Is Enough Help Being Provided To Our Veterans?

Is Enough Help Being Provided To Our Veterans?
May 29th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Is Enough Help Being Provided To Our Veterans?

Is Enough Help Being Provided To Our Veterans?
Houston Chronicle
May 29, 2007 Groups, families say no as mental health issues and suicides increase
By Jennifer C. Kerr, Associated Press
WASHINGTON In the three months after Marine Maj. John Ruocco returned from Iraq feeling numb and depressed, he couldn't sleep. He had lost weight. He had nightmares. He was distracted and withdrawn from his two young sons.
One night, he promised his wife, Kim, that he would get help. The next morning, the 40-year-old Cobra helicopter pilot, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., had hanged himself.
There are others. Army reservist Joshua Omvig. Army Capt. Michael Pelkey. Marines Jonathan Schulze and Jeffrey Lucey. Each came home from Iraq and committed suicide.
Veterans' groups and families who have lost loved ones say the number of troops struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues is on the increase and not enough help is being provided by the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department.
For some, there are long waits for appointments at the VA or at military posts. For others, the stigma of a mental health disorder keeps them from seeking help.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says that although suicides among troops returning from the war is a significant problem, the scope is unknown.
"The problem that we face right now is that there's no method to track veterans coming home," said Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq as a platoon leader in the first year of the war. "There's no system. There's no national registry."
Home front data lacking
More than four years into the war, the government has little information on suicides among Iraq war veterans.
"We don't keep that data," said Karen Fedele, a VA spokeswoman in Washington. "I'm told that somebody here is going to do an analysis, but there just is nothing right now."
The Defense Department does track suicides, but only among troops in combat operations such as Iraq and Afghani-stan and in surrounding areas. Since the war started four years ago, 107 suicides during Iraq operations have been recorded by the Defense Manpower Data Center, which collects data for the Pentagon.
That number, however, usually does not include troops who return home from the war zone and then take their lives.
Monitoring expanded
For service members returning from combat, post-deployment health assessments include a questionnaire about mental health. This year, the Pentagon expanded health monitoring for war veterans to include another screening three to six months after combat.
"We're trying to reach out," said Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the Army's acting surgeon general. "Will we get to everyone on time? No, I wish we could."
Pollock said the Army is expanding a program started in January at Fort Bragg, N.C., which aims to lessen the stigma associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. It brings behavioral health staff directly into primary care clinics instead of making soldiers go to a separate mental health facility for help.
Earlier this month, a Pentagon task force called for a fundamental shift in treatment to focus on screening and prevention instead of relying on troops to come forward on their own.
One of the biggest challenges for troubled vets is the stigma of a mental health disorder, said Floyd "Shad" Meshad, president and founder of the California-based National Veterans Foundation. "It's very, very hard for you to reach out and say 'I'm hurting.' ... particularly (for) a soldier who's endured life and death situations. "

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