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The Right News, Right Now for Our Troops, Veterans and Dependents » Podcasts » Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers May 20, 2011

Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers May 20, 2011

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Guest: Bart Billings, La Costa psychologist and founder of the longest running combat stress conference in the world

Segment I

Hello and welcome to Front & Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers.

San Diego County and Southern California’s first and only military talk show delivering news and views affecting our troops and veterans here every Friday 11 to noon on AM 1000 KCEO.

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Great show today.

In the second half hour I’ll talk to the founder of the longest running combat stress conference in the world who calls the military’s current treatment of our troops nothing short of criminal.

He says the drug makers have hijacked the Defense Department’s mental health program and hundreds of our men and women are dying every year because of it.

Stick around and hear a point of view gaining traction among growing numbers of mental health experts.

But first we’ll kick around local stories making headlines here in San Diego including one about a naval doctor from Balboa accused of experimenting on wounded troops in Iraq.

We’ll also dig into the whole Cesar Chavez controversy that’s being used as a stocking horse to vent about illegal immigration in a broke state that hates the fact that it depends on illegals as much as its crops need sunlight and water.

Then you’ll hear some candid remarks from the assistant commander of the 3rd Marine Air Wing, who recently returned to Miramar after a year in Afghanistan.

Ever notice anytime a Marine general suggests shooting someone for the good of mankind that it’s always described as a “candid remark”? Well, MAJ. GEN Andrew O’Donnell Jr. had some candid remarks this week regarding the Taliban in Afghanistan.

It’s no Gen. James Mattis moment, but interesting nonetheless.

Then there is the story about extending mission of the National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border here in San Diego until the end of September.

So, this should be a lively hour. At least I hope so because last week’s show was a bust.

First, I couldn’t hear myself talk for about the first 15 minutes of the show. Then a guest failed to call in until the very last minute. And when he did, I could barely hear him. What a nightmare.

Last week’s show flashed me back to my early years in newspapers. Back then I made every mistake possible. While working in Japan in the early 1990s, I once wrote about a town hit by an earthquake, but my directions were slightly off and described the stricken town as being about 30 miles out in the ocean.

Another time because I am such a math whiz – all journalists are — I described an Air Force jet as being 400 times louder than the plane it was replacing instead of 40 percent louder.  You can imagine how popular that made me with the Air Force – and with my editors.

The pressure of live radio reminds me a lot of being on deadline with an editor looking over your shoulder. Only on the radio you can’t walk to the vending machine to take a break. Once that rollercoaster starts you’re on it to the end regardless of what happens. There’s no crying in radio.

So my radio education continues. But I do appreciate all the emails and calls of support. This show is growing because people like you recognize its importance.

You’re listening Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO. The defense leader in Southern California and San Diego County.

Before we get to the whole Cesar Chavez ship controversy and talk about the Balboa Navy doctor accused of running a medical experiment described as “inconsistent with military standards” for human research let’s do the morning report.

The Morning Report is brought to you by the American Combat Veterans of War with offices in La Jolla, Camp Pendleton and Oceanside.

Tomorrow, May 21 – if the world does not end — ACVOW will hold an open house and BBQ at its Oceanside location at 3508 Seagate Way Suite 160, Oceanside. Hope to see you there 10 to 2. Directions are on the website www.DefenseTracker.com.

The San Diego Veterans Coalition, building a better tomorrow for San Diego County veterans today.

REBOOT, helping veterans transition to civilian life and secure rewarding employment.

And of course the California Department of Veterans Affairs, serving the state’s 1.9 million veterans.

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You’re listening Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO. The defense leader in Southern California and San Diego County.

Have you been following the storm over naming a new Navy cargo ship after Cesar Chavez, the late labor leader? Holy smoke, you would think they named the ship after Bin Laden or that French pervert who used to head the IMF.

Seems Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr. lit a fuse by saying that people more deserving than Cesar Chavez should have the ship named after them — as in someone without an Hispanic sir name.

Hunter suggested World War II Medal of Honor recipient John W. Finn as a fitting candidate. Finn from East County died about a year ago. I interviewed John Finn a few years before he passed. He even let me hold his Medal of Honor. He was truly an American original and the country lost a hero when he went to his eternal reward.

