Sunday, September 5, 2010

Help needed to open new VFW Post in Shreveport

I know it has been some time since I last posted on this blog. However, my husband and I have been through a few rough patches. We recently "separated", stayed married and "dated" each other exclusively, but lived in two different apartments in the same apartment complex. The goal was for me to learn to be a little less controlling and for him to learn to be more independent. We learned that neither is necessarily possible. He needs me to take care of many of his daily needs, and I love controlling things. We have learned that both needs to soften a bit on the other. So, we have reached a happy medium.

After going to a friend's wedding in Massachusetts, my husband decided he wanted to join the VFW based upon the post where the wedding reception was held. However, after paying the first installment for a lifetime membership, we quickly learned that all VFW posts were not made equal (the Shreveport VFW has no telephone and no one was there at 7pm on a Saturday and the Bossier City VFW was having a "dance" where one woman, no offense, was celebrating her 81st birthday). Therefore, I have gotten the hair-brained idea that I can help him start a VFW post!! I have no idea where the thought came from, but I have been screaming for years that we need a way for these local young veterans to get together. Our last attempt at joining the local American Legion was an experiment in hell--one man, who was not even a veteran, made me cry by basically calling my husband a pu$$%, while my husband was outside fishing.

With that being said, I want a "retreat" of some sorts for these guys to gather...with a bar, pool tables, couches, and even an xbox or two. Shreveport, Louisiana has to be large enough for more than one, right?

So, if you know of any foreign campaign veterans in the local Shreveport or Bossier City area who are ready, willing and able to help get this dream of mine and my husband's off of the ground, please email me. We need 35 veterans total to start a new post, so I only need 34 more vets.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Is the VA Overdiagnosing Traumatic Brain Injury?

By: Associated Press

Mild brain injuries — once considered an under-recognized problem in returning military troops — are being overdiagnosed because the government is using soft criteria instead of hard medical evidence, an Army doctor and two other officials contend.

The three are taking aim at Department of Veterans Affairs’ rule for treating such veterans and determining disability pay. They want to call many mild cases “concussions” rather than “brain injuries.” They say the latter implies an ongoing, incompletely healed problem rather than a temporary one that’s in the past.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s overdiagnosis of concussions going on,” said Dr. Charles Hoge, a top Army psychiatrist. He’s one of three authors of an article published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Some veterans groups applaud efforts to better diagnose traumatic brain injuries, but say it’s more likely that the military has been undertreating the problem.

“It stretches credulity to believe that all the people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan are getting the treatment they need. That’s a laughable notion,” said Jason Forrester, director of policy at Veterans for America, an advocacy group.

The military defines a concussion — or mild traumatic brain injury — as a blow or jolt to the head that caused loss of consciousness, altered consciousness or amnesia. Most are due to pressure waves from being near bomb blasts.

Flawed questionnaire

More than 300,000 U.S. veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered head injuries, many of them concussions that have gone untreated, according to a Rand Corp. study released last year.

Part of that estimate stems from a questionnaire given to service members as they finish their deployment, which may be months after a blow or jolt occurred, Hoge and his colleagues wrote. Service members can’t always get a thorough medical assessment on the battlefield.

According to the authors, here’s the problem: The questionnaire asks whether the person became dazed or confused at the time of an injury or blast, and it attributes such symptoms to concussion.

But a soldier can become dazed from stress, lack of sleep, the confusion of war, or other causes, they argue. In fact, Hoge published a study last year in the New England journal showing that many brain injury symptoms were actually due to post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD.
The Rand study said some troops may incorrectly blame their problems on head injuries.

Trained doctors should be able to sort out the cause of symptoms. But Hoge and his colleagues argue that a concussion diagnosis can still occur, because of subjectivity and the fuzzy concussion definition.

“The problem is we’re attempting to measure concussion many months after injury,” said Hoge, director of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md. He wrote the article with Herb Goldberg, a communications specialist at Walter Reed, and Carl Castro, a psychologist at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md.

The questionnaire should be revised and questions should be asked closer to the time of the incident, the authors said, and the military should refine its definition of concussion. They feel “concussion” better reflects the mild nature of the injury and promotes an expectation of recovery.

