Pentagon Redeploys Soldiers With PTSD
Inter Press Service | May 16, 2007
U.S.: Pentagon Redeploys Soldiers With Stress Disorders
SAN FRANCISCO -- At the beginning of May, Marine Corps Cpl. Cloy Richards tried to kill himself.
"He punched out all his windows and cut major arteries," his mother Tina Richards said. "He had to go to the hospital because he almost bled to death."
Despite his recent suicide attempt, Cloy Richards is now in the individual ready reserve and faces the possibility of a third deployment to Iraq, due to new guidelines released by the Pentagon in December. The guidelines allow commanders to redeploy soldiers suffering from traumatic stress disorders.
Cloy Richards, who lives in rural Salem, Missouri, has served two deployments in the Marine Corps in Iraq. The military lists him as 80 percent combat-disabled.
His mother said he has knee and arm injuries, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder. He also has a claim pending with the Army for a traumatic brain injury.
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"It's something that affects us every single day," she said. "He's 23 years old and he can't even climb the stairs. He has bad nightmares where he thinks he's back in Iraq."
Richards said her son sustained most of his injuries after his first tour in Iraq, adding that the family protested his second deployment to no avail. He has been on active duty for four years and appears headed for another deployment, despite his psychological problems.
According to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, service-members with "a psychiatric disorder in remission, or whose residual symptoms do not impair duty performance" may now be considered for duty overseas. It lists post-traumatic stress disorder as a "treatable" problem.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to an event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A person having a flashback may lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.
"It's just terrifying," said Dr. Karen Seal, a clinician at San Francisco's Veterans Affairs Medical Center who treats soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological illnesses.
Seal said that patients under her care have been deployed despite serious mental health conditions.
"I feel like writing them a medical excuse," she said, "but that's not my responsibility as a VA clinician. Because I'm a VA provider, I don't have the authority to do that."
According to a study co-authored by Seal and her colleagues at the medical center, about one-third of the more than 100,000 returning veterans seen at veterans' facilities between Sept. 30, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2005, were diagnosed with mental illness or a psycho-social disorder such as homelessness and marital problems, including domestic violence. More than half suffered from more than one disorder.
Those statistics may only represent the tip of the iceberg. Other researchers have noted that many veterans don't come forward to seek care. The stigma associated with post- traumatic stress disorder may account for part of this gap.
Moreover, according to recent report by Linda Bilmes of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, waiting lists for returning veterans are "so long as to effectively deny treatment to a number of veterans."
In the May 2006 edition of Psychiatric News, Bilmes noted that Veterans Affairs Undersecretary of Health Policy Coordination Frances Murphy wrote that when services are available, "waiting lists render that care virtually inaccessible."
There is also the issue of geography.
"One of the disconnects and failures in planning for this war is that the Veterans Administration is essentially configured in an urban way," Bilmes said. "That makes a lot of sense for recruiting specialists and staffing the facilities. However, recruiting for the military in this war tends to come primarily from small, rural America. So, what we don't have is enough mental health care for veterans in these rural communities when they come home."
Last Thursday, the VA's Inspector General issued a report estimating that 1,000 veterans under its care commit suicide every year.
The report also found that vets are at increased risk of suicide because many Veterans Affairs clinics don't have 24-hour care or adequate mental health screening. They also lack properly trained personnel, the report said.
The report, which was requested last year by Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, said clinics should work harder so veterans can seek treatment without feeling stigmatized, and recommended additional screening for patients with traumatic brain injury, a type of brain damage caused by projectiles such as roadside bombs. Many are calling traumatic brain injuries the "signature injury" of the Iraq war.
"The problem is that traumatic brain injury, which is an anatomic, physiologic problem, sort of intermingles with post-traumatic stress disorder," said Dr. William Schecter, the chief of surgery at San Francisco General Hospital. "This is going to be a lifelong challenge for the individuals who have suffered these injuries."