Martin C. Evans

Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

A Last Pearl Harbor Survivor, 93, Dies

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 at 8:28 am

Bill Halloran survived Pearl Harbor

Until his last hours, Bill Halleran, a craggy-faced survivor of the devastating Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, worked to keep alive the memory of one of history’s most pivotal moments.

But not long before he was to participate in a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the attack, Halleran, 93, suffered a massive stroke early this week and never recovered, according to Rev. Ann Morgan, pastor of the Merrick United Methodist Church. He died just before noon Friday at Nassau University Medical Center, Morgan said.

Halleran, who was aboard the USS Phoenix on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, had a clear view of the battleship Arizona as it’s sinking swallowed 1,177 crew members. In total, the surprise attack – Japan had not declared war on the United States – killed more than 2,400 Americans, and galvanized American resolve to become the world’s leading power.

“I was with the executive officer when I heard the first explosion,” recalled Halleran, of North Merrick. “I said, ‘Hell, this is the real thing. We’re at war.'”

“All you could see were flames and smoke,” Halleran told Newsday last week.

Halleran said he became so involved in trying to prepare the Phoenix for battle – including manually hauling heavy belts of ammunition from several decks below after the ship lost electrical power – that he had no time to locate his brother, Charlie, a fellow crew member who was stationed near the bow. His brother survived the attack – the two shared a hasty soup lunch later that day – and lived until three years ago.

Halleran became determined that America should never forget the surprise attack, and helped organize a Long Island chapter of a Pearl Harbor survivors organization. He said last week he was one of only three members left.

He had planned to attend a 70th anniversary commemoration at the Airpower Museum in Farmingdale on Wednesday.

But when the ceremony began, his chair was empty.

Halleran, who remained vigorous until his last days, was involved in local Veterans of Foreign War and American Legion activities, and had been a member of the North Merrick Fire Department.

A wake will be held today, from 7-9 p.m. and tomorrow, 2-4 and 7-9, at Walker Funeral Home, in Merrick. His funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Merrick United Methodist Church, in Merrick, N.Y., said Morgan, who said he will be buried at Calverton National Cemetery, in Calverton, N.Y.

Katrina’s Lessons To Guide Guard Deployment During Irene

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Acting to spare local Guard troops the possibility of having to chose between duty and family, National Guard leaders in Albany will send troops from elsewhere in New York State to assist local emergency crews during Hurricane Irene’s expected battering of Long Island.

Heeding a state of emergency declared today by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Albany has ordered a detachment of 220 soldiers from western New York State – complete with heavy trucks, chain saws and emergency equipment – to ride out the storm at the new Armed Forces Reserve Center in Farmingdale. Another 290 troops will be on call at Camp Smith, just north of New York City.

The troops and equipment would be ordered into action should local leaders on Long Island ask for help.

Meanwhile, Army and Air National Guard aircraft based at MacArthur Airport in Patchogue and at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach spent today and yesterday being moved to airfields out of the storm’s path.

At Gabreski airfield, which is home to several C-130 cargo planes, aircraft from the 106th Air Rescue wing began leaving Thursday. Crew members with the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment were to fly five Army National Guard UH-60 helicopters to Rochester from their base at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. The unit’s remaining three helicopters, which are undergoing maintenance, will be secured in hangers.

The Guard’s decision to call on troops from outside the area for disaster relief was based on the experience of emergency responders during Hurricane Katrina, said Guard spokesman Eric Durr.

With their own families threatened by rising waters during Katrina’s 2005 battering of New Orleans, many emergency workers there were unable to report for duty, which hampered rescue and recovery efforts.

“And remember, many of our Guard members themselves have day jobs as local policemen or firefighters, or have families of their own who might need help,” Durr said.

Durr said an additional 225 Guard troops from upstate would be available to join emergency crews in New York City, with 150 stationed at Camp Smith and another 75 an armory in Harlem.

LI Armories, Reserve Centers to Close, Consolidate in Farmingdale

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2011 at 9:31 am

A $93 million facility that will allow National Guard, Army and Marines facilities to consolidate their operations at a single Long Island location opens in Farmingdale this morning – one year late and $7 million over its announced cost in 2007.

The facility on Route 110 just south of Republic Airport, will result in relocating operations from closing National Guard armories in Bay Shore, Huntington Station, Patchogue, Freeport and Riverhead, and Army and Marine Reserves centers in Uniondale and Amityville.

Military proponents say the consolidation will streamline the emergency mobilization of military assets whose operations and chains of commands are spread out across Long Island, and save millions in the cost of renovating and maintaining separate facilities.

But there has been some grumbling that removing military units from communities could leave them more vulnerable in case a hurricane or other large-scale emergency brought with it the need for immediate help in isolated villages and towns.

What do you think of this consolidation? Please post your comments, or contact me at 516 313-2906.

Navy Seal With Long Island Link Among Helicopter Dead

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Among the 30 special forces troops named today by the Pentagon as having been killed in Saturday’s Afghanistan helicopter crash was a Navy Seal who previously trained on Long Island to qualify for the elite military unit.

Chief Petty Officer Brian Bill, 31, of Stamford, Ct., participated a decade ago in physical screenings on the grounds of the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, said retired Navy Capt. Drew Bisset, a former Navy Seal who tutored him.

“He was an outstanding young man – very motivated to become a Seal,” Bisset said. “This was something he wanted. This was his dream.”

The screenings were designed to improve a candidate’s chances of surviving the rigorous Seal training program, said Bisset, who has run the program for 17 years, and who last year moved his operations to a YMCA in Greenwich, Ct..

Bisset said Bill asked him to help prepare for the Seal program in 2001, shortly after Bill graduated from Norwich University, a private military college in Northfield, Vt..

Air Force Reserve Capt. Jonahan Scofield, who played with Bill on youth hockey teams, said even as a child, Bill would proclaim his desire to join the select Navy group.

“Brian’s answer was always that he wanted to be a Seal from the time I first knew him,” Scofield said. “He was just flawless in executing his plan.”

An obituary released by a funeral home indicated that Bill’s military awards including three Bronze Star medals awarded for combat valor.

Bisset said Bill is the fourth individual from the 100 who have gone from his program to become Seals to perish in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, who also trained under Bisset at Kings Point, became a Navy Seal in 2001, one year before Bill. Murphy perished during a 2005 Afghanistan battle that earned him the Medal of Honor.

Chief Petty Officer Nate Hardy, of Durham, New Hampshire, and Josh Harris, of Lexington, N.C., also trained with Bisset. Hardy perished in Iraq in 2008. Harris died in Afghanistan that same year.

The screen test Bisset administered at Kings Point required participants to complete at least 42 pushups, 50 situps, 6 chinups, a 500-yard swim and a 1.5 mile run, all within a few minutes of each other and under strict time limits. Bisset said he expected candidates to far exceed those minimums to be taken seriously.

The dead aboard the helicopter included 17 Navy Seals and five “enablers” from the Navy’s Special Warfare command. Five soldiers and three airmen were also aboard the CH-47 “Chinook” heavy lift helicopter.

Portraits of the men who were killed, published by Stars and Stripes, can be found here. Brief bios of the men can be found here.

The craft was shot down by a rocket propelled grenade in a valley west of Kabul early Saturday. It had been flying to the aid of ground troops who were engaged in a firefight. Pentagon officials said Tuesday that the crash was so “horrific” that the victims could not be quickly identified.

“This is a tough time for me,” Bisset said. “These guys are like my sons.”

