What I Should Have Said About Veterans with PTSD and TBI

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Not long ago I had the opportunity to represent the warrior-run non-profit One Mind for Research at a Hollywood Telethon to raise money for Veteran charities. My role in the production was a live, 90-second interview on stage with actor and host Alan Alda. We talked very briefly about my experience as a wounded warrior with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mr. Alda asked me: what did I expect when I returned home from a combat tour with TBI and PTSI? Perhaps because I was a little intimidated by the Hollywood venue, the big stars, and the brief time allotted, I didn’t deliver the message I would have liked, so I’d like to share with you now what I should have said then.

Actor Alan Alda played the irreverent trauma surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television comedy MASH.

Actor Alan Alda played the irreverent trauma surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television comedy MASH.

Alan Alda played the iconic character Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television series MASH. Alda’s character was an irreverent army doctor serving in a forward Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or MASH) during the Korean War. The opening credits of every episode included footage of medical evacuation helicopters bringing in a load of wounded warriors from the front. Amidst the pranks and comedy, MASH did a good job of telling the story of what happens once those helicopters landed. I would like to tell you about what happens before those helicopters land.

Two “laws” govern that space. The first is the law of the “Golden Hour.” We believe that if we can get a seriously wounded comrade to the MASH alive and within one hour, then our buddy will make it. In the show, sometimes soldiers didn’t survive after arriving at the MASH and that is also true today, although due to better medical tools the survival rate is much higher today than during the Korean War. As warriors, we can’t control what happens in the MASH. But our responsibility is to get the wounded to the helicopter on time. When one of us is hit, every all can feel the timer begin its count down towards the end of the “Golden Hour.” They are the most unforgiving of minutes.

The title screen and opening credits of MASH featured a pair of H-13 medical evacuation helicopters transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the surgical hospital. Note the wounded soldiers on the litters placed on sponsons above each landing skid.

The title screen and opening credits of MASH featured a pair of H-13 medical evacuation helicopters transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the surgical hospital. Note the wounded soldiers on the litters placed on sponsons above each landing skid.

The second law is recorded in a line in the Warriors Creed: “I Will Never Leave a Fallen Comrade.” To some this may be just another phrase from the canon of military tradition, but among warriors it is a sacred covenant that we make with each other that forms the foundation of a unique and special honor-bond.

Units that have this bond win. Units that do not, don’t.

As a student of the profession of arms, I had read and heard hundreds of accounts of these laws in combat. Many of these tales came accessorized with citations for valor like bronze and silver stars, even Medals of Honor. Remarkably, a large number did not simply because heroism is a daily duty and often goes unrecognized beyond the range of the last rifle round fired.

I would like to share how I learned about the persistent reality of these laws for myself.

My education began as a young lieutenant leading one of the reconnaissance platoons of the Brigade Reconnaissance Troop in the First Brigade (Ready First!) of the 1st Armor Division during a training rotation at Combat Maneuver Training Center (now the Joint Multinational Readiness Center) near Hohenfels, Germany. The brigade had tasked my platoon to conduct a recon and surveillance mission deep into Opposing Force territory. The mission was only part of a training exercise in the good ole’ pre-war days when a faithful warrior could look forward to a painless simulated death that would bring the Valhallan pleasures of a MRE and a nap before administratively resurrecting to roll out again in few hours. Levity aside, I was concerned about the level of risk the mission would have had we been executing in real combat conditions. If any of my troopers were wounded, it would be nearly impossible to evacuate them to a MASH.

I shared my concerns with my troop commander, Captain Jerry Turner. CPT Turner admitted that he had shared the same concerns with his boss, the brigade commander, then-Colonel Michael Tucker. Jerry Turner and Michael Tucker were both men I had learned to trust and respect. They cared deeply about their soldiers. In our middle-of-the-night discussion across a humvee hood in the dark German woods, CPT Turned shared with me the promise COL Tucker had made to us: if we got into trouble, he would roll the entire brigade– some 150 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles and thousands of soldiers– to come and get us.

That mission was a great success and the platoon contributed to the Brigade crushing the opposing force in simulated combat …and I “died” towards the end of the fight with just enough time left to eat an MRE and take a nap.

When a small team of Army special operations soldiers was forced down in their helicopter during a night-time raid into al Qaeda- controlled portion of Anbar province in Iraq, Air Force F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert was on station to provide emergency close air support. As a large al Qaeda force was closing with the isolated Special Forces team,  Gilbert brought his F-16 to tree-top level to strafe the insurgent force with his aircraft's cannon- an extremely high-risk maneuver, but one that Gilbert felt he needed to make to save the US soldiers on the ground. In the darkness, he lost too much altitude during his strafing run and his plane crashed.

