Wednesday, May 21, 2008


It's PTSD not PMS.


Two nightmares haunt Robin Milonas.

While serving in Afghanistan in 2004 as an Army Reserve civil-affairs officer, the former lieutenant colonel got lost in a minefield while leading a small convoy delivering school supplies to civilians. Even more troubling is the memory of a man who arrived at the main gate of Bagram Air Base carrying a young boy whose leg had been blown off by a land mine.

“I was an outgoing, energetic, determined good soldier who wanted to make the Army a career,” said Milonas of Puyallup, who just turned 50. “Now I am broken.”

Milonas is one of roughly 180,000 women who have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. While they don’t officially serve in combat, they have experienced life in a war zone where there are no front lines.

And, as they return home, they are increasingly turning to an already overtaxed Department of Veterans Affairs for help. Last year, the VA treated more than 255,000 women vets. The number is expected to double within five years.

In some regions, the surge already has arrived. During the past 10 years, the number of women treated at the VA’s hospital at American Lake outside of Tacoma has risen 80 percent, and the Seattle VA hospital has seen a 42 percent increase.

VA officials say they are better prepared to handle women patients than they were several years ago. But they acknowledge “continual challenges” as they move to open the door to a man’s world where pap smears and mammograms could become as common as prostate exams.
And where “military sexual trauma” would be treated as a serious and growing mentalhealth problem, rather than a subject to be avoided.

“It’s not your father’s VA, it really isn’t,” said Patricia Hayes, the VA’s national director of women’s health care issues. “We have geared up and are gearing up. But there are places that may have gaps.”

Others say the agency is far from prepared. And given the VA’s chronic budget shortfalls and increasing demands from the rapidly growing number of male veterans, the task could be even harder than expected.

“They aren’t ready,” U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said of VA officials. “Absent a proactive, concerted effort and knowing their limited resources, they (the VA) are struggling with so much this might get lost.”

Murray, perhaps the leading VA critic on Capitol Hill, has introduced legislation requiring studies of how serving in Iraq and Afghanistan has affected the physical, mental and reproductive health of women, and how the VA is dealing with their problems.

“It’s a hard issue, and pouring a huge light on this is a risk, as some will say women just shouldn’t be in the military,” Murray said. “But as more women transition home from the physical and mental wounds of war, and step back into lives as mothers, wives and citizens, the VA must be there for them.”


Milonas says she’s been stopped three times by police for erratic driving. When she sees a dark spot in the road, she thinks it’s a landmine and swerves. Except for her job teaching special education at Lochburn Middle School in the Clover Park School District, she stays home. She constantly checks to see the doors and windows are locked.

Milonas has been diagnosed with PTSD and receives therapy at the Tacoma Veterans Center. But three times she has been denied a disability rating from the VA, which says Milonas hasn’t proven her problems are related to her service in Afghanistan.

Milonas believes the VA has yet to recognize that even though women are barred from combat, it’s hard for them to avoid the trauma associated with serving in a war zone like Afghanistan.
“The battle is everywhere,” she said.

VA officials say there is no double standard when it comes to disability ratings for PTSD.
“This is the first group of women vets we have seen with this intensity of experience,” said Hayes. “We are not sure what the long-term effects will be.”

The VA has begun a longterm study of 12,000 women veterans.
Women veterans have faced a number of problems, ranging from clinics that don’t have fulltime obstetrician/gynecologists to uncomfortable group therapy sessions where men outnumber women and topics can include sexual assault and harassment.
“I don’t want to say this derogatorily, but women view VA hospitals as male domains,” said Chili Perez, a 58-year-old Mount Lake Terrace Army veteran.


Concern is mounting over the numbers of women veterans suffering from military sexual trauma, which can include rape, assault and harassment. According to the VA, nearly one in five women veterans seeking care have been diagnosed as victims of military sexual trauma, though some believe the figure could be nearer to one in three.

“I was raped by a senior officer,” said a 33-year-old former captain in civil affairs who was based in Tikrit, Iraq, who now lives in Olympia. She said she returned home depressed and suicidal. The woman asked that her name not be used.

“I don’t have a harrowing combat story to tell, but it is relevant,” she said. “Some come back and just get on with their day-to-day lives, but believe me, there will be a surge of people 10 to 15 years from now who will have to face it.”
The woman has nothing but praise for her treatment at the VA, though she said the key was being assigned a strong counselor from the start.
“I think they are getting better at dealing with this, but some still want to blame the victim,” she said.

