Wednesday, March 25, 2009

F-22A Crashes Near Edwards Air Force Bas

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2009 - An Air Force F-22A Raptor fighter jet crashed this morning about 35 miles northeast of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., defense officials confirmed.

The incident occurred at about 10 a.m. in an area known as Harbor Dry.

The aircraft, based at Edwards, was on a test mission when the incident occurred. Edwards is home of the Air Force Flight Test Center.

One pilot was on board, but the pilot's condition is unknown at this time, officials said.

A board of officers will investigate the cause of the crash.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Medical Infrastructure Affects Readiness, Pentagon's Top Doctor Says

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2009 - The more than 1,000 major facilities that make up the Defense Department's medical infrastructure are key strategic national assets, the department's top medical official told Congress here yesterday.

Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant defense secretary for health affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittees on military personnel and readiness that he not only is an advocate for military medicine and practitioners, but also is committed to dramatically improving the medical infrastructure – a responsibility he said he takes very seriously.

"Our buildings support vital, diverse and worldwide missions of the military health system," Casscells said. "We need outstanding facilities to deliver patient care, train medical professionals, conduct cutting-edge research and provide the support functions necessary to succeed on the battlefield and protect our nation."

The department's current medical infrastructure includes 59 hospitals, 663 medical and dental clinics, 258 veterinary clinics, 26 medical research and development offices, 19 training facilities and 10 medical installations.

The facilities are well-maintained, but improving such a large, diverse and complex set of buildings pose substantial challenges, Casscells said. About 41 percent of inpatient facilities are more than 40 years old, and 72 percent were built more than 20 years ago.

"Most of our hospitals were constructed prior to the introduction of modern and ever-changing clinical processes and technology that today are considered the standard of care," he added.

Military health care is one of the few functions that can be fairly, and directly, compared to the civilian sector, said Casscells, who called for a need to compete with the private sector to preserve the loyalty of the military community.

"The perceived quality of our facilities can often influence the perception of the quality of care we deliver," Casscells said, noting that instances of unfavorable perception by patients have prompted their willingness to seek care outside of the military health system. "In order for the military health system to succeed, we need a diverse and robust mix of patients coming through our doors to train and maintain the readiness of our medical staff and our deployable medical capability."

Military medical facilities also are among the few functions subject to outside civilian review. To maintain their accreditation, military facilities pass civilian inspections to civilian standards to continue operations, he said.

But because medical buildings normally cost more to build and operate than other Defense Department facilities, restoration and new construction projects within the military must be budgeted responsibly, he said.

"Just as we have a responsibility to care for our people, we also must serve as stewards of the resources provided by the American taxpayer," he said. "We must provide and operate truly excellent facilities but do so in a fiscally responsible manner."

Casscells said the military health system provides life-saving services to both "the toughest warfighter and the most vulnerable newborn," work that affects the readiness of the armed forces. Military health services affect the willingness of servicemembers and their families to continue serving, he added.

"Our facilities represent the tangible commitment we make to our active duty servicemembers and their families," he said. "Investing in our buildings tells people that we care about them. Where our facilities fall short, we send a signal that taking care of our people is not a high priority."
Dr. S. Ward Casscells
Related Sites:
Military Health Affairs

Obama Drops Proposal to Bill Insurance for Vets' Combat Injuries

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2009 - President Barack Obama has dropped a proposal to bill veterans' private health insurance for combat-related injuries, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday.

The Obama administration proposed authorizing the Department of Veterans Affairs to bill private insurers for treatment of combat-related injuries. VA officials estimated the proposal would have saved the government more than $500 million.

VA already recoups money from vets insurance for noncombat-related treatment.

Strong opposition from Congress and veterans groups caused the administration to rethink the proposal. In a written statement, Gibbs said Obama "is committed to working with veterans on the details of the 2010 VA Budget Proposal."

The president understands the sacrifices American veterans have made, and that is why the administration has asked for "the largest increase in the VA budget in 30 years," the spokesman said. The proposed VA budget for fiscal 2010 is $113 billion, up from $98 billion this year.

"In considering the third-party billing issue, the administration was seeking to maximize the resources available for veterans; however, the president listened to concerns raised by the [veterans service organizations] that this might, under certain circumstances, affect veterans and their families' ability to access health care," Gibbs said. "Therefore, the president has instructed that its consideration be dropped."

The press secretary added that Obama wants to continue working with all concerned.

Resilience Training Can Reduce Effects of Trauma in Soldiers, Army Doctor Says

By C. Todd Lopez
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2009 - The Army can mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder by training solders to be more mentally resilient before combat, an Army doctor said yesterday.

