Veterans With PTSD Win Review of Their Rejected Benefit Claims


Posted on 31st January 2010 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose claims for benefits based on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were rejected, will have another chance to get relief. For the full story, see

The military has agreed to do an expedited review of the claims due to a judge’s order, which stemmed from a class-action lawsuit filed by seven combat veterans who were discharged for PTSD. Those vets claim they were illegally denied health care and other benefits that they were entitled to with their disability.

One of the original plaintiffs was ex-Army Sgt. Juan Perez, who suffers from PTSD and has problems with migraines and his eye resulting from a head injury he sustained during two tours in Iraq.

The Pentagon mandates that soldiers who leave the military due at least in part to PTSD must receive a disability rating of at least 50 percent to get full benefits, according to the National Veteran Legal Services Group.

But roughly 4,300 former soldiers earned ratings of less than 50 percent, so they were denied benefits. Those veterans will soon receive legal notice that they will be able to have an expedited review of their cases by the military, and that they can “opt in” to a class action lawsuit involving the matter.

The seven ex-soldiers who started the class action suit had disability ratings of 10 percent or less.

After the new review, former soldiers who get ratings of 30 percent or more will become eligible for benefits, according to The New York Times.
Those applications can be found at

Lawyers for the veterans expect that the reviews will result in ex-soldiers getting millions of dollars.

The higher disability rating will translate to lifelong monthly disability payments, and free health care for the veteran, his or her spouse and their minor children.

General bucks culture of silence on mental health


Posted on 8th November 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 11/8/2008

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It takes a brave soldier to do what Army Maj. Gen. David Blackledge did in Iraq.

It takes as much bravery to do what he did when he got home.

Blackledge got psychiatric counseling to deal with wartime trauma, and now he is defying the military’s culture of silence on the subject of mental health problems and treatment.

“It’s part of our profession … nobody wants to admit that they’ve got a weakness in this area,” Blackledge said of mental health problems among troops returning from America’s two wars.

“I have dealt with it. I’m dealing with it now,” said Blackledge, who came home with post-traumatic stress. “We need to be able to talk about it.”

As the nation marks another Veterans Day, thousands of troops are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with anxiety, depression and other emotional problems.

Up to 20 percent of the more than 1.7 million who’ve served in the wars are estimated to have symptoms. In a sign of how tough it may be to change attitudes, roughly half of those who need help aren’t seeking it, studies have found.

Despite efforts to reduce the stigma of getting treatment, officials say they fear generals and other senior leaders remain unwilling to go for help, much less talk about it, partly because they fear it will hurt chances for promotion.

That reluctance is also worrisome because it sends the wrong signal to younger officers and perpetuates the problem leaders are working to reverse.

“Stigma is a challenge,” Army Secretary Pete Geren said Friday at a Pentagon news conference on troop health care. “It’s a challenge in society in general. It’s certainly a challenge in the culture of the Army, where we have a premium on strength, physically, mentally, emotionally.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked leaders earlier this year to set an example for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines: “You can’t expect a private or a specialist to be willing to seek counseling when his or her captain or colonel or general won’t do it.”

Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, an Army psychiatrist heading the defense center for psychological health and traumatic brain injury, is developing a campaign in which people will tell their personal stories. Troops, their families and others also will share concerns and ideas through Web links and other programs. Blackledge volunteered to help, and next week he and his wife, Iwona, an Air Force nurse, will speak on the subject at a medical conference.

A two-star Army Reserve general, 54-year-old Blackledge commanded a civil affairs unit on two tours to Iraq, and now works in the Pentagon as Army assistant deputy chief of staff for mobilization and reserve issues.

His convoy was ambushed in February 2004, during his first deployment. In the event that he’s since relived in flashbacks and recurring nightmares, Blackledge’s interpreter was shot through the head, his vehicle rolled over several times and Blackledge crawled out of it with a crushed vertebrae and broken ribs. He found himself in the middle of a firefight, and he and other survivors took cover in a ditch.

He said he was visited by a psychiatrist within days after arriving at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He had several sessions with the doctor over his 11 months of recovery and physical therapy for his injuries.

“He really helped me,” Blackledge said. And that’s his message to troops.

“I tell them that I’ve learned to deal with it,” he said. “It’s become part of who I am.”

He still has bad dreams about once a week but no longer wakes from them in a sweat, and they are no longer as unsettling.

On his second tour to Iraq, Blackledge traveled to neighboring Jordan to work with local officials on Iraq border issues, and he was in an Amman hotel in November 2005 when suicide bombers attacked, killing some 60 and wounding hundreds.

