitted as “fully developed” may still require some additional evidence to be obtained by VA, to include certain federal records and a VA medical examination.

VA provides compensation, pension, education, loan guaranty, vocational rehabilitation, employment, and insurance benefits to Veterans and their families through 57 VA regional offices.

Disability compensation is a tax-free benefit paid to a Veteran for disabilities that are a result of -- or made worse by -- injuries or diseases that happened while on active duty, active duty for training or inactive duty training. Pension is a benefit paid to wartime Veterans with limited income, and who are permanently and totally disabled or age 65 or older.

For additional information, go to or call VA’s toll free benefits number at 1-800-827-1000.

Military fails on brain-test follow-ups


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has failed to comply with a congressional directive to give all troops tests before and after they serve in combat to measure their thinking abilities and uncover possible brain injuries, military records show.

More than 562,000 tests of troops taken before they deployed have not been readministered on their return by military health officials, the records show. That means the Pentagon could be missing thousands of cases of brain injury, says Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., who helped write the 2008 order. Most of the follow-up tests were done in a study at Fort Campbell.

"This is a total failure," says Pascrell, co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Brain Injury Task Force. "We're failing to find TBI (traumatic brain injury) and post-traumatic stress disorder in an era when the military is trying to find and assist folks who need it."

Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, and other Army officials say the test is flawed and no better than a "coin flip."

The test, called the Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics (ANAM), produces too many false positive results, said Lt. Col. Michael Russell, head of the Army's ANAM program.

The test "was promised ... as a sort of 'pregnancy test' for (mild) TBI. It has failed to deliver," says Russell, adding that false results could be triggered by medication, such as Benadryl.

This misrepresents the test, which is designed only to alert doctors that a soldier's thinking process has declined and further evaluation is necessary, says Tresa Roebuck-Spencer, a neuropsychologist with the University of Oklahoma, which develops and distributes the testing program for the Army.

She says research shows that false positives drop significantly when the post-deployment test is compared with the original exam.

In that role, this kind of test would be a useful tool for screening all returning troops as Congress intended, say two military neurologists, Air Force Col. Michael Jaffee, director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, and Cmdr. Jack Tsao, director of TBI programs for the Navy and Marines.

About 575,000 pre-deployment tests have been gathered at a cost of about $30 each. Only 12,000 to 13,000 tests have been used for follow-up comparisons, most for a study at Fort Campbell.

The military relies largely on self-reporting symptoms in diagnosing mild TBI suffered in combat. About 5 percent to 15 percent suffer persistent problems.

VA to Extend Coverage for Veterans at Non-VA Facilities

While it works to improve medical care at some of its hospitals, the Department of Veterans Affairs has decided to cover the cost of emergency treatment provided to veterans at non-VA facilities. As part of newly proposed regulations, the VA also intends to pay for follow-up care at the civilian hospital or medical center that treated the emergency situation. Previously, the VA did not cover costs for this aftercare, but instead required the patient to be moved to a VA facility as soon as he or she was stable.

The expanded coverage comes on the heels of news that at least five VA hospitals were recently banned from performing elective surgeries due to the poor grades received under the Veterans Health Administration’s new rating system.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
5 VA Hospitals Banned from Performing Most Surgeries (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Chronic Pain Often Follows U.S. Soldiers Home: Study

Many return from Iraq, Afghanistan with complex conditions, experts say

FRIDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- At first, Darisse Smith tried to shake off the throbbing in her back and leg. An Army captain, helicopter pilot and triathlete, she was used to pushing herself physically and mentally.

But as her Iraq deployment continued, the pain grew more intense, until it felt like she was being stabbed. She could hardly sit, stand or walk, let alone fly, and was eventually medically discharged.

The next two years were a blur of pain medications and surgeries. "It was a rough time," Smith said. "At home I would not want to talk to anybody. My husband saw me withering away."

Finally, with the help of doctors at Southeast Pain Care in Charlotte, N.C., and an implanted spinal cord stimulator, Smith improved substantially. She has also become a pain advocate for the American Pain Foundation, helping to raise awareness about the complex conditions facing veterans and encouraging them to seek help if they're experiencing pain.

"There's an attitude in the military that you have to 'tough it out,' but that's not true," Smith said. "No one should have to live in pain."

