Veterans groups seek help for Mo. soldier


Posted on 17th November 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 11/17/2008

Associated Press Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Spc. Glenn Barker is trying to recover after suffering a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq, the death of his 15-year-old son earlier this year, and flood damage that left his home uninhabitable.

On Monday, the American Legion Heroes to Hometowns program and the Missouri Veterans Commission asked for the public’s help to raise $63,000 to help Barker. The money would be spent on home repairs not covered by insurance and the purchase of a used trailer he can live in temporarily and later use as a work space.

Barker, 41, lives outside the east-central Missouri town of Potosi. He deployed with the Arkansas National Guard to hunt down improvised explosive devices in Iraq, and said he lived through nine detonations while driving an armored vehicle looking for roadside bombs.

The worst explosion came in August of last year, he recalled, when he ran over homemade explosives buried in a road. He suffered back injuries, a perforated ear drum and a traumatic brain injury that wreaked havoc on his short-term memory.

“The left ear is pretty much done,” he said, gesturing to that side of his head.

He writes himself notes and uses information stored on his cell phone to help him remember.

In May, his 15-year-old son, Zachary, was a passenger on an all-terrain vehicle in rural eastern Missouri that crossed onto a roadway and into the path of an oncoming car, killing the boy.

Barker, who is divorced, was out of state receiving treatment for his injuries when Zachary was killed.

“I have one other son. I guess you could say he’s my crutch; he keeps me going,” he said. “We miss his brother dearly.”

Barker is also trying to restore the log home that he had built himself. The house was destroyed by mold when it flooded after pipes burst following a multi-day power outage in 2006.

Barker is now in a program at Fort Leonard Wood working to improve his memory, his balance, his back and his right hand, which he said sometimes shakes.

The one-time auto body shop owner didn’t know what his future occupation might be, saying it’s hard to finish any task with his memory problems.

Family members mention that many of his tools were stolen while the Purple Heart recipient was gone, and that he sometimes has slept in his truck in recent months. They offer him a place to stay, but say right now, he’s having a hard time settling in one place.

“I don’t have in my mind what I want to do. I’m just lost,” he said.

The Department of Defense tells injured soldiers what help is available to them, and they must give their permission for their information to be shared.

For the first half of 2008, the American Legion’s Heroes to Hometowns program has assisted 380 soldiers nationwide. Since June of last year, the Missouri effort has helped more than 20 soldiers.

Shirley Janes, who chairs the Missouri American Legion’s Heroes to Hometowns program, notes that there are multiple efforts to help soldiers in need as they return home — whether it’s trying to make sure they keep medical appointments, providing them gas cards or helping with housing.

“The bottom line is we will do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to help these heroes transition back home,” she said.

Barker, who explained during the interview that he wouldn’t be able to retain the conversation for more than a few minutes, thought for a moment when asked if he has regrets.

“For what it cost me, yes. But regret for my country? No,” he said. “I don’t feel the Army owes me. I’m just asking for a little help.”


On the Net:

Home for Wounded Warrior:

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Today’s veterans hall a mouse click away


Posted on 11th November 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 11/11/2008

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Veterans of past wars have long found companionship over beer and conversation at their local veterans hall. But many of those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan seek that companionship elsewhere — online.

Hoping to tap into that virtual community, a public service campaign starting Tuesday — Veterans Day — encourages Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to log onto a new social networking site called The site was developed by the nonprofit organizations Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Ad Council.

“You don’t need bricks and mortar to have an American Legion post,” said John Raughter, spokesman for the Indianapolis-based American Legion.

The veterans organization isn’t the only one expanding in cyberspace. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, for example, is starting its own social networking site this week at Also, the American Legion has created several cyber posts where veterans can communicate online no matter their ZIP code.

The online efforts reflect a change in not only how today’s young adults connect with each other, but also how many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live in communities without peers who relate to their experience.

The American Legion and VFW have seen a decline in membership since a peak after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, as World War II veterans and Korean War veterans have died. The American Legion currently has 2.6 million members, down from 3.1 million. VFW has 1.6 million, down from 2.2 million.

Some younger veterans are too busy to join the groups or don’t identify with the older veterans, despite outreach efforts.

But that doesn’t mean the younger veterans couldn’t use help. The advertising associated with the Community of Veterans site taps into the loneliness some veterans feel and encourages them to communicate with others.

“Ninety-nine percent of Americans have seen combat on TV. One percent have seen combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. We know where you’re coming from,” says one ad.

The Iraq-Afghanistan support group is based in New York and has more than 125,000 members and civilian supporters. The Ad Council solicits volunteers in communications industries to promote social causes.

Organizers of the site say it’s unique because the veterans must be from the current wars and verify their military service to participate, so a veteran can feel comfortable talking about mental health and other personal issues. It also includes government and private resources where veterans can obtain information about mental health issues and rate programs or services they’ve used.

“It allows us to reach the service members on a medium that they are very accustomed to,” said Todd Bowers, director of government affairs for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who spent two tours in Iraq with the Marine Reserves. Bowers said troops in the war zone frequently were online.

Lisette Mondello, an assistant secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, said in a statement that the VA supports the effort because it offers an innovative way to reach veterans.

About 1.7 million veterans have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and as many as one-fifth are estimated to have problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety.

The military has taken strides to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health help. Army Maj. Gen. David Blackledge, a two-star Army Reserve general, is one of the highest ranking officers who has been talking openly about getting mental health help, The Associated Press recently reported.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Kansas City, Mo.-based VFW, which has 7,900 posts, said about 70,000 of its members are veterans from the current wars. As the young veterans age, he said, the hope is that more will join and become active. But, he said, there is a realization that the way young veterans communicate today is different.

“Being able to blog, to go online, and to have instant information to ask questions and get an instant answer is a tremendous asset,” Davis said. “If the younger generation, if that’s what they want, absolutely we’re going to provide.”


On the Net:

Community of Veterans:

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

Ad Council:

Veterans of Foreign Wars:

American Legion:

The Brain Injury Information Page:

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Tests start on US-backed drug stress disorder


Posted on 3rd November 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 11/3/2008 2:50 PM

Tests start on US-backed drug stress disorder

BASEL, Switzerland (AP) — Clinical trials have begun on a new U.S-backed drug to treat the debilitating feeling of heightened vigilance experienced by veterans with post-traumatic stress, Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Synosia said Monday.

The study is funded with $1.4 million from the U.S. Defense Department and will focus on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Synosia said.

The company said it hopes the drug, called nepicastat, will help patients who have lost the ability to accurately assess danger, resulting in a constant sense of alertness.

The condition, known as hyperarousal, is one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Others include sleeplessness, anger and withdrawal from friends and family.

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects people from all walks of life, but is particularly common in veterans. Some 40,000 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with the disorder since 2003.

Synosia said the clinical trial will be conducted by researchers at veterans medical centers in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Houston; and Charleston, South Carolina.

Officials at the U.S. Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs could not immediately be reached for comment.

Initial results about the effectiveness and tolerability of nepicastat are expected next spring, said Synosia spokesman Jan Gregor. Synosia is conducting separate trials to test whether nepicastat is effective as a treatment for cocaine abuse.

Nepicastat works by inhibiting the conversion of the brain chemical dopamine into an adrenaline-like compound called norepinephrine.


On the Net:


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.