TIME health

What Americans Can Learn From Obama on Mental Health

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-AMERICAN-LEGION
President Barack Obama greets members of the American Legion after speaking at the American Legion's 96th National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, August 26, 2014. SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

We must broaden the scope of our efforts beyond the military and veteran community

President Obama addressed the American Legion’s 96th National Convention on Tuesday and outlined five priorities to “fulfill our promises to service members, veterans, and their families.” These priorities include: delivering the quality health care veterans have been promised, ensuring all veterans have every opportunity to pursue the American Dream, providing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with the resources our veterans deserve, protecting the dignity and rights of all veterans and eliminating the decades-old disability claims backlog.

From early in his administration, our President has demonstrated his concern for and commitment to our military and veteran families. He has made numerous speeches at military installations, praising the sacrifices of our troops and pledging his support. He has acknowledged his respect and admiration for those who wear the uniform during his State of the Union Addresses, often inviting injured service members and their families to join the First Lady in the Capitol to watch the address. In 2012 he issued an Executive Order titled “Improving Access to Mental Health Service for Veterans, Service Members and Military Families,” which paved the way for greater communication and coordination among government agencies while creating several specific initiatives and programs to increase access to care and improve the provision of services. And in June 2013, a primary focus of his National Conference on Mental Health was on the unique mental health challenges facing our military and veteran community.

Our First Lady shares the President’s commitment. In the spring of 2009, five months into the administration, I was invited to a meeting at the White House hosted by the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden. The purpose of the gathering was to learn about the issues affecting our service members, veterans and their families from the organizations that support them and to ask for suggestions regarding how the First Lady and Dr. Biden might best use their platform to assist these worthy men, women and families. This meeting, and several that followed, provided the foundation for what would become the First Lady and Dr. Biden’s Joining Forces initiative, which focuses on three key areas of support for military families: employment, education and wellness.

Tuesday’s speech by the President made reference to several new executive actions designed to serve the military and veteran community – many of which focus on improving the mental health and wellness of those who struggle, those who suffer and those who are at risk of suicide. During perhaps the most inspiring moment of the speech, President Obama proclaimed:

“And maybe most of all, we’re going to keep saying loud and clear to anyone out there who’s hurting, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it is a sign of strength. Talk to a friend. Pick up the phone. You are not alone. We are here for you. And every American needs to know if you see someone in uniform or a veteran who is struggling, reach out and help them to get help. They were there for America. We now need to be there for them.”

Our President has done an excellent job of setting the table for us. He has provided leadership and directed resources. He has made it clear that the mental health and wellness of those who serve and their families is a priority for his administration and for America. His staff has consistently reached out to the community of organizations that engage and support our military and veteran community, asking for feedback and seeking opportunities for partnership and collaboration. Some might suggest that this has all been politically motivated – sadly so much of what seems to happen in Washington these days certainly is – but to those of us who have had the honor of working alongside our colleagues at the White House over the years on these issues, it has been clear from early on that that this sustained effort is genuine.

But while the President’s leadership is absolutely critical for success, we will need more than his commitment if we hope to ensure the mental health and wellness of those who serve and their families. We must broaden the scope of our efforts and look beyond the military and veteran community. The stigma associated with mental illness is a huge problem within our society – a problem that we must address if we hope to reduce the number of service members and veterans who choose suicide every day. How can we expect those who serve – given their training on self reliance, their value on mental toughness and their focus on serving others – to step forward and ask for help if they are depressed, anxious or suicidal when so few among us in the civilian community do so comfortable or openly. It was a little over two weeks ago that Robin Williams’ suicide sent shock waves and overwhelming sadness across our nation. Robin Williams – who was so beloved, so talented, so smart – was unable to ask for help in his darkest hour. He was unable to let those he loved know that he was in danger. How horribly sad and lonely he must have felt – how terribly distressed and alone so many in our nation feel every day.