The USS John W. Finn has a sweet ring and would make a fine name for a fighting ship. Sounds like a good destroyer name to me. But definitely not a name for a freight hauler.

Anyway, in reading the Chavez story, could not help but notice just a trace of nasty in the comments flying like heat lightning around the story.

People are connecting the naming of the new cargo ship with approval of illegal immigration with appeasing the Hispanic vote for political gain.

The thrust of the comments went something like this.

Hunter and his ilk are redneck cretins slightly less crazed then the Unabomber, but with an IQ approaching room temperature in a very drafty room.

Advocates on the other side are Brown Power activists who want to turn the United States into an anchor-baby nursery welcoming one illegal bundle of woe after another.

What do you think? Who’s more right?

Phone lines are open 760.931.1604. Should Cesar Chavez have had a Navy ship named after him? Is this a turning point in America or a lot of hot air about nothing?

Time to take a break, but on the return I’ll talk more about the Cesar Chavez ship-naming controversy and about the Navy doctor accused of experimenting on wounded U.S. troops suffering TBI in Iraq.

You are listening to Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO the only place for defense news in Southern California.

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II Segment

Welcome back. You’re listening Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO. The defense leader in Southern California and San Diego County.

Strong show today. So much military news to talk about, but then there is always in San Diego County and Southern California the heart of the military in the United States.

In about 15 minutes Dr. Bart Billings will be here. Dr. Billings is a Southern California psychologist and retired Army colonel who pulls no punches when it comes to the military’s mental health programs.

Billings started and still heads the longest-running combat stress conference in the world.

I attended the conference last Sunday in Pasadena and wrote a column that appears in today’s military section of the North County Times.

Dr. Billings calls the treatment soldiers, sailors airmen and Marines receive for mental health issues criminal.

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For those of you just tuning in I’m talking about the furor caused when Congressman Duncan Hunter suggested that the late farm worker organizer Cesar Chavez is unworthy to have a ship named after him.

If some of you missed the first part of the show or can’t stay until the end, remember podcasts of Front and Center – and the best defense stories found anywhere – are at the website DefenseTracker.com.

That’s D-E-F-E-N-S-E-T-R-A-C-K-E-R DOT COM.

And if you have a story suggestion or just want to want to make a comment, email me up at Rick.Rogers@defensetracker.com.  Always good to hear from you.

So, on the Chavez ship-naming thing, why is so much venom?

You know my first reaction was to roll my eyes.

My thought was: Aren’t there more important things to talk about?

* Our troops are fighting in two countries

* As a country we’ve hit the budget deficit ceiling

* Millions of citizens are about to fall off the unemployment roles

*  Social security and Medicare are facing bankruptcy

Shouldn’t Hunter be focusing on those issues instead of stirring the pot by opining about the naming of a Navy ship?

Am I missing something? Is this a bigger deal than I think? Does this action signal a sea change of Hispanic power in the United States that historians will one day anoint as some kind of turning point in the legend that is America?

What do you think? 760.931.1604 is the number to get in on the conversation.

I do agree with Hunter on one thing: Chastising the Navy for first suggesting and then dropping the policy of allowing Navy chaplains to marry gay couples.

The Navy decided to do this. Made an announcement and almost immediately reversed itself when about 60 Republican lawmakers yelled stop.

I agree. Slow down. Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a huge step and a big shock to the military. Let the services digest that before blessing gay marriages.

Then by all means marry away. Maybe the Village People could sing an a cappella version of “In the Navy” as the happy couple walks out of a Navy chapel beneath a sword arch. There’s a visual for you.

If you have a comment, give me a call at 760.445.3882

You’re listening Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO. The defense leader in Southern California and San Diego County.

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I hope you can stay for the full hour, but if you can’t, podcasts of Front and Center – and the best defense stories found anywhere – are at the website DefenseTracker.com.

I’m your host Rick Rogers, Army veteran and defense reporter for 25 years at papers around the world.

I write a military column for the North County Times every Friday and run the very popular website DEFENSETRACKER.COM besides doing this radio show, Front&Center every Friday 11 to noon here at the home of the military in Southern California and San Diego County AM 1000 KCEO.