“It’s a very, very, very mild physical injury” that often doesn’t need medical treatment, Castro said.

Disability category

The VA last year created a disability category for residual effects of traumatic brain injury that was based on subjective, poorly defined symptoms, Castro and his colleagues argued. More scientific diagnosis criteria are needed “to ensure that disability regulations do not generate disability,” the authors wrote.

Treatment of mild traumatic brain injuries can cost up to $32,000 per case, the Rand report said. But if the diagnosis is wrong, patients are exposed to drug side effects and other risks, according to Hoge.

VA officials issued a statement this week saying they are proud of their efforts to treat traumatic brain injuries. Forrester, the veterans advocate, said estimates of concussions are probably low because some service members fear that being diagnosed with a neurological or psychological problem would hamper a military career.

Better assessment is needed for a complicated problems, he added. “These are the most difficult, thorny wounds of war,” he said.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Suicide Risk Doubles with Insomnia

By: Reuters

People who suffer chronic sleep problems are more likely to think about suicide or actually try to kill themselves, researchers said on Wednesday.

The more types of sleep disturbances a person had — such as waking up too early, difficulty falling asleep or lying awake at night — upped the odds of suicidal thoughts, planning a suicide, or attempting it, researchers told a conference.

"People with two or more sleep symptoms were 2.6 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than those without any insomnia complaints," Marcin Wojnar, a researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the Medical University of Poland, who led the study, said in a statement.

"This has implications for public health as the presence of sleep problems should alert doctors to assess such patients for a heightened risk of suicide even if they don't have a psychiatric condition."

According to the World Health Organization, some 877,000 people worldwide kill themselves each year. For every suicide death, anywhere from 10 to 40 attempts are made, the U.N. agency estimates.

Scientists have linked sleep disturbances to increased suicidal risk in people with psychiatric disorders and in adolescents but it is unclear whether the association also exists in the general population, the researchers said.

In the study presented at the World Psychiatric Association International Congress in Florence, Italy, Wojnar and colleagues looked at the relationship between sleep problems and suicidal behaviors among 5,692 U.S. men and women.

About a third of the volunteers reported at least one type of sleep disturbance over the preceding year, which included either difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep or waking at least two hours earlier than desired.

After adjusting for factors such as substance abuse and depression as well as for the influence of age, gender, marital and financial status, the researchers found the most consistent suicide link with waking up early.

People who reported that problem were twice as likely to have had suicidal thoughts or planned a suicide and were nearly three times more likely to have tried to kill themselves.

The researchers do not know exactly why, but said lack of sleep may affect cognitive function and lead to poorer judgment and increased hopelessness. A malfunction involving the brain chemical serotonin may also play a role, Wojnar added.

"Our findings also raise the possibility that addressing sleep problems could reduce the risk of suicidal behaviors," Wojnar said.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Former Marine Reservist in Standoff and at Large

By: Joe Rodriguez, San Jose Mercury News

A 35-year-old man apparently slipped away before San Jose police could surround the house in which he had threatened to kill himself Saturday.

After receiving a call from the man late Saturday night, police officers entered the home on Hillsdale Avenue and found assault rifles.

The man remains at large. Police have declined to identify the man until they determine whether he committed any crimes.

The standoff "is resolved,'' Sgt. Ronnie Lopez said Sunday, but officers would continue to search for him and for evidence of criminal activity in the house.

"At this point we're not considering him armed and dangerous," Lopez said.

Neighbors were asked to evacuate and the street had been closed Saturday from about dawn to 11 p.m.

Family members told the Mercury News the man is a former Marine reservist who was distraught about losing his tile business and other financial troubles. He reportedly pointed a gun at his head early Saturday and told his fiancee and mother that he was going to "off myself,'' or force the police to kill him.

Lopez said police heard what sounded like a single shot from inside the house as they began to cordon off the area.

"We treated him like a barricade suspect,'' Lopez said, adding that officers tried to contact him several ways and deployed loud "noise flash devices.''

However, Lopez said, police now think he slipped out of the house while the police were securing the area. He called them about 9 p.m. from a phone near a local video store and gave police permission to enter the home. As many as three assault rifles were found inside.