We must change our culture if we are to succeed in saving lives and ending suffering. We must come to accept that mental health and mental illness are elements of the human condition – just as physical health and disease are – not just within our military culture but for all Americans. We must use opportunities like the one that the President has given us to harness support, roll up our sleeves and do the heavy lift required that will change the conversation in America about mental health. Perhaps one positive outcome of the last 13 years of war can be an end to the stigma associated with mental health and mental illness. Perhaps our service members and our veterans will once again lead America and serve as examples of courage, acceptance and compassion for self and others.

Barbara Van Dahlen, named to the TIME 100 in 2012, is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour. A notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families, Dr. Van Dahlen has become a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans and their families.

TIME Military

Pilot Still Missing After Fighter Jet Crashes in Virginia

Preparations Ahead Of The Farnborough International Airshow 2014
Military personnel talk as they stand beside an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet, left, prior to the opening of the Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough, U.K., on Sunday, July 13, 2014. Bloomberg — Getty Images

Authorities have not yet confirmed if the pilot had ejected from the plane before it crashed Wednesday morning

The pilot of a fighter jet that crashed into the mountains of western Virginia Wednesday morning is still missing hours later, officials say.

Col. James Keefe, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Air National Guard, said that rescue crews were still searching for the pilot Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press reports. It’s unclear whether the pilot ejected from the single-seat F-15C. The pilot reported an inflight emergency while flying the plane to New Orleans for routine maintenance and lost radio contact shortly thereafter.

Residents near the crash site reported hearing a loud explosion and feeling the ground shake from the force of the impact.

[AP]

TIME Military

Watch the 100-Year History of Tear Gas in 2 Minutes

Banned in warfare, but used for crowd control at home.

+ READ ARTICLE

Tear gas, a noxious agent that causes tearing, vomiting and pain, was first used in combat by the French military during World War One 100 years ago. It was soon co-opted by the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service for use as a crowd control agent.

After being initially introduced as a replacement for poison gas after that substance was banned from battlefields, tear gas was soon being used used to quell large crowds in the 1920’s and 1930’s that gathered in the midst of food scarcity and economic uncertainty.

Its use continued throughout the 1960s, being used to corral anti-war protestors, most notably at the University of California, Berkeley. Despite now being banned from wartime use, tear gas is still in use for domestic crowd control, most recently seen during recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

TIME Military

Soldier Dies After Shooting Herself at Fort Lee, Va. Army Base

Security guards open a gate for motorist at the visitor entrance to Fort Lee, Va. on Aug. 25, 2014.
Security guards open a gate for motorist at the visitor entrance to Fort Lee, Va. on Aug. 25, 2014. Steve Helber—AP

No one else was injured

Updated: Aug. 25, 4:57 p.m.

A soldier at the Fort Lee U.S. Army base in Virginia has died after shooting herself in the head Monday morning.

According to the Associated Press, the soldier barricaded herself in an office and was throwing objects while enforcement officials tried to talk her down. She eventually shot herself. It’s unknown whether the soldier suffered from mental health issues.

An earlier statement posted on the U.S. Army Fort Lee Facebook page said the incident sparked a lockdown after reports of a shooter on base.

“Fort Lee first responders responded to a report of a female Soldier with a gun inside the Combined Arms Support Command Headquarters, Bldg. 5020 at approximately 9 a.m. today. Early reports indicate the Soldier turned the weapon on herself and fired one shot, injuring herself,” said the statement.

The base said the shooter had been transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. The army said it would begin an investigation.

The shooting comes just a few months after a soldier at Fort Hood Army base in Texas shot and killed four people and injured several more. That shooter, Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

TIME Military

The Rescue That Wasn’t

Part of a damaged helicopter is seen lying near the compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad
The tail of a downed Special Ops helicopter inside bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in 2011. The pilots who led that successful mission belonged to a unit created because of a failed rescue effort in Iran 31 years earlier. REUTERS

If you're waiting for perfect intelligence to guarantee success, you'll never launch a military rescue mission

The Pentagon spoiled Americans with its near-perfect grab of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Save for a wrecked helicopter, Operation Neptune Spear went off without a hitch (assuming, as many Americans did, that taking bin Laden alive was never a top priority).