Many vets, however, seem to be doing just that. About nine in 10 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who registered for care with the Department of Veterans Affairs are experiencing pain, and more than half have significant pain, according to a study presented in May at the American Pain Society's annual meeting. Significant pain is a 4 or greater on a scale of 1 to 10.

Sources of pain include combat injuries, including burns and post-amputation, said lead study author Michael Clark, clinical director of the VA's Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program in Tampa.

Exposure to multiple, powerful blasts can also leave vets with pain, Clark said. Even if they're not hit by shrapnel or debris, blasts create powerful pressure waves that can be strong enough to throw those in proximity to the ground or into buildings, Clark explained.

It's believed that the cumulative exposure to those sudden surges in pressure may damage central nervous system tissues, leading to headaches and thinking difficulties, among other symptoms, Clark said.

Often, pain conditions are worsened by other post-deployment problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. Both make treatment more difficult, Clark said.

"These conditions are interacting and creating more challenges for the folks that are returning," Clark said. "They are complicated problems that can involve cognitive issues, emotional impacts, and acute and chronic pain. For some, it may resolve in a few months. But for others, it may never resolve and will be there for the rest of their lives."

With 90 percent of those who are injured in battle surviving -- compared to 40 percent during the Vietnam War -- vets are coming home with complex conditions that require extensive need for rehabilitation and pain management. "People with these levels of injuries were not surviving before," Clark said.

About half of returning vets register for care with the VA, Clark said. The study included 239 vets being seen at two VA hospitals in Minneapolis.

It's not just combat injuries that are leaving vets plagued by pain. The everyday rigors of the job -- heavy lifting, marching while carrying 80-pound backpacks or jumping out of trucks or planes -- can lead to or exacerbate back injuries, joint pain from conditions such as arthritis and muscular skeletal pain, Clark said.

About 25 percent of vets had some form of pain even before deployment, a higher percentage than during previous conflicts because many of today's troops are Reservists and National Guard soldiers who tend to be older, Clark said.

When pain is treated early and aggressively, patients have the best chance of getting better, he added. Though many fear addiction from opioids, they can be an important part of halting the pain cycle. "We think it's extremely important in terms of their future to intervene as soon and as strongly as possible," Clark said.

Now 32, Smith was devastated when she had to give up flying. But, making the best of things, she works in customer service for a cell phone company and has taken up martial arts.

"It's something I've learned to adapt my life to," Smith said. "I'm not going to be able to be as active as I used to be, but I'm always looking for things I can do."

As a pain advocate, she wants to encourage vets and those in the military to seek care when needed, to understand being in pain is not a sign of weakness and to be persistent.

"When you're in that kind of pain, it's a daily hell," Smith said. "You have things you want to do, goals and dreams. Most people want to be able to work, go for walks, enjoy playing with their children. When you are in significant pain, you are robbed of those life experiences. All you can focus on is the pain and how miserable you are," she explained.

"It takes a very strong person even to try to get help," Smith added. "It's that overwhelming."

More information

The American Pain Foundation has more on vets and pain and where to get help.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Marine Stuns Crowd at Tea Party

Army inquiry finds 211 graves mishandled at Arlington Cemetery

Washington (CNN) -- Potentially hundreds of American veterans and their family members who were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery were misidentified or mislocated, including some in an area that includes grave sites from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new Army investigation.

The investigation culminated in a change in leadership at the historic cemetery that has been home to U.S. veterans since 1864.

"I deeply apologize to the families of the honored fallen resting in that hallowed ground, who may now question the care afforded to their loved ones," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said.

McHugh launched the Army inspector general's investigation last fall after reports of cremated remains being buried in the wrong grave sites, according to Army officials. It was an expansion of an ongoing investigation into cemetery management issues launched by previous Secretary Peter Geren.

The investigation cited missing burial records, unmarked graves and burial urns put in a spillage pile, where dirt dug up for grave sites is left.

Investigators also said inaccurate burial maps are a "systemic problem," which did not allow them to visit all the graves in question.

Army investigators found a "lack of established policies and procedures, a failure to automate records, and long-term systemic problems," documents show.

After reviewing the investigation, McHugh made immediate changes but did not fire anyone. Instead, he ordered punishments to the cemetery's leadership. Longtime Superintendent John C. Metzler was reprimanded, and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham, was temporarily removed pending further review.

The general in charge of the Army investigation, Lt. Gen. Steven Whitcomb, said that two of the 211 mismarked graves were those of troops buried in the section reserved for those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. McHugh said those problems had been resolved.