When a small team of Army special operations soldiers was forced down in their helicopter during a night-time raid into an al Qaeda- controlled portion of Anbar province in Iraq, Air Force F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert was on station to provide emergency close air support. As a large al Qaeda force was closing with the isolated Special Forces team, Gilbert brought his F-16 to tree-top level to strafe the insurgent force with his aircraft’s cannon- an extremely high-risk maneuver, but one that Gilbert felt he needed to make to save the US soldiers on the ground. In the darkness, he lost too much altitude during his strafing run and his plane crashed.

COL Tucker’s promise remained tucked away in the recesses of my memory until the end of November 2006. I was about to take command of a Stryker-equipped Cavalry Troop in 3rd Brigade (Arrowhead!), 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq. We were in the process of moving from Tal A’far to Baghdad. While we were on the march, an Air Force F-16 providing close support to an Army special forces unit securing a downed helicopter in a sparsely populated section of the nearby Anbar province crashed during a low-level night strafing attack. The pilot was unaccounted for and possibly still alive. Just as COL Tucker had promised, we rolled an entire brigade (the Stryker infantry battalion I was attached to, an Airborne infantry battalion and a heavy cavalry squadron) to find and rescue him. Thousands of soldiers to save one.

Unrested, the battalion paused only enough to unload baggage and take on fuel before heading out along roads so infested with IEDs that US forces had up to that time effectively abandoned the road network and relied almost solely on helicopter air assaults. We spent three days scouring the area. My Troop searched every structure and vehicle within a hundred-square kilometers. We even forced the dump trucks traveling from a nearby quarry to dump their loads to ensure no body could be concealed in them. In the end we were able to confirm that the pilot had died in the crash. His name was Major Troy Gilbert. He left behind a wife and five children. We didn’t know that at the time. All that mattered was that he was one of us and we were going to get him back, one way or the other. It was not the ending we had wanted, but we had fulfilled our covenant to each other that we would never leave a fallen comrade behind.

We paid a price to do so. During the mission one of our Strykers hit an IED. Specialist Billy Farris was killed and several others were seriously wounded. Inspired by his stepfather who had served in a Ranger Company in Vietnam, Billy had joined the Army immediately after graduating from high school in Phoenix, Arizona. His consistently superior performance had earned him a coveted position in the battalion scout platoon, and he had been recently honored as the Soldier of the Quarter. Billy also left behind a young son.

To a bureaucrat, who measures value with a financial ledger, the mission was a waste of resources. To a warrior, who understands both the true value and the true cost of the honor-bond, the mission was a necessary sacrifice.

Members of Bronco Troop, 1-14 Cavalry, search for Major Troy Gilbert in Anbar Province Iraq.

Members of Bronco Troop, 1-14 Cavalry, search for Major Troy Gilbert in Anbar Province Iraq, November 2006.

A few months later it was my turn to make and keep that promise. My Troop had just redeployed to the city of Baqubah, at that time the center and proclaimed capital of al Qaeda in Iraq. During a fiercely contested mission to search for weapons caches in a suburb of the city, al Qaeda ambushed one of my scout platoons and the platoon of combat engineers clearing the attack route through the city. At a narrow bend in the road, an IED built into the exterior wall of house exploded and disabled the lead engineer vehicle. As the platoon moved to recover the damaged vehicle, a large force of insurgents engaged them with RPGs, machine guns and AK-47s in the fiercest ambush we had experienced. Five of the combat engineers were wounded, some of them severely. The countdown toward the Golden Hour had begun.

The thundering explosions and rattle of automatic weapons fire brought silence to the Troop radio net as the routine reporting and chit chat between crews disappeared to clear the net for the inevitable contact report. The scout platoon leader was experienced, aggressive and cool-headed but his report was not good. The two platoons were surrounded and out-numbered. They had casualties, some seriously wounded. The outcome was in doubt.

“Hold on. We will come for you.”

My quick fragmentary order to the rest of the Troop was redundant before it was issued. Everyone had heard the report. Everyone knew what had to be done. Everyone was already moving.

As we reached the beleaguered platoons, my First Sergeant, who had already earned a Purple Heart earlier in the tour, moved his armored medical evacuation vehicle into the kill zone. In a scene worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, the scout platoon leader, Captain Aaron Tiffany, with his vehicle’s gunner, Sergeant Josiwo Uruo, and the platoons’ trusted Iraqi interpreter, Monroe, ran under heavy fire to the severely wounded soldiers and dragged them to the waiting evacuation vehicle.