The following sailors assigned to an East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit were killed:

Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Jonas B. Kelsall, 32, of Shreveport, La.,

Special Warfare Operator Master Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Louis J. Langlais, 44, of Santa Barbara, Calif.,

Special Warfare Operator Senior Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Thomas A. Ratzlaff, 34, of Green Forest, Ark.,

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Senior Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Kraig M. Vickers 36, of Kokomo, Hawaii,

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Brian R. Bill, 31, of Stamford, Conn.,

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) John W. Faas, 31, of Minneapolis, Minn.,

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Kevin A. Houston, 35, of West Hyannisport, Mass.,

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Matthew D. Mason, 37, of Kansas City, Mo.,

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Stephen M. Mills, 35, of Fort Worth, Texas,

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Chief Petty Officer (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist/Diver) Nicholas H. Null, 30, of Washington, W.Va.,

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves, 32, of Shreveport, La.,

Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Heath M. Robinson, 34, of Detroit, Mich.,

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Darrik C. Benson, 28, of Angwin, Calif.

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Parachutist) Christopher G. Campbell, 36, of Jacksonville, N.C.,

Information Systems Technician Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist/Freefall Parachutist) Jared W. Day, 28, of Taylorsville, Utah,

Master-at-Arms Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) John Douangdara, 26, of South Sioux City, Neb.,

Cryptologist Technician (Collection) Petty Officer 1st Class (Expeditionary Warfare Specialist) Michael J. Strange, 25, of Philadelphia, Pa.,

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL/Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist) Jon T. Tumilson, 35, of Rockford, Iowa,

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Aaron C. Vaughn, 30, of Stuart, Fla., and

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jason R. Workman, 32, of Blanding, Utah.

The following sailors assigned to a West Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit were killed:

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Jesse D. Pittman, 27, of Ukiah, Calif., and

Special Warfare Operator Petty Officer 2nd Class (SEAL) Nicholas P. Spehar, 24, ofSaint Paul, Minn.

The soldiers killed were:

Chief Warrant Officer David R. Carter, 47, of Centennial, Colo. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), Aurora, Colo.;

Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Nichols, 31, of Hays, Kan. He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kan.;

Sgt. Patrick D. Hamburger, 30, of Lincoln, Neb. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), Grand Island, Neb.;

Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett, 24, of Tacoma, Wash. He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kan.; and

Spc. Spencer C. Duncan, 21, of Olathe, Kan. He was assigned to the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), New Century, Kan.

The airmen killed were:

Tech. Sgt. John W. Brown, 33, of Tallahassee, Fla.;

Staff Sgt. Andrew W. Harvell, 26, of Long Beach, Calif.; and

Tech. Sgt. Daniel L. Zerbe, 28, of York, Pa.

Tragedy Ripples Through Tight-Knit Navy Seals

In Uncategorized on August 8, 2011 at 10:32 am

The deadly crash in Afhghanistan involved a CH 47 helicopter like this one. (US Army photo)

Six years ago, the family of Lt. Michael P. Murphy waited inside their Patchogue, N.Y. home as a Naval officer waiting with them took a cell phone call, then offered them his condolences. Their missing Navy Seal son had been killed in what was then the deadliest incident of the war in Afghanistan.

Over the weekend, uniformed personnel began approaching the loved ones of 30 U.S. troops from across America – including 22 Navy Seals – telling them this time tragedy had come to their doorstep.

“This is bad,” Murphy’s father, Dan Murphy, said Monday. “Twenty-two families will have to go through what we had to go through then.”

The Saturday morning crash of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a mission in Afghanistan with 30 Americans and 8 Afghanis aboard replaced the 2005 incident in which Murphy was killed as the largest loss of life for U.S. forces since the war began in 2001.

By 2 p.m. Monday, the Pentagon had not released the names of the Americans killed in the crash, as is customary pending notification of next of kin. But as individual families across the nation began to learn of the loss of loved ones over the weekend, the shared news convulsed community after American community.

The deadly incident bore uneasy similarities to the 2005 confrontation in which Murphy and two fellow Seals were killed while pursuing a Taliban operative. During that mountainside battle near the Pakistan border, a helicopter carrying a rescue force of 16 U.S. commandos – including eight more Navy Seals and eight Army Night Stalkers – was shot down, killing all aboard.

This time, the troops who were killed had been responding by helicopter to a call for help from a Coalition force being fired upon in Wardak Province west of Kabul. The Coalition force had been pursuing a Taliban leader in the Tangi Valley. The helicopter crash occurred after it was fired upon, according to a NATO release.

The tragedy ricocheted through the nation’s tight-knit brotherhood of Navy Seals, a small group of elite fighters numbering little more than 2,000. Navy Seals have taken on some of the most challenging ground missions in modern warfare, including the May 2 killing of Osama Bin Laden at his Pakistan hideout.

Jim Quattromani, a former Navy Seal who trained with Murphy and who knew some of the men who were killed in the crash, said it was difficult for him to speak about the incident.

“It’s an overwhelmingly hard time for us,” said Quattromani, now a law clerk for a federal District Court judge in Chicag. “We miss these guys immeasurably.”

Dozens of Special Ops Killed in Afghanistan Crash

In Uncategorized on August 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Until now, the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan was June 28, 2005, when a Long Island Navy Seal was killed with 18 comrades near the Pakistan border.

That changed Friday night, when Taliban insurgents shot down a helicopter west of Kabul, killing 30 U.S. troops – including 22 Navy Seals – along with seven Afghan commandos.

The grim incident brings into sharp focus the difficulty facing military leaders as they try to balance plans by the White House to reduce the size of U.S. forces there with the desire to avoid leaving Afghanistan an unstable danger to the troops who will remain until a planned final pullout in 2014.

The high death toll is likely to renew criticism from some circles that President Obama’s decision to speed the withdrawal of troops jeopardizes the lives of those still deployed in Afghanistan. One of the architects of the 2007 Iraq surge, retired Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane, warned in testimony before Congress last month that the troop draw down “has increased risk significantly and threatens overall mission success.”

But the incident has as a backdrop an increasing weariness amid the U.S. public with what by some accounting has been the longest war in U.S. history, one that is costing nearly $7 billion per month with no clear road to victory.

President Barack Obama issued a statement offering condolences to the families of the troops who were killed.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the Americans who were lost earlier today in Afghanistan,” Obama said today in a statement.

“Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families,” the president continued, “including all who have served in Afghanistan.

The slain troops were part of a mission to attack a Taliban compound in the Tangi valley, a region of apple and pomegranate trees running between Wardak and Logar provinces. The valley’s narrow roads overlooked by high cliffs make it easy for insurgents to ambush U.S. forces.

The area was said to have been pacified two years ago by soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division.

Before yesterday, the war’s deadliest incident was one in which a Patchogue Navy Seal, Lt. Michael P. Murphy, was slain along with two fellow Seals during a mountainside attack near the Pakistan border. A rescue helicopter bearing 16 special forces troops was shot down with no survivors.

Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.

War’s Tiny Victims Seek Refuge Among Us

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Based on an article I wrote in today’s Newsday

By Martin C. Evans – THE MISSILE, fired by troops loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, exploded in her bedroom in besieged Misrata May 13, severing one of her legs and killing her two siblings .

On Thursday, 5-year-old Malak Elshami arrived at a Long Island guesthouse with her father. In the house with her were a half-dozen other children who had been wounded in war zones around the world, including Zeenabdeen Hadi, a 4-year-old Iraqi who moved into the house with his uncle last spring to await plastic surgery on his face scarred in a bombing.

Zeenabdeen Hadi, 4, was gravely injured in a car bombing in Iraq. He is on Long Island getting reconstructive plastic surgery from a team led by Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh. (Photo- CBS News)

Like the others in the house, Malak was on Long Island for medical care and for the hope of a better life. The Ronald McDonald House on 76th Avenue in New Hyde Park has been transformed into a safe house, far from the fighting.