The other 209 or so were scattered among three other sites at the cemetery during an unknown period of time, Whitcomb said.

"I don't know that there could be many more, but there could be more," he said.

With the cemetery holding more than 300,000 graves going back almost 150 years, the Army admits it can't guarantee that all will be accounted for.

McHugh would not identify the names of the remains affected by the mismanagement.

"While the inspector general's team found that [cemetery] employees performed their jobs with dedication and to a high professional standard, they also found them hampered by dysfunctional management, the lack of established policy and procedures and an overall unhealthy organizational climate," McHugh said. "That ends today."

Some 330,000 veterans and their family members are buried at the tree-covered and hilly Arlington, Virginia, site overlooking the nation's capital.

McHugh said during a Pentagon press briefing Thursday that Metzler, the 19-year superintendent, will receive a letter of reprimand to last three years in his permanent work file. Additionally, Metzler will receive reduced benefits for his poor management of the facility.

Before Thursday's announcement, Metzler had filed for retirement effective July 2. But McHugh will not let him serve out his full duties, according to his letter of reprimand. Metzler will be responsible for funeral operations until his retirement, and the cemetery's management duties will be given to an interim superintendent.

"Given your decision to retire, I have elected not to initiate more severe disciplinary action," McHugh said in the letter of reprimand.

McHugh also created a position to oversee operations at Arlington and will himself oversee the superintendent position. Metzler's final duties will include ensuring a smooth transition for the person coming into this new position.

While Metzler is blamed for poor management, deputy Higginbotham is being looked at for improper activities, including making false statements to Army investigators, creating a hostile work environment, having unauthorized access to employee e-mails and signing a false document, according to Pentagon officials close to the case.

According to a Pentagon official not authorized to speak publicly about the case, the Army will ensure that Higginbotham will not work at the cemetery.

The Army has created a call center to address family concerns regarding burial discrepancies at Arlington National Cemetery. The number is (703) 607- 8199 and will be open from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. beginning Friday.

IED beam could change face of war

The military has developed technology that uses a high-tech beam to detonate hidden IEDs, an insurgent weapon responsible for the deaths and maiming of thousands of U.S. servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some in the military caution that widespread use of the weapon could cause civilian casualties when the beam triggers improvised explosive devices.

"This is an offensive capability that will change the face of this war," said Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of the U.S. Joint Forces Command that looks to transform military capabilities. Mattis, a supporter of the technology, acknowledged that civilians could be killed if the weapon is activated over widespread areas. But ultimately the technology would save lives, he said. "A lot more innocent people are going to die if we don't do it," he said.

The Pentagon will not release details of the highly classified technology, which bypasses the triggering device of an IED and detonates its explosive. The beam could trigger IEDs being built or transported by insurgents.

The technology was used in Iraq in 2005 and 2008, positioned mainly at checkpoints, said Paul Gido, an official at the Office of Naval Research, which carried out work on the device. The weapon blew up IEDs hidden by insurgents, but it is large and requires a tractor-trailer-size vehicle to be moved about, he said.

The weapon has yet to be used in Afghanistan because the rugged terrain and few roads make it impractical, Gido said. Researchers are working on a smaller, more mobile unit.

The counterinsurgency strategy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, calls for civilian deaths to be kept as low as possible to keep Afghans from turning away from the coalition and toward the Taliban.

"You can imagine the challenges of pre-detonating an explosive in a road," said Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, commander of a task force overseeing ways to counter IEDs. "You have to worry about collateral damage."

IEDs are the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. IED attacks in Afghanistan increased to 3,736 in 2009, up from 1,852 in 2008, according to the Pentagon. The Pentagon has spent billions of dollars building thousands of armored vehicles and fielding jammers that can prevent insurgents from detonating IEDs. "What we ultimately need is not more armor, is not more jammers," Mattis said.

Mattis supports placing the technology in an aircraft to detonate IEDs over a large area to clear it for U.S. servicemembers. The weapon has not been developed to accomplish what Mattis envisions, and some military officials caution against using it too broadly.

"What we have to do is make sure we understand how to use it," Oates said.

There is no guarantee insurgents will not find a way around the new technology.

"For every countermeasure, there is a counter-countermeasure, and that is what we really worry about," Gido said.

