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Vets get the shaft on mental health care (again)

The Washington Post has an excellent, enraging report on the state of mental health care for vets returning from Iraq.

One of the bitter legacies of Vietnam was the inadequate treatment of troops when they came back. Tens of thousands endured psychological disorders in silence, and too many ended up homeless, alcoholic, drug-addicted, imprisoned or dead before the government acknowledged their conditions and in 1980 officially recognized PTSD as a medical diagnosis.

Yet nearly three decades later, the government still has not mastered the basics: how best to detect the disorder, the most effective ways to treat it, and the fairest means of compensating young men and women who served their country and returned unable to lead normal lives.

Though today’s vets can qualify for disability due to PTSD, the standard is ridiculous. In order to qualify for benefits and compensation, soldiers have to prove that they witnessed at least one traumatic event, such as the death of a colleage or an attack by an IED. If you didn’t experience it; fear of being blown up every day doesn’t cut it, and thousands have been denied claims on this basis.

In an interview, even VA’s chief of mental health questioned whether the single-event standard is a valid way to measure PTSD. “One of the things I puzzle about is, what if someone hasn’t been exposed to an IED but lives in dread of exposure to one for a month?” said Ira R. Katz, a psychiatrist. “According to the formal definition, they don’t qualify.”

The state of the military’s resources is pathetic, and where is Bush, who claims to support the troops? There are only 350 licensed psychologists, a drop from 450. Many have left because of the flood of soldiers coming in with serious war-induced mental health problems that are not dealt with appropriately. The military is offering Web sites and self-help guides for soldiers. That’s hardly going to deal with suicidal personnel, or those with issues of traumatic brain injury, for instance, that also has an impact on mental health.

More after the jump.Meanwhile, the military does all it can to hold onto trained warm bodies, no matter how debilitated or medicated they are — care for those who have signed up to serve their country are being treated like crap:

Counselors at Fort Hood grew concerned enough about Cruz to have him sign what is known as a Life Maintenance Agreement. It stated: “I, Jeans Cruz, agree not to harm myself or anyone else. I will first contact either a member of my direct Chain of Command . . . or immediately go to the emergency room.” That was in October 2004. The next month he signed another one.

Two weeks later, Cruz reenlisted. He says the Army gave him a $10,000 bonus.

His problems worsened. Three months after he reenlisted, a counselor wrote in his medical file: “MAJOR depression.” After that: “He sees himself in his dreams killing or strangling people. . . . He is worried about controlling his stress level. Stated that he is starting to drink earlier in the day.” A division psychologist, noting Cruz’s depression, said that he “did improve when taking medication but has degenerated since stopping medication due to long work hours.”

Seven months after his reenlistment ceremony, the Army gave him an honorable discharge, asserting that he had a “personality disorder” that made him unfit for military service. This determination implied that all his psychological problems existed before his first enlistment. It also disqualified him from receiving combat-related disability pay.

There was little attempt to tie his condition to his experience in Iraq. Nor did the Army see an obvious contradiction in its handling of him: He was encouraged to reenlist even though his psychological problems had already been documented.

This is BS.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding