What We’re Reading, Week 11

By Chad Garland, News21

What We’re Reading, Week 11:

Judge Orders Disclosure for Veterans Subjected to Chemical, Biological Weapon Experiments (Steven Nelson, 7/29, U.S. News & World Report) The U.S. government must notify veterans who were used as test subjects in classified programs when authorities are made aware of new information related to their “well-being,” a federal judge ruled last week. The programs, which ran between 1950 and 1975 according to declassified records, exposed hundreds of soldiers to nerve agents, sarin gas, mustard gas and hallucinogenic drugs, though exactly how many soldiers were involved is unclear.

Mysterious Dancing Lights In Afghanistan (Robert Krulwich, 7/30, NPR) A curious thing happens some nights in Afghanistan as some helicopters settled onto landing zones, a curious and beautiful thing – the air around their blades sparkles and dances with trails of light. War photographer Michael Yon named the mysterious phenomenon – some attribute it to the piezoelectric effect or static electricity – and the name is catching on.

Brandon Harker’s dog Oakley missing after he returns from Afghanistan, left dog with “good friend” (Greg Botelho, 7/27, CNN) Brandon Harker returned home from an Afghanistan deployment last week to find his dog was missing. He hadn’t run away, the friend Harker asked to care him said the 2-year-old pedigreed yellow Labrador retriever named Oakley had been given away. Harker thought he might have been sold on Craigslist, and he’s turned to the site to post an ad seeking help getting Oakley back. He also started a Facebook page where he’s been posting updates about his search.

What We’re Reading: Week 10

By Rachel Leingang, News21

What We’re Reading, Week 10:

For Combat Veterans, Life During Ice Time (Jerry Barca, 7/17, New York Times): The Fort Bragg Patriots, an amateur hockey team, is made up of post-9/11 active-duty combat veterans. They use their time on the ice to relax and forget about their time at war, and they bond over their shared experiences overseas.

Marine officer: Scope of sex assault problem exaggerated (Jim Michaels, 7/15, USA Today): Marine Corps Capt. Lindsay Rodman, who now works as a lawyer at the Pentagon, said the military’s sexual assault issues have been exaggerated. She called the Pentagon’s 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault survey into question, saying exaggerating the numbers doesn’t help the military address the core problems.

No veterans need apply? (Lisa Nagorny and Dan Pick, 7/15, American Legion): The Center for a New American Security conducted a survey of employers, asking them why veterans are unemployed at higher rates than civilians.

This is the way to return to your family from Afghanistan (Breach, Bang, Clear, 7/18): This heartwarming video shows how one soldier surprised his wife and kids upon his return from Afghanistan.

What We’re Reading: Week 9

By Chad Garland, News21

What We’re Reading, Week 9:

Photo Exhibit Spanning Decades Reveals Our Collective War Story (Kainaz Amaria, 7/15, NPR) The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington exhibit “War/Photography,” consists of 309 photographs from 25 nationalities with conflicts that span 165 years. “It’s organized in the order of war,” said Anne Tucker, curator of photography for the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Her team spent 10 years scanning more than 1 million photographs from more than 17 countries to come up with a different approach to presenting the images of war, even some images not typically associated with war.

Shooting the messengers (Ed Caesar, 7/9, GQ Magazine, UK edition) A few high profile cases of war correspondents killed in the course of duty underscores the danger of reporting in war zones, Ed Caesar said. As deaths and kidnappings mount – 2012 was among the worst years for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists – Caesar wonders what has changed to make journalists increasingly vulnerable to, if not targets of, the violence they cover.

Woman’s work (Francesca Borri, 7/1, Columbia Journalism Review) “The only story to tell in war is how to live without fear,” writes Francesca Borri, an Italian freelancer working in Syria. Contrary to the romantic notions of freelance journalists as free, Borri said they are trapped at the frontline, where the competition to report on “the blood, the bang-bang” is cutthroat.

For Veterans, a Fight for College Credit (Jody Serrano, 7/17, The Texas Tribune) A pilot program that helps veterans in Texas get college credit for their military experience won’t be made permanent; it failed to reach the full House during this year’s legislative session, but the Texas Workforce Commission will be able to expand the program thanks to federal grants. On average, veterans have received about a year of credits based on military experience, allowing them to complete their degree and enter the workforce more quickly. The program sponsor might re-file to make it permanent in 2015.

How the Pentagon’s payroll quagmire traps soldiers (Scot J. Paltrow and Kelly Carr, 7/2, Reuters) The Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS, a Pentagon agency responsible for accurately paying America’s 2.7 million active-duty and reserve service members, has a problem – costly failures. A variety of factors, from technology decades out of date, to systems that can’t communicate and military leaders who shirk responsibilities, all contribute to errors that harm some military personnel, while benefiting others.