She quickly fit in with the other children. Zeenabdeen, who has jagged scars that crisscross his face, amused her with a hand puppet shaped like a pig. A young Iraqi, who like Malak lost a leg and a pair of siblings in a bombing, elicited peals of laughter from the girl by batting a trio of helium balloons at her. A third Iraqi child, who was burned from the waist down when a bomb ignited a car he was in, killing his grandfather, offered to show her how to play a video game.

“She understands this will be a long process, but she’s glad to be here,” said the girl’s father, Mustafa Elshami, who accompanied her to Long Island. “I’m happy I’m in America, and my daughter will get treated.”

The Ronald McDonald House will be their home for months as they receive medical attention, from plastic surgery to new limbs. In their war-torn lives, the house in the leafy suburbs is unlike anything they have ever known.

Their Good Samaritan

The children have been brought to the United States by a Staten Island woman who has made medical rescue work a personal mission.

Elissa Montanti has brought some 150 seriously injured child victims of war or natural disasters to the United States for rehabilitative treatments since opening a one-person charitable organization out of her home in 1997. She declined to specify how much money had been donated, but said the group has collected about $1 million since being featured on “60 Minutes” in March.

Working through a network of doctors and hospitals here and in Philadelphia, Montanti has arranged treatments that typically involve both prosthetic limbs and plastic surgery. She also handles arrangements that allow children and caretakers to make the trip, arranging visas, soliciting money for airline tickets, finding housing and setting up transportation to treatment facilities.

“She’s like a mother and a sister to us,” said Mustafa Elshami, who contacted Montanti after learning of her Global Medical Relief charity from a doctor in Libya.

The stories told by the children Montanti has brought here help to illustrate the effect of war-related violence.

In Iraq alone, nearly 1,000 children were killed in attacks between 2008 and 2010, according to a United Nations report.

Two of the children who greeted Malak as she arrived had themselves suffered horrific wounds within a mile of each other in 2008. Sajjad Hadi, 7, lost two of his brothers and had a leg amputated in a Sept. 12, 2008, bombing that killed more than 30 people. The other boy, Zeenabdeen, was nearly killed in a Dujail car bombing six months earlier.

Coping with loss

Montanti says she began trying to help children harmed overseas in the mid-1990s as a way of coping with her grief over the deaths of her mother and grandparents. Friends suggested that she might restore meaning to her life by organizing help for children affected by the just-ended war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

‘We could use a lot more’

In 1996, Montanti got in touch with the Bosnian UN ambassador with an offer to raise money for school supplies. He replied by reading to her a letter from a teenage boy who had both arms and a leg blown off by a land mine. “He said, ‘We could use a lot more than just pencils and notebooks,'” Montanti recalled.

The child, Kenan Malkic, had been playing soccer near his home when he tripped a mine. “I was really busted up and in a lot of pain,” said Malkic, who is now 28 and works with Montanti. “And when she called the house, I couldn’t help thinking, there’s no way. It’s not like she was some organization like the Red Cross.”

Montanti began trying to find a way to get prosthetic limbs for Malkic. She called doctors and hospitals, asking if any would help for free. She appealed to airlines for transportation. Six weeks later, Malkic was living in her Staten Island home while being treated at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

She held a fundraising concert attended by Dr. Tom Davenport, a partner with the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group. Moved by Montanti’s appeal, Davenport persuaded members of his practice to take on her work. A nonprofit formed by his practice – Mission: Restore – helps find medical specialists and hospitals to donate time and resources to treat children brought here by Montanti.

“What she does allows us to do the charity work we do,” said Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh of Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, who has provided pro-bono services to several children Montanti brought here.

Montanti said she once had wanted to join the Peace Corps so she could help children abroad. “Now, I have children all over the world,” she said. “This works for me.”

