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Monthly Archives: January 2010

Orlando man's Pershing missile

In the backyard of his west Orange home, Kim Kline prepares his deactivated Pershing I missile Friday for transport to a war memorial in Missouri. (JOE BURBANK, ORLANDO SENTINEL / January 29, 2010)

Until Friday, Kim Kline of west Orange County had a Cold War-era Pershing I missile sitting his backyard.

Built by the Martin Marietta Corp. near Orlando more than 40 years ago, the 33-foot missile — yes, it’s deactivated — is now on its way to Missouri, where it will be refurbished and displayed for 10 years at a war memorial.

When it returns a decade from now, Kline hopes to find it a new home in Central Florida.

“That’s where it was manufactured,” said Kline of the missile that had been rusting in his yard in three pieces for about four years. “That’s where it belongs.”

Kline is not a military man. He’s a surveyor who acquired this piece of Central Florida’s history after he saw it sitting by the road in front of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post east of Orlando.

He was told that the missile was going to be scrapped.

“I said, ‘Somebody ought to do something with that rocket,’ ” Kline said.

So he did. Kline loaded the missile, one piece at a time, onto a trailer and brought it home.

The Pershing missile was once a key piece of the U.S. defense arsenal. A midrange surface-to-air missile, it was capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Most of the rockets in the Pershing class were destroyed in the late 1980s, after the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

In the 1960s, Kline’s Pershing I missile was displayed in front of the downtown offices of the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper later donated the missile to VFW Post 4287 on Goldenrod Road, according to the post’s commander, Gary Near.

Near said the missile was set to be scrapped because the post needed to have a new septic tank installed, and the Pershing was in the way.

When he asked about the missile, Kline received a response more appropriate for a junked car than a defunct missile: If you can tow it, it’s yours. Kline jumped at the opportunity to own a relic from Central Florida’s past.

Before Disney came to town, Central Florida was known for its defense-technology industry.

Martin Marietta Corp., part of the present-day conglomerate Lockheed Martin, came to Central Florida in the 1950s.

The company was an industrial giant in the region for decades, employing thousands. Kline sees the missile as a reminder of a vital part of the area’s history.

However, Kline was unable to find anyone who felt strongly enough to foot the bill to refurbish and display the relic.

Jeff Stanford, media-relations director for the Orlando Science Center, still remembers the day Kline called and offered the center a missile.

“It wasn’t feasible for us,” Stanford said.

Kline eventually widened his search area significantly. When family in Missouri told him about a war memorial with expansion plans, Kline found his match.

He negotiated a deal. The Special Operations Plaza memorial in Jackson, Mo., would restore the missile in exchange for the rights to display it for 10 years.

“It’ll look just like it did when it came off the assembly line,” promised Kenny Pohlman, an assistant to the memorial’s owner who made the long drive to Florida to get the missile.

On Friday, with a winch and some chains, Pohlman dragged the rocket onto his trailer. It will be in Missouri before the weekend is out.

Kline knows that if he can’t find a local benefactor, his missile may never return from Missouri.

“If nobody down here wants it, it’ll have a permanent home,” Pohlman said.

Jeff Weiner can be reached at


IAVA Announces Storm the Hill

Dear Sean,

Would you contribute $5 to help a veteran fight for reform on Capitol Hill?

In just 10 days, over two dozen Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will deploy to Washington, D.C. for IAVA's 5th annual Storm the Hill trip – an historic week of meetings with over 100 members of Congress.

Here's where you come in. Can you pitch in to help get them the supplies they need?

The vets will be meeting face-to-face with the White House, the VA, the Department of Defense, and members of Congress to present our legislative priority for 2010: reforming the VA's archaic disability claims system. Right now, some wounded warriors are waiting up to two years for disability benefits – that is unacceptable.

Click here to contribute towards the trip – $5 can pay for transportation between meetings, and with $10, you can pay for one of their meals.

Two years ago, this trip was focused on getting a new G.I. Bill. And that passed. Last year, we focused on securing advance funding for the VA. Now, that's a reality as well.

Click here to make a donation towards Storm the Hill, and help write this year's success story.

The men and women going to Storm the Hill aren't lobbyists or politicians. They're members of our nation's newest generation of heroes, and along with veterans across the country, they're counting on you to help us win this fight.

Thank you for standing with us.



Paul Rieckhoff
Executive Director & Founder
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)

Army Secretary McHugh Releases Wanat Investigation Statement

                Secretary of the Army John McHugh today released the following statement after receiving the U.S. Central Command investigation results regarding the combat action involving U.S. Army forces at Wanat, Afghanistan, on July 13, 2008. Nine U.S. Army soldiers were killed and 27 were wounded during that battle.
                "I have directed the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, Gen. Charles Campbell, to review the recommendations and take action as he deems appropriate with regard to Army personnel identified in the report within 90 days.
                "We remain in close contact with the families of our fallen from this battle, and they will be invited to a comprehensive briefing on the investigation following Gen. Campbell's actions.
                "We must be an Army that is committed to continuous self-assessment and improvement. Analysis of this investigation's findings provides us the opportunity to better ensure we are doing everything possible to safeguard the lives and treasure entrusted to us while ensuring mission success."
                The Army will defer public release of any further information on the matter until families have been briefed on findings and any action taken. Media may contact Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, 703-697-2564, or .

Nurse Finds Healing From Post-traumatic Stress

Nurse Finds Healing From Post-traumatic Stress
Thu, 28 Jan 2010 10:12:00 -0600

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md., Jan. 28, 2010 – As a critical care nurse, Air Force Lt. Col. Mary Carlisle's focus always has been on helping others. It wasn't until a harrowing deployment to Iraq that the tables turned, and she became the one in need of aid.

Carlisle described her battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and the healing she eventually found at the 2010 Military Health System Conference held at the National Harbor here.

Carlisle, then a major, deployed to the Air Force theater hospital at Balad Air Base in 2007. She worked the night shift, when most of the casualties seemed to come in, she said, and took care of U.S. servicemembers, as well as Iraqi soldiers, women and children.

"I knew from Day 2 that this was going to be stressful — the combination of heat, sleep deprivation, noise … [and the] inundation of helicopters coming in one right after another," she said Jan. 26 during an interview at the conference. "And you just knew that they had casualties on them."

The wounds were like nothing the seasoned critical care nurse had ever seen. "These were just horrific," Carlisle said. "People with no arms, no legs, people that by all rights shouldn't even be alive, and they were."

The health care team did everything they could to save each patient, but often all they could do was provide comfort in the inevitability of death, she said.

While they saved many lives, Carlisle said, she could focus only on the lives that were lost. "I thought I failed — that I didn't do enough," she said.

In the midst of the chaotic everyday pace in Balad, one incident remains a sharp memory, she said. A young Marine had suffered a gunshot wound to the back of his head, and he wasn't expected to survive.

"When you at looked at his young, 20-something-year-old, angelic face, you just thought he was sleeping," she said.

Carlisle gave him pain medication and stayed by his side until he took his last breath. After preparations for his departure, Carlisle, as the highest-ranking officer in the room, called the room to attention as the body was wheeled out, a custom referred to as a Fallen Angel ceremony.

All activity in the bustling intensive care unit came to a halt as every servicemember in the room snapped to attention and saluted until the body left the room.