TAKING THE PENTAGON TO TASK. The Pentagon today admitted today it's understaffed on doctors to treat mental illness. The House Veterans Affairs Committee has already begun the process of gathering expert evidence to support more funds designated for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses. The Pentagon's task force estimated as many as 40 percent of returning soldiers may suffer from some form of mental illness, and National Guard members are reporting higher levels of stress than other branches. The task force gave Defense Secretary Robert Gates a deadline six months from now to have a plan of action for dealing with soldiers with mental illness. Experts attribute this to the varying degrees of training among the armed forces. --Kay Steiger
GERRYMANDERING FOR DUMMIES. A video game called the Redistricting Game premiered this week. Gamers can dramatically alter the outcomes in a series of fake elections simply by redrawing the lines -- if Tom DeLay could do it, why can't you? You can even test it out yourself . --Kay Steiger
WHICH IS WORSE? Yesterday, members of the House Committee on Education and Labor gathered for a postmortem on last month's Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling , where Lilly Ledbetter testified. Rep. Ric Keller asked Ledbetter about the sexual harassment she was subjected to and sympathized, and he suggested that sexual harassment was "worse" than pay discrimination. Obviously such things are difficult to quantify, and situations differ, but it should be said that while sexual harassment is often a momentary violation, pay discrimination has a lifetime impact: reduction in retirement, overtime, Social Security benefits, etc. --Kay Steiger
SUICIDE SOLDIERS. The BBC reports that a study published recently by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health indicates that soldiers are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than the general civilian population. Lead researcher Mark Kaplan, of Portland State University in Oregon, said doctors should "scrutinise veterans for signs of suicidal behaviour or thoughts and, if needed, they should intervene to make sure these patients do not have access to firearms." He said in general "there is inadequate mental health screening, and many of the doctors outside the VA (Veterans Affairs) system are not trained to deal with these sorts of problems and don't have the time to treat them." This is one of many studies that are slowly piling up as evidence that incoming Iraq and Afghanistan vets will face unique mental needs that the VA isn't necessarily equipped to deal with. Treating mental illness in returned soldiers will be a cost of war for which we'll be paying for years to...
VA RATING SYSTEM. Via WaPo : the Institute of Medicine released a report yesterday asking the department of Veterans Affairs to update its rating system to evaluate disabled veterans. This system, which has been around in some form since World War II, doesn't account for many kinds of brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Adjustments to iitwould allow veterans with such disabilities to get a higher rating, and therefore greater disability compensation. Changes to how the VA and DoD evaluate mental disability are long overdue, and the Institute of Medicine is one of many institutions demanding reform. --Kay Steiger