Vietnam Vets Troubled By Early Deaths

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm

From Newsday, Dec. 16, 2010
http://www.newsday.com/long-island/eyeing-death-rates-of-vietnam-war-veterans-1.2537384

By MARTIN C. EVANS
martin.evans@newsday.com

WHEN Diane Lake began visiting her late husband’s resting place at
Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, she became alarmed by
what she saw nearby: memorial markers that showed many of her
husband’s fellow Vietnam veterans had died even younger than he had.

The markers, spaced along a wall where the ashes of her husband, Spc.
4th Class Robert Lake, and others are interred, indicate which war a
veteran served in, along with rank and branch of service.

Diane Lake is concerned that Vietnam vets are facing early deaths. Her husband, Robert Lake, 65, died last year of skin cancer.

“I would look up on the wall and see this one was only 62 and this
one was only 61, and say to myself these men were pretty young to be
dying already,” said Lake, whose husband was 65 when he died of an
aggressive skin cancer May 13.

Lake, of East Northport, is among an increasingly vocal number of
Vietnam veterans or their loved ones who are questioning whether
participation in the Vietnam War is hastening the deaths of soldiers
who survived it.

John Rowan, of Queens, national president of Vietnam Veterans of
America, said his organization had been frustrated that the
Department of Veterans Affairs has not done current research on the
death rates of Vietnam vets. But he said he sees change coming. In
September, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said his department has begun a
study of the health impacts of the war, which he said would be
complete in about three years.

“The insight we gain from this study will help give us an
understanding of how to better serve America’s veterans,” Shinseki
said in a news release.

Death rate concerns veterans

The VA study could go far in addressing concerns of Vietnam veterans
groups who believe the war has had a devastating effect on their
health and life expectancy. Their evidence is mostly anecdotal,
though. Some experts familiar with limited data regarding veterans’
deaths say they have seen nothing that supports the charge that
Vietnam vets are dying at unusually high rates. Still, many Vietnam
veterans believe it is true.

“The Vietnam guys are going faster than the World War II guys,” said
Joe Ingino, president of the Nassau County chapter of Vietnam
Veterans of America. He said he has come to believe this from stories
he has been told across the region.

Examples on Long Island include a Medal of Honor awardee, Army Spc.
George C. Lang, who grew up in Hicksville. Lang, who was paralyzed
during a 1969 firefight, was 57 when he died of cancer five years ago.

Sharing a section of the memorial wall, known as a columbarium, in
Farmingdale are the names of Staff Sgt. Leslie Garcia, formerly of
Central Islip, who was 58 when he died of a heart attack this year,
and PV2 Angel Gonzalez, of Manhattan, who was 53 when he died in
2009. The marker for another soldier nearby – Pfc Lawrence Gilmore
was 61 when he died of a heart attack last year – reads “No more pain
beloved son and brother.”

“He was in a lot of pain,” said his mother, Eva Gilmore, of
Port Richey, Fla., who said Gilmore battled diabetes before he died.

Many veterans note with alarm that the VA this year again expanded
the list of more than a dozen diseases – including a host of cancers,
Type 2 diabetes, and ischemic heart disease – directly linked to
exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides sprayed in Vietnam
between 1962 and 1971. A diagnosis on the list can entitle a veteran
to compensation related to a service-connected disability.

Other factors at play

Advocates say factors other than service in Vietnam also likely
undermined the health of veterans. Because returning troops were
rejected by a war-weary public, many turned inward, battling anxiety,
depression and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome on their own, often
made worse by alcohol or drugs, experts say. And for most of the war,
troop rations included free cigarettes.

“I can’t say if his heart attack had anything to do with him being in
the war because he was a heavy smoker,” said Jocelyn McIntee, of
Greenlawn, whose husband, Eugene, served in Vietnam in the mid-1960s,
and died in 1992 when he was 49. “He really didn’t talk about it, but
do I think he came back with a lot of stress, yes. He saw a lot of
people killed, and that must have been disturbing.”

As early as 1987, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
reported that troops who had been in Vietnam were dying faster
because of risky or violent behaviors after their return.

