Archive for the ‘IED’ Category

Veteran’s Day: Remember Their Health Care

November 11, 2008

While fixing the economy will certainly be a dominant issue for both President-elect Obama and the 111th Congress, we hope, on this Veterans Day, that health care for our wounded warriors will also be a top priority. Regrettably, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to continue to add to the numbers of veterans in need of mental and physical treatment and rehabilitation.

To meet this need, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must have sufficient resources provided in a timely and predictable manner next year, and for years to come.

About 18 percent of men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have already returned home at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, according to a recent study by the Rand Corp.

By Raymond Dempsey
The Washington Times

Another 19 percent are estimated of having experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by improvised explosive devices that “rattle” the brain. In total more than 300,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may already be suffering from these often invisible wounds of war.

In too many cases, the VA is unable to properly treat the physical and mental scars of war, in part because its budget has been late for most of the past two decades, and the amount of funding – which has thankfully grown in the last two years – is wildly unpredictable from year to year.

The result is that the VA is severely constrained in trying to plan or manage its budget. Robert Perreault, a former Veterans Health Administration chief business officer, has rightly noted in congressional testimony that “VA funding and the appropriations process is a process no effective business would tolerate.”

Such haphazard financing can directly affect the quality of care at VA hospitals and clinics across the country. Insufficient or late funding can mean an increase in waiting times for appointments. Purchasing new and replacement medical equipment may be put on hold, further delaying the delivery of needed medical treatment. And life-altering conditions such as PTSD and TBI may go undertreated or are not treated at all if specialized mental health care personnel cannot be hired when needed.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/
nov/11/remember-health-care-for-veterans/

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For A Few Americans; War Means Devastating Loss Of Life

March 9, 2008
By Kimberly Hefling, Associated Press Writer

Laura Youngblood clutched her husband’s photo as she drove alone to the hospital. She’d become pregnant nearly nine months earlier, the day he’d left for training for Iraq. Hours later, after the baby was born, she placed the photo in the bassinet next to the infant he’d named Emma in his last letter home. He would never hold her.

 

Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis L. Youngblood, 26, had died two months earlier, killed by an improvised explosive device.

Laura Youngblood is just 29 years old, but she insists she will not remarry. Her life is her children, now ages 2 and 7. One day, she says, she’ll be buried in the plot with her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I tell people I’m a happily married woman,” she says, crying.

Five years after U.S. troops invaded Iraq, there are many tears — though not everyone is crying. For the great majority of Americans, this is a war seen from afar. They turn off the news and forget about what is happening a world away.

Then there’s the other war, the one that’s a very vivid and present part of some Americans’ lives.

It’s the war that more than a million U.S. soldiers have fought, leaving nearly 4,000 dead and more than 29,000 wounded in action. The one in which thousands of contractors rushed in to serve and to make a buck — though some paid the ultimate price, as well.

Around military bases across America, vacations are planned around deployment schedules. Mini baby booms occur nine months after troops come home. Support groups for widows and injured soldiers have come together.

At small town National Guard armories, the focus has shifted from one weekend a month to filling out life insurance forms and packing a rucksack for war.

“‘How did I end up in this kind of a situation?’ There were a lot of guys that said that,” says Jeff Myers, 48, a tech sergeant in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard from Pillow, Pa. His lips still discharge shrapnel shreds, the residue of two roadside bombs he survived in 2004; a neurologist monitors the concussions he sustained.

In his job as a gunner guarding Army convoys, he saw men so paralyzed by fear they wouldn’t go outside the wire. He saw others die 15 minutes after he was chatting with them.

It’s not a matter of whether you will have to deal with things like irritability and nightmares after you get home, he says: “It’s how you deal with it when it does happen.”

And how you deal with your fellow Americans who experience Iraq from a distance.

Amanda Jordan, whose Marine husband was killed three days into the war, says she doesn’t know what bothers her more — the days that go by when no one speaks of the war, or the punditry. At a local diner she frequents with her 11-year-old son near their home in Enfield, Conn., she’s contemplated standing up and leaving so he doesn’t hear when people say Iraq was unnecessarily invaded.

“This is like my life. You’re saying my spouse, my child’s father, is dead for no reason,” says Jordan, a 39-year-old former paralegal who is studying to be a therapist specializing in grief. “That’s a pretty harsh thing to hear all the time.”

___

Some can tell you exactly when their lives changed.

For Hazel Hoffman, from outside Grand Rapids, Mich., it was when the phone rang and she learned her son, Josh, was shot by a sniper. He was left a quadriplegic, unable to speak.