The VA now offers womenonly group therapy sessions, women vets can request women counselors and womenonly entrances to clinics are being provided.
“A lot of women are reluctant to come into a hospital,” said Jan Buchanan, women veterans program manager for the VA’s Puget Sound Region. “It seems too military to them. They fear they might see their perpetrator.”

But they are coming, and it’s the younger veterans in particular. So, far, 41 percent of the women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have sought medical help, at least once, at the VA. That compares with 14 percent of older women and 22 percent of male veterans.

They want birth control, infertility and family planning advice, child care for their children when they are being treated and coverage for their newborns, VA officials say.
“The old saying was, ‘If the Army wanted you to have a baby, it would have issued you one,’ ” said Lourdes Alvarado- Ramos, who rose to the rank of sergeant major in the Army Medical Corps and now is deputy director of the Washington state Department of Veterans Affairs. “But that has changed. The system has been geared to males. Bricks and mortar, clinics and hospitals, they were all thought of as a male place. We need to make women veterans more comfortable with the system.”

Les Blumenthal covers issues about Washington state from the McClatchy Washington, D.C., bureau. He can be reached at


Recently released documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are further proof the VA has failed to adequately address the crisis in veterans' mental health care, according to a former top VA employee turned veterans' advocate.

Veterans Attest to PTSD Neglect by VA
Wednesday 21 May 2008
by: Maya Schenwar and Matt Renner, t r u t h o u t Report

In March, Norma J. Perez, the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) coordinator at a VA facility in Temple, Texas, wrote an email (PDF) to her subordinates stating: "Given that we have more and more compensation seeking veterans, I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of adjustment disorder, R/O [ruling out] PTSD ... we really don't or have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD."

In response, VA secretary James Peake said that the VA is "committed to absolute accuracy in a diagnosis and unwavering in providing any and all earned benefits. PTSD and the mental health arena is no exception." Peake placed the blame on Perez, saying that the memo revealed the mistake of a single employee, not VA policy.

However, the VA has been under fire from Congress and veterans' rights groups for more than a year for allegedly covering up and underreporting the mental health care crisis among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A lawsuit that is currently awaiting a final ruling seeks to force the VA to move quickly in addressing the mental and physical health needs of veterans.

Paul Sullivan, the executive director of Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), the veterans' rights organization which brought the lawsuit, said the Perez email exemplifies a larger trend. "The bottom line is that VA under the Bush administration has dropped the ball. The email sent by Perez proves our lawsuit was correct - VA is short staffed for mental health care and VA intentionally misdiagnoses veterans in order to save money. VA was illegally and unconscionably turning away suicidal veterans in need of emergency mental health care. We are asking the court to order VA to stop this outrageous practice," Sullivan said.

New VA documents obtained exclusively by VCS using the Freedom of Information Act indicate the Veterans Administration is only paying disability benefits for PTSD to 33,247 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, although 67,717 have been diagnosed with PTSD. According to Sullivan, VCS is calling for an investigation into this apparent discrepancy.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in September 2007 stated that the VA's "lack of early identification techniques" led to "inconsistent diagnosis and treatment" of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. According to the GAO, early diagnosis is essential in preventing PTSD's consequences - which could be deadly.

Firsthand Accounts of PTSD Crisis

Kristofer Goldsmith, a former Army sergeant who was forced to stay in the military beyond his contract because of the "stop loss" order given by the president, testified about his experience with mental health care at Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We were told that if we were to seek mental health, we would be locked away and our careers would not advance. If I admitted that I had severe chronic depression, if I thought I had PTSD ... my career could have been ruined," Goldsmith said.

He received an adjustment disorder diagnosis after experiencing a panic attack in March 2007. Because he was not granted the PTSD label - despite displaying many symptoms of the disorder - he was ordered to deploy to Iraq for a second tour.

What Goldsmith described as a "sharp downward spiral" came to a head the day before he was scheduled to ship back to Iraq with his unit.

"The day before I was supposed to deploy, Memorial Day, I went out onto a field in Fort Stewart and tried to take my own life ... I took pills and drank vodka until I couldn't drink anymore. The next thing I knew I was handcuffed to a gurney in the hospital. The cops had found me and literally dragged my body into an ambulance," Goldsmith said in his testimony.

Finally, in October 2007, months after his suicide attempt, Goldsmith received a PTSD diagnosis from the VA.

Click on link to read full story.


It appears as though the Israel Prime Minister wants the United States to set up a blockade of Iran.

Why do I smell the hand of Sen. Joseph Lieberman behind this idea?