In its 1987 Vietnam Experience Study, the CDC reported that the death
rate for U.S. troops who served in Vietnam was 1.5 times higher than
for troops who served elsewhere in the first five years after their discharge.

Violent deaths accounted for much of the increase in that study, with
Vietnam veterans twice as likely to die from car crashes, suicide and
homicide as were troops who served elsewhere during that era.

A 1996 study by Australia’s Department of Veterans Affairs showed
that Australian troops who served in Vietnam died younger than
Australian troops who served elsewhere in the same period. They were
twice as likely to die of lung cancer and three times as likely to
die of cirrhosis of the liver, the study showed.

More recent data on the rate of Vietnam veteran deaths is anything
but clear, says Mary Paxton, of the national Institute of Medicine, a
sister organization of the National Academy of Sciences that
evaluates health data for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Paxton said studies of U.S. veterans cannot be regarded as definitive
because incomplete record-keeping by the U.S. military means
researchers cannot reliably track the health outcomes of the 2.6
million Americans who served in Vietnam.

No ‘massive die-off’

But her reading of research has convinced her that there is no
epidemic of early deaths among Vietnam vets.

“I get calls from veterans who say they are dropping like flies, but
that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Paxton said. “I think they are at
somewhat higher risk, but there is not the massive die-off that is
being claimed.”

Paxton referenced a 2004 update of the 1987 CDC study, which followed
18,313 male Army veterans.

“Death rates from disease-related chronic conditions, including
cancers and circulatory system diseases, did not differ between
Vietnam veterans and their peers,” the report said.

To families of many Vietnam veterans, the statistics only go so far,
as many now wonder whether their service in Vietnam so long ago is
threatening their lives a second time.

That’s a question that tugs at Diane Lake, who said it became clear
her husband knew he would not live past 65.

“He said, ‘Diane, I don’t have much time,’ ” she said, recalling his
words shortly before his death. “He was with us another 10 days, and
he was gone.”

Study Links PTSD to Heart Disease

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2011 at 2:55 pm


Veterans with post traumatic stress disorder are more likely to develop heart disease than those without ptsd, a federal study shows.

The study conducted by researchers at the Greater Los Angeles Health System of the Department of Veterans Affairs, showed that veterans with ptsd developed higher levels of coronary artery calcium, or hardening of the arteries, than veterans with no history of ptsd.

Calcification is associated with arterial plaques, fatty blockages that can restrict the flow of blood to heart muscles, and bring on atherosclerotic heart attacks.

The study, published in April by the American Journal of Cardiology, could raise new concerns that the psychological toll exacted from soldiers has debilitating physical consequences. Some veterans advocates have suggested that Vietnam veterans are dying at a faster rate than their counterparts who were never sent to war.

The authors reviewed electronic medical records of 286,194 veterans, most of them male with an average age 63, who had been seen at Veterans Administration medical centers in southern California and Nevada. Some of the veterans had last been on active duty as far back as the Korean War.

Researchers also had access to coronary artery calcium CT scan images for 637 of the patients, which showed that those with PTSD had more calcium built up in their arteries — a risk factor for heart disease — and more cases of atherosclerosis.

The study showed that veterans diagnosed with PTSD had 2.41 times the rate of death from all causes, compared to veterans without PTSD, after adjusting for age, gender, and common risks for heart disease.

Even though PTSD was diagnosed in only 10.6 percent of all the veterans studied, nearly 30 percent of those who died had PTSD, the results showed.

The research, said to be the first of its kind to draw a direct link between ptsd and atherosclerotic heart disease, was conducted by researchers Dr. Naser Ahmadi and Dr. Ramin Ebrahimi. They said they hope their findings will lead to a greater appreciation of how psychological trauma can have physical consequences.

“The goal would be for PTSD to become part of routine screening [for heart disease risk factors],” Ebrahimi told HealthDay news service.