“I cried so hard that I had tears of blood. I remember looking down wondering, where is all this blood coming from? And it took a few seconds for me to realize this was coming out of me,” says Hoffman, who has lived more than a year in an apartment with her son’s girlfriend near his hospital in Richmond, Va.

Suzanne Stack, 48, was soaking in the bathtub in their house at Fort Campbell, Ky., when the doorbell rang. There were two officers at the door.

Afterward, still numb from the news of her husband’s death, she walked her kids to the school bus. She sensed that people were looking at her fearfully, as if they were afraid they would be next. Even before the funeral, one spouse told her there was a waiting list for post housing. When would she be moving out?

“One day you’re one thing. The next thing you’re not. It’s really quite a shock,” says Stack, of Fredericksburg, Va., who now volunteers as an advocate for widows on Capitol Hill.

Walter Lajuane Williams, 33, of Fremont, Calif., was stoned when his turning point came. He was couch surfing, unemployed and in an abusive relationship after he left the Army, which took him to Iraq and Afghanistan. Even his service was criticized: “I had a person tell me, `How could you kill another person?'”

He went to the nonprofit Swords to Plowshares, looking for help finding work. A caseworker, wise to his drug use, took him aside. “I’m going to tell you candidly how I feel and what I smell,” he said. “I’m going to work with you. Don’t make me regret it.”

Williams now helps other vets find jobs.

“All we need is a chance,” Williams says.

___

Recently, an Iraq veteran came to Daniel Fox’s office and asked to take a screening exam for post-traumatic stress disorder a second time. He’d lied the first time, he said.

“When I asked him why he wasn’t honest, he said because I had just gotten home and everybody’s like saying, ‘Welcome home hero,'” Fox says. “And how could he tell him that this hero was not doing well?”

Fox, 47, works for the Department of Veterans Affairs as a case manager, assisting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. For a year, Fox, an Army Reservist, worked as an intensive care nurse at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany; the injured would be airlifted from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fox and his fellow nurses called themselves the ICU angels on the ICU angels tour. To lighten the mood, they made T-shirts with the slogan. Their bravado just helped mask their intense emotions.

“You had a mom and dad and the new wife with the babies in their arms standing in the door of this patient’s room and he’s got a gunshot wound to the head,” says Fox, of Wichita, Kan. “How do you explain that to them? You can’t console them.”

“After a while, you go home and you cry about it,” he says.

He used to be more macho and unemotional. Today, “I have more sympathy, more compassion,” he says.

Lt. Col. Douglas Etter’s job was sympathy and compassion. Etter, a minister, was a chaplain with the Pennsylvania National Guard in Al Anbar Province; his battalion lost 13 soldiers and two Marines.

He laid his hands on some of the men and delivered last rites. One morning, after he memorialized two of the dead, he says his stoicism dissolved; jogging by the Euphrates River, he cried.

In blunt newsletters home, he chronicled what the troops were seeing and experiencing, from delivering shoes and school supplies to happy Iraqi children to the story of a dead soldier wrapped in a flag by his fellow soldiers in the middle of a firefight because nothing else was available.

“As excited as we are to go home, many are equally afraid,” he wrote in one of his last letters.

When Etter himself returned on leave to Pennsylvania to officiate at the funeral of a close friend, he turned to his wife and said he wanted to go home.

“I said, `OK, get in the car. Let’s go home,'” said Jodi Etter. “And you said, ‘No, my home in Iraq. I just want to go home.'”

When his tour was over, and he went with his wife to buy furniture for their new house in Lebanon, Pa., he had to remind himself that it was important to her — even if it seemed trivial to him after the war. He drove fast, and bought a BMW so he could do it. One day, Jodi pointed out that he was drinking more.

With time, his life settled down, and he came to feel that his months in Iraq were a time of growth. Now executive director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Veterans Affairs, Etter says a deployment is like a magnifying glass.

“Personalities that are strong become stronger,” he says. “Personalities which are weaker are made to become weaker.”

___

Phil Nesmith came away from Iraq with a certain clarity.

It wasn’t the money that lured him to Iraq, he insists. He was like most of the U.S. troops he was living with at the time — idealistic about the mission.

He had been an Army paratrooper, but now he was among the first group of government contractors to arrive in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. His task was to help get telecommunications running.

At night, rockets flew into their compound. Sometimes they missed and hit apartments nearby, killing Iraqis. On the ground near where he was sleeping, a young officer shot and killed himself.