The Medical Evacuation Vehicle, now escorted by a pair of Strykers, raced to the helicopter landing zone fifteen kilometers away. Medical evacuation helicopters had been called and were enroute. Inside the armored, eight-wheeled Stryker ambulance one of the wounded soldier’s heart stopped beating. The young medic in the vehicle, SPC Brian Mikalanis, beat the soldier’s heart for him, almost forcing him to live through the precious minutes to the door of the waiting helicopters. Before the Golden Hour ticked away they reached the medevac helicopters with five wounded soldiers still alive. A few minutes later the pair of helicopters landed at a real-life MASH where a real-life Hawkeye Pierce finished saving those soldiers’ lives.

Sergeant Josiwo Uruo willing exposed himself to heavy enemy fire that had already wounded five soldiers to rescue our wounded comrades. He was later killed while again exposing himself to enemy fire in order provide covering fire for members of his team.

Sergeant Josiwo Uruo willing exposed himself to heavy enemy fire that had already wounded five soldiers to rescue his wounded comrades.

Bronco Troopers had fulfilled their covenant. We had come for our fallen comrades. But again, not without a price. All five of the wounded combat engineers made it home alive, but Sergeant Josiwo Uruo, a courageous young man from Guam with an ubiquitous grin, did not.

So to answer your question, Mr. Alda, when I returned home from Iraq as a wounded warrior with TBI and PTSD, I expected to be treated with the same commitment and urgency by the medical providers at home in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs that we expected from each other in any and all combat zones.

Unfortunately, my expectations and the expectations of thousands of other wounded soldiers and veterans like me have not been met.

They have not been met because the organizations responsible for caring for our wounded warriors not only do not share, but likely do not even comprehend, the honor-bond between warriors. Their creeds are written on their walls, not in their hearts.

This reality was brought to public attention in 2007 when journalists revealed the terrible living conditions and treatment being inflicted on Army wounded warriors by ambivalent Army Medical Corps bureaucrats– many of them superficial soldiers covered in warriors’ uniforms with hearts concealed beneath the camouflage fabric but bereft of any warrior honor-bond. Army leaders found the organizational ethos of the medical corps so antagonistic towards the warrior values espoused by the Army’s own creed that they made the unprecedented decision to bring in a combat arms officer – a warrior – to fix the problem. They brought in my old commander Mike Tucker, by then a major general, to take charge of and fix Walter Reed. I suspect Tucker knew as much about hospital administration as I do, which is very little. But he knew what he had taught me a few years earlier- that warriors do not leave their fallen comrades behind.

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ARCHI’s ACRES – Sustainable Employment for Veterans through Sustainable Agriculture

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COLIN AND KAREN ARCHIPLEY ARE TWO-TIME NATIONAL TREASURES!

 

The first occasion was defending the nation as a Marine Corps husband-wife team. Colin was not only a Marine Rifleman, he was a Marine noncommissioned officer. While media pundits and politicians focus on super fighter jets, unmanned drones and the Hollywood virtues of thermobaric Hellfire missiles, combat soldiers know that the most lethal, versatile and effective weapons systems in the American arsenal are sergeants. In combat they are responsible for making the very first tactical decisions, usually before anyone else even knows what’s happening. They can turn a bad plan into a brilliant victory while without them the best plans are often worthless. In my experience, the collective quality of these professional warriors defines a unit’s “elite-ness” more than any other factor. 

 

Former Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife Karen founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to help other veterans achieve meaningful employment in sustainable agriculture.

Former Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife Karen founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to help other veterans achieve meaningful employment in sustainable agriculture.

Sergeant Archipley repeatedly led Marine Infantrymen at the point of contact in Iraq, including through the brutal fighting in Fallujah in 2004. After three combat tours, the Archipleys decided the time was right to serve in other ways and the seeds of what would grow into a second national treasure were literally planted.

 

Before Colin deployed to Iraq for the third time in 2005, the Archipleys purchased a small 200-tree avocado farm, which they christened “Archi’s Acres.” The three-acre farm is nestled in a scenic semi-rural valley near Escondido, California, right behind the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton where Staff Sergeant Archipley was stationed.

The Archipleys might have been content nurturing their avocado trees and growing tomatoes if not for their first month’s $850 water bill – which sent them searching for a more financially sustainable way to run their farm. 

 

Archi's Acres. Two hydroponic green houses and avocado tree orchards framed by the 'Back 40' of Camp Pendleton in the background.

Archi’s Acres. Two hydroponic greenhouses and avocado-tree orchards framed by the ‘Back 40’ of Camp Pendleton in the background.

They discovered a solution to more than just their water-bill problem in hydroponic farming. When Colin returned home from his final deployment, they built a greenhouse and started growing basil. The soilless organic hydroponic system they built uses only one tenth of the water needed for an equivalent crop on a traditional farm and Karen was able to secure contracts to supply their organic produce to local super markets, including several Whole Foods stores.