Although PTSD is commonly associated with war veterans, it’s now also widely linked to people who have survived traumatic events, such as rape, a severe accident or an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster.

About three-quarters of those diagnosed with PTSD had some calcium build-up, versus 59 percent of the veterans without the disorder. As a group, the veterans with PTSD had more severe disease of their arteries, with an average coronary artery calcification score of 448, compared to a score of 332 in the veterans without PTSD — a significantly higher reading.

But scientists are not ready to say with certainty that ptsd causes heart disease. They say behavior choices, such as smoking or heavy drinking, could be responsible for the higher rates of coronary disease among ptsd victims. Stress hormones could also be a factor, as could genetic traits that may influence a person’s risk for both PTSD and heart disease.

VA Hopes Child Care Will Address Female Vets

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm

The military has 73,000 single parents. Child care is an issue for returning veterans, including increasing numbers of women.

The Veterans Administration will take a step this fall toward filling a need expressed by female vets when it begins offering child care for outpatient visitors at its medical care facility in Northport.

Northport was one of three medical centers chosen by Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki for a pilot program offering free child care while veterans are being treated. Pilot programs will also open in Buffalo, N.Y. and Tacoma, Washington.

Women’s advocates had been especially vocal about adding day care, saying its absence has made VA facilities seem particularly unwelcome to female veterans.

Giustina Penna, 32, an Iraq War veteran from Bay Shore, said she stopped attending psychotherapy sessions at Northport about two years ago in part because she had difficulty arranging for care for an infant son.

“There are a lot of people who can’t take care of themselves because they can’t find anyone to take care of their kids,” said Penna. “And it’s hard to take care of your family when you can’t take care of yourself.”

“I’m very pleased to hear that it is going to go through,” Penna said.

Although Northport has operated a child care center since 1986, the 40-place facility is for the children of its employees.

Penna said she sought psychotherapy treatment at Northport after a 2005 deployment as a truck driver in Iraq left her battling depression and substance abuse. She said she was haunted by having witnessed the death of a child, and that the smell of rotting corpses there had been a frequent reminder of the danger that surrounded her.

“For the next year, I was on a suicide mission,” Penna said.

She said for many parents, the availability of day care will spell the difference between getting regular treatment and doing without.

Central Islip native Sgt. Tito Collazo, who gets treatment for back and shoulder injuries at Northport, said he also plans to make use of the planned day care center.

He said being able to bring his daughter Kaitlyn, 3, will mean he will spend less time worrying about making child-care arrangements, and focus more on his treatments.

“It will relieve so much pressure of finding someone I’m comfortable leaving my daughter with,” said Collazo, 32. “I do have more of a sense of trust with the VA and military organizations.”

With some 73,000 single parents currently serving in the active duty military, child care is expected to be an increasingly urgent need for new veterans seeking health services.

But women remain significantly less likely than men to use VA health facilities, even as the percentage of women in the military continues to grow, according to Patricia Hayes, Chief Consultant of the VA’s Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group.

Many female veterans say VA facilities remain uninviting to women, and remind them of a male-oriented military culture that left large numbers of them scarred by sexual abuse or other emotional traumas.

In addition to child care, women’s advocates have called for extended clinic hours to accommodate single mothers, separate entrances and waiting areas, escorts to help female veterans feel safe, more female-only ptsd counseling programs, and greater resources to address women who were the victims of sexual assault while in the military.

“A coed environment can truly be the worst thing for a woman suffering from Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and PTSD,” Tia Christopher, of the Swords to Plowshares veterans advocacy group, told a Senate hearing in 2009.

In recent years, VA has developed women’s primary care programs at their health care facilities across the nation, and has hired program managers and coordinators to manage care for women veterans

“We hope that by offering safe, secure child care while the Veteran attends a doctor’s appointment or therapy session, we will enable more women Veterans to take advantage of the VA benefits to which they are entitled,” Hayes said in a release.