Walter Reed and Beyond
Monday, October 15, 2007; 11:00 AM
Washington Post reporter Anne V. Hull was online Monday, October 15, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest installment in the Post's ongoing investigation highlighting issues of care and treatment of service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Read more of the series here: " Walter Reed and Beyond."
Chesterfield, S.C.: Anne, and Dana,
It is Annette. How can I get in contact with Michelle??? I would like to see if there is anything I can do to help this family. This has to stop. We owe our soldiers and our veterans the best and WE MUST NOT GIVE UP. Thanks for the story, as always, a great job and I know you gave your best as usual. Thanks again,
Anne V. Hull: Hello Annette and all other readers. Many of you have emailed and called wanting to know how to help the Turner family. They are very grateful. If everyone is comfortable, please mail donations/cards/etc. to me and I will forward everything to the Turners.
1150 15th St. NW
Washington, DC 20071
Overseas: What is the status of the recommendations from the panel in regard to Walter Reed, in particular, the issue of moving through the various administrative tiers of both the military and the Veterans Administration.
And, please keep up the fine reporting on this extremely important issue...the care of men and women who stepped forward to service our country regardless of politics.
Randy Hampton, LTC, US Army Afgh/2003;Iraq/2005
Anne V. Hull: Several of the hot button issues have been tucked into legislative bills and are pending action in Congress. The Dole Shalala commission appointed by President Bush put forward the most sweeping recs, mainly involving revamping the disability system and providing longterm caseworkers to the wounded. A huge undertaking. Almost all agree the system is broken but the overhaul would involve two agencies already backlogged by recent casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently vet groups have turned up the heat on Congress to get cracking on passing some of the recs.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Anne...great story in the Post this past weekend. You do great work. Are you aware that some elements of the right-wing, pro-war crowd are questioning whether the man in your story, Troy, is faking his illness? This coming from the supposed "support the troops crowd".
Anne V. Hull: PTSD still remains stigamatized, both within the Army and the general population. But even in the last year as more research has come out on its effects - particular to soldiers serving in Iraq - the evidence is hard to ignore that this is a real and debilitating condition. The Army gave Troy Turner a 10 percent disability rating - the lowest being zero - so he didn't get much sympathy from his own branch of service. On the other hand, his conditions worsened over time.
Vienna, Va.: It would appear that Troy suffers from PTSD. He also suffers from what appears to be a severe case of depression. He's taking the antidepressant Zoloft. Do you believe his depression is caused by the Iraq war? Lots of folks in this country suffer from depression, but few have been to Iraq. Is the disability rating low because the military doesn't believe it is responsible for his depression?
Anne V. Hull: Troy has been diagnosed with PTSD and a depressive disorder. The depression diagnosis is fairly recent. He is depressed by his condition. This is very common among PTSD sufferers and many soldiers who get medically discharged for PTSD also leave with a diagnosis of depression.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Anne,
Your story yesterday, and most other Post features you've written, amaze me because of the proximity between you and your subjects. How long does it usually take you to win someone's trust and arrive at a point where you can ride along in your subject's car and listen in on his or her conversations with others? Is it ever (or always) difficult to win that kind of access?
And great work, by the way! The stories are always incredible.
Anne V. Hull: People have asked us this question over and over on the Walter Reed stories and the answer is quite simple: wounded soldiers and their families are frustrated and many feel abandonded by the country that they fought for. They don't feel heard. Many feel out of sight and forgotten, a long way from the bright parades of deployment. So they are okay about opening up and talking and letting us witness the small details of their lives, and almost to a person, the response is always this: "As long as this will help other soldiers."
Arlington, Va.: It sounds like Operation Homefront is similar to social work organizations that have grants to work with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina victims. But how much can one organization do? Has the federal government given more resources to organizations that are closer to the people and better able to meet their needs, or is this one way the government could do a better job of helping so many vets who need it?
Anne V. Hull: Operation Homefront formed after Sept. 11 and has been helping returning soldiers since. It is a private non-profit. As Beth Steinke, Director of Operations, told us, "It's falling on the non-profit world to help the soldiers."
Washington, D.C.: The tidbit about the VA mileage rate had me floored. Why haven't they changed it since 1977? It's inexcusable and an easy thing to fix.
Anne V. Hull: There is a bill in Congress right now that would raise it to I believe around 28 cents per mile.
Concerned Brother: Anne, my brother has just returned from his second tour in Iraq. We thank God every day that he is alive, but we can tell that he is suffering and he is not the same person - I'm not sure how one could be.
While in Iraq, he was hit by an IED, and he lost several of his closest friends. He suffered from depression before be enlisted and now exhibits many of the symptoms of PTSD.
The problem: Many of the jobs for which he is qualified and applying - police department, fire department, U.S. Marshalls - require psych evaluations. My brother will not seek treatment or therapy because he believes that it would harm his job prospects. Whether or not he is correct, I don't know, but it is not a stretch to think that these organizations would be hesitant to put a gun in the hand of someone suffering from this condition.
What can I do to help my brother, and what can families in general do to support those suffering from PTSD?
Anne V. Hull: Your brother's concerns are probably valid. Even some active duty military seek private counseling or go to the VA's vet centers around the country to maintain anonymity because of similar concerns or fears of losing their security clearance. At any rate there are lots of private psychologists and counselors who are treating war-related PTSD, and in fact many have banded together to offer free services to vets. Hopefully your brother can deal with this. One fact about PTSD is that it generally worsens when untreated.