Violence did not account for all the stress. While he was there, Nesmith says, his relationship with his girlfriend of three years ended and she got pregnant by another man. “Pretty much every other soldier around me, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever, had left them or they suspected them cheating on them.”

It was hard. “You’ve left your life and you’re wanting to maintain some kind of connection with that, but everything you left behind is continuing on even though your life is kind of suspended while you’re there.”

As he left Iraq, he crossed paths with a contractor who bragged about what he was going to buy with the money he was going to make in Iraq.

“I was just like, well, `You know, everybody’s got their reasons, but I’ve got to ask you this: You lose both your legs, is that $160,000 going to be worth it?'” he says.

By that point, Nesmith says he knew what he wanted, what was important. He wanted to backpack through Australia, visit Montana, and go to photography school.

He did all three.

He had taken pictures in Iraq. Now he took some of those shots and manipulated them to look like they were taken in the Civil War era. They were shown at Washington, D.C.’s Irvine Contemporary Gallery in Washington, D.C., and priced at $1,500 each.

One photo depicts a single soldier standing alone in the desert. It reminds him of his own plight. “I knew I was on my journey back and when I got there I was going to be alone,” Nesmith says. “No one was going to understand what that year was like.”

Another photo, his favorite, is of an Iraqi flag flying outside a government utility office. Some Iraqis had just put it up. It was a time of optimism.

But now, he says, “it just seems like a more naive time, when you thought there was so much more that could possibly happen.”

___

Before Travis Youngblood left for Iraq, he and his wife watched a TV interview with a pregnant woman whose husband had died in Iraq. Laura Youngblood cried.

“I felt so sorry for her,” Youngblood says.

But then, “When my husband died, my first words were, ‘I became her.'”

Today in nearly every room of her Florida house, there’s a photo of her husband.

“It is hard. I feel bad for my son because he’s 7. He doesn’t know how to ride a two-wheel bike. His daddy was going to teach him,” she says. “I can’t do all the boy things that he wants to do.”

She put together videos so her daughter will know the father she never met.

“I’m a survivor of the war. I’m a surviving spouse,” Youngblood says. “That’s the best way I can say it because every day you’re surviving.”

Iran Cited In Iraq’s Decline in Violence

December 23, 2007

 By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2007; Page A01

The Iranian government has decided “at the most senior levels” to rein in the violent Shiite militias it supports in Iraq, a move reflected in a sharp decrease in sophisticated roadside bomb attacks over the past several months, according to the State Department’s top official on Iraq.

Tehran’s decision does not necessarily mean the flow of those weapons from Iran has stopped, but the decline in their use and in overall attacks “has to be attributed to an Iranian policy decision,” David M. Satterfield, Iraq coordinator and senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said in an interview.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker said that the decision, “should [Tehran] choose to corroborate it in a direct fashion,” would be “a good beginning” for a fourth round of talks between Crocker and his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad. Although the mid-December date scheduled for the talks was postponed, Crocker said he expects that the parties will convene “in the next couple of weeks.”

The Pentagon has been more cautious in describing Iran’s role ….
Ryan C. Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq 
Ryan C. Crocker,
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/22/AR2007122201847.html?hpid=topnews

Gates: Iran assured Iraq on weapons

November 1, 2007

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer

WASHINGTON – Iran apparently has assured the Iraqi government that it will stop the flow into Iraq of bomb-making materials and other weaponry that U.S. officials say has inflamed insurgent violence and caused many American troop casualties, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

“It is my understanding that they have provided such assurances,” Gates told a Pentagon news conference. “I don’t know whether to believe them. I’ll wait and see.” He said he did not know who in Tehran made the promise.

The deadliest of the weapons Iran is accused of providing to Iraqi insurgents is a device the U.S. military calls an explosively formed projectile, or EFP.

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State Department Security Chief Resigns Amid Blackwater Turmoil; Iraq Wants the Security Contractor Out

October 24, 2007

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The State Department’s security chief resigned on Wednesday in the wake of last month’s deadly Blackwater USA shooting incident in Baghdad and growing questions about the use of private contractors to protect diplomats in Iraq.

Richard Griffin, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, announced his decision to step down at a weekly staff meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted the resignation, which is effective Nov. 1.

“Secretary Rice is grateful to Ambassador Griffin for his record of long exemplary service to the nation,” McCormack said. “He has distinguished himself during a 36-year career with the U.S. government, serving in some of the most sensitive and demanding posts.”

