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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Double the Death Toll 

In heartening news, two senators have called for the resignation of Dr. Ira Katz, the VA official who conspired to suppress information about the epidemic of suicide among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. That information emerged in a pro bono lawsuit brought by attorney Gordon Erspamer, the subject this morning of an S.F. Chronicle profile that includes the following jawdropper of a quote:
"If you add up the veterans' suicides among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and compare it to the total combat deaths, the veteran suicides are higher," says Erspamer, who introduced a VA e-mail at the trial that showed an average of 18 vets a day are committing suicide. "The VA doesn't want that out" . . . .

His father, Ernest, was one of the "atomic veterans" exposed to large doses of radiation during bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946. When his father developed incurable leukemia 33 years later, Erspamer, a year out of the University of Michigan law school, was frustrated at the lack of governmental support for veterans.

"My dad said, 'I don't want to spend the last year of my life fighting the VA,' " Erspamer says. "So I carried it on for him."

His father died in 1980, but it took 10 years for Erspamer to manage to get disability and death benefits from the VA.

"We won $90,000," he says. "And to tell you the truth, I probably spent $200,000 of time working on the case" . . . .

Erspamer has high hopes for this case, although he expects that it may take five or six years to work its way through the courts. A win would mean, at least in theory, a quicker response to claims and more rights to appeal for veterans, although Erspamer puts it more succinctly.

"It would mean that you can't treat them like crap, to be blunt," he says.
SIDEBAR: The MIT Technology Review has now posted Part II of Emily Singer's article "Brain Trauma in Iraq":
Scientists have preliminary evidence that forces unique to blasts can damage the brain directly, independent of any blunt injuries that the blast might also cause. The key questions, however, remain unanswered. Which aspects of the blast do the most damage? How can the military better protect its personnel? And perhaps most important for legions of soldiers on patrol, can repeated exposure to weak blasts lead to long-­lasting brain damage?

The prognosis for soldiers returning home with symptoms of brain damage is not encouraging. Decades of research into ­civilian head trauma have come to very little; treatments that seemed promising in animal models have turned out to be ineffective in human tests. "It's a completely untapped area of medical development," says trauma surgeon Jon Bowersox. While the military is testing a handful of existing drugs, there's a "time mismatch" when it comes to developing new treatments specifically for traumatic brain injury, Bowersox observes. "The military is interested in developing products they can have out during the current war," he says. "They are not used to the fact that medical development has a longer time line."
If you missed it earlier this week, part I is here.

UPDATE (via our stalwart colleague the Fixer at Alternate Brain): Just so's you'll know: while Iraq vets are begging for scraps, the Navy pays John McCain -- whose wife is reportedly worth something in excess of $100 million -- an annual "disability pension" of $58,358 that is 100% tax-exempt. Asks commenter Pansypoo: "Do I see a WELFARE QUEEN?"

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