Today is our 446th day back in Iraq.
There have been no new American casualties.
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 637, 934, 425, 000 .00
I've got two stories of jarring contrast this week. Seeing that it's back-to-school season, we'll start in the academic world. Many soldiers returning from war are using their GI Bill benefits to go back to college. As you'd expect, many of those students are struggling. It turns out that that's yet another contributing factor to the high rate of veteran suicides.
But there is a way around it - there's a little-known program for veterans called "Academic Accomodations",
and it's seemed to help in a small number of cases in Phoenix. There's hope the program will expand, and might take some of the pressure off returning soldiers and new students.
PHOENIX -- Relocated to an empty clinic in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System after going public about dangerous patient care problems, Dr. Katherine Mitchell needed a project to stay busy.
With the rate of suicides increasing within the Phoenix system, she started studying victims' case files and found a pattern that seemed tragically easy to address: Of four who reported struggling in college, three had not received widely available but little-known academic accommodations for mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
The fourth was already failing before he received any information.
"There's a lot of myths and a hesitation to use academic accommodation because all the soldiers come from a very strong warrior background where asking for accommodation can be a sign of weakness," she said. "It's not a sign of weakness; it's a strategy to use to make it through school."
From her research and collaboration with veterans, Mitchell has drafted a first: a veterans' guide to reasonable academic accommodation for mental health issues, for use by doctors, VA caseworkers and veterans. With so many returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars poised to begin using their GI Bill money for college, Mitchell hopes the next step will be for the VA and veterans service organizations to use the guidelines to educate veterans on their options and help them formulate academic plans.
Academic accommodations are available for a range of disabilities. Students dealing with mental issues from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries commonly are given additional time to take tests, note-taking assistance, breaks during lectures and tutoring.
Mitchell has submitted the guidelines to Federal Practitioner, a professional journal of the VA, the Department of Defense and U.S. Public Health Service health care workers.
She said that there likely were a number of factors in the Phoenix suicides, but failure in college can compound problems associated with post-traumatic stress and depression.
"Whenever you have academic failure, it helps snowball other stresses in your life," she said.
Mitchell, who helped uncover the ongoing national Veterans Affairs health care scandal and has testified in front of Congress, was looking at suicide charts when she discovered the wait-time issue. She was working at the empty clinic -- where she had been assigned after complaining about patient care problems in the Phoenix VA emergency room -- when she found patterns in patient scheduling that reflected the existence of secret wait lists. She and Dr. Samuel Foote blew open a nationwide scandal that cost the Phoenix director, Sharon Helman, her job.
After Mitchell forwarded findings of improper care to the VA's inspector general's office, she said she was put on administrative leave and forbidden to look at suicide charts.
The order still stands, she said.
And changing gears, we all know what this week is. I therefore have mixed feelings about this next story. St. Paul's chapel in New York stands near the site of the World Trade Center. When the towers fell, the chapel itself miraculously avoided any significant damage. It's since become a Mecca (reference intentional) for survivors and visitors alike as "The little chapel that stood".
This year, they have sponsored a 'sermon contest', supposedly open to everyone, that required references to both Isiah and Matthew (anti-war passages, at that.) It was a US Army Chaplain that won - and he gets to deliver his sermon in the chapel on September 11.
NEW YORK -- An Army chaplain has won a national prize for an original sermon that he will deliver on Sept. 11 at a chapel near ground zero that became a sanctuary of consolation after the terrorist attacks.
The Rev. David Peters, of Austin, Texas, will give his winning sermon during a special morning service at St. Paul's Chapel.
The inaugural Reconciliation Preaching Prize competition was launched by the Parish of Trinity Church, which includes St. Paul's Chapel. It required all entries to address texts from Isaiah and Matthew -- one calling for a future without war and the other instructing people to lay down their spears for plowshares.
Peters, a former Marine who became an Army chaplain during the Afghanistan war, said he entered the national contest because he realized how 9/11 has shaped his life.
After that day, "the world changed for us," the 39-year-old said in his sermon titled "Learning War and Reconciliation" in which he weaves his personal experiences.
"It's astounding how difficult reconciliation can be ... Just like the Marine Corps didn't just teach me to do war, they taught me to be war, we have to learn to be reconciliation," wrote Peters, who is working toward a master's degree in religion at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin and is an assistant parish priest at Grace Episcopal Church in Georgetown, Texas.
Reconciliation starts with the "recognition of our own reconciliation," added Peters, who was a youth minister at a Pennsylvania church at the time of the attacks.
"In his powerful first-hand testimony, David preaches the message that reconciliation is learned and has to be practiced," said Trinity's rector, the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer. "It is our hope that his words will comfort those struggling with contemporary events and that they will foster understanding beyond the walls of our sanctuary and remembrance of 9/11."
Lupfer said the idea for the contest came about because visitors to the World Trade Center site still struggle to make sense of the attacks, more than a decade later, and other acts of hatred.
The Episcopal church, known as "The Little Chapel That Stood," is directly across from the World Trade Center but was unscathed when the attacks brought down the twin towers. It was turned into a makeshift shrine and became a place of rest and renewal for volunteers and responders. Today, tourists from around the world flock to the house of worship where a number of Sept. 11-related artifacts are on display, including memorial banners from across the globe.