Police rushed to the pay phone from which he had called but did not find him.

San Jose police remained patient during the standoff after last weekend's tragedy in Oakland, when a Special Weapons and Tactics team entered a house with a heavily armed suspect who had already killed two officers. Two more officers were killed in the ill-fated entry.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Can Ecstasy Help Soldiers with PTSD?

By: Reuters

The drug MDMA — better known as the illegal recreational drug "Ecstasy" — may help people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recover, a Norwegian research team suggests.

They say the effect of MDMA should allow PTSD patients bond more easily with their therapists, take control of their emotions, and re-learn how to respond to past trauma.

People with PTSD "are usually running away from what they experienced as very scary, and then they never have this inhibition learning, this fear-learning," Pal-Orjan Johansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim commented to Reuters Health. "When the clients are getting MDMA we believe it is easier for them. It becomes more bearable, it becomes easier to regulate, to be in the situation and not run away."

A couple of small studies in which people with PTSD were given MDMA in addition to standard therapy have had promising results, Johansen and his colleague Teri Krebs, a graduate student in neuroscience at the university, note in their report in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Meanwhile, three controlled clinical trials of MDMA plus therapy are now underway.

A minority of people will develop PTSD after surviving traumatic events, such as being raped or serving in combat. They will continually re-experience the traumatic event in an intrusive way, while trying to avoid things that will trigger these memories or remind them of the traumatic experience.

Currently, the standard treatment for PTSD is extinction-based exposure therapy, in which a therapist guides the person to revisit the traumatic memories repeatedly, until he or she is able to experience them without fear. However, more than 40% of people still have PTSD after undergoing this treatment.

In their article, the researchers describe three mechanisms for how MDMA might benefit people who aren't cured by therapy alone, and even speed up treatment and make it more effective.

'Cuddle chemical' reduces fear, boosts trust

First, they say, MDMA drug triggers the release of oxytocin, the so-called "cuddle chemical," which reduces fear while boosting trust. This could make it easier for PTSD victims to build a strong relationship with their therapist — which is key to treatment success.

Second, the drug could help re-balance the dysfunctional relationship between two brain regions seen in people with PTSD. These individuals show excessive activation of the amygdala and less activity in the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).

"The amygdala is the most connected region of your brain, it's doing a lot of stuff, it's really important for emotional regulation and triggering emotional responses to fear," Krebs explained in an interview. In a healthy person's brain, the amygdala and vmPFC are in "constant communication," she added, but in PTSD the overactive amygdala may overpower the vmPFC, making it much more difficult for a person to control their emotional responses to traumatic memories, while making it harder for them to confront these memories.

The opposite occurs when a person takes MDMA, according to Krebs; his or her amygdala activity is dampened down, while the vmPFC becomes more active. This could help a person feel more in control and better able to revisit traumatic memories, the researchers say.

Finally, Krebs and Johansen say, MDMA boosts the release of norepinephrine and cortisol, brain chemicals that are essential for emotional learning. Sedative drugs like Valium are sometimes given to people with PTSD, the researchers note, and these may actually blunt the effectiveness of therapy by completely wiping out the stress response to fearful memories, which is needed for re-learning to occur.

The current report is meant to provide a "framework" for researchers interested in investigating how MDMA might help people with PTSD and other anxiety-related conditions, said Krebs, who with Johansen has received a grant from the Research Council of Norway to investigate the topic. "What we'd really like to see is more research in this area."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Long Deployments to Blame for Increased Army Suicides?

By: Associated Press

A top Army commander said Wednesday the strain of long and repeated deployments was a big factor in the spike in suicides among Army personnel.

"It's a stressed and tired force," Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee. He noted that some troops remain on 15-month deployments to Iraq that won't end until later this year.

"We can do a lot, but we can't control the demand, and we expect the demand for all of 2009 and into 2010," Chiarelli said.

Last year, the Army had 140 suspected suicides among active-duty troops, an all-time high. It reported 24 suspected suicides in January, followed by 18 suspected last month. Each military branch, however, saw an increase in the number of suicides among its ranks from 2007 to 2008.