No letup in Marine attempted suicides

WASHINGTON — Marines are trying to kill themselves at a record pace this year despite a 2009 program aimed at stemming the problem, according to Marine Corps data.

Eighty-nine Marines tried to commit suicide through May, most commonly by overdose or lacerations, according to statistics and the Marine Corps suicide prevention program officer, Navy Cmdr. Aaron Werbel. At that rate, there could be more than 210 attempted suicides this year.

There were a record 164 attempted suicides in 2009.

With 21 confirmed or suspected suicides by Marines this year, the Corps is on track to near last year's record number of 52, Werbel says. The Marine Corps suicide rate in 2009 was 24-per-100,000, the highest in the military, Marine records show. The latest demographically adjusted suicide rate among civilians in 2006 was 20 per 100,000, federal records show.

The Marines introduced a training program for sergeants and corporals last year aimed at suicide education and urging them to become more knowledgeable about the lives of their younger Marines.

"We continue to maintain that this is an issue of leadership and getting our Marines who need help to the care they deserve," says Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, deputy commandant of Manpower and Reserve Affairs. "In every case, there is a unique life to understand behind the statistics."

Werbel says there is some hint of progress — the proportion of suicides committed by Marines who are sergeants or lower ranking has declined from a high of 93% to 79% this year.

Recent improvements in tracking suicide attempts may have contributed to more reports, says Werbel, a psychologist. But the Marine Corps has been at the forefront of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than seven years and the strain is showing, he says.

"It's been a sustained operational tempo for years … and there's no question but that that causes distress on our Marines, on family members," he says.

Twelve of the 21 confirmed or suspected suicides this year were among Marines who were or had been in combat, statistics show.

Suicides are rising across the military and researchers are struggling to understand why.

The increase may be the result of servicemembers acquiring a "fearlessness" about harming themselves and some of those suffering mental health issues where they feel alienated or useless, says Thomas Joiner, a psychology professor at Florida State University who is working with the Army on ways to identify at-risk soldiers through screening.

Much attention has been focused on the active-duty Army, which is more than twice the size of the Marine Corps. It suffered a record 163 soldier suicides in 2009, Army records show.

But the suicide rate in the Marine Corps eclipsed the Army's 22-per-100,000 rate last year. There are fewer Army suicides this year than at this time last year, Army statistics show.

The Air Force rate of 15.5 suicides per 100,000 is its highest since 1995, Air Force statistics show. The suicide rate among sailors, at 13.3 per 100,000 last year, has been increasing since 2005, Navy record show.

Werbel says there are plans to place civilian suicide prevention coordinators at each Marine installation and to provide a distress hotline. "We keep plugging away. We keep fighting to win this (struggle against suicide) and to figure out how to better arm our Marines with tools, resources they need to help each other," Werbel says.

New VA Benefits Claim Form: Just Six Pages

Say good-bye to the 26-page-long benefits claims form from hell.
Is this the beginning of a veteran-friendly U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs? Are they listening? I see some good signs.

After years of complaints from veterans about having to fill out a 26-page-long benefits claims form for the Veterans Affairs Department, the Office of Management and Budget has approved VA’s new six-page form.

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have progressed, the 26-page application became particularly troublesome for veterans dealing with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, both of which can cause short-term memory loss and other cognitive issues.

“It’s a good thing and we’re pleased,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. “In our view, the current form is burdensome. It’s too long.”

VA spokesman Steve Westerfeld confirmed in a voicemail that VA had shortened VA Form 21-526, as well as creating a new “express claim” form, or 21-526EZ, which is six pages long and requires that the veteran provide his own medical and military records, rather than waiting for VA to gather them.

The EZ form comes as a result of a pilot program mandated by the Veterans’ Benefit Improvement Act of 2008. That pilot program will now be expanded to include everyone, according to VA’s May Compensation & Pension Service Bulletin.

Sullivan, along with other veterans’ service groups and several members of congress, have pushed for the shorter form.

Tom Staudter, spokesman for Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., said Hall had talked with several veterans who said they couldn’t fill out the lengthy form, and therefore never received any disability compensation. Hall is chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on disability affairs and memorial assistance.

When Hall met with veterans again last week and told them about the new six-page form, “they were absolutely pleased to hear it’s on the horizon,” Staudter said.

Sullivan said that, by reducing the form from 26 pages to 6 pages, VA could kill about 20 million pages of paperwork, per the 1 million claims expected this year.