 

Colin left the Marine Corps in October 2006 but wanted to maintain more of a connection to the Marines than afforded by the view from their home and farm of the hills of Camp Pendleton’s “Back 40.” That desire germinated another place for the Archipleys on the list of America’s national treasures — the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program– VSAT in proper military acronym form.

 

Through the VSAT program, Colin and Karen share their knowledge and experience with transitioning Marines and other veterans and help them replicate the success of Archi’s Acres. The six-week course they developed and teach not only provides veterans with enough knowledge of hydroponic greenhouse agriculture and the technical skills to set up and run their own greenhouse-centered farms, the Archipley team also teaches them the business and marketing skills to succeed as a business as well as a farm.

 

The greenhouses at Archi's Acres feature soilless, hydroponic growing systems and are automated to adjust for weather conditions.

The greenhouses at Archi’s Acres feature soilless, hydroponic growing systems and are automatically adjust to weather conditions.

The program’s title as a ‘training’ program insufficiently describes what the program really achieves. Even a lengthier descriptor such as a “seed-to-market sustainable organic agriculture entrepreneurial incubator” falls well short of the mark because VSAT provides far more than a skillset and post-graduation support.

 

The key to VSAT’s extraordinary potential is how Karen and Colin structured their program. From the outset they teamed with the nearby state university Cal Poly Pomona to get nationally-recognized accreditation. The university awards 17 college credit hours on completion of VSAT. The Archipleys also specifically engineered VSAT to meet the US Department of Agriculture’s experience requirements —  completing VSAT is equivalent to one year of farm management experience or a four-year degree in soil science — and so qualifies for a USDA-guaranteed farm loan. Combined with start-up equipment discounts the Archipleys negotiated with several leading national suppliers of agricultural equipment, meeting the requirements for a government-guaranteed loan provides Vets with the all-important financial resources to go into business as well as the technical know-how.

 

The Archipleys’ foresight enables Vets to take advantage – with their existing educational benefits – to cover the program’s $4,500 tuition. Since VSAT is a college-accredited program, Vets and even active duty service members can use the GI Bill, VA Vocational Rehabilitation or tuition assistance.  Several Veteran-serving nonprofits such as the Marine Semper Fi Fund, DAV and Armed Services YMCA also provide tuition grants for qualifying veterans.

 

Although not exclusively for Vets and transitioning service members, over 80 percent of their students are Veterans and many are struggling with invisible wounds and other service-connected disabilities.

 

“Agriculture is blind to invisible injuries,” Karen told me. And that was what first interested Stand for the Troops in Archi’s Acres— leading them to dispatch me on assignment to visit the Archipleys in the summer of 2014. Karen and Colin where successfully solving some of the biggest challenges of disabled-veteran employment AND healing.  Simultaneously.

 

Invisibly wounded warriors face substantial barriers to achieving full and persistent employment. According to the experienced former military physicians who created the Veteran-serving nonprofit  Military Disability Made Easy, a typical combat Veteran rated at only 50 percent disabled by Posttraumatic Stress Disorder:

 

“… may try to work, but will not be able to hold a job for more than 3 or 4 months because of their inability to remember or follow all directions or other similar reasons based on the symptoms or circumstances described under this rating. (In other words, they wouldn’t lose their job simply because they have anger issues and would regularly get in fights. A person like that could also not hold a job more than 3 or 4 months, but they would still be considered able to work). This individual would only be hired for jobs like cleaning, picking up trash, or other simple-task jobs.”

While the Americans with Disabilities Acts legally obligates employers to make reasonable accommodations for Vets with combat disabilities like PTSD, the reality is that there is little understanding among employers or even among Veteran-employees of how to accommodate invisible injuries with their multiple insidious, inconsistent and difficult to predict mechanisms of disability. In many cases even reasonable accommodations are simply not enough.

 

But where even the best intentioned accommodations fail, Archi’s Acres succeeds. The keys are flexibility and scalability. For a combat Vet functionally impaired by invisible wounds, greenhouse agriculture enables a level of flexibility uncommon in most jobs. While nature dictates that some tasks must be done at certain times, for the most part a Vet can adapt his schedule to his own needs, health and abilities, providing the most effective and timely workplace accommodation. The owner of an Archi’s Acres-style hydroponic greenhouse agriculture business is able to scale both the scope of the business and his or her personal workload. A greenhouse farm as small as one-tenth of an acre can be run profitably. Alternatively, a Veteran with a larger farm or limited in the number of hours he or she can work can hire employees to do the work the Vet cannot. At the time I visited them, the Archipleys employed one full-time and two part-time employees to work their three acres (expanding to six) of avocado trees, tomatoes and greenhouses, freeing Karen and Colin to focus most of their time on running the VSAT program.

