Absentee Leadership in DC and Afghanistan: Frankly ma’am, I don’t give a damn!

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In an enlightening article on the current lack of leadership in DC and the killing fields of Afghanistan,  Leslie H. Gelb reports on the opening of a new medical facility in Bethesda, Maryland (near DC)  to treat active-duty soldiers and veterans suffering from brain injuries and psychological disorders. Unfortunately, this article is not about the brave men and women and their families who were on hand for the innauguration of this long overdue facility, but about those who chose not to attend.  I quote at length from Mr. Gelb’s eye-opening article published in the Daily Beast:

“It was inauguration day for the nation’s most modern facility for the treatment of active-duty soldiers and veterans suffering from brain injuries and psychological disorders—5,000 of them with families on hand. At the podium in Bethesda, Maryland, stood Arnold Fisher, the chief fundraiser for this precious center that may need to care for hundreds of thousands of victims, searching in vain for one White House official, one Cabinet officer, one member of the Joint Chiefs, one senator. He found none. And he asked again and again, ‘Where are they?’

“‘You are injured,’ Fisher said. ‘We are all here. Where are they?’

“Where were they? President Obama was in meetings and having a hamburger lunch with Russian President Medvedev. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also at these meetings, though not at the hamburger shop in Virginia. Michelle Obama, who has made caring for military families one of her top priorities, couldn’t make it; she was said to have given her final “no” at the last minute. She was accompanying Mrs. Medvedev on a visit to the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in D.C., where they watched a dance performance. Vice President Joe Biden also met with Russians and with Israelis. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent his deputy William Lynn III. All four Joint Chiefs sent their deputies. General Eric Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs, couldn’t make it. Not one among the legions of pro- and antiwar hooting senators could find the time. Only two members of the House of Representatives found their way to the ceremony.”

“But there was Fisher at the podium. A corporal in the Korean War, Fisher is now a successful real-estate developer, builder, and philanthropist. He avoids confrontation and the limelight, but he could not suppress his dismay about the absences that inaugural day. ‘Here we are in the nation’s capital, the seat of our government, the very people who decide your fate, the people who send you out to protect our freedoms. And yet, where are they?’  he asked the attendees. ‘And while we appreciate that much of our military leadership is present, our government should be behind this effort,’ he continued. ‘I know these are difficult times. I read newspapers. I see the news. And still, where are they? They call you out. You are injured. We are all here. Where are they?'”

Indeed, “Where are they?”   Where are the leaders with the conviction, integrity and proper sense of values that would not take the time to reach-out and honor those who have given so much for our country?  Our leaders and media assail the Chairman of BP when he refers to the “little people” of Louisiana, but what message does it send to our troops and their families when a hamburger photo-op with Russian President Medvedev is more important to our Commander in Chief than attending the innauguration to salute our heroes.  In fact, both Russia and the US have spilled blood in Afghanistan and it might have served a useful purpose if both Presidents had attended to reflect on the consequences of sending  young men and women to war.

It would appear that these brave heroes are treated as little more than disposable assets to further  foreign or military policy goals that few can articulate and even fewer understand.   Surely, our troops deserve better.  Let’s give our troops the leadership they deserve or, perhaps, those desk-bound military and civilian “leaders” should just pull a Clark Gable and tell grieving mothers:  “Frankly ma’am, I don’t give a damn!”

Richard W. May
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BAE Helmet Sensor Contract a Step in the Right Direction

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BAE Systems has received an initial order of $17 million from the U.S. Army for Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic Systems (“HEADS”) to help address combat-related traumatic brain injuries(“TBI”), which according to many medical professionals are becoming a signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.   BAE is one of two military contractors who has received such a contract with a maximum contract award value of $105 million.

According to the news release, the HEAD’s sensor system is “designed to better monitor soldiers and help identify their risk levels for combat-related TBIs, BAE Systems introduced its HEADS sensor to the military in 2008. Since then, nearly 7,000 of the company’s HEADS units have been fielded to the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps . . .”

While this appears to be good news given the increased media focus on TBI-related injuries, it would be most useful if the DOD could share information with the public on the data it collected over the last two years based on the 7,000 units that have already been fielded.  Presumably, there is enough information from this sample testing to award a $105 million contract.  SFTT makes this simple request, since Dr. Charles Hoge, the U.S. Army’s senior mental health researcher at Walter Reed Hospital from 2002 to 2009 and now advisor to the Army Surgeon General, wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post in which he effectively dismissed the idea that there might be lingering effects from mild traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).

Is Dr. Hodge yet another case of a military spokesperson “sugar-coating” or “quibbling” over the effects of traumatic brain injury because of improper helmet design or is there something more sinister the military leadership is hiding?  Why the sudden rush to extend the use of sensors to track TBI?   With the recent recall of military helmets and Dr. Hodge’s lame defense of troops with “mild” TBI, one suspects that there is strong reason to be concerned that our troops don’t have the “proper” headgear and are not likely to have any too soon since the new HEAD’s sensors won’t be available until July, 2011.   While this may allow us to treat TBI injuries more quickly, it does little to determine whether our troops have the best available headgear.

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Military Helmets: Traumatic Brain Injury

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Dr. Charles Hoge, the U.S. Army’s senior mental health researcher at Walter Reed Hospital from 2002 to 2009 and now advisor to the Army Surgeon General, wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post in which he effectively dismissed the idea that there might be lingering effects from mild traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).    This article appears to have written to place the US Army “spin” on earlier report from the New York Times that a US Army survey of 18,000 soldiers suggested that 40% of returning soldiers had “experienced at least mild TBI.”   Could it be that our antiquated military helmets should have provided better protection to prevent these cases of TBI?

While Dr. Hoge recommends that we should honor these brave but impaired heroes, he goes on to argue that there is no easy clinical or pychological explanation to determine the degree of TBI.  In fact, he goes on to suggest that we re-label these conditions to produce an “AC” or Army-Correct version.  According to Dr. Hoge, “medical and mental health professionals can better educate their warriors about combat physiology, and not make everything so clinical. Instead of ‘trauma,’ ‘injury,’ ‘symptom’ or ‘disorder,’ they can try using words like ‘experience,’ ‘event,’ ‘reaction’ or ‘physiological responses.’ That doesn’t minimize the importance of medical terminology, especially in guiding effective treatment, but it also acknowledges the warriors’ need for validation of their own experiences.” 

This callous “spin” suggests that if we call the symptoms or evidence of TBI something else such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) then we have a psychologically treatable “reaction” to high levels of stress rather than a physical ailment.  This is sophistry at its best.

Many have long argued that our troops need state-or-the-art liners and self-adjusting padding inside military helmets to cushion or dissipate the energy of a hit that lessen the sudden movement of the head that causes concussions.   Why can’t our brave soldiers be afforded the same level of protection that we give to NFL and college football players?  The technology is available if only the US Army would care to look rather than staunchly defend the safety of current military helmets.

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