“Filing a 26-page disability claim is undoubtedly a daunting process for veterans, particularly those who have traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Amy Fairweather, policy director for Swords to Plowshares, an organization that provides counseling, case management, and job training to veterans in San Francisco, and which has argued for a shorter form. “The change to a simpler six-page application will certainly break down barriers not only for veterans, but also for advocates and VA staff.”

Several other veterans service groups, such as Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion, have also argued for the shorter forms during congressional hearings.

Sullivan said the 26-page form creates a barrier for the veterans that, in turn, creates an adversarial atmosphere. For example, the old form asks a veteran to detail his or her military service, which seems like finding a lot of details that are already readily available to VA.

“The guys say, ‘Doesn’t the government know when I served?’” Sullivan said.

VA officials had not yet returned a call for details about the new form, such as when it will be implemented.

IAVA has your back

Cavalry or Special Ops, Army or Marines, Iraq or Afghanistan - all different experiences, but one common theme.

Over there, someone had your back.

And for the two million men and women who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, IAVA's got their back once they return home. (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America)

From connecting veterans in their local communities to providing crucial G.I. Bill resources, with your help we've impacted the lives of thousands.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Two wars produce unique and puzzling brain injuries

By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — What has been called the "signature wound" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan— the mild brain damage troops suffer from a roadside bomb — might be so unique in its destruction that it could be a newly discovered disease, scientists say.

"Most of us in this room would concur that this (blast-induced brain injury) disease ... perhaps does require a separate category," Army Col. Geoffrey Ling, a neurologist, told a roomful of colleagues at a brain-injury convention this year. "It may actually have some unique features to it, which makes it a very interesting new disease."

CAREGIVERS: The strain can be enormous

Among the new findings: The blast wave causes a more dispersed pattern of brain-cell damage and keeps those cells inflamed for a longer period than occurs with a traditional blow-to-head concussion, according to research posted recently by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. The center's duties include coordinating traumatic brain injury (TBI) research and clinical care.

Army field studies have shown that more than 10% of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered at least one concussion or brain injury, the vast majority of those from exposure to a homemade bomb or improvised explosive device. Five percent to 15% of mild TBI patients develop lasting problems with concentration, short-term memory, fatigue and chronic headaches.

7 years ago, a life changed

One of those is former Army Spec. Michael Cain, who lost his right leg below the knee in a roadside explosion in Iraq in 2003. Today, he is still plagued with short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating and irritability.

"If they tell me some important stuff, like appointments, if I don't write it down or put it in my BlackBerry right away, I'm not going to remember," Cain says.

Unemployed and living on a medical retirement income, Cain says he is uncertain about his future.

Blast-related brain injury is an issue of intense debate within the military medical community.

Detractors argue that any soldier close enough to an explosion to suffer brain damage from the blast wave would be killed by shrapnel. Others assert that long-term symptoms from mild TBI are more likely the result of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Explosions have been a part of war for centuries. But scientists say that because troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are wearing body armor, they are surviving bomb blasts that would have killed them in previous wars. As a result, they say, blast wave damage to the brain is more prevalent.

"Blast (in combat) has been around for a while," says Air Force Col. Michael Jaffee, director of the Brain Injury Center. "What is different now is our understanding of blast has never been greater."

The more that scientists learn about how the blast wave damages the brain, the more chance they will have to develop protective measures, such as a new helmet design, Jaffee says.

Different from sports injury

Questions remain about whether mild TBI caused by explosions is more serious than a sports-related blow to the head, scientists say. For now, the two appear to produce similar immediate symptoms such as loss of consciousness, dizziness and memory loss.

In most cases of mild TBI, regardless of the cause, victims appear to recover fully within hours or days, scientists say.

According to a summary of scientific research recently made public by the Pentagon, there are several ways in which exposure to an explosion differs from a blow to the head:

•Damage to wiring in the brain appears more widespread.

•Brain cell inflammation caused by blast waves lasts longer than inflammation caused by a blow to the head.

•In moderate or severe cases of blast-induced brain injury, blood vessels can inexplicably spasm and cut off oxygen flow to the brain for days after the injury. This can happen in a blow to the head but to a far lesser degree.

"Blast-induced neurotrauma is a unique clinical entity," says Ibolja Cernak, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., who has studied the effect for a decade.