 

By June 2014 the Archipleys had coached and mentored 240 graduates through their VSAT program. Two-thirds of the those graduates now either own or manage farms. Impressively, Karen and Colin have been able to do so much for Veterans within the framework of a self-sustaining B Corporation (a special category of for-profit corporation that provides a significant public benefit) instead of a donor-dependent non-profit which means the Archipleys will be able to continue independently serving the Nation’s Veterans for years to come.

 

To learn more about Archi’s Acres and the VSAT program, visit their website at Archisacres.com, and watch this five-minute video and this 24-minute documentary.




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The 2nd Annual Warriors’ Ball

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The Warrior’s Ball – Friday April 24, 2015 – 7pm
Knights of Columbus, 507 Shippan Avenue, Stamford Ct
WB--Soldier-Art
Dinner Dance
featuring
Billy & The Showmen
To Benefit Stand For The Troops’ PTS Rescue Coalition, An initiative that funds effective treatment programs for at risk Soldiers and Veterans struggling the with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress & Traumatic Brain Injury.
Auction/Raffle
Tickets $75 per person
$140 per couple (any two will do!)
Includes Dinner by Michael Powers Catering, Beer, Wine & Soda


Please choose



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F.D.A. on Prescription Drugs

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People complain that the F.D.A. takes far too long in approving “new” drugs, but they seem to be equally obtuse in pointing out the dangers of using drugs they have already approved.  According to a new article appearing in the New York Times, the F.D.A seeks tighter control on prescriptions for class of painkillers.     I suppose we should be grateful that the guys and gals in the white robes in D.C. have finally come to their senses and realize that we now have a nation of addicts: addicted to prescription and generic pain killers all approved by the F.D.A.   How sweet!

The “debate” is not without its polemics as this lengthy excerpt from the New York Times article suggests:

 

“In 2011, about 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing medications were written for some 47 million patients, according to government estimates. That volume of prescriptions amounts to about five billion pills.

Technically, the change involves the reclassification of hydrocodone-containing painkillers as “Schedule II” medications from their current classification as “Schedule III” drugs. The scheduling system, which is overseen by the D.E.A., classifies drugs based on their medical use and their potential for abuse and addiction.

Schedule II drugs are those drugs with the highest potential for abuse that can be legally prescribed. The group includes painkillers like oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, methadone and fentanyl as well as medications like Adderall and Ritalin, which are prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

In recent years, the question of whether to tighten prescribing controls over hydrocodone-containing drugs has been the subject of intense lobbying.

Last year, for example, lobbyists for druggists and chain pharmacies mobilized to derail a measure passed in the Senate that would mandate the types of restrictions that the F.D.A. is now recommending.

At the time, the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society also said that making patients see doctors more often to get prescriptions would impose added burdens and costs on them.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, expressed dismay when the proposal died in the House of Representatives.

“They got their victory – but not at my expense,” said Mr. Manchin, whose state has been hard hit by prescription drug abuse. “The people who will pay the price are the young boys and girls in communities across this nation.”

As SFTT has been reporting for many months,  prescription drug abuse with terrible side-effects is chronic among the many brave warriors returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Sadly, treating the symptoms with OxyContin and other toxic pain-relievers has been the panacea prescribed by the VA.  Despite clear and irrefutable evidence that this was causing more harm than good for warriors suffering from PTS and TBI, the lobbyists and their political pundits in government were reluctant to pull the plug on what is little more than government-sponsored drug addiction.

Finally, we may get an opening to help these brave young men and women rebuild their lives without the terrible consequences of addiction.

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Brain Injuries: Back Walking Forward

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There is a growing public awareness that many returning veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and other brain-related injuries. Some studies suggest that, perhaps as many as 1 in 5 veterans, suffer from PTSD. In fact, 8 servicemembers commit suicide each day as a result of these disorders.

The US Army and other services are aware that servicemembers with and caring inviduals are gathering forces to apply lessons learned in treating civilians with traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) and PTSD and helping our brave heroes reclaim their lives. 

SFTT, under the leadership of Eilhys England, has recently formed a medical task force to help determine “best practices” in helping to deal with this growing crisis.  Over the next several months, SFTT will be sharing the findings of our medical task force and lessons learned from an exciting program called Warrior Salute that we are jointly sponsoring with the CDS Warrior Salute Center in Rochester, New York. We are pleased to report that 7 servicemembers are now enrolled in this program.

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PTSD: The Unintended Consequence of War

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Almost daily, we receive reports of the devastating impact of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) on our men and women in uniform and the terrible side-effects on their families and friends.   The US Army is aware of the terrible cost of PTSD as evidenced by the 2010 US Army Report on Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention.

Many publications suggest that the origins of PTSD are unknown as evidenced by this recent commentary from a government organization: 

“The cause of PTSD is unknown, but psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors are involved. PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters). Having been exposed to trauma in the past may increase the risk of PTSD.”