Last week I told you about a San Diego Naval Medical Center doctor named Dr. Michael E. Hoffer who is being investigated for improperly treating 80 service members with mild TBI in Iraq.

Well, it seems that Dr. Hoffer, a Navy captain, is in trouble with the Defense Department and the Navy and Army for medical research he conducted in 2008 and 2009 in Iraq.

When I first brought you this story, I hadn’t read the Defense Department’s investigation. So I called the Pentagon and they posted the DOD investigation on Monday.

Last week I asked why this Navy captain is still treating patients. And after reading the investigation I ask more loudly why Dr. Michael E. Hoffer is still treating patients at Balboa.

The 136-page report is pretty scathing. It’s available in on the website www.DefenseTracker.com.

It essentially says that Hoffer used a drug he had a financial interest in to treat 80 service members diagnosed with mild TBI injury. BTW, Hoffer is not commenting on the story while the investigation continues.

Now Hoffer isn’t mentioned in the DOD’s 136-page investigation, but spokeswomen for the Pentagon, the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and San Diego Naval Medical Center all confirmed that he is indeed the medical researcher referred to.

The drug Hoffer used was not approved for use on TBI patients, as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Hoffer’s medical trial was deemed “inconsistent with military standards for human subject medical research.”

The drug study involved nearly 100 American service members in Iraq diagnosed with mild TBI who were flown to a special treatment center at Camp Al Taqaddum within 24 hours of their injuries.

The troops apparently had no choice about being flown to Taquaddum or TQ as it’s know, leading investigators to worry about “possible coercion of human research subjects, research protocol deviations and misrepresentation of research data.”

Once at Al Taqaddum, half the troops were treated with a placebo while the other half were given an anti-oxidant called N-acetylcysteine (Aw C Tol Sys Tine) or NAC.

Hoffer held two patents concerning the drug, the report said. But did not disclose his ties to the drug, which on its face is a conflict of interest that should’ve scuttled the whole research project I would think.

Despite all this Hoffer is still treating injured or wounded troops.

My question is why? Why is he still allowed to practice?

Now I asked the Navy that very question and the answer was that he was not being investigated for anything arising from treating patients, so he was allowed to stay.

He is after all one of the Navy’s foremost authorities on hearing and balance and the Navy said they found no evidence that study participants were harmed by the care they received during the study.

I am not buying it especially after reading the DOD report.

If the report it true, this guy has thorough disgraced himself as a doctor and an officer. His actions bring into serious question his medical and ethicical judgment not to mention his adherence to the Hippocratic Oath. Why in the world is he still treating the same troops that he was more than willing to mistreat apparently for his own motives?

There is something very wrong here or there is something that is omitted in this investigation because it seems that at the very least that his officer should be suspended from duty pending a board of inquiry.

I’m also not really loving the investigation the Navy did either into Hoffer’s patients to determine if any of them were harmed. From what I could see they were sent a form letter. How many were even returned?

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You’re listening Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO. The defense leader in Southern California and San Diego County.

Just a few more items before we bring Dr. Bart Billings on to discuss the state of mental health services in the military, which he claims is responsible for killing hundreds of our men and women in uniform each year.

News out of Sacramento from the California Department of Veterans Affairs is that Gov. Brown has restored baseline funding for county veterans service offices but little else. So officials are in Washington, D.C. this week looking for money to fund Americorps workers. For months now Americorps workers have been helping out in veterans offices. But unless money can be found, they’ll soon be going away.

On Wednesday had the chance to listen to Marine Maj. Gen. Andrew O’Donnell Jr., assistant wing commander 3rd MAW. He and his Marines recently got back in March from a year in Afghanistan.

He is a very entertaining speaker. Some of the points he made.

* Used the word “crummy” often to describe conditions in Afghanistan and particularly harsh for ground troops.

* Said there are some really brave Afghanis and singled out Helmand Province Gov. Gulabuddin Mangal. The Taliban has tried to kill him 30 or 40 times and yet he keeps doing his job.

* He is cautiously optimistic about the military outcome in Afghanistan, but said it will take years not months to transition the country from US to Afghanistan control. I guess much of a withdraw this summer is out the window.

