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    Gen. Chiarelli asks Seattle: What are we going to do about vets?

    Gen. Peter Chiarelli told a UW town hall that our region needs a central point of contact to link local veterans organizations, reach out to service members, and confront the stigma of mental illness.

    General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army

    General Peter Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army Courtesy Office of External Affairs, University of Washington

    Newly returned veterans coping with the residual trauma of wartime military service need the help of ordinary citizens in the region, and so do their families. This was the message Gen. Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff, gave to a packed public town hall Monday evening (May 9) hosted by the UW.

    Chiarelli was visiting his native Seattle as part of a campaign by military brass to spark badly needed community conversations across the country, about how civilians can help veterans reintegrate into the American way of life they went overseas to defend.

    A distinguished military graduate of Seattle University who holds a master's in public administration from the UW Evans School, Chiarelli has led military efforts to reduce high-risk behavior and suicide attempts among service personnel as well as to improve treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other psychic effects of wartime service. Last week (May 4) he received the Hero of Medicine award from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine for his work.

    Psychiatric and other brain disorders are on the rise in the military because wars today differ from those of the past, said Chiarelli. For one thing, the U.S. has been simultaneously fighting two of the longest wars in our history. Further, battle engagements in conflicts such as World War II used to be "on the front lines, and folks to the rear saw little action or danger," the general said, but now the fighting is "non-linear. Everyone is in danger, sees things, has occurrences." These days the average soldier's term of service inflicts stresses totaling the cumulative stress on "somebody living to age 80."

    While the treatment of physical injuries has been "absolutely amazing," said Chiarelli, treatment for PTSD, brain injury, and TBI lags behind. "This is the Agent Orange of this conflict. The science of the brain is not mature."

    Chiarelli said brain injuries can be especially problematic for the families of veterans. "It's one thing to come home with that visible wound. But if they come home looking just the same, but aren't," the transition is a huge challenge. Healing can happen if someone is treated immediately after a traumatic incident, he said. But because so much stigma surrounds mental health issues, "there's an average gap of 12 years between a PTSD incident and coming in for help."

    For these and other reasons, veterans returning to civilian life need their community to reach out to them instead of waiting for them to make the connection, said Chiarelli. So "the best solutions are not from Washington, D.C. They're local." He added that in some areas there are hundreds of agencies set up to provide services, "but the problem is linking them together."

    With community partnerships, results can be remarkable, Chiarelli said. For example, high-tech executive Mike Allen brought together Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the USO, and others to make a film that would help teach America about returning veterans and what they need: Homefront Heroes. Massachusetts General Hospital and the Boston Red Sox teamed up to develop an initiative not only to provide world-class clinical care for PTSD and TBI but also to bring veterans in for treatment and support their families through the process.

    Zachary Fisher and later Arnold Fisher partnered with others to build Fisher Houses across the nation ("like Ronald McDonald houses, where families can stay with a wounded serviceman near his hospital," Chiarelli said). Chiarelli described how Ronald A. Katz fostered a partnership between UCLA Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center that resulted in a burn rehab project called Operation Mend, where vets horribly disfigured by burns from explosive devices are brought with their families to UCLA, paired with buddy families, and accompanied through their many return visits (the video is awe-inspiring).

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    Posted Thu, May 12, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

    Why not first fix the VA? I got injured on active duty in 1985, so badly I left active duty, and was misdiagnosed by the VA for 25 years. Finally I got the VA to do an MRI and they discovered two torn tendons in my shoulder. Despite having 5 separate entries to the injury in my active duty medical record, a nameless VA bureaucrat keeps sending me letters claiming there's no proof it happened on active duty, and that just because the diagnosis was wrong, it wasn't their fault.

    Does anyone wonder why veterans suffer higher suicide rates when they come up against such idiocy from the VA? I've tried getting the Disabled American Veterans to help but all they do is forward paperwork. What good would centralizing bureaucracy do? What's needed it to fire the incompetent, and hire those who actually work towards the benefit of the vets.

    Posted Thu, May 12, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    I SOOOOOOOOOOOo agree! I am wife/Caregiver of Vietnam TBI, spinal cord injury. 100% service connected.
    I have fought for 40 years to get continued care for my husband. It has been a nightmare! Why is the VA and the public not taking valuable information of what works and what does not from those that"have been there done that"!
    Barriers that these vets could not even imagine are ahead of Them!!
    Carol - worn out and MAD wife/caregiver


    Posted Thu, May 12, 1:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    Next: Lets stop creating so many wounded vets in the first place. Get the heck out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya.

    After that: Medicare for all. Once we have universal health care there won't be a denial because you aren't covered.


    Posted Fri, May 13, 3:06 p.m. Inappropriate


    looks like the 9th court of appalls strongly suggests that the VA get it's act together.


    Posted Mon, May 16, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

    So few of the present American public have any connection with our armed forces. I am 78 years old and a Korean veteran. My grandfather died in service in the second world war. My uncle was a decorated Seabee who suffered to the end of his life from illnesses contracted in the south Pacific. My mom's cousin was a pilot on the Doolitle raid and was executed by the Japanese. My son is a retired Air Force vet and two of his children are serving now.
    Our armed forces are primarily a mercenary force and should be changed to a force that is represented by draft and by alternate service programs. If that were true we would have much more support for taking care of our vets. The various GI bills are a polygot of programs and should be like the original WWII bill.
    We should be, of course, have universal health care so that these vets could go to any hospital and get continuing care including an expanded psychiatic support. Their life support system should be a function of our Social Security Insurance System.
    The radio talk show host, Thom Hartmann, spoke the other day of getting a shoe shine outside the capital in DC. he asked the man shining his shoes a bit about his back ground. The man said he was a Marine. Nuff said?

    John Lay


    Posted Mon, May 16, 4:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Our armed forces are primarily a mercenary force and should be changed to a force that is represented by draft and by alternate service programs"

    I'd add to that, no deferments for sons of congressmen etc.... George Bush Jr., Dick Cheney et.al. come to mind as people who advocated other mother's sons going off to war.

    We also might not have as many war vets if we didn't have endless wars as well.


    Of course that would require us to redirect our taxes from building war machines to building machines of peace least our economy totally slump back into depression.


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