While this may be true, there does appears to be a clear linkage between PTSD and the effects of increasing IED (improvised explosive devices) attacks on US and Allied military forces serving in Afghanistan.   While many believe that PTSD is a psychosomatic discorder, it is becoming increasingly clear that concussion-like head injuries are contributing to PTSD and its debilitating physical and mental consequences.    The US Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that between 11% and 20% of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan may have PTSD.   If so, this is an alarming number – almost of epidemic proportions.

SFTT has long argued that ill-fitting military combat helmets afforded little protection to our men and women in uniform.  The US Army has been painfully aware of this problem for sometime as evidenced by their decision some years ago to implant sensors in helmets to track trauma related injuries.    Recently, we have been told that a “simple tweak” in the amount of padding in combat helmets would reduce head trauma injuries by 24%.    Why did it take so long to realize we had a serious problem?  More importantly, how long will it take our procurement process to get better protective gear to our troops in the field.

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Stand For The Troops

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Soldiers For The Truth has become Stand For The Troops. Our new name reflects exactly what we do on behalf of all concerned  Americans—stand for the troops—and more specifically, stand for our frontline troops, our young heroes who stand tall for us and our country out at the tip of the spear.   

 Our mission remains the same: to ensure that America’s frontline troops get the best available personal combat gear and protective equipment, including body armor and helmets. In fact, the military has been testing helmet sensors in Afghanistan for well over two years to evaluate the effect of IED attacks on our troops while the attacks continue to escalate with little being done to provide our warriors with more adequate head protection.   The sorry result is a near epidemic of troops suffering from traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) and post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) from their service in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

While senior military officials acknowledge that PTSD is a serious and growing problem, diagnosis and treatment remains disjointed, not to mention that admitting to the disorder on record seem to be a career stopper.  Meanwhile new stories break daily about veterans taking their own lives or behaving erratically despite desperate pleas by the families, friends and fellow service members to the chain of command for more easily available, more effective treatment. 

As part of Stand For The Troops’ expanded mission, we’re mobilizing a task force of eminent medical professionals to evaluate existing PTSD treatment within the military and general communities so that a comprehensive, targeted, more effective treatment protocol can be established and offered for the benefit of our warriors. For too long the military has allowed frontline troops to resume active duty while suffering from this debilitating condition—all too often resulting in devastating consequences for both our brave warriors and their loved ones.  

 We as citizens have a responsibility to Stand For The Troops and not allow PTSD—and TBI—to be the legacy of the war in Afghanistan.

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Military News Highlights: December 21, 2010

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For Brain-Injured Soldiers, Top Quality Care From a Philanthropist, not the Pentagon

The primary health care plan for our active duty force, called TRICARE will not provide “cognitive rehabilitation therapy” (CRT) for treatment of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) because the treatment is “still unproven.”  Project Share, a charity based out of the Shepard Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Injury in Atlanta is singularly focused on assisting brain-damaged soldiers – their efforts, to serve as a model for the Department of Defense and provide CRT as a means to close the gap created by TRICARE and military hospitals that lack the expertise and staff to treat complex TBI injuries, are falling on deaf ears. 

The 2007 ECRI Assessment on Cognitive Rehabilitation for Traumatic Brain Injury report provides specific details on CRT costs and benefits.  CRT is not some hokey-incense burning-meditation protocol – it’s a proven therapy that our servicemembers need access to.

 Admitting that CRT is timely and oftentimes complex, the former Home Depot executive and philanthropist Bernie Marcus and founder of Project Share makes the compelling case that our servicemembers that are grievously wounded and affected by TBI deserve only the best treatment and options.    SFTT agrees!

NATO fails to deliver half of trainers promised for Afghanistan

The trap door out of Afghanistan is supposedly lined with the premise that the Afghan National Security Forces will stand up beginning in 2011 and begin to assume increasingly more security responsibilities – the trap door is the US/NATO exit plan.   But the required effort to make this possible will cost $6 billion per year in perpetuity and require a host of trainers and equipment resources – problem is, that by the end of 2010 NATO can only provide half of the required trainers.  Making matters worse is the ad hoc nature of the training effort and programs and the lack of accountability of ensuring training standards are being met – most startling is that Kabul (NATO) “is still discovering training programs operating around the country that headquarters commanders did not know existed.”   Can you imagine that?  A critical training mission staffed at 50% with a $6 billion tab and training programs that no one knows exists?

 25,000 Soldiers headed to Afghanistan in 2011

 The roster of units deploying to Afghanistan are as follows:

  •  I Corps Headquarters, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
  • 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.
  • 82nd Airborne Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
  • 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Knox, Ky.
  • 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii
  • 1st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Wainwright, Alaska
  • 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
  • 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
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Military News Highlights: December 2, 2010

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‘Progress Made’ In Afghanistan’s Helmand Province

When interviewed by . Generic drugs that do so should have the same therapeutic effect and therefore the same benefits as their brand-name counterparts, but at less cost.