Richmond, Va.: Of course, it is appalling the poor care that our armed forces are getting (imagine a country as big and rich as ours not being able to give the best care to those we send off to war), but I was wondering if the Iran and Afghanistan bad care is unique. In other words, was care better in previous wars?
Anne V. Hull: Our medical care for the troops is world-class. It's the aftercare and attention toward the needs of veterans that is lacking.
Recruiting?: Has there been any correlation between recruiting numbers and the revelation of how poorly our soldiers are treated once they are no longer able to fight/handle war?
Anne V. Hull: Not to my knowlege. The services in general and the Army in particular are having to offer more bonuses to enlist and retain troops, who are stretched from multiple deployments. To stop the exodus of officers - mostly captains - the Army is offering $25K bonuses to keep them from leaving.
Washington, D.C.: What's next in your series?
Anne V. Hull: This wouldn't be the best place to talk about that. Stay tuned!
Anonymous: The veterans of our last war disaster, Vietnam, saw their benefits cut, inferior healthcare, drug addiction,alcholism, mental illness and homelessness as their reward for fighting an unpopular war. Why do you think things will be different for the latest veterans of an unpopular war?
Anne V. Hull: First of all there is a different attitude toward soldiers in this war. Unlike Vietnam, there is a general feeling of wanting to support the troops, no matter your attitude toward the war. Still, there is a historical echo in that veterans are given back burner treatment once their fighting days are done. The current VA is absolutely pulled at the seams, with a backlog of 800,000 cases, and emergency measures are needed to quicken the pace of care and compensation.
Actions: What can we do? You and Dana have obviously done a great deal by shedding light on these issues, but what can Joe Citizen do to make sure that soldiers receive the care they need and deserve?
Anne V. Hull: Putting pressure on your members of Congress for starters. They are keenly aware of the heat over this issue. Don't let up. Secondly, there are lots of excellent volunteer organizations. See the WashPost "Walter Reed" special report page (www.washingtonpost.com/walterreed) and you will find listed lots of orgs. There are groups that take wounded soldiers kayaking, that donate video games, that drive vets to appointments, etc. The government is not so great at linking up citizens with soldiers - Walter Reed has been particularly poor at this - but the organizations have been great.
Olean, N.Y.: How do you find these subjects? Explain your reporting process to us journalists out here who want to do these kinds of stories.
Anne V. Hull: There are many destitute soldiers and families right now. There are many organizations who exist to help them. We hear from both and keep track of lots of cases, and are eager to keep doing so.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Are you doing any investigating on the new info coming from Qwest that the NSA actually began spying on Americans 6 months before 9/11?
Anne V. Hull: I'm sure Dana has been mulling this all weekend. Save your question for her intel/nat security chat. A great topic to discuss given the recent news.
Rosslyn, Va.: Thank you again for continuing to keep us civilians aware of the way our soldiers suffer for us long after their deployment ends. Has there been any volunteer response from professionals in the mental health field (outside of those who are, I am sure, included on the various panels and groups reviewing procedures)? It would seem that they might have a lot to contribute to this discussion, and to the aftercare of vets.
Anne V. Hull: After revelations this year of the severe shortage of psychologists in the Army and news of rising cases of PTSD-related symptoms, private psychologists and counselors have banded together to offer services. I do not have the info at my fingertips at the moment (buried somewhere on my desk.) Many providers in the DC area wanted to pitch in services at Walter Reed but found that to be impossible so they have grouped together and trying to work around the system.
Anne V. Hull: A reader emailed this: SAVE THE DATE
Virginia is For Heroes Conference
Virginia is For Heroes Conference
Virginia's First Conference on Polytrauma and Combat Stress
October 17, 2007
Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens
Sponsored by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and the Mid-Atlantic Addition Technology Transfer Center at VCU
For additional information and registration www.virginiaisforheroes.org
Do you volunteer?: Or are you restricted from being able to help the soldiers you report on/encounter in more tangible ways, i.e. finding them counselors, filling out paperwork etc.
Anne V. Hull: As journalists, we do not volunteer in activities related to this story. Our job is to report on what's going on, in hope that it may ulitmately help. (We do put people in touch with organizations if we are not writing about them, or act as go-betweens to facilitate stuff.)
Washington, D.C.: What is the most effective thing we can do to call for reform? Call our Congressman? What can we ask for specifically? Demonstrations? Flyers? Raising awareness is a start, but what will really get the ball rolling to fix this problem?
Anne V. Hull: Congress, yes. Here is the Dole Shalala Commission report and it outlines the main problems and suggested fixes.
Alexandria, Va.: I have generally stopped reading more than headlines and ledes because most hard news articles about the war and its aftermath make me feel furious and disenfranchised (as someone who voted for Al Gore in 2000). I always make an exception for the articles about veterans and their care, even though I know I will most likely be in tears for much of the day after reading them.
Thank you so much for your coverage, and thank you to the Washington Post for publishing these articles. I still haven't forgiven the editorial board for their blind support of the administration, but my complaints against the news side are lessening, thanks to Anne Hull and Dana Priest.
Anne V. Hull: Thank you!
Anne V. Hull: Thanks, all, for taking the time to read these stories, and for your comments and good questions. Keep them coming.