Monday, April 21, 2008

Next Thing You Know They'll Be Taking Queers 

Via Zemblan patriot K.Z.: According to the item below, 18 percent of Army recruits in the last fiscal year required conduct waivers to enlist. Which raises the question: why are so many thieves, rapists and killers volunteering for the armed forces when they could earn four times the money working for Blackwater?
Under pressure to meet combat needs, the Army and Marine Corps brought in significantly more recruits with felony convictions last year than in 2006, including some with manslaughter and sex crime convictions.

Data released by a congressional committee shows the number of soldiers admitted to the Army with felony records jumped from 249 in 2006 to 511 in 2007. And the number of Marines with felonies rose from 208 to 350 . . . .

The bulk of the crimes involved were burglaries, other thefts, and drug offenses, but nine involved sex crimes and six involved manslaughter or vehicular homicide convictions. Several dozen Army and Marine recruits had aggravated assault or robbery convictions, including incidents involving weapons.

Both the Army and Marine Corps have been struggling to increase their numbers as part of a broader effort to meet the combat needs of a military fighting wars on two fronts. As a result, the number of recruits needing waivers for crimes or other bad conduct has grown in recent years, as well as those needing medical or aptitude waivers . . . .

[Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington] added that "low unemployment, a protracted war on terror, a decline in propensity to serve," and the growing reluctance of parents, teachers and other adults to recommend young people go into the military, has made recruiting a challenge.
There are, of course, quite a few reasons why parents, teachers and other (sane) adults are "growingly reluctant" to send young Americans into Mr. Bush's meat grinder, and you may read about one of them in the May/June issue of the MIT Technology Review:
Traumatic brain injury has been called the signature injury of the Iraq War, in which increasingly powerful IEDs and rocket-­propelled grenades are the insurgents' weapons of choice. Because they produce such powerful blasts, these weapons often cause brain injuries. Meanwhile, thanks to better body armor and rapid access to medical care, many soldiers whose injuries would have been fatal in previous wars are returning alive--but with head trauma. "With IEDs, the insurgents have by dumb luck developed a weapon system that targets our medical weakness: treating brain injury," says Kevin "Kit" Parker, a U.S. Army Reserve captain and assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard University who served in southern Afghanistan in 2002. Doctors do not yet fully understand brain injuries, particularly those caused by blasts, and no effective drug treatments exist. Early evidence suggests that explosions, which account for nearly 80 percent of the brain injuries identified at Walter Reed, cause unique and potentially long-lasting damage.

The extent and impact of the brain-injury epidemic are not yet clear, though the U.S. Congress appropriated $300 million last year for research into traumatic brain injury and post-­traumatic stress disorder. The U.S. Department of Defense reports that approximately 30 percent of those evacuated from the battlefield to ­Walter Reed Army Medical Center have traumatic brain injury (TBI). The problem is probably worse than that: the DOD figure does not include brain injuries in soldiers whose wounds were not severe enough to require evacuation or whose injuries were not identified until after they completed their tours. Post-deployment surveys suggest that 10 to 20 percent of all deployed troops have experienced concussions. At worst, thousands of service members could return home with long-lasting problems, ranging from debilitating cognitive deficits to severe headaches and depression to subtler personality changes and memory deficits . . . .

[E]ven a single concussion can produce serious symptoms, including severe headaches, difficulty sleeping, problems with memory and concentration, and even changes in personality. "The spouses say, 'He is totally different--he used to be a quiet guy and now he's agitated,' or 'He used to be energetic and now has no motivation,'" says Jeffrey Barth, a neuropsychologist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville who has done pioneering work in the study of concussion. "They can also lose the ability to put everything together and to make good judgments." About half of people who suffer concussions quickly recover. But in the rest, symptoms can linger indefinitely. About 10 percent of concussion victims have problems severe enough to interfere with daily life and work. "No one knows how to treat it, how long it lasts, and whether it's safe to leave someone deployed," says Jon Bowersox, chief of surgery at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center and a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

Especially worrying is the prospect that troops in Iraq will suffer repeated concussions, reinjuring their brains while they're still in a vulnerable state. For soldiers patrolling highways and guiding convoys, exposure to multiple blasts is a given; some have reported encountering tens of blasts in a day. In rare cases, multiple concussions in quick succession can lead to serious injury. But subtler damage may also accumulate, leading to depression and cognitive decline. "It's still an open question," says Barth. "How many concussions can you have without having a really bad outcome down the road?" . . . .

Ling's team will soon begin studying other potential causes of injury, such as electromagnetic pulses (EMPs). If the EMP from a blast is powerful enough, it can interfere with nearby electronic devices. "The brain is an electrical organ," says Ling. "If an EMP pulse can take out a radio, why not short-circuit the brain?"

Meanwhile, the pig studies have shed some light on the ­biology of blast-related brain injury. Animals subjected to explosions show signs of neurodegeneration: according to Ling, preliminary results suggest that some of the pigs' neural fibers start to break down, triggering cell death primarily in the cerebellum (a brain structure involved in balance and coördination) and the frontal lobes (which play a role in impulse control, judgment, problem solving, complex planning, and motivation). As with the injured soldiers, however, it is not yet clear how the test pigs will fare in the long run--whether they will heal, whether their walking deficits will continue, or whether their initial injuries will set off a spiral of neural degeneration. And perhaps most important, it remains uncertain whether pigs exposed to repeated explosions will suffer exponentially more harm than those whose exposure is more ­limited.

Shocking the Brain: Computer simulations are helping scientists identify the parts of the brain most vulnerable to blast injury. This series of images shows a simulated pressure wave (originating in the right side of the first image) hitting the front of the virtual head (center, shown here cut in half), with the highest pressure levels shown in red. The pressure wave ricochets around the tissue as it’s deflected by different brain structures and continues to propagate inside the brain even after the pressure wave in the air has passed (last two frames).
Credit: Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center

In possibly related news, a CBS News report has estimated an average of 1,000 suicide attempts per month by veterans at U.S. medical facilities. "[A]ttorneys for veterans rights groups accused the VA of nothing less than a cover-up, deliberately concealing the real risk of suicide among veterans,” the report states.

UPDATE (4/22): Of the estimated one thousand vets who attempt suicide each month, roughly half succeed. From this morning's S.F. Chronicle:
More than 120 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commit suicide every week while the government stalls in granting returning troops the mental health treatment and benefits to which they are entitled, veterans advocates told a federal judge Monday in San Francisco.

The rights of hundreds of thousands of veterans are being violated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, "an agency that is in denial," and by a government health care system and appeals process for patients that is "broken down," Gordon Erspamer, lawyer for two advocacy groups, said in an opening statement at the trial of a nationwide lawsuit.

He said veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 18 a day - a number acknowledged by a VA official in a Dec. 15 e-mail - and the agency's backlog of disability claims now exceeds 650,000, an increase of 200,000 since the Iraq war started in 2003 . . . .

"The time delays are staggering," Erspamer, the plaintiffs' lawyer, told [U.S. District Judge Samuel] Conti on Monday. Although the VA says it decides the typical claim for benefits in six months, he said, the agency takes far longer to review post-traumatic stress claims, and four years or more for the government to hear veterans' appeals of denied treatment.

Veterans who seek benefits within the VA's grievance system
have no right to a lawyer and no right to demand records or question opposing witnesses, Erspamer said. The plaintiffs want Conti to grant those rights and to require the agency to set a timetable for deciding claims.
In other words, returning soldiers who take on the VA bureaucracy get roughly the same deal as detainees at Gitmo. Now that's harmonization.

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