"You come across an event and you interpret it based on whatever strengths, weaknesses or baggage you show up in the Army with," said Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, director of the Army's comprehensive soldier fitness program. "If we could improve the resilience of the people before they had some adverse event, we might very well be able to have them view it as adverse -- but not traumatic."

During a panel discussion March 23 at the Reserve Officer Association in Washington, D.C., Cornum discussed the importance of comprehensive soldier fitness -- the idea that soldiers must be both physically and mentally fit if they are going to be their best on the battlefield.

Many soldiers who have experienced traumatic events do report PTSD-related issues, such as nightmares, but many also report positive outcomes as well -- something Cornum calls "post-traumatic growth." Those outcomes include enhanced self-confidence and leadership, personal strength, spiritual growth and a greater appreciation of life.

More soldiers could be equipped ahead of time to deal with traumatic events so they can avoid the problems associated with PTSD, she said.

"The best way to treat a death by heart attack is not CPR," she explained. "The best way is to prevent the heart attack. It's a lifestyle and culture change. And that's how we should look at mental health. Look at it with a preventative model and enhanced health model, not a 'waiting-till-we-need-therapy' model. That's what comprehensive soldier fitness is setting out to do."

Comprehensive soldier fitness is about increasing the resiliency of soldiers by developing all the dimensions of a soldier, she said, including the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and family elements.

The Army is developing a global assessment tool to help assess all five elements of a soldier's fitness, Cornum said. The GAT is in a pilot status now and is expected to be delivered across the Army this year.

"Based on this, you get an individual training program," Cornum said. And after that, if needed, soldiers can be referred to intervention programs that can help them strengthen their fitness needs -- whether psychological or physical.

(C. Todd Lopez works for Army News Service.)

Medical Officers Discuss Efforts to Identify, Treat Brain Injuries, Stress

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2009 - Two Air Force medical officers highlighted military efforts to identify and assist servicemembers with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder at a military mental health care seminar here yesterday.

Air Force Col. (Dr.) Christopher S. Williams, senior executive director for traumatic brain injury at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, told participants at the Reserve Officers Association-sponsored seminar that he's personally acquainted with TBI after being injured in a parachuting accident at Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1990s.

"I have about 20 hours [of memory] that I'll never get back," Williams said, "that's probably a result of that bad parachute-landing fall."

TBI had affected him "in some ways that are indescribable," Williams said.

Fast-forwarding to present day, Williams said he'd witnessed servicemembers with TBI injuries last year during five months of service at an Air Force combat hospital in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Head concussions caused by explosions, blasts or blunt-force trauma constitute about 90 percent of TBI incidents that result in a loss of consciousness or an alteration of consciousness, Williams said.

And, post-concussive symptoms "are a hodge-podge of a lot of nonspecific things," Williams explained, including headaches, dizziness, balance problems, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and visual disturbances.

"All of those things own to a number of emotional things," Williams pointed out, such as irritability, anxiety, moodiness and cognitive problems.

Unreported or undiagnosed cognitive problems caused by TBI, he said, may constitute "one of the most significant" and potentially dangerous symptoms exhibited by injured servicemembers in war zones.

"When they have slow processing, decreased attention, poor concentration, they are a danger to their teammates when they are out on patrols and so on," Williams said of servicemembers who've sustained TBI. Many of those injured troops must be forced to seek treatment, he said, because they want to continue to serve with their comrades.

Consequently, Williams said, the military has instituted overseas field-screening processes to identify and treat servicemembers with TBI. And, he said, medical research, often taken from National Football League studies, shows that people who sustain three or more concussions exhibit more pronounced symptoms and lower memory scores.

And, TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can appear intermixed, Williams pointed out.

"A lot of these [TBI] symptoms," he said, can be "overlapped with some of the psychological and mental health disorders, such as PTSD."

PTSD has been with the military a long time, said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jay M. Stone, a clinical psychologist and Iraq veteran who also works at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

PTSD-related symptoms have been described and addressed by writers "for centuries," Stone said, going back to Homer in ancient Greece. The malady, he added, has been known as shell-shock, war-neurosis, combat exhaustion, battle fatigue, combat stress, and now PTSD.

Yet, PTSD isn't caused only by combat experiences, Stone pointed out, noting that any horrific, life-threatening event can trigger the disorder.

"Most people during their lifetime will be exposed to a traumatic incident," Stone said. However, he said, most don't develop PTSD.

Research demonstrates that the encountering of horrific, severe experiences increases a person's likelihood of developing PTSD, Stone said. The absence of social support after the trauma, he said, also supports the development of PTSD.