“But let’s talk a little bit about Marja, because I know that’s one you’ve been following. If you could come over and visit today I would take you down to the district center, where across the street is a very nice restaurant that’s opened up – two dining rooms. You can get a really nice chicken dinner there. There’s three major bazaars in town, all three flourishing. All of the activity now – all the enemy activity in Marja’s been pushed to the perimeter, where a few lone insurgents creep back, usually at night, and try to intimidate some of the locals. And have not done a very good job of it.”

When asked to comment on Sanjin, heartland of the current bloodbath that has claimed the lives of at least 14 Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment since mid-September, General Mills made no mention of this sacrifice but commented that, “It’s been tough fighting. It continues to be tough fighting. I think that Sangin is Marja, perhaps five months ago. And we are going to remain focused on that mission up there, and we will win.”

When they start serving chicken dinners in Sangin, I guess the General can claim victory.

The following two news reports from the New York Times add to SFTT’s recent discussion on combat related and sports related head injuries and trauma and the stark difference between the actions taken by the sports industry and lack of action and non-prioritization of these type injuries taken by the Congress, DoD, and the Services.

Scans Could Aid Diagnosis of Brain Trauma in Living

If athletes are subject to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CET) as a result of sustained head trauma, then it’s obvious that US troops are prone to CET in the future as well due to combat related head trauma.   In fact, Boston-based researchers have developed new imaging techniques that confirmed CET in athletes brains with a history of head trauma.  Currently, CET can only be confirmed through a specialized brain tissue examination after death.  So imagine if you can monitor CET and its symptoms and treat these injuries effectively.  Why wait until you are on the morticians slab to confirm the obvious?  While there is more work to be done with the initial positive results of this new type of imagining and study, the question that remains is whether or not this type of sports/medical science will ever transfer over to DoD and its medical services as it identifies, monitors, and treats troops suffering from TBI. Probably not given their track record.

Ward Calls League Hypocritical on Safety

Maybe Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is onto something in his criticism of the National Football League’s recent call and emphasis on safety.  Ward’s take is that the league only toughened its stance because of a pending desire to extend the season to 18 games.   If DoD, the services, and Congress ever wake up and start addressing combat related head injuries and trauma properly maybe it’s because they want to extend the time spent on the battlefield as well.  Nah, just because 2011 turned into 2014 and beyond in Afghanistan doesn’t mean that there is going to be new emphasis placed on improving helmets and reducing head injuries and traumas.  In Afghanistan, its all systems forward without these types of safety and quality of life considerations.  Why should we kid ourselves and believe there was a purpose for “extending the season”.

Department of Defense Headquarters Staff Comparisons (2000-2010)

Senator James Webb requested a pre-and post-9/11 staff comparison of Department of Defense, Services, and Combat Command Headquarter as he studies the Department’s recent decision to axe Joint Forces Command.   After nearly a decade, of the 17 reporting headquarters there has been approximately 11,000 civilian/military staff personnel billets added.  If you only take uniform personnel back into the fold you could man at least two Brigade Combat Teams – imagine that!  Read more from Tom Ricks.

Dragon EOD Squad Leader Sergeant First Class “William”

Just in time for the holidays.  Your very own toy-set of body armor, Advanced Combat Helmet, and an M-4 carbine!  Enjoy!

  • The set is outfitted in the newer ACH, with older style Interceptor body armor in woodland camouflage, and helmet with woodland camouflage cloth cover.
  • Weapon: M4 Assault Rifle or M4 Carbine with Infrared Pointer / Illuminator, Aimpoint optic sight, Forward Hand Grip, tactical light attached under the barrel, retractable / extendable butt stock and removable magazine.
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MIT study suggests face shields could reduce blast-induced TBI

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A researcher from MIT claims that computer models suggest that face shields added to combat helmets could help reduce blast-induced traumatic brain injury or “TBI” for US military troops serving in combat zones.

Found below is the news release from MIT

QUOTE

MONDAY, NOV. 22, 2010, 3:00 P.M. ET

MIT Study: Adding face shields to helmets could help avoid blast-induced brain injuries

– Researcher releases computer models that show effect of simulated explosions

Simulated Blast Shield

Simulated blast shield (left) and cut-away

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — More than half of all combat-related injuries sustained by U.S. troops are the result of explosions, and many of those involve injuries to the head. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, about 130,000 U.S. service members deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have sustained traumatic brain injuries — ranging from concussion to long-term brain damage and death — as a result of an explosion. A recent analysis by a team of researchers led by MIT reveals one possible way to prevent those injuries — adding a face shield to the helmet worn by military personnel.