But the Navy SEALs drew to an inside straight that night in Abbottabad, Pakistan. All the practice in the world can’t trump bum intelligence. And the U.S. intelligence community’s estimates that bin Laden would be in the compound where he died ranged from 30 to 95%. If bin Laden hadn’t been there, the raid would have been deemed a failure, and would perhaps still be a secret.

The Pentagon only confirmed the failed July raid to rescue James Foley, whose murder was made public in a video released by Islamic militants on Tuesday, and several other U.S. hostages in Syria, after word began to leak out late Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said in a statement.

Such misses have happened before.

In 1970, 56 U.S. troops raided North Vietnam’s Son Tay prison camp to rescue the estimated 55 U.S. POWs believed to be there.

Technically, Operation Ivory Coast succeeded: the U.S., using more than 100 aircraft to support the operation, seized the camp. Unfortunately for the U.S., the North Vietnamese had moved the prisoners a day earlier due to North Vietnamese concerns that the camp was too close to a river that might flood. Two U.S. troops were injured during the mission.

Perhaps the most infamous rescue attempt since then was 1980’s Operation Eagle Claw, the aborted mission to bring home the 52 U.S. hostages held in Tehran after Iran seized the U.S. embassy there. They had been held for six months when President Carter ordered eight choppers on a risky two-night mission to rescue them. But sandstorms and mechanical woes grounded three of them on the first day, forcing the military to scrub the mission. As they withdrew, one of the helicopters hit a refueling plane at the Desert One staging site in the Iranian desert, killing eight U.S. troops.

The fiasco doomed any chance Carter had of winning a second term—Iran released the hostages shortly after Ronald Reagan took office—and led Congress to create the U.S. Special Operations Command to coordinate such efforts in the future. It also led the Army to create the Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the unit whose pilots flew the Navy SEALs to bin Laden’s lair.

TIME Military

U.S. Launched Operation to Rescue ISIS Hostages, Pentagon Says

Journalist James Foley covers the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, in November 2012.
Journalist James Foley covers the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, in November 2012. Nicole Tung—AP

No hostages were found at the target location

Updated Aug. 20, 9 p.m. ET

The United States launched a rescue operation this summer to free American hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Department of Defense said Wednesday, but no hostages were found at the target location.

In a statement released a day after the Sunni extremist group released a graphic video showing the execution of American journalist James Foley, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. Kirby confirmed that American air and ground forces attempted a rescue to free a number of American hostages held by militants in Syria.

A U.S. government official confirmed Wednesday night that Foley was among the Americans the military attempted to rescue.

“This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within [ISIS]. Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location,” Kirby said. “As we have said repeatedly, the United States government is committed to the safety and well-being of its citizens, particularly those suffering in captivity. In this case, we put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home.”

Lisa Monaco, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said Obama authorized the operation “because it was the national security team’s assessment that these hostages were in danger with each passing day in [ISIS] custody.”

The ground portion of the operation was carried out by U.S. special forces operators. Monaco said the government wouldn’t go into detail on the operation to protect “operational capabilities.”

“The United States government uses the full breadth of our military, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities to bring people home whenever we can,” Kirby said. “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable.”

In a statement to reporters Wednesday, Obama referenced the Americans still being held by ISIS. “We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families. We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for. “

TIME Military

Here’s What Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl Plans to Do After Investigation Ends

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl preparing to be interviewed by Army investigators in Aug. 2014.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl preparing to be interviewed by Army investigators in Aug. 2014. Eugene R. Fidell—AP

Army sergeant wants to leave the military and go to college

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl plans to pursue a college education after the investigation into his disappearance in Afghanistan is completed, his lawyer said Tuesday.