* “You have to hunt these people down and kill them,” O’Donnell said of the Taliban, because they cannot be reasoned with. Said most Afghanis only want a decent quality of life.  He hinted of some bizarre and disturbing practices by the Taliban, but never fully explained them.

*  “The enemy is ruthless, indiscriminate. He gives no quarter to anyone including his own people and children.”

* “The good guys one day might be the bad guys the next day.”

An finally, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has asked Congress for $30 million to keep the 1,200 National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border through September.

This includes 260 California National Guardsmen protecting the fence between San Diego County and Mexico. But this decision has to be made quickly because the mission is slated to end June 30.

Since Operation Phalanx began last July, 14,000 pounds of drugs, millions in currency and more than 7,000 illegal aliens have been seized, according to DHS records.

But a study by the Government Accountability Office that said only 44 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border is under “operational control.”

You’re listening Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO. The defense leader in Southern California and San Diego County.

Time to take a break, but we’ll have La Costa psychologist Dr. Bart Billings on the show to talk about the oldest combat stress conference in the world and the state of military mental health program, which he claims is killing our men and women in uniform. So stay tuned.

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Get a hold of Billings on the phone

Segment III

Welcome back. For those just joining the show, you are listening to Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers heard every Friday 11 to noon on AM 1000 KCEO.

I’m joined now by Dr. Bart Billings. In 1993 while an Army reserve officer, he co-founded the first combat stress conference after watching the strain of the Persian Gulf War play havoc with the lives of military friends and colleagues.

Accounts of bankruptcy, divorce and suicide convinced him to bring together top researchers and counselors to help service members and their families.

Nearly two decades later, Dr. Billings, a Southern California psychologist and retired Army colonel, is still bringing those experts together from around the world.

I attended the latest conference last Sunday in Pasadena and wrote a column for today’s military section of the North County Times.

Billings pulls no punches when it comes to describing the military’s mental health programs.

He calls the care simply criminal.

Billings has told Congress as much in testimony submitted last year. Specifically, he strongly opposes the heavy reliance the military places on medicating troops with anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs.

Billings believes 70 to 80 percent of military suicides could be prevented and billions of dollars saved on drugs that don’t work if the military did just a few simple things.

Dr. Bart Billings, welcome to Front&Center. Before we get to your thoughts on military mental health programs, tell me a little about your 19th the combat stress conference that just concluded.

You’ve been doing this a long time. What surprised you in this year’s conference?

At your conference I noticed that some military personnel who presented their findings did not want to be quoted by name. If they are telling the truth, why would they be do reluctant to have their names used?

Have you noticed a change in attitudes concerning mental health since you started the conference back in 1993?

You’re listening Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO. The defense leader in Southern California and San Diego County.

Last year you submitted testimony for Congressional hearings chaired by Rep. Bob Filner looking into the possible link between mental health drugs and suicide and violent behavior.

What was the thrust of your testimony?

What do you believe is behind the military’s reliance in mental health drugs by the military?

What is the result of all these meds being given to our men and women in uniform?

Is this attitude that pills can solve all ills also driving mental health care in the VA system? I ask because it now accepted as fact that 18 veterans a day are committing suicide each and every day.

I’ve noticed recently that more and more military and VA combat stress experts are questioning whether pills are the panacea many thought they were a few years ago. Have you noticed the same thing?

If pills aren’t the answer, what is?

Optional commercial break Time to take a break,

What percentage of troops are on meds in combat? Why?

You’ve talked about Defense Dept. mental health being more reactive programs than proactive. What’s an example of this and how can that change.

In 1997, you pitched the Human Assistance Rapid Response Team program to Pentagon officials as a way of assessing spiritual, mental and economic needs among troops. The Pentagon incorporated it into a Defense Department directive on combat stress prevention, but never funded it.

What is the HARRT program?

I’d like to thank my guest Dr. Bart Billings for being on the show. Remember that tomorrow is ACVOW’s open house and BBQ at their office at 3508 Seagate Way in Oceanside. Go to the website DEFENSETRACK.COM for directions. That is also where you can listen to podcasts of this show and past shows.

Have a great weekend and remember to tune in next week to Front&Center: Military Talk Radio with Rick Rogers on AM 1000 KCEO 11 to noon.

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