Many harmful factors

An explosion creates a shock wave traveling at the speed of sound. It also emits toxic fumes, heat and light. Scientists do not yet understand which of these elements, or what combination, causes this unique brain damage.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, using computer modeling to re-create the blast effect on the human skull, have found that a significant electromagnetic charge also occurs.

"When you compress bone with an incoming shock wave, you are going to generate an electrical field," says Raul Radovitzky, an MIT aeronautical engineer who is working on the project. "The electric fields are ... possibly well beyond accepted standards."

He says more research is necessary to determine whether the field generation is causing brain damage.

For Cain, after seven years of recovery, he wonders why his brain has not yet healed.

"I really wish that they'd go away," he says of symptoms such as short-term memory loss and his tendency to startle easily. "I didn't want them to tell me I had a brain problem, because I was a pretty smart person before. I had straight A's. ... It really frustrates me."

In Canada once more, U.S. troops fleeing war

Iraq war deserter Kimberly Rivera, with one of her children, attends a war resisters support meeting in Toronto with Charlie Diamond, center, a Vietnam War objector, and Phil McDowell, who went AWOL after being ordered back to Iraq under the Army's "stop-loss" policy.

By Judy Keen - USA Today via Associated Press

TORONTO — Patrick Hart came here in 2005, when he couldn't face a second deployment to Iraq. An Army sergeant with almost 10 years of active duty, he would rather stay in Canada forever than return to a war he thinks is wrong.

Hart, 36, knows that some people think he is a traitor, but he has no regrets. "I've bled for my country, I've sweated for my country, I've cried myself to sleep for my country — which is a lot more than some people who are passing judgment on me have done," he says. "I would rather go sit in prison than go to Iraq."

Deportation, court-martial and prison are imminent threats to Hart and about 200 other U.S. troops seeking sanctuary in Canada. Despite being members of an all-voluntary military, some oppose the war in Iraq so strongly they are willing to leave their country behind — much like Americans of an earlier generation who crossed the border in the 1960s and '70s to avoid serving in Vietnam and built new lives here.

Some of the draft dodgers and deserters of the Vietnam era, most of them now graying Canadian citizens, are helping the young deserters fight legal battles and find work and housing.

"They understand," Hart says.

In Canada today, the political climate and immigration policies are less hospitable for the new deserters than during the Vietnam era. The conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to give asylum or refugee status to those U.S. troops seeking sanctuary here, although Parliament on Tuesday will debate a bill that would let them stay.

Reminiscent of Vietnam

Charlie Diamond was 23 when he fled to Canada from Connecticut in 1968 to avoid going to Vietnam. By then, the war was unpopular in both countries. Americans were marching in the streets in protest, and young men were burning their draft cards.

Now 64 and a Canadian, he is reciprocating for the welcome he found here.

"I want my country once again to be a refuge from militarism," says Diamond, who has joined others who refused to fight in Vietnam — they prefer the term "resisters" — in the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Canada did not support the American invasion of Iraq, and polls show that most Americans also believe the war was a mistake. Today's deserters enlisted "in good conscience," Diamond says, "thinking they were defending America when in fact the whole thing was a lie."

Young men who left the USA to avoid serving in Vietnam were widely accepted by Canadians and a network of fellow war opponents who helped them find shelter and jobs. Under Harper, Canada's government has tightened immigration policies, and every Iraq deserter who has applied for refugee status has been turned down. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says that "being a deserter from voluntary military service in a democracy does not, in any way, meet the ... definition of a refugee."

In March, Kenney proposed more limits: Immigration appeals for people from countries with good human rights records would be heard only by the Federal Court, ending deserters' chances of winning in lower courts, and failed claimants would be deported in a year instead of the current four years.

Most of the Iraq war deserters in Canada are in hiding, says Michelle Robidoux, spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign. The group is in touch with more than 40 of them. Two others were deported, tried and sentenced to prison in the USA. Some returned home voluntarily.

More than 50,000 Americans old enough for military service came to Canada to avoid the draft and the Vietnam War, says John Hagan, a Northwestern University sociology and law professor who was among them and wrote a 2001 book, Northern Passages, about the exodus. About half remain in Canada today, he says, despite President Carter's 1977 amnesty offer, which applied to draft dodgers but not deserters.

Military families feel disconnect on Memorial Day

It was a common phrase uttered across the nation over the weekend: "Happy Memorial Day." Yet it sounds odd to Cindy Wiley of Dunwoody, Ga. Her 24-year-old son, Patrick, a Marine, is on his first tour of duty in the war in Afghanistan.