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071024/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/us_iraq_
blackwater;_ylt=AtmkLk4.3y9pGsCsmUhwIAas0NUE

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Iraq Still Determined to Expell Blackwater USA

By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government remains determined to expel the Blackwater USA security company and is searching for legal remedies to overturn an American-imposed decree that exempts all foreign bodyguards from prosecution under local laws, officials said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s government accepted the findings of an Iraqi investigative committee that determined Blackwater guards, without provocation, killed 17 Iraqis last month in Nisoor Square in western Baghdad.

Iraqi investigators declared that Blackwater should be expelled and $8 million should be paid as compensation for each victim.

The officials said the Cabinet decided Tuesday to establish a committee to find ways to repeal a 2004 directive issued by L. Paul Bremer, chief of the former U.S. occupation government in Iraq. The order placed private security companies outside Iraqi law.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The Iraqi probe into the Sept. 16 shooting found that Blackwater personnel guarding a State Department convoy opened fire on Iraqis without reason. Blackwater said its men came under fire first, although no witnesses have been found to corroborate the claim. The guards involved have been isolated and have not been available to comment.

The Iraqi officials said Cabinet ministers again demanded that the U.S. Embassy, Blackwater’s biggest client in Iraq, expel the company. U.S. officials have said any action must await completion of an American investigation.

In Washington, the State Department’s security chief, Richard Griffin, announced his resignation a day after a review panel created by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a series of measures to boost government oversight of the private guards who protect American diplomats in Iraq.

Rice’s review panel found serious lapses in the department’s oversight of such guards, who are employed by Griffin’s bureau.

Neither Griffin nor spokesmen for the department’s Diplomatic Security Bureau could be reached for immediate comment.

In a Shiite district southeast of Baghdad, meanwhile, two bombs exploded seconds apart near a bus station Wednesday, killing at least nine people, police and hospital officials said.

The blasts, which occurred about 30 yards apart in Jisr Diyala, targeted government employees, construction workers and vendors waiting for minibuses to take them into the capital, officials said. Vendors were selling pastries, juice and tea to the workers.

Three policemen, women and children were among the nine killed and 23 wounded, officials said.

Mohammed Nuaman, a 36-year-old store owner who was wounded by shrapnel in the shoulder, said rescue efforts were complicated by a damaged bridge. The bridge, which spans the Diyala River to connect the area with Baghdad proper, was bombed in May and remains under repair.

“I heard a big explosion at the bus station area and another bomb went off about 30 seconds later, as I was heading to the area,” Nuamen said.

“Locals rushed to the area and carried some wounded by their cars to the nearby Zafaraniyah hospital before the ambulances and police arrived about 15 minutes later,” he said.

Hours later, mortar shells rained onto a neighborhood in Hibhib, 30 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least five civilians and wounding 17, police said.

Hibhib, a Sunni town in Diyala province, was the area where al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike last year.

A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information, said the mortar rounds were launched from the nearby district of Hidaid and were targeting Sunnis who had turned against al-Qaida.

Despite bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Iraqi civilian death count is projected to decline for the second consecutive month. At the current pace, October would have a death count of fewer than 900, down from 1,023 in September and 1,956 in August, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.

The AP tally is compiled from hospital, police and military officials, as well as accounts from reporters and photographers. Insurgent deaths are not included. Other counts differ and some have given higher civilian death tolls.

U.S. and Iraqi military commanders said a security crackdown had succeeded in sharply reducing the violence.

Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, the Iraqi in charge of the operation, said overall terrorist acts in Baghdad had decreased by 59 percent and the number of Iraqi casualties by 77 percent since the crackdown began in February. He also said car bombs in the capital were down by 65 percent and the number of people killed in bombings was down by 81 percent.

“All sectors in Baghdad have witnessed a decrease in terrorist activities,” Qanbar said. “This has brought life to normal in many parts of Baghdad.”

The American military has reported 29 military deaths in October, down sharply from the month before. The latest fatality reported occurred Wednesday when a land mine exploded in Salahuddin province north of Baghdad, the U.S. military reported.

The U.S. second-in-command said attack levels in Baghdad were on a “steady downward trend” and were now at the lowest level since January 2006.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said he expected the U.S. military to make steady progress over the next year in turning over large parts of Baghdad to Iraqi forces. “I think it’ll be somewhere between 40 and 50 percent by the end of the year,” he told reporters.

Related:

Armed Civilian Security Personnel In Iraq Held to Military Rules