Monday, February 27, 2006

VA NEWS FLASH - 02-27-06 #5

VA NEWS FLASH from Larry Scott at VA Watchdog dot Org -- 02-27-2006 #5       






Story here...

Entire story below:


State reaches out to veterans torn by trauma

More money to treat post-traumatic stress disorder is written into budget proposals.

By Blythe Lawrence
Herald Writer

OLYMPIA - The effects of the war in Iraq are beginning to reverberate in the state Legislature.

A state-funded treatment program for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could receive an extra $170,000 this year, enough to serve another 130 soldiers should they need help when they return from Iraq.

The funds are in a $500,000 package for the Department of Veterans Affairs in the budgets proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, the House of Representatives and state Senate.

Only Washington and New Jersey have state-funded PTSD treatment programs. Washington is the only state with an increasing number of veterans, said Tom Schumacher, who runs the Everett-based program.

Other states rely solely on federal funding to maintain their PTSD programs and for helping soldiers readjust to civilian life, though many emotionally wounded veterans shy away from them, Schumacher said.

Of the 10,000 National Guardsmen and reservists already returned from combat duty to Washington state, Schumacher estimated that 4,000 of them will have readjustment issues or full-blown PTSD.

"Can we ever do enough? Probably not," Schumacher said. Nevertheless, "It's up to us to be the example of what should be done."

Living with trauma

Robin Milonas of Lakewood went to Afghanistan in 2003. The 47-year-old grandmother spent a year as a civil affairs officer on the country's largest Air Force base.

She traveled to surrounding villages. Once, she found a boy lying facedown in a puddle of water. She wasn't allowed to touch him. Another time a child who had stepped on a land mine and lost his leg was brought to her at the gate of the military compound.

When she returned home, she battled feelings of guilt.

"When I can look and see my own grandson in this kid's face, it kind of ate at me," she said. "I still feel guilty."

Within months, she was having nightmares.

Killing or seeing death firsthand unleashes "a plethora of emotions," Schumacher said. "You go home to your own family knowing there's another family out there going through something because of what you had to do."

Coming home

In war, the challenge is staying alive. Back home, it's figuring out how to live.

Returning soldiers tend to be hyperalert, suspicious and tense. It's a normal reaction in combat situations, said Arlington resident Ernie Butler, a Vietnam veteran.

"They're living each day of their life in fear of the next step," Butler said.

In Vietnam, it was walking through the jungle. In Iraq, it's fighting door to door, he said.

Most veterans will not want to face up to PTSD symptoms, Schumacher said. When he helped set up Washington's PTSD program in 1984, he found veterans suffering from the disorder living in remote areas "just to get away from society," he said.

"They're going to be the last ones yelling about PTSD," Butler said. "You're a young Marine, you're not going to admit to PTSD. It's a sign of weakness."

Helping veterans is a priority of state legislators this session. Eleven laws are in the works to give soldiers more support in finding work, buying a home and attending college.

"The federal government has failed them," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said of returning troops. "We ought to do all we can for them."



Larry Scott

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