What We’re Reading, Week 8

By Chad Garland, News21

Going Home (Chris Bloxom, 6/30, ESPN SportsCenter) Surprise military homecomings at sporting events seem to have become almost commonplace in the past decade and this six-minute ESPN video produced for the July 4th holiday shows why: they’re too touching to pass up.

Inside SportsCenter’s ‘Going Home’ video salute to soldiers’ family reunions at sports venues (Dan Quinn, 7/3, ESPN Front Row) Features producer Chris Bloxom wanted to add a structure to the string of YouTube video clips featuring military members reuniting with family members at sports events. Bloxom turned to the Army to find an Afghanistan veteran and his family to re-enact a homecoming as a way of creating what he called “intrigue.”

House veterans committee creates site to prod VA (Gregg Zoroya, 7/9, USA Today) Apparently frustrated with the amount of time it is taking the Department of Veterans Affairs to respond to its requests for information, the House Veterans Affairs Committee set up a website listing some of the nearly 100 requests the VA has not fulfilled, some dating back more than a year.

Over Water, Under Fire  (7/10, Powering a Nation) This interactive documentary special report produced by fellows at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill tells the story of the Colorado River. Text and graphics focus on the changes humans have made to the river and their impacts to the environment along America’s most endangered river, according to the American Rivers organization. These elements are woven into a video story about Army veterans traveling down the river together as a means of therapy and recovery.

What We’re Reading: Week 7

By Chad Garland, News21

Texas Monthly's July 2013 cover story is a photo essay about soldiers returning home from war.

Texas Monthly’s July 2013 cover story is a photo essay about soldiers returning home from war.

What We’re Reading:

The Call of Battle (Matt Cook, 7/2013, Texas Monthly) After two Iraq deployments, Matt Cook left the Army in 2006. He found success writing and making films, where he “mined” his memories — some that haunted him, some that slipped away. Eventually, he no longer recognized himself as a soldier, and that’s when he felt the need to return, “to feed on the pain of war again.” In November 2012, he embedded with his old unit, then in Afghanistan.

4th of July Fireworks a Nightmare for Shell-Shocked War Veterans (Susan Donaldson James, 7/3, ABC News) On the eve of Independence Day, some veterans are looking for alternatives to the customary fireworks displays. Startling noises, such as fireworks, can be a trigger for veterans who served in combat zones where frequent mortar shelling, gunfire and other explosions ingrained second-nature reactions or traumatic memories.

Troops still wary of admitting mental health problems (Gregg Zoroya, 7/3, USAToday) A confidential survey of troops in Afghanistan last year reveals that nearly half of Army troops and 60 percent of Marines who reported psychological problems feel they would be seen as weak if they sought help. A review of previous versions of the survey shows these attitudes have changed little since the first was conducted in 2003.

Former U.S. Marine and amputee brings the heat as rising underwear and fitness model (Nina Golgowski, 6/18, New York Daily News) Alex Minsky, a 24-year-old Marine Corps veteran who lost his right leg below the knee in an explosion in 2009, turned to alcohol to cope with the challenge of recovery. When he finally went sober, he was discovered in a Southern California gym just two days later, launching his career as a fitness and underwear model.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero (Clay Tarver, 7/2, The New York Times) Before he joined the Army, before he became a member of the elite U.S. Army Special Forces, before he fought the Taliban in Afghanistan, Jason Everman was in a rock band. In fact, he was in two. They just happen to be Nirvana and Soundgarden, two of the most well-known alternative rock groups from the 1990s era grunge movement, and Everman just happens to be the one guy who was kicked out of both.

What We’re Reading: Week 6

By Chad Garland, News21

What We’re Reading:

Navy uniforms are flammable, and military knows it (Dianna Cahn, 1/9, The Virginian-Pilot) The Navy’s standard-issue working uniform is not flame-resistant and “when subjected to a flame, it will burn robustly until completely consumed,” according to Navy findings released in December. A Navy spokesman said the service knew about this when designing the uniform, but had no requirement for a fire-retardant uniform. A Navy Times editorial estimates that phasing in a flame-resistant uniform could carry a $20 million price tag.

Can Service Save Us? (Joe Klein, 6/20, Time) Several service-based veterans groups are helping veterans find a sense of purpose in civilian life after returning from war. Organizations like Mission Continues and Team Rubicon give veterans an opportunity to apply their unique skills and experience toward improving communities through volunteer service and disaster relief.

“I Am Sorry That It Has Come To This”: A Soldier’s Last Words (Daniel Somers, 6/22, Gawker) Daniel Somers’ suicide letter describes his struggle with the trauma he brought home from war in Iraq, including PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Somers was a machine gunner in the turret of a Humvee on as many as 400 combat missions in Iraq in 2004-2005. He was 30 years old when he took his own life on June 10, 2013.