The army sergeant who was held prisoner for almost five years by the Taliban feels like he is in a holding pattern and wants to get on with his life, Bergdahl’s attorney Gene Fidell told CBS News.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, the Army investigator assigned with establishing the facts behind Bergdahl’s disappearance from a military post in Afghanistan in 2009, has said he will likely submit his report in September, later than anticipated.

“If it’s not soup yet, it’s not soup, and the only person who can make that determination is Major General Dahl,” Fidell told CBS.

Several soldiers have accused Bergdahl of abandoning his post before he was captured by the Taliban, which could result in desertion charges.

[CBS]

TIME

Militarizing Ferguson Cops With Riot Gear Is a Huge Mistake

National Guard and Seattle police arrest WTO protestors , November 1999
National Guard and Seattle police arrest WTO protestors , November 1999 Tim Matsui—Getty Images

As the former chief of Seattle police, I deeply regret tear-gassing WTO protesters in 1999. But police departments should—and still can—learn from what I did wrong

I retired as Seattle’s police chief shortly after I presided over a response to the 1999 WTO protests not unlike the police reaction in Ferguson, Missouri. In time, I came to believe my authorization to send in officers in riot gear and to use tear gas on protesters was the worst decision of my 34-year career as a cop.

Today, the entire institution of policing seems hell-bent on repeating my mistakes.

Many local law enforcement agencies are now outfitted and behave like small armies. This is not good, and the federal government shares much of the blame. With the advent of the drug war and especially since 9/11, the Department of Defense has been more than generous in gifts of surplus military items to the locals: armored personnel carriers, MRAPs (mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicles), and a wide assortment of military weaponry.

The causes of the continuing unrest in Ferguson are many: the shooting death of an unarmed teenager, of course, along with persistent racial bigotry and discrimination, crushing poverty, failing schools, high unemployment… But it was the police department’s precipitous, militarized response last weekend that transformed peaceful vigils and protests into a siege of proportions never before seen in that St. Louis suburb.

That, and an abiding, preexisting condition of deep distrust of the city’s police officers.

Throughout the nation, in neighborhoods that have been historically neglected or oppressed by their police, the military mentality has exacerbated an already dreadful relationship. And it has all but destroyed “community policing,” a promising program that seeks to create authentic problem-solving partnerships between police and community.

We should not be surprised that officers of the Ferguson Police Department responded aggressively, militarily, to the original protests. It’s what cops do. They are conditioned to believe they are in control and that they must maintain that control, at all costs. They come to “own” the streets they patrol. The cop culture produces an attitude that, “We’re the police, and you’re not. We will decide what’s best for the community.” Even if it means hitting the family home of a suspected low-level, nonviolent drug offender with maximum military might, or using dogs for crowd control, or violating the civil liberties and human rights of fellow citizens.

Of course, at times, there is no substitute for military equipment and military-like tactics. Picture armed and barricaded suspects, school shootings, and other urgent, life-and-death situations. Make no mistake, America’s cities need carefully selected, well trained, highly self-disciplined police officers to confront these dangerous situations.

The problem comes when local law enforcement embraces militaristic tactics as its default position. Especially in situations, like Ferguson, where de-escalation efforts would have made infinitely better sense.

Picture Captain Ron Johnson standing before that bank of microphones at the beginning, not the end of the week. See him walking, in his everyday uniform, with protestors, smiling, hugging, saying, as he did in church yesterday, “You are my family…I am you.” A powerful statement in a town whose African-American population is 70 percent and whose police force of 53 numbers only three black cops.

Had Ferguson police responded with openness, had they listened and listened then listened some more, had they been as prompt and as forthcoming and thorough in their explanations as circumstances would allow, I am convinced that the peace of the community could have been maintained, its residents allowed to mourn the death of another young black man, even as they insisted on answers from their local police.

American policing, almost since its inception, has operated as a closed, paramilitary-bureaucratic institution. What we’re seeing on the streets of Ferguson is nothing new. We’ve seen it in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the police response to labor, antiwar, civil rights, and campus demonstrations. What’s new is just how militaristic everyday policing has become in the early years of the twenty-first century.