Blackledge got a whiplash injury that took months to heal. The experience, including a harrowing escape from the chaotic scene, rekindled his post-traumatic stress symptoms, though they weren’t as strong as those he’d suffered after the 2004 ambush.

Officials across the service branches have taken steps over the last year to make getting help easier and more discreet, such as embedding mental health teams into units.

They see signs that stigma has been slowly easing. But it’s likely a change that will take generations.

Last year, 29 percent of troops with symptoms said they feared seeking help would hurt their careers, down from 34 percent the previous year, according to an Army survey. Nearly half feared they’d be seen as weak, down from 53 percent.

The majority of troops who get help are able to get better and to remain on the job.


Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Information on veterans health care:

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Cat soothes post-traumatic stress disorder for vet


Posted on 5th November 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 11/5/2008

Corpus Christi Caller-Times

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) _ A Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder received an unconventional prescription in July.

“John McGahey needs a service pet,” his physician wrote. “He plans on using a cat. This pet is allowed to travel with Mr. McGahey anywhere.”

The last part of the prescription has been the toughest to fill. The 53-year-old former medical corpsman has been denied access to some public places with Patch, his 6-month-old white male service cat.

“It’s not like I’m trying to take an alligator with me,” McGahey said. “I just want people to know service animals can be other than dogs.”

McGahey was first diagnosed in the late 1970s after treatment in Philadelphia Naval Hospital. “I have a lot of flashbacks,” he said. “I get paranoid in public, and petting Patch helps keep me calm. When I’m ripping the bed apart at night he licks me.”

Stress disorder such as McGahey’s develops in some people after an event that caused or threatened serious harm or death, according to the National Institute on Mental Health.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual.” It defines service animals as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability” regardless of whether licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Despite counseling and group treatment, McGahey spiraled downward as he tried to douse his nightmares with alcohol and drug abuse that tore at the fabric of his family. The uncontrolled paranoia alienated his wife and he lost custody of his children, he said. McGahey rode with motorcycle groups “on roads to nowhere” for several years, he said, “until waking up as a wino on the streets of Los Angeles.”

McGahey escaped his self-abuse, he said, on Jan. 3, 1988, by admitting himself into an abuse treatment program in Walla Walla, Wash. There his diagnosis was again confirmed and he was helped to apply for and receive disability income while completing a 12-step abuse program.

He said he has remained sober since.

The past 20 years McGahey has conducted hundreds of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in several states. In Corpus Christi he is known as “Big John” in weekly meetings at Salvation Army, Loaves & Fishes and in the Nueces County Courthouse and Jail.

While passing out hundreds of copies of the “Big Book,” the bible of Alcoholics Anonymous, to help others with sobriety, he has found difficulty helping others learn the rules for service animals, McGahey said. It began at home.

He lives downtown at Sea Gulf Villa Apartments, federally subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled. Manager Wendy Bishop had him fill out paperwork and photographed Patch to allow him to keep his cat without charging a pet deposit.

McGahey first melted the myth that service animals are dogs-only at an H-E-B. Executive staff contacted store managers where he shops to arrange for him to carry Patch in a pouch the cat has been trained to stay inside.

McGahey and his feline also regularly ride Regional Transportation Authority buses, but only after he asked permission, which prompted RTA administrators to look up the Department of Transportation’s stance on service animals for people with disabilities. Federal Transit Administration regulation 49 C.F.R. Part 37 provides that public and private entities, such as taxis, buses and trains, permit service animals to accompany people in their vehicles and facilities.

The first time McGahey toted Patch with him into the Veterans Administration medical clinic, he encountered some resistance. He was required to show a copy of the ADA definition of service animals and his doctor’s prescription, which were photocopied for his file, before he was permitted to keep Patch with him.

Bayfest organizers allowed Patch entry this year after a gate attendant first told McGahey he couldn’t bring in his cat. McGahey said he has not been permitted to take Patch into local restaurants, and he understands that it’s often because of owners’ misunderstanding of federal regulations.

He wants to take Patch to AA meetings, but has been told he can’t bring the feline into the courthouse. And deputies at Nueces County Jail have refused Patch entrance. McGahey understands the jail is not a public place and agrees it may not be allowed because the ADA ruling is specific to “places the public is allowed.” But Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal defended McGahey’s right to courthouse access with his service animal.

“Sometimes bureaucracy gets in the way of common sense,” Neal said. “As long as (McGahey) meets the criteria for ADA, he can carry his cat.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Iraqi puppy decked out in red, white and blue arrives in US


Posted on 21st October 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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9:36 PM EDT, October 20, 2008

By FREDERIC J. FROMMER | Associated Press Writer

CHANTILLY, Va. (AP) — A black puppy decked out in a red, white and blue bandanna jumped out of his crate and wagged his tail at the airport Monday, three flights and two days after leaving Iraq en route to his new home with a U.S. soldier.

