PTSD vets soon coming like tsunami

There is a scary article in the San Francisco Chronicle.  The article predicts a flood of new stressed out veterans as they return form Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are on the fast track to PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders compared to previous wars.   I’ve reprinted a little of it below, but you can find the rest at this link where it is reproduced in SGate.com.   

A flood of stressed vets is expected

C.W. Nevius

Sunday, December 9, 2007

(…) omitted illustrative story about a vet (Tim Chapman) contemplating suicide, find it at the link. 

First a few facts. Bobby Rosenthal, regional manager for homeless programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, estimates that one third of the more than 6,000 homeless people – about 2,100 – in San Francisco are veterans.

And no wonder the number is so high. California leads the nation in homeless veterans by a mile, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. The 2006 numbers showed 49,724 homeless vets in California. The next nearest state was New York with 21,147.

Now here’s the scary part. Compared with what’s coming, that’s nothing.

Roughly 750,000 troops served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, often with multiple tours of duty. Many are only now returning home. But unlike Vietnam veterans, who didn’t begin to demonstrate post-war trauma until five or 10 years after they left the war, this group seems to be on a fast track.

“Everything is speeded up,” said Michael Blecker, executive director of San Francisco’s Swords to Ploughshares program. “What we’re seeing in San Francisco is guys in their 20s with the kind of stress and trauma that makes it impossible to go on with their lives.”

It’s been called a health care tsunami. Because not only are the Iraq vets prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (something Chapman has battled) but with improved battlefield health care, far more are surviving traumatic injury. On one hand, that’s good news, but it also means many more vets who are severely disabled, having lost arms and legs. Both factors increase the chances that the returning troops will join the sad ranks of homeless veterans.

Cities all over the country are bracing themselves, although some, like San Francisco, are bound to be hit harder. Mayor Gavin Newsom says that at a recent conference of mayors, the group passed a resolution asking the VA “to tell us what you are going to do.”   “It’s great lip service,” Newsom said, “but show me the money.”

If history holds, the mayors shouldn’t hold their breath. If anything, benefits for veterans have been restricted. To take one example, many of us think of the World War II G.I. Bill as a shining example of a reward for service, paying for college for vets. But Blecker, of Swords for Ploughshares, says the current version “is in no way, shape, or form near enough” to pay for a degree.

As Newsom says, “Yeah, support the troops – as long as they are young, healthy and a great photo op.”

For San Francisco, the potential impact could be huge. An influx of traumatized, battle-scarred veterans presents a scary future. Consider the case of Scott Kehler, a veteran of the first Gulf War, who needed years to work through his demons. He recalls passing burned bodies and the constant fear that an explosion would suddenly erupt in the street.

“It was the things I didn’t want to see at night when I closed my eyes,” Kehler said. “I didn’t know what PTSD was. I only knew my dreams, my shame, my guilt, was all coming together.”

(…) omitted a few details, go to link to get the rest.

Kehler, who is mentoring Chapman, is testimony to the effectiveness of the Ploughshares slogan – “veterans helping veterans.”

“Especially now that we’ve got our veterans coming home from Iraq,” said Ploughshares counselor Tyrone Boyd, “we’re going to need people that have been in combat so they know what they are talking about.”

The challenges are unique. Wanda Heffernon, a program and clinical counselor for Ploughshares, said they had a new inductee who slept in the closet. It was the only place he felt safe.

It’s the sudden transition that gets them.  “One day they are fighting in a war,” said Kehler. “The next day they are sitting at their mother’s kitchen table.”

Is it any wonder they end up on the street? Kehler battled alcohol abuse, but Chapman is part of the new breed, who turn to methamphetamine. Married when he returned, he lost his wife and all contact with his parents. Eventually he ended up sleeping in an alley.Now drug-free, living at Treasure Island housing, holding down a full-time job, and reconnected with his mother, he is testimony to the idea that peer counseling seems to work. Ploughshares has earned support from Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Imagine the impact it would have on the San Francisco homeless problem if one third of those on street were able to get help and housing.

But what the vets don’t have is funding.

“Why isn’t the federal government doing something about this? Why isn’t the Veterans Administration doing something?” Blecker asks. “The irresponsibility of our leaders, not to address this, makes me want to tear my hair out.”

The VA’s Rosenthal – who gets high marks from local leaders – says the problem is not being ignored.

“It’s a whole new set of challenges,” she said. “The VA is looking at it. Let’s hope we’ve learned our lesson from Vietnam.”

We can only hope.

“You know what scares me?” asks Boyd. “I haven’t heard a plan (from the federal government) about what they are going to do when the troops come home. What’s the plan?”

Well?

C.W. Nevius’ column appears Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. His blog C.W. Nevius.blog can be found at SFGate.com. E-mail him at cwnevius@sfchronicle.com.

Oldtimer’s comment:  This story illustrates what I’ve said all along.  PTSD and TBI are leading causes of homelessness among veterans.  It is a rapidly growing problem, approaching flash flood conditions for our heroes returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.   A tsunamis of real people, not just numbers, real people with real names.  Somebody’s sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.  Real people, all in serious trouble, heroes in despair  … we should be crying.  We should be helping, we should be calling on congress, questioning our candidates. 

Where is your voice, America?

Oldtimer  

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2 responses to “PTSD vets soon coming like tsunami

  1. I have a Master Degree in Health Care, Nursing Diploma, BA Psych & Biology, 30 Retired Army
    Medical Spec and Lic Nurse Director Training Navy 4 yrs Vietnam, Air Force 2 yrs Hospital Areo Vac director, Army Nurse-Guld War Vet too and currently 100% PTSD 30% Unemployability VA
    and have completed Post graduate work UoW in Brain Research Cert-How can I volunteer to work in Research without having money taken back by the VA?

    Don,

    First of all, thank you for your service to our country!

    I don’t know the answer to that. You would think that volunteer work would not result in any income that might affect your status with the VA payments. Surely that is protected. I would ask the VA first what their rules are regarding volunteer work.

    It is a noble thought that you could contribute to research.

    Jim

  2. Hello,

    There is a very interesting blog entry that you will be interested in. It is written by Peter Sheehy, Ph.D. It discusses post traumatic stress disorder and the military’s lack of support for its soldiers.

    The title of the entry is “A Debt that Haunts”. The link is:
    http://nyemergencymedicine.blogspot.com/2007/08/column-by-peter-sheehy-but-my-dear-man.html

    Here is an excerpt:
    “During his second night in Iraq in October of 2003, Sergeant Andreas Pogany witnessed an Iraqi man cut in half by a machine gun. Pogany vomited, shook for hours, and by his own confession, “couldn’t function.” Despite Pogany’s insistence that he was having panic attacks, he was denied proper therapeutic care and was eventually sent home. Before long, Pogany faced court-martial for cowardice, a charge the military had not pursued since the Vietnam war, and one that carries a maximum sentence of death.”

    Thank you,
    Adam Rosh, MD
    NYU/Bellevue Hospital

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