In a paper to be published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Raul Radovitzky, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and his colleagues report that adding a face shield to the standard-issue helmet worn by the vast majority of U.S. ground troops could significantly reduce traumatic brain injury, or TBI. The extra protection offered by such a shield is critical, the researchers say, because the face is the main pathway through which pressure waves from an explosion are transmitted to the brain.

In assessing the problem, Radovitzky, who is also the associate director of MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, and his research team members recognized that very little was known about how blast waves interact with brain tissue or how protective gear affects the brain’s response to such blasts. So they created computer models to simulate explosions and their effects on brain tissue. The models integrate with unprecedented detail the physical aspects of an explosion, such as the propagation of the blast wave, and the anatomical features of the brain, including the skull, sinuses, cerebrospinal fluid, and layers of gray and white matter.

“There is a community studying this problem that is in dire need of this technology,” says Radovitzky, who is releasing the computer code for the creation of the models to the public this week (for the code, please email: tbi-modeling@mit.edu). In doing so, he hopes the models will be used to identify ways to mitigate TBI, which has become prominent because advances in protective gear and medicine have meant that more service members are surviving blasts that previously would have been fatal.

To create the models, Radovitzky collaborated with David Moore, a neurologist at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, who used magnetic resonance imaging to model features of the head. The researchers then added data collected from colleagues’ studies of how the brain tissue of pigs responds to mechanical events, such as shocks. They also included details about what happens to the chemical energy that is released upon detonation (outside the brain) that instantly converts into thermal, electromagnetic and kinetic energy that interacts with nearby material, such as a soldier’s helmet.

The researchers recently used the models to explore one possibility for enhancing the helmet currently worn by most ground troops, which is known as the Advanced Combat Helmet, or ACH: a face shield made of polycarbonate, a type of transparent armor material. They compared how the brain would respond to the same blast wave simulated in three scenarios: a head with no helmet, a head wearing the ACH, and a head wearing the ACH with a face shield. In all three simulations, the blast wave struck the person from the front.

The analysis revealed that although the ACH — as currently designed and deployed — slightly delayed the arrival of the blast wave, it didn’t significantly mitigate the wave’s effects on brain tissue. After the researchers added a conceptual face shield in the third simulation, the models showed a significant reduction in the magnitude of stresses on the brain because the shield impeded direct transmission of blast waves to the face.

Radovitzky hopes that the models will play a major role in developing protective gear not only for the military, but also for researchers studying the effects of TBI in the civilian population as a result of car crashes and sports injuries. While the study was limited to a single set of blast characteristics, future simulations will study different kinds of blast conditions, such as angle and intensity, as well as the impact of blast waves on the neck and torso, which have been suggested as a possible indirect pathway for brain injury.

Source: “In silico investigation of intracranial blast mitigation with relevance to military traumatic brain injury,” by Nyein, M., Jason, A., Yu. L., Pita, C., Joannopoulos, J., Moore, D., Radovitzky, R. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 22 November, 2010.

Funding: The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization through the Army Research Office

Contact: Jen Hirsch, MIT News Office

E: jfhirsch@mit.edu, T: 617-253-1682

# # #

Written by Morgan Bettex, MIT News Office

UNQUOTE

SFTT Analysis

Clearly, this is very exciting information and we have to applaud Raul Radovitzky, his fellow researchers and MIT for sharing the computer modeling simulations with the general public.   Brain injuries are receiving considerable attention by the US Army and the Department of Defense and any improvements in combat helmet designs to reduce brain-related combat injuries  is of the utmost importance to troops serving in harm’s way.

SFTT and its supporters have labored long and hard to make sure our troops have the finest protective gear and combat equipment available.  The fact that better protective gear is available or that the technology exists to dramatically upgrade our existing “kit” doesn’t mean that this state-of-the-art equipment will ever be fielded by our troops.   As we have seen time and time again,  the “best” equipment options are often rejected by a military procurement process that operates with stealth-like secrecy and stonewalls Congress and the public on the efficacy of current combat equipment.

The questions we should all be asking ourselves and, most importantly, our military leaders are these:

  • How fast can current manufacturers of combat helmets produce a face shield based on the  “free” computer simulation information provided by MIT?
  • How fast and easily can a “face shield” be added to the Advanced Combat Helmet (“ACH”)?
  • How long would it take for the US Army and DoD to test combat helmet prototypes using  face shields?
  • Assuming the conclusions of the MIT research are confirmed, how soon can we expect US troops to be equipped with helmets using face shields?

This is a real opportunity for the Department of Defense to take the initiative to provide our troops with a state-of-the-art helmet to avoid the increasing incidence of combat-induced brain injuries that now affect well over 100,000 returning veterans.   The time to act is now!

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