Army Spc. Gwen Beberg of Minneapolis says she couldn’t have made it through her 13-month deployment without Ratchet, who she and another soldier rescued from a burning pile of trash in May. Ratchet, wearing a dog-bone-shaped collar with its name, will spend two nights in a kennel before flying to Minneapolis, where Beberg’s parents will pick him up. Beberg is scheduled to return home next month.

“I’m very excited that Ratchet will be waiting for me when I get home from Iraq! Words can’t describe it,” Beberg said in an e-mail to friends and family. “I hope that Ratchet’s story will inspire people to continue the efforts to bring more service members’ animals home from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The dog was rescued by Baghdad Pups, run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International. The group, which has now brought 63 animals to the U.S., says the effort both saves dogs and cats and helps soldiers who benefit from the bond with the animals.

The military bars troops from caring for pets on duty or taking them home, citing reasons such as health issues and difficulties in caring for the animals. The U.S. military has said the dog was free to leave but American troops could not be responsible for its transportation.

Baghdad Pups coordinator Terri Crisp, who brought the puppy back from Iraq, said animals adopted by soldiers help them get through difficult times.

“I hope Ratchet and his story will lead to some dialogue with the military,” Crisp said as she stroked the puppy.

Ratchet flew on a charter flight to Kuwait, then flew commercial from Kuwait to Amsterdam and on to Washington. Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines picked up the cost of the last two legs.

Ratchet frolicked on a grassy patch outside the airport before heading off to Clocktower Animal Hospital in Herndon, Va., for a checkup and some shots.

“Your tail’s wagging!” said Dr. Chris Carskaddan, the veterinarian, as he greeted the dog. “So cute.”

Ratchet didn’t bark at all, but let out a whimper during the shots. Afterward, Carskaddan declared the dog “extremely healthy.”

Copyright 2008 Associated Press.

Baghdad Pups site:

Pa. widow sues US over Iraq vet-husband’s suicide


Posted on 7th October 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 10/7/2008 10:58 PM

Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The widow of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide while in outpatient care for depression at a Veterans Administration hospital has sued the federal government for negligence.

Tiera Woodward, 26, claims in her lawsuit that her late husband, Donald, sought treatment at a VA hospital in Lebanon after three failed suicide attempts but wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist for more than two months.

She says doctors were slow to diagnose her husband with major depression, and that once the diagnosis was made, a psychiatrist failed to schedule a follow-up meeting with her husband after he informed the doctor he had gone off his medication.

Donald Woodward killed himself in March 2006 at age 23.

“I intend to make them make changes,” said Donald Woodward’s mother, Lori Woodward. “I have too many friends whose kids are in Iraq. I have a nephew now in Iraq, in the same unit, and I can’t have my family go through this again.”

Alison Aikele, a VA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the agency does not typically comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit, filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, seeks an unspecified amount for funeral expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

It echoes other lawsuits nationwide over VA mental-health services, despite legislation President Bush signed in November ordering improvements.

The family of Marine Jeffrey Lucey, also 23, has a federal suit pending in Massachusetts over his June 2004 suicide. And two veterans groups sued the VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health, but a judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.

More than 150,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have already sought mental health care from the VA, and another 200,000 have sought medical care, according to Veterans for Common Sense, one of the groups involved in the California lawsuit.

“Each tragic veteran suicide is yet another painful reminder of the human cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and VA’s abject failure to provide timely and appropriate mental health care,” said Paul Sullivan, the group’s executive director. “How many wake-up calls does (the) VA need?”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Canines provide PTSD support for Iraq troops: Updated


Posted on 7th October 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Washington, DC October 1st – Operation Baghdad Pups is a SPCA International (www. SPCA. com) initiative created to provide medical care, clearance and transport for the animals our U.S. soldiers have come to love during deployment in the Middle East. Today, the United States military committed a crime against their own mentally wounded U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq. Commanding officers ordered the confiscation of a dog, Ratchet, befriended by a group of soldiers during a 15th month of deployment. Ratchet has been a lifeline to Sgt. Gwen Beberg. This morning, Ratchet was on his way to SPCA International rescue experts at the Baghdad Airport to be flown home to Gwen’s parents in Minneapolis, MN when Sgt. Beberg’s commanding officers ordered Ratchet confiscated and held in Iraq to face certain death.

