Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Why Mental Health Care Support to Veterans Must, Once Again, be a Priority

The winds of war blow harshly, no matter what the reason was for the war. Many returning vets, in numbers that may well seem surprising, want and need mental health care after coming out of a combat zone. That's why cutting the VA budget (see Mar 04 blog below) in this area puts our veterans in double jeopardy, first physical and then mental. It's time we had people in the administration who care.

The hallucination a few weeks ago wasn't the ex-GI's first: Steven Rock saw a force of heavily armed soldiers attack and overtake his college chemistry class.

Rock, who is suffering the painful realities of post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the Philippines for two months, is not alone.

Medical officials at Fort Carson and at other military installations predict that between 8 and 10 percent of all soldiers returning from Iraq will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or will need some counseling once stateside.

Many veterans and mental health advocates who gathered at the University of Colorado at Boulder over the weekend for a two-day symposium on war and its effects say that number will be much higher.

Roughly 12,000 GIs have been admitted to Landsthul Regional Medical Center in Germany for psychiatric care, said Dr. Gene Bolles, who for the two years following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, served as the chief of neurosurgery services at Landsthul.

"War is not a football game," said retired Lt. Col. Ralf Zimmerman, a Colorado Springs resident who served 20 years in the military, including in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

That, said Rock, 25, is exactly what people need to hear.

"Our society at large needs to understand what is going on and what the long-term and the unseen costs of war are," said Rock, one of roughly 70 current or former soldiers and concerned civilians who attended the symposium "The Unseen Costs of War."

For Rock, a nearly three-year stint in the Air Force ended after he found himself riddled with paranoia and an insatiable desire to go back to the jungle in Asia - a place where his adrenaline ran higher than ever, a place where he was likely to die.

"I wanted to go where people could kill me," said Rock, an aircraft mechanic from Washington. "I felt better there."

Those close to the GI said he had a death wish.

After his recent hallucination, Rock dropped out of school and is preparing to enter a psychiatric facility.

He hears helicopters when they are not there. He suffers recurring nightmares of his M4 rifle jamming, as well as visions of being surrounded by the enemy. He fantasizes about being back in the Philippines, even though when he was stationed there, he felt untrained and terrified.

"I'm living proof" of the reality of post-war trauma, he said.

The symposium was the brainchild of Jon Aguilar, a CU-Boulder student. He joined with the university's humanities department and the Magis Group, a Boulder stress management consulting firm, to kick off what they hope will be several nationwide symposiums.

Aguilar said he was moved to have a panel of national experts talk about the stresses of war on soldiers, families and society after reading a Denver Post story on the struggles of Staff Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany, an interrogator for the 10th Special Forces Group. Pogany was charged with cowardice after suffering a panic attack in Iraq. The cowardice charge was dropped, but Pogany's case at Fort Carson is still unresolved.

Posted by a Vet -- -- permanent link