Chiarelli vowed to tackle the problem aggressively by looking for ways to mitigate the stress on soldiers and eliminate the stigma associated with getting mental health help. One thing he was doing, he said, was receiving a briefing on the circumstances leading up to every suicide, so he can better understand the problem.

He said suicide is having an impact on every segment of the Army, affecting soldiers of all ranks and both men and women. He said about two-thirds of those who had committed suicide last year were either deployed or had deployed. A vast majority, he said, were dealing with some type of relationship problem, and many had legal, financial or occupational difficulties.

Top officers from each of the other branches joined Chiarelli. Each said a shortage of mental health workers was a problem.

Sen. Ben Nelson who chaired the hearing, said the rise in suicides shows that "despite the services' best efforts, there is still more to be done to prevent military suicides."

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Army is confronting suicides forcefully. He said repeated and long deployments take a toll.

"What I am told is that one of the principal causes of suicide among our men and women in uniform is broken relationships," Gates said during a news conference. "And it's hard not to imagine that repeated deployments don't have an impact on those relationships."

Army Stop-Loss May Be Coming to an End

By: Associated Press

The Army this summer will start cutting back on use of the unpopular practice of holding troops beyond their enlistment dates and hopes to almost completely eliminate it in two years.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, though, it may never be possible to completely get rid of the policy called "stop-loss," under which some 13,000 soldiers whose time is already up are still being forced to continue serving.

"I felt, particularly in these numbers, that it was breaking faith," Gates told a Pentagon press conference.

Though officials have the legal power to involuntarily extend soldier's service, "I believe that when somebody's end date of service comes, to hold them against their will, if you will, is just not the right thing to do," he said.

He said that he hoped any future use after 2011 would only be in "scores, not thousands."

Critics have called "stop-loss" a backdoor draft because it keeps troops in the military beyond their retirement or re-enlistment dates. But the military has said it's a necessary tool to keep unit cohesion in times of war and to keep soldiers with certain skills needed in those units.

Soldiers and their families strongly dislike stop-loss and it was the title of a 2008 Hollywood movie in which a soldier who served in Iraq goes AWOL rather than following orders to stay longer in the service and go again.

'Victory for soldiers'

Rep. John Murtha said earlier Wednesday that the military also had agreed to begin $500 monthly payments to troops still forced to stay in service beyond their retirement or enlistment terms.

The payments are planned to soften the effects of the practice, which makes it impossible for troops to make lasting work and family plans.

"This is a victory for soldiers and their families," Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., said. "After months and often years of risking their lives, our troops deserve to know when they will return home. The military made a deal with our men and women in uniform and will now live up to that commitment."

The policy can keep a soldier in service if his or her unit deploys within 90 days of the end of the soldier's commitment. The Army has said 1 percent of the Army is affected by the forced extensions. As of January, the roughly 13,000 soldiers on stop-loss included 7,300 active-duty Army, about 4,450 in the Guard and 1,450 reservists.

Effective this month, troops will get $500-per-month payments for extending their service and it will be made retroactive for those who were on the stop-loss roles as of last Oct. 1. Payments before were not possible, officials said, because Congress did not appropriate funds for that. The costs for the payments for the budget year that began Oct. 1, 2008, are about $72 million.

Not without risks

Under the Army plan approved by Gates, the Army Reserve in August will begin mobilizing units that don't include stop-loss soldiers and the Guard in September will do the same.

The active duty Army is to deploy its first unit without stop-loss in January, he said.

Though the practice has been virtually ended in all other service branches, the Army said it still needed to use it because of the severe strain it has been under fighting the two ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officials say it is possible to gradually reduce the number of stop-loss soldiers now because the Army has grown, retention is good, because of the drawdown in Iraq and because officials are changing the way new units rotate — something that gives units scheduled for combat more time to get the people with the skills they need as opposed to holding in service soldiers who have that skill.

Gates acknowledged that there is a risk. Though he didn't lay it out, it is that a serious deterioration of conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan could mean the Army would be short-handed again in certain skill sets.

"Our goal is to cut the number of those stop-lost by 50 percent by June 2010 and to eliminate the regular use of stop-loss across the entire Army by March 2011," Gates said. "We will retain the authority to use stop-loss under extraordinary circumstances."