People who have had bad childhood experiences, have little education and low social-economic status, as well as those who have been exposed to multiple stressful events are at increased risk for developing PTSD, Stone said. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD as men, he said.

Many other problems seem to develop alongside PTSD, Stone said, such as drinking and drugging, legal and relationship problems, and divorce. Feelings of hopelessness, shame or despair may beset a person afflicted with the disorder, which may end in homelessness or suicide.

No one knows how many servicemembers have PTSD, Stone said, noting best-guess estimates are based on the reporting of symptoms. However, he said, studies show that people who have experienced combat are five times more likely to report PTSD symptoms than others who didn't.

Meanwhile, Stone said, it's important that all of the military services have programs in place that address PTSD across the spectrum, from pre-deployment to in-country and back to post-deployment screenings, as well as educational briefings.

"That's having programs to prevent PTSD from developing and building resilience among our military members so that they're less likely to have problems," Stone said.

Related Sites:
Defense Centers of Excellence
Related Articles:
'Super Coaches' to Assist Servicemembers with Psychological Problems
Innovative Brain Therapies Offer Hope to Injured Troops

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bernard Madoff


US legislation restricts cluster munition proliferation

A bill that severely limits the US military's proliferation of cluster munitions was signed into law on 11 March by President Barack Obama. Included in the Fiscal Year 2009 (FY09) omnibus appropriations bill was a provision written by Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Dianne Feinstein of California that restricts the sale or transfer of cluster munitions

[first posted to - 19 March 2009]

South America launches new defence council

On 10 March, the embryonic South American Defence Council (Consejo de Defensa Sudamericano: CDS) opened its first formal meeting in Santiago de Chile to define a four-year "action plan". The CDS is a new regional organisation that will serve as a "meeting platform" for the defence ministers of the member states of the Union of South American Nations (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas: UNASUR)

[first posted to - 13 March 2009]

Friday, March 20, 2009

Navy Vessels Collide in Strait of Hormuz

American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, March 20, 2009 - A U.S. Navy submarine and U.S. amphibious ship collided in the Strait of Hormuz early this morning, Navy officials reported today.

The collision between the USS Hartford and USS New Orleans occurred at about 1 a.m. local time.

Fifteen sailors aboard the Hartford were slightly injured and returned to duty. No personnel aboard the New Orleans were injured.

Overall damage to both ships is being evaluated. The propulsion plant of the submarine was unaffected by this collision. A fuel tank ruptured on the New Orleans, which resulted in an oil spill of about 25,000 gallons of fuel. Both ships are currently operating under their own power.

The incident is under investigation.

Both the submarine and the ship are on regularly scheduled deployments to the U.S. Navy Central Command area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations.

(From a U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet news release).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

End to Stop Loss Announced

The Department of Defense announced today a comprehensive plan to eliminate the current use of Stop Loss, while retaining the authority for future use under extraordinary circumstances. This is an important step along the path in adapting the Army into an expeditionary force.

The Army Reserve and Army National Guard will mobilize units without employing Stop Loss beginning in August and September 2009, respectively. The Regular (active duty) Army will deploy its first unit without Stop Loss by January 2010.

For soldiers Stop Lossed during fiscal 2009, the department will provide a monthly payment of $500. Until the department is able to eliminate Stop Loss altogether, this payment will serve as an interim measure to help mitigate its effects.

"Stop Loss disrupts the plans of those who have served their intended obligation. As such, it is employed only when necessary to ensure minimal staffing in deploying units, when needed to ensure safe and effective unit performance," said Bill Carr, deputy under secretary of defense for military personnel policy. "It is more easily rationalized in the early stages of conflict when events are most dynamic; but tempo changes in this war have frustrated our efforts to end it altogether."

The department intends to provide Stop Loss Special Pay to eligible service members until the point of separation or retirement, to include that time spent on active duty in recovery following redeployment. Stop Loss Special Pay will begin on the date of implementation, and will take effect for those impacted on or after Oct. 1, 2008.

Stop Loss Special Pay implements the authority granted by Section 8116 of the "Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriation Act, 2009." The appropriation is available to secretaries of the military departments only to provide Special Pay during fiscal 2009.

Monday, March 16, 2009


"Keeping faith with those who serve must always be a core American value and a cornerstone of American patriotism. Because America's commitment to its servicemen and women begins at enlistment, and it must never end."

-- Barack Obama, Speech in Kansas City, MO
August 21, 2007

As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Barack Obama fought to end benefit disparities, bring homeless veterans in off the street, strengthen mental health care, add billions of dollars in additional Department of Veterans Affairs funding, and reform a system that often places barriers between veterans and the benefits they have earned. President Obama and Vice President Biden will ensure we honor the sacred trust to care for our nation’s veterans.