“This year has been extremely difficult on my daughter and her family. It has been a year of disappointments, loneliness, and fear because of all the sacrifices the army has required of Gwen. Ratchet was the savior of her sanity. Now they have cruelly ripped Ratchet away from her and sentenced him to death. I don’t know how my daughter will cope. Ratchet has been her lifeline,” explains Sgt. Beberg’s mother, Patricia Beberg. Gwen Beberg, a decorated soldier, has been held by the military more than 15 months past her original commitment due to the stop-loss policy and now the military that asked extraordinary sacrifice from her has crushed her by ripping her lifeline away. Now, Sgt. Beberg is under military investigation for befriending the dog that saved her life.

It is against military regulations for active duty troops to befriend animals – Soldiers can face immediate court-marshal and some even see their animals brutally murdered by a direct gunshot to the head from commanding officers who will not bend the rules. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers in the Middle East befriend animals in the war zone to help themselves cope with the hardship and terror they face every day. These dogs and cats become their lifeline – saving them from deep depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The military refuses to help or formally recognize the lifeline these animals give to our mentally wounded soldiers. Veterans returned from Iraq are committing suicide at twice the rate of average Americans. The dogs and cats befriended by our troops rescued by Operation Baghdad Pups are providing proven pet therapy to soldiers who may otherwise suffer from PTSD and deep depression.

Gwen and Ratchet


UPDATE: Date: 10/14/2008 4:36 PM

US mil: Iraqi puppy adopted by US soldier is alive
Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD (AP) _ The Iraqi puppy adopted by an American soldier but refused a flight to the U.S., is alive, the military said Tuesday, giving hope to an animal rescue group that is trying to take it to the United States.

The case has cast a spotlight on Defense Department rules that prohibit soldiers in the U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq, from adopting pets or transporting them home.

Army Sgt. Gwen Beberg, 28, of Minneapolis, tried to send Ratchet home with the help of Operation Baghdad Pups earlier this month as she prepared to leave Iraq. But the dog was reportedly confiscated by a U.S. officer before it could reach the Baghdad International Airport, raising concern about the animal’s fate.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Cmdr. David Russell said in an e-mail that the dog was alive, but he could provide no other details or comment on the effort to take it to the United States.

More than 30,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Army to let the puppy go home with Beberg, nearly tripling in a day as publicity over the case spread.

Beberg, who had been based south of Baghdad, has been transferred to a staging area to prepare for her departure from Iraq.

The coordinator for Operation Baghdad Pups — a rescue program run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International — planned to travel to Baghdad on Wednesday to collect six dogs rescued by U.S. troops.

Terri Crisp is hopeful Ratchet will be one of them, but she has a substitute dog ready to go in his place if necessary.

“There’s a lot of pressure being put on the military right now to allow Ratchet to leave,” she said in a telephone interview.

Baghdad Pups has taken more than 50 dogs and cats home for their warrior owners, although the group had to cease its activities over the summer because of the heat.

Crisp said the U.S. military should cooperate with the group instead of obstructing the animals’ transportation because it helps the troops deal with the stress of being in Iraq.

“These dogs and cats are incredibly therapeutic,” she said. “With all the talk of post-traumatic stress disorder, this is a way they can deal with things — not only when they’re in Iraq serving but when they’re at home.”

Last week, Beberg’s congressman, Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, wrote to the Army urging it to review the case.

Beberg and another soldier rescued Ratchet from a burning pile of trash in May. But Defense Department rules prohibit U.S. troops who are deployed from caring for pets in theater or taking them home.

Sgt. Brooke Murphy, a U.S. military spokeswoman, said there were several reasons for the rule, including health issues and difficulties in caring for the animals.

“The military has these policies in place for a reason and really is looking out for the best interests of the soldier and the interests of the animal and the interests of the community,” she said.

Baghdad Pups tried to collect Ratchet two weeks ago, but Crisp said a U.S. commander had intercepted a military convoy carrying the dog to Baghdad and sent it back to Beberg’s former base.

Crisp said the group relies on donations to pay for the missions — Wednesday’s will cost just under US$10,000 — but recently has had to ask the soldiers to contribute because of fundraising troubles.

In June, a dog brought back to the U.S. by Operation Baghdad Pups tested positive for rabies after it was euthanized for other health concerns. That prompted a public health investigation, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended immediate vaccination and six-month quarantine for the other animals on the shipment.

SPCA International spokeswoman Stephanie Scroggs said the group meets agency requirements that specify animals that have not been vaccinated for at least 30 days prior to entering the United States be quarantined for at least 30 days.


Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer in Washington contributed to this report.


On the Web: Ratchet petition:

Baghdad Pups site:

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.