"I never really know what to say when someone says 'Happy Memorial Day,' " she said. "Bless their hearts, they just don't know. I didn't know a couple years ago. … Before he joined the Marines, I was one of those civilians who was just oblivious to what our guys go through."

As the United States continues to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Memorial Day Monday was a somber time of remembrance for many and a day to pray for troops in harm's way. Yet some military families and veterans worry that there's a growing cultural divide between families who sacrifice and serve and those who don't.

"There's a disconnect every day, but I think it's felt even more so on Memorial Day," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "The average American family goes to the beach or goes to a barbecue. The average military family goes to a cemetery."

At a ceremony Monday at the national World War II Memorial in Washington, former senator Charles Robb, D-Va., a Marine Corps veteran, told a crowd that Americans may be losing an important link with those the nation relies upon to protect its freedoms. Because the military is all-volunteer, he said, large segments of the public have no family serving and may not know anybody in uniform.

Joe Davis, national spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said Memorial Day became the unofficial start of summer rather than a day to honor war dead when Congress created a three-day weekend by moving it to the last Monday in May. "We would like to see Memorial Day return to its original date of May 30," Davis said.

Still, many kept their focus Monday on fallen warriors:

• At Arlington National Cemetery, Vice President Biden said the United States has "a sacred obligation" to provide its troops everything they need to carry out their jobs. He spoke of those who have died. "As a nation, we pause to remember them," Biden said. "They gave their lives fulfilling their oath to this nation and to us."

• President Obama was at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery near Chicago when the ceremony was canceled by torrential rain and lightning. Obama later gave his speech at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington. "We pay special tribute to the thousands of Americans who have given their lives during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and who have earned their place among the greatest of generations," he said.

• In South Dakota, a program honoring fallen veterans from all wars drew 400 to 500 people to the grounds of the Sioux Falls Veterans Administration Medical Center. "This isn't just a day off work," said Vietnam veteran Douglas Callahan, a career Air Force officer. "This is a day we honor those who gave their lives for our country."

• People filled the downtown plaza in Mountain Home, Ark., to hear keynote speaker John Steel, a Vietnam War veteran and veterans advocate.

• In Staunton, Va., Korean War veteran Don Hall, 78, was among more than 250 residents at Gypsy Hill Park Bandstand for a service where speakers talked of sacrifice, a band performed and people prayed. "There were a lot of guys who didn't come back," Hall said as he sat on his walker and took deep breaths from an oxygen tank.

At the World War II Memorial in Washington, wreaths were laid before the wall of gold stars, representing the more than 400,000 Americans who died, and a group of children and teens held near-life-sized photos of servicemen who were among those lost.

Listening in the crowd was World War II veteran Bill Toledo, 86, of Torreon, N.M, who served with the Marines from 1942-45 as a Navajo code talker, helping send military dispatches that foiled the Japanese. Harold "Skip" Adams, 83, who fought at Iwo Jima stood along the edge of the granite memorial, the sun blazing off medals hanging in two rows across the chest of his Marine dress uniform.

"I think of the boys we left on the island," said Adams of San Jose. "We lost about 50% of our platoon."

Nancy Powell of Colorado Springs, a member of American Gold Star Mothers, said Americans can do many things to connect with those serving in the military. They range from saying thanks when they see active-duty soldiers or veterans, volunteering to provide help to troops and their families or simply remembering the military families who have lost relatives in war.

"Grief is a forever thing," said Powell, whose 21-year-old son, Marine Cpl. Kyle Powell, was killed in 2006 during his third tour in Iraq. "Sometimes people forget that."

Contributing: Thomas Garrett of The Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home, Ark.; Heather Kays of The News Leader in Staunton, Va.; Jay Kirschenmann of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.; the Associated Press

Memorial Day, Every Day

I live to remember.

I have not forgotten that America is still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and that our finest citizens have volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way in the name of freedom. The media has done a grave disservice to our warriors and their families who have been asked to sacrifice so much. The war is now barely covered by the media.

Maybe so called journalists have forgotten. The media has moved on.

Not me. I have chosen to dig in and never forget. Not a day goes by that I am not reminded, often painfully, that America is at war. The cards, letters, pictures and e-mails I receive on a daily basis from America’s finest and their families embolden me to be a better American, to be even more appreciative of the freedoms, liberties and opportunities provided me and you with the blood of warriors.