Israel PM calls for naval blockade of Iran

Wed May 21, 4:56 AM ET

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has urged the United States to impose a naval blockade on Iran to pressure it to stop its controversial nuclear programme, the Haaretz daily reported on Wednesday.

Olmert raised the issue during a meeting in Jerusalem on Tuesday with US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the newspaper said.

"The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves," Olmert was quoted as telling the California Democrat.

Asked about the report, Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev would say only: "We do not confirm this information."

Rafi Eitan, a member of Olmert's security cabinet, said he also favoured air travel restrictions against Iran.

"A blockade of maritime and air routes against Iran is a good possibility," Eitan, the minister in charge of pensioners' affairs, told public radio.

"There are voices we hear in Washington that indicate the military option remains open," he added.

Click on link for full story


Pepe Escobar, award winning journalist who reports for The Real News Network, spells out how the mainstream media in the United States has been misled by the so-called success of the Iraqi Army in taking over Sadr City.


Although the Iraqi government has claimed that many returned home, the UNHCR recently declared that there are still more than 1 million refugees in Syria, and that the Iraqi government is not doing enough to support internally-displaced Iraqis, much less those abroad.

Baghdad, Iraq - The number of Iraqi refugees in Syria and elsewhere surpassed 2 million refuges in the last few years according UNHCR statistics. They began to move to Syria and elsewhere after the security situation in Iraqi became exceedingly difficult to endure, beginning with the rising insurgency in 2004, and the number increased steadily until late in 2007.

Although there have been claims by the Iraqi government that Iraqis are returning in large numbers, the latest report by UNHCR suggests that entirely the opposite is true. According to UNHCR’s report, only 4 percent of those interviewed are planning to return to Iraq.

Most Iraqis were unable to find jobs to support their lives in Syria, due to the difficult economic situation that Syria is experiencing. Many of them decided to leave between the years of 2005 and in particular 2006 while Iraq was still undergoing a very bad security situation. Now many are returning simply because they could not afford to continue living in Syria without work. Given the reports that the Iraqi government was offering one million Iraqi dinars to any refugee family that returns to Iraq, it begs the question whether some returned to Iraq for a short period to collect the money, visit family, and immediately returned to Syria. Other reports suggested that Iraq was not yet ready for a massive repatriation of its citizens, and the UNHCR appeared to agree.

In the middle of 2007 the Sahwa forces started to control some of the areas in Baghdad and the western governorates, restoring at least the appearance of security in many tumultuous and predominantly Sunni areas of Iraq. These events encouraged a great number of Iraqis to return to their homes and attempt to regain some semblance of their normal lives.


White House denies story about attacking Iran

By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer Tue May 20, 4:00 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The White House on Tuesday denied a published report in Israel that said President Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term in January.

A story in the Jerusalem Post quoted a "senior official" there as saying that Bush plans to attack Iran in the coming months. The story says the unidentified official claimed that a "senior member" of Bush's traveling entourage made the statement about attacking Iran in a closed meeting. Bush was in Israel last week.

The article also says the unnamed Bush official said that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "were of the opinion that military action were called for."

"An article in today's Jerusalem Post about the president's position on Iran that quotes unnamed sources — quoting unnamed sources — is not worth the paper it's written on," White House press secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.

Click on link to read full story.


The treatment of returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to sink to lower and depths .

Now a psychologist has recommended returning veterans who suffer from PTSD not be treated.

Psychologist Recommends Refusing to Treat Vets Suffering from PTSD

By Marie Cocco, Washington Post Writers GroupPosted on May 20, 2008, Printed on May 21, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The comment was outrageous, but it was not the least bit surprising. A psychologist responsible for assessing returning war veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder -- a psychological ailment that could entitle them to monthly disability payments -- told staff members not to diagnose the illness because to do so would increase the government's costs.

"Given that we are having more and more compensation-seeking veterans, I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out," the psychologist at a Department of Veterans Affairs center in Texas wrote in an e-mail. She suggested diagnosing a less severe disorder that would not carry the greater long-term disability costs.

The correspondence was made public by and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, two groups that have dogged the Bush administration about our latest national disgrace: the shoddy care and bureaucratic callousness shown toward the warriors who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with life-altering wounds of the body and spirit.

Of course, the morally indefensible missive was repudiated by higher-ups in the Department of Veterans Affairs as soon as it was revealed last week. And of course, the persistent congressional outcry over the treatment of veterans -- not to mention the onrushing election season -- makes it more likely than not that some temporary alleviation of the pain and suffering vets endure in a system that is supposed to be serving them will be addressed. Somehow, some day, that is.

Click on link to read full story.