But all is not lost. There are many ways to make police more responsible to the communities they serve. Let’s end the drug war that encourages the targeting of poor people, young people, people of color. Let’s flatten steep police hierarchies of power that discourage open and forthright communication within the ranks, and between the people and the police. Let’s invest civilian review boards with investigative and subpoena powers that allow them real oversight. Let’s insist on meaningful community representation in all aspects of police policy-making, program development, priority setting and crisis management.

And, most important, let’s encourage good people to go into policing. They can reform things from the inside and provide living exemplars of what good policing can be.

 

Norm Stamper was Seattle police chief from 1994-2000. He is the author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of American Policing and is an advisory board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

TIME Iraq

Pope OKs Protecting Iraq Minorities, Wants UN OK

Francis
Pope Francis shows to the media a yellow ribbon he received by one of the relatives of the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster during an airborne press conference on his journey back to Rome from Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Gregorio Borgia—AP

(ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE) — Pope Francis has endorsed the use of force in Iraq to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities but says the international community — and not just one country — should decide how to intervene.

Francis also said he and his advisers are considering whether he might go to northern Iraq to show solidarity with persecuted Christians, but are holding off on a decision for now.

In comments Monday to journalists returning from South Korea, Francis confirmed he will travel to the United States in September 2015 to attend a family rally in Philadelphia and was considering a three-city tour to address Congress in Washington and the United Nations in New York.

He said a Mexico stop on that trip was possible, as well as a separate visit to Spain.

TIME Military

Dam Yankees: U.S. Steps Up Bombing in Northern Iraq

IRAQ-UNREST-KURDS-DAM
Smokes rises from U.S. air strikes near Mosul dam on Sunday. Ahmad Al-Ruhbye—AFP/Getty Images

But limiting strikes for political reasons may prove untenable

The Obama Administration made clear last week that its ban against U.S. “boots on the ground” inside Iraq only pertained to combat boots. Sunday, it went back to its dictionary and stretched the definition of “humanitarian” to include offensive bombing strikes against Islamist militants in northern Iraq.

That’s because ever since the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized the Mosul dam, it has had the power to release the reservoir behind it, turning the Tigris River downstream into Class V rapids with a 60-foot wall of water.

“The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” President Barack Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders.

The U.S. military launched 23 airstrikes on ISIS targets over the weekend, including 14 on Sunday. A fleet of fighter-bombers, bombers and drones took out nearly 20 ISIS vehicles—mostly U.S.-built armor and Humvees that ISIS captured from retreating Iraqi forces—on Sunday alone. An Iraq military spokesman said Monday that Iraqi special forces and Kurdish fighters had regained control of the dam, although that claim has not been confirmed.

“These operations are limited in their nature, duration, and scope,” Obama said, “and are being undertaken in coordination with and at the request of the government of Iraq.”

The weekend air strikes nearly doubled the number the U.S. has launched in Iraq since they began Aug. 8, and marked the most coordinated military effort between U.S. and Iraqi forces since the U.S. military left the country in 2011.

Pentagon fingers are crossed that the combination of U.S. air strikes and Iraqi ground operations will be sufficient to defeat ISIS. Defense officials, and the White House, are acutely aware that the American public has no appetite for deeper involvement—military or otherwise—in Iraq.

The operation makes military sense, but justifying it using the original two-prong test—Obama said Aug. 7 that the U.S. would attack targets in Iraq only “to protect our American personnel, and… to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death”—may prove too convenient.

“This policy of not dealing with it as an ecosystem I think is wrong,” Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CBS on Sunday. “They have a long-term plan about where they’re going that would establish their caliphate from Beirut through Syria through Iraq.”

ISIS wants to create that caliphate from which it would seek to attack the U.S. and other targets in the west. Every time the Administration expands its military footprint in Iraq to deal with the threat—and justifies it on humanitarian grounds, or to protect U.S. personnel—it restrains its freedom to act the next time if stronger military action is required.

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