PTSD/Substance Abuse COMMITTEE REPORT
BY TOM BERGER, CHAIR
The Leadership Conference is over
and initial reports indicate that it was a great success.
The two PTSD seminars were well-attended and (according
to the evaluations) they were very well received. Thanks
to the Conference Planning Committee, VVA staff, Bill Messer
and the Arizona State Council, the presenters (Fr. Phil
Salois, Randy Barnes, Nancy Switzer, and Tony Catapano),
and everyone who helped distribute the seminars’ handouts.
an August 8 article, USA Today reported that the House
and Senate Appropriation Committees were poised to cut
funding by half for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) caused
by bomb blasts. The funding was to be used for research
and treatment of war-related brain injuries as part of
the 2007 Defense appropriation bill.
House and Senate versions
of the 2007 Defense appropriation bill contain only $7
million for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center—half
of what the center received last fiscal year. The Brain
Injury Center has received more money each year of the
war—from $6.5 million
in fiscal year 2001 to $14 million last year.
for the appropriations committees in both chambers said
that the cuts were due to a tight budget this year. Seven
military and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals,
including the center’s headquarters at Walter Reed
Army Medical Center in Washington, and one civilian treatment
site, all work on diagnosing and treating service members
who suffer brain damage.
According to George Zitnay, co-founder
of the center, “Traumatic
brain injury is the signature injury of the war on terrorism.” As
of January 2006, 20 percent of those injured in Iraq had
TBI after suffering concussions during their tours. Scientists
say that multiple concussions can cause permanent brain
damage. Many experience headaches, disturbed sleep, memory
loss, and behavior issues after coming home. The center
has long urged the Pentagon to screen all troops returning
from Iraq in order to treat the symptoms and create a database
of brain-injury victims. So far the Pentagon has declined
to conduct TBI screening and argues that more research
Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Charles Grassley
(R-Iowa) have introduced legislation that calls for the
VA to develop a better program to prevent suicides among
veterans returning from Iraq. Under their bill, the VA
would be required to provide suicide-prevention education
for staff members, insure 24-hour access to mental health
care for veterans deemed at risk of suicide, and create
a family education program. At the time of this writing,
Sens. Brownback (R-Kansas), DeWine (R-Ohio), Lautenberg
(D-N.J.), Snowe (R-Maine), and Talent (R-Mo.) have signed
on as co-sponsors.
The bill is named for Iowa Army reservist
Joshua Omvig, who committed suicide in December 2005. According
to an article in the Des Moines Register, Omvig suffered
from untreated Post-traumatic Stress Disorder following
an 11-month tour of duty in Iraq. On the House side, Rep.
Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) has introduced similar legislation.
It’s difficult to find accurate statistics on veteran
suicides. The figure most commonly given for OEF and OIF
veteran suicides is 79. However, that figure is misleading
because the count started in 2003 and only includes those
veterans receiving care within the VA healthcare system.
many Vietnam veterans know, substance abuse often goes
hand in hand with PTSD. Among Vietnam veterans seeking
treatment for PTSD, 60 to 80 percent have alcohol-use disorders,
according to the National Center for PTSD. And things are
not looking much better for our current troops.
In the July
16 issue of Stars and Stripes, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a
psychiatry consultant to the Army surgeon general, noted: “The
world is speculating that PTSD will be higher among troops
who have been to Iraq more than once.”
an Army Mental Health Advisory Team finished looking at
troops in their third Iraq rotations, but it has been eight
months since the team returned, and it has yet to file
a report. Ritchie said the information wasn’t
If mental health issues among troops from Iraq and
Afghanistan are on the rise, programs such as the Army
Substance Abuse Program will soon find themselves overwhelmed.
In the same article, Robert McCollum, who runs the Army
Substance Abuse Program for the Installation Management
Agency-Europe, said the program’s offices across
the continent already are feeling the pressure. “My
people are busy. Their plates are full,” he said.
if substance abuse among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans
with PTSD follows the course of Vietnam veterans, what
does the future hold for our nation’s newest veterans?