Mental illness is leading cause of hospitalization for active-duty troops

DoD and the VA have spent over $2 billion on drugs since 2001 to treat mental illness and PTSD, depsite evidence that such drugs can make things worse attempting to treat sharply higher rates of hospitalization. (In this, they are following the current and deplorable medical trend of treating everything with medication and not looking at root causes.)

The hospitalization rate in the Army is 70%-100% higher than in other branches. An Army doctor said the “stunning growth in numbers and rates of mental health hospitalizations … is undeniable evidence of an unprecedented and arguably unmanageable epidemic that is now threatening the viability of the force.”

What is causing this spike in mental health issues in the military? Does the unpopularity and unwinnability of our wars make morale worse and can that lead to illness? I don’t have any answers. One of my uncles is a retired Marine Colonel uncle who says medical treatment for soldiers now is a disgrace and this isn’t the Marines he spent 30 years in.

Mental trauma and PTSD cannot be treated solely with drugs. Yes, drugs can help. But they cannot substitute for desperately needed therapy and rehabilitation.

Healing PTSD through shamanism and indigenous medicine

YARINDIN from Mark Schwartz on Vimeo.

My friend Dr. Richard Grossman; acupuncturist, musician, shaman, healer, is working on this worthwhile documentary movie project with others. What they’re doing is important, healing PTSD in vets using non-traditional, effective methods. They are looking for funding now. Watch the demo video to learn about what they’re doing.

Yarindin is a feature documentary film about 10 veterans ravaged by war who journey to South America guided by American medical professionals and traditional native shamans for initiation into the indigenous medicine of the Amazon. The warriors’ prayer is to be released from the nightmare of war and have their bodies, minds and souls restored.

These warriors cry out for healing and release from unbearable pain. But sadly, due to the complexity of treating PTSD, many never fully recover. Western medicine and traditional psychology simply doesn’t have the tools yet.

Sue says “no one ever recovers from war.” Our V.A. hospitals are underfunded, understaffed, and can’t cope with the increasing numbers of returning vets from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan with PTSD. The treatments too often are mainly giving them meds and short-term counseling. Maybe this helps some, but for too many, it’s not nearly enough. Self-medicating through alcohol and drugs is common and of course just makes things worse in the long term.

If shamanism and indigenous medicines can heal some of them, then I say, let’s do it.

PTSD in Japan

From a psychologist who was in Los Angeles during the Northride quake.

With every fractional increase in the Richter scale, there is an exponential increase in the violence and destruction. Surviving a 9.0 seems a miracle to me. The Japanese people are living in fear, pain, loss, grief, and courage, with all the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I survived the Northridge quake too. Along with PTSD, there is survivor’s guilt. “Why did I / my home survive while others didn’t?” My apartment took a thunderous jolt but there was no damage. Friends though, had structural damage on their homes and everything that could have fallen and broken did.

Northridge was a 6.8, which is less than several of the Japan aftershocks, plus L.A. didn’t have a tsunami or a nuclear plant failure. The people of Japan will need years to recover from this.

BTW, the most common injury in the Northridge quake was lacerated feet. It hit at 4:31 AM, the power was out, and for many, the batteries in the flashlight by the bed were dead. People walked around in bare feet and stepped on broken glass. Always put on shoes with sturdy soles before determining the damage in a disaster!

“When our warriors return home: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in our justice system”

The Vietnam Veterans of America co-sponsored a forum in Pasadena CA yesterday with the Criminal Courts Bar Association on the plight of war vets returning home with PTSD. Too often, what is a medical condition gets treated as a criminal matter. It doesn’t need to be this way.

My friend Bill Paparian, former Mayor of Pasadena, former Marine, and long-time left leftie activist helped organize it.

“It’s an important issue. The phenomenon is very compelling,” Paparian said. “Increasing numbers of the returning soldiers are now surfacing in the criminal justice system, and about 15,000 of them are in LA County.”

There are already highly successful alternatives to incarceration for vets with PTSD. May there be many more. Emphasis added.

Late last year, LA County started a veterans court in Department 42 of the Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. Under this pilot program, veterans suffering from mental health problems stemming from US military service can receive treatment as an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent felonies. Deputy DA Lacey serves on the steering committee for the program, which Judge Lonergan, a US Army Reserve colonel, helped establish when he was a deputy DA. Judge Tynan supervises the project.

The first veterans court started in Buffalo three years ago and has been hugely successful, with 150 veterans coming before the bench for a variety of offenses. After receiving alternative help, all of those veterans have remained out of the criminal justice system, leaving the court with a remarkable recidivism rate of zero.

How many soldiers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

As the US gears up for its inevitably bloody assault on Kandahar, the plans have hit a bit of a snag. There’s a dispute raging between the military and civilian sides of our war effort over, believe it or not, development aid. The Washington Post reports:

Convinced that expanding the electricity supply will build popular support for the Afghan government and sap the Taliban’s influence, some officers want to spend $200 million over the next few months to buy more generators and millions of gallons of diesel fuel. Although they acknowledge that the project will be costly and inefficient, they say President Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011 has increased pressure to demonstrate rapid results in their counterinsurgency efforts, even if it means embracing less-than-ideal solutions to provide basic public services. […]

U.S. diplomats and reconstruction specialists, who do not face the same looming drawdown, have opposed the military’s plan because of concerns that the Afghan government will not be able to afford the fuel to sustain the generators. Mindful of several troubled development programs over the past eight years, they want the United States to focus on initiatives that Afghans can maintain over the long term.

The dispute is easy to understand. The military wants an immediate impact, while the State Department wants a long-term solution. The issue with this article is not the dispute, but that they frame the debate around the military withdrawal. Because the army has to leave, they need quick solutions or, left unsaid, we will fail in Afghanistan. Right away we know that’s not true, even after July 2011 there will still be combat troops in Afghanistan, just the “special” ones that do the most murdering. But by framing the aid dispute around the military’s needs completely misses the point that the military shouldn’t even be involved in Afghanistan. The State Dept. is right that if we care at all about our objectives in Afghanistan, governance, development, human rights, then we need sustainable solutions. And who knows more about that, the civilians or the military? Continue reading “How many soldiers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”