These brave American warriors and the warriors who have gone before them humble me to my core. There are no words to express my appreciation for their bravery, commitment and sacrifice. The same goes for their families who are left behind to soldier on while their loved ones go off to war. God bless them all.

We owe it to these brave Americans and their families to win this war with our honor intact, not to telegraph to the enemy when we are packing up and leaving the battlefield. I’m no military tactician, but announcing when we are leaving the battlefield is analogous to putting an ad in your local newspaper to let all local punks and thugs know when you are going on vacation so that they can plunder your home.

I stand with most Americans demanding a victory strategy, not an exit strategy.

When we commit our troops to war, we must make a commitment to them and their families that we will achieve total victory through the application of total war.

Of the thousands of brave American warriors I have met since 9-11, not one has expressed a desire to leave the battlefield without victory. They all want to stay and finish the job. The commander in chief should remember how freedom has been achieved throughout history and let these trained warriors do their job. That's how I remember.

As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we owe it to America’s finest to educate our nation’s youth that many brave Americans have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. Teach them that freedom isn’t free. Teach them that the American military has freed more people from the shackles of tyranny and slavery than any other force in the history of the world. Teach them to remember this not just on Memorial Day but every day.

America is at war. Thousands of Americans have paid the ultimate sacrifice while thousands of more have been wounded. Pause to remember them this Memorial Day. Say a prayer for the warriors and their families. They are the world’s true freedom fighters.

Never forget them. Make Memorial Day every day.

10 Things We Must Remember on Memorial Day

The war in Iraq is in its seventh year. The war in Afghanistan, in its ninth year, is the longest war in our history.

As we picnic and play this Memorial Day, let's try to remember that:

1. To date, there have been 90,955 documented U.S. troop casualties in the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of these, 4,378 troops have died; 37,280 have been wounded in action; and 48,272 have been medically evacuated due to injury or disease.

2. The Department of Defense last year warned that as many as 20 percent of veterans (360,000) may have suffered traumatic brain injury from IED blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blast injuries generally do not result in skull fractures or loss of consciousness yet the Institute of Medicine has reported that these traumatic brain injuries may cause diffuse brain bleeding and result in PTSD and problems with mood, attention, concentration, memory, pain, balance, hearing and vision.

3. 508,152 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are patients in the VA system. Thousands more are waiting as much as a year for VA treatment for serious ailments including traumatic brain injury. 243,685 (48 percent) are mental health patients and 143,530 (28 percent) are being treated for PTSD. A recent University of Michigan study demonstrated that PTSD sufferers have more physical illness in later life as their immune systems take back seats to systems needed for crises.

4. Every day, five U.S. soldiers attempt suicide, a 500 percent increase since 2001.

5. Every day 18 U.S. veterans attempt suicide, more than four times the national average. Of the 30,000 suicides each year in the U.S., 20 percent are committed by veterans, though veterans make up only 7.6 percent of the population.

6. Female veteran suicide is rising at a rate higher than male veteran suicides.

7. In 2009, there were 3,230 reports of sexual assault including rape, according to the DoD, with many more that number thought to be unreported. In a 2003 survey of female veterans 30 percent reported being raped in the military. A 2004 study of veterans with PTSD reported that 71 percent of women seeking treatment said they were sexually assaulted or raped while serving in the military.

8. The number of U.S. service men and women killed in Afghanistan has doubled in the first quarter of 2010. compared to the same quarter last year. In the first two months of 2010, injuries tripled, with U.S. casualties expected to rise still more with the troop surge in Afghanistan.

9. 2,052,405 service men and women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Over 40 percent of them have been deployed two or more times. Some will have been deployed as many as five years Currently 94,000 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan and 92,000 in Iraq.

And last but not least:

10. Estimates of civilian deaths from violence in Iraq alone range from a conservative 105,000 (Iraq Body Count project) to over 1.2 million (UK pollster Opinion Research Business), with estimates by Johns Hopkins at 655,000. More than 125,000 civilians have been injured in Iraq and 4 million displaced, with civilian death and injury in 2010 rising each month. By most estimates, tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed or injured since the 2001 invasion, over 200,00 have been internally displaced, and over 2 million have become refugees, with civilian deaths and injuries rising dramatically in 2010.