Veterans key to medical marijuana lobby efforts (Sophia Tareen, 6/21, Associated Press) Illinois Governor Pat Quinn faces a decision whether to sign legislation to legalize medical marijuana in the state. The Democratic governor has placed veterans’ issues at the top of his agenda and veterans lobbying for medical marijuana legalization may sway his decision.

In Debate Over Military Sexual Assault, Men Are Overlooked Victims (James Dao, 6/23, The New York Times) As the Pentagon, Congress and even the White House grapple with the problem of sexual assault in the military, one aspect that has been largely overlooked is the fact that the majority of victims are men. Of the estimated 26,000 service members who experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, 53 percent are men, according to the Pentagon.

What We’re Reading: Week 5

By Rachel Leingang, News21

A Loan Program for Veterans Comes Wrapped in Red Tape (Elizabeth Harris, 6/10, New York Times): More than 200,000 veterans live in New York City, but only 266 Veterans Affairs home loans were made in the city last year. One couple searching for a home loan finds the VA loan options to be burdensome for New York City properties.

Deployment to war doesn’t figure in majority of military suicides (Alan Zarembo, 6/15, Los Angeles Times): Most military suicides are committed by soldiers who never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, according to data from the Pentagon. The LA Times looked into some possible causes of the high suicide rate through the stories of five servicemembers.

What is the military-civilian divide to you? (Leo Shane III, 6/19, Stars and Stripes): Throughout our reporting, we’ve heard from veterans who cite a lack of understanding and cultural divide between military members and families and civilians. Stars and Stripes asked its readers what that divide means in their lives and what civilians should know about them and their service.

Elite Units in U.S. Military to Admit Women (Jennifer Steinhauer, 6/17, New York Times): The Pentagon announced Tuesday that women will be allowed to train as Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Marine infantry members, among others. The branches each can decide how to integrate women into their ranks, but must ask for exemptions when they decide women can’t do a particular position.

What We’re Reading: Week 4

By Chad Garland, News21

War is complicated. Despite its gruesome horror though, war also can be a catalyst for good. Whether that good takes the form of, well, let’s call it spiritual growth, scientific research or educational opportunity for veterans and their families, more than a decade of military conflict has reshaped American culture and our understanding of ourselves.

What We’re Reading:

War Junkie (David Axe, 6/5, Medium) From the archive of war correspondent David Axe’s blog: a tale of war and its psychological, perhaps spiritual effects. Axe offers a moving account of his 2005 trip to Baqubah, Iraq. It’s where he covered the South Carolina National Guard and the country’s first democratic elections since 1958, and where he became acquainted with war.

Looking past monuments, parades for vets’ next steps (Leo Shane III, 6/12, Stars and Stripes) Groups such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have called for parades to welcome home war veterans. Other nonprofits have pursued the mission of putting veterans to work, volunteering or staying physically fit as a way to reintegrate and find a second calling in civilian life.

New Bill Would Give GI Bill to Surviving Spouses (Terry Howell, 5/23, Military.com) The Spouses of Heroes Education Act would give spouses of fallen service members the same full undergraduate education benefits their children receive through the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill could cost $200 million over the next decade.

PTSD may be prevented, researchers find (Alan Zarembo, 6/5, Los Angeles Times) Scientists have linked a particular, “relatively common,” variation of a gene to activation of a receptor in the brain that might make some more susceptible to suffering PTSD. This could provide new methods of preventing the disorder, some researchers say.

What We’re Reading: Week of June 3

By Chad Garland, News21

This has been an eventful week for the Pentagon, with Senate hearings on increased sexual assaults in the military between 2010 and 2012, the House Armed Services Committee debate over the defense authorization bill, and authorizing spending for certain Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs activities.

What We’re Reading:

Lawmakers include sex assault reforms in 2014 funding bill (Leo Shane III, 6/5, Stars & Stripes) Sexual assault and sequester were among the Pentagon’s biggest headaches on the Hill this week. The House Armed Services Committee debate on the 2014 funding bill ties them together.

Five Ways Congress is Trying to Curb Rape in the Military (Christie Thompson, 6/5, ProPublica) Thompson provides a rundown of key congressional proposals to crackdown on sex crimes in the military.

With graduation, Iraq student veteran transitions to her new life (Kristen Moulton, 5/6, The Salt Lake Tribune) The latest in a series of articles following Jen Carver Comer, a student and Iraq war veteran, as she completes her undergraduate degree at Weber State University in northern Utah.

New anti-party rules for soldiers at Defense Language Institute in Monterey (Amy Larson, 6/4, KSBW Action News 8) Lt. Col. Frank Smith, commander of the U.S. Army’s 229th Military Intelligence Battalion at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., issued new restrictions on entry-level soldiers in an effort to “mitigate risks historically associated with sexual misconduct.”

The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2216) The bill, which passed the House Tuesday, authorizes appropriations for certain Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs spending.