A Sacred Trust

Barack Obama and Joe Biden are committed to creating a 21st Century Department of Veterans' Affairs that provides the care and benefits our nation's veterans deserve. They will:

  • Allow All Veterans Back into the VA: Reverse the 2003 ban on enrolling modest-income veterans, which has denied care to a million veterans.
  • Strengthen VA Care: Make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible. Improve care for polytrauma vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, and women's health.
  • Combat Homelessness among Our Nation's Veterans: Establish a national "zero tolerance" policy for veterans falling into homelessness by expanding proven programs and launching innovative services to prevent veterans from falling into homelessness.
  • Fight Employment Discrimination: Crack down on employers who commit job discrimination against guardsmen and reservists.

Help for Returning Service Members

Obama and Biden will improve the quality of health care for veterans, rebuild the VA's broken benefits system, and combat homelessness among veterans. They will:

  • Ensure a Seamless Transition: Demand that the military and the VA coordinate to provide a seamless transition from active duty to civilian life.
  • Fully Fund VA Medical Care: Fully fund the VA so it has all the resources it needs to serve the veterans who need it, when they need it. Establish a world-class VA Planning Division to avoid future budget shortfalls.
  • Fix the Benefits Bureaucracy: Hire additional claims workers, and improve training and accountability so that VA benefit decisions are rated fairly and consistently. Transform the paper benefit claims process to an electronic one to reduce errors and improve timeliness.

Improved Treatment for Mental Health and TBI

Obama and Biden will improve mental health treatment for troops and veterans suffering from combat-related psychological injuries. They will:

  • Improve Mental Health Treatment: Recruit more health professionals, improve screening, offer more support to families and make PTSD benefits claims fairer.
  • Improve Care for Traumatic Brain Injury: Establish standards of care for Traumatic Brain Injury, the signature injury of the Iraq war.
  • Expand Vet Centers: Expand and strengthen Vet Centers to provide more counseling for vets and their families.

Caring for Veterans Is Matter of American Honor, Obama Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2009 - Caring for veterans is a responsibility and duty for all Americans, and the employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs are those who are charged with repaying "that debt of honor," President Barack Obama said during a ceremony here marking the department's 20th anniversary today.

The president promised the VA employees that he will make good on his promise to create a 21st-century department.

VA, formerly called the Veterans Administration, became a cabinet-level department in 1989. The employees are charged with providing education, training benefits, health care, home loans and cemeteries for American veterans. "It's a commitment that lasts from the day our veterans retire that uniform to the day that they are put to rest, and it continues on for their families," the president said.

U.S. servicemembers are the country's best and brightest, Obama said. "They are our bravest, enlisting in a time of war, enduring tour after tour of duty, serving with honor under the most difficult circumstances and making sacrifices that many of us cannot begin to imagine," he said. The department must take care of these people and of their families, he added.

The VA mission always is vital, Obama said, but it is even more so during long and difficult conflicts like today's. "Last month, I announced my strategy for ending the war in Iraq, and I made it very clear that this strategy would not end with the military plans and diplomatic agendas, but would endure through my commitment to upholding our sacred trust with every man and woman who has served this country," the president said. "And the same holds true for our troops serving in Afghanistan."

The president has requested an extra $25 billion for the department over the next five years. The agency – under the leadership of retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, former Army chief of staff – is reviewing its operations.

"With this budget, we don't just fully fund our VA health care program," the president said. "We expand it to serve an additional 500,000 veterans by 2013, to provide better health care in more places and to dramatically improve services related to mental health and injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury."

Obama said technology also will help to cut red tape and ease the transition from active duty. He promised new help for homeless veterans, "because those heroes have a home."

"It's the country they served -- the United States of America," he said. "And until we reach a day when not a single veteran sleeps on our nation's streets, our work remains unfinished."

He called on VA employees to help to implement the GI Bill for the 21st century. Just as the veterans of World War II formed the backbone of the progress after that war, the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan too, can be the catalyst for progress. The deadline for putting the rules for the new GI Bill in place is Aug. 1.

"That's how we'll show our servicemen and women that when you come home to America, America will be here for you," Obama said. "That's how we will ensure that those who have borne the battle, and their families, will have every chance to live out their dreams."

Transforming the agency is a tall order, Obama said, but he added that he has the fullest confidence that the men and women of the department can do it.

The United States will "fulfill our sacred trust and serve our returning heroes as well as they've served us," he said.

Related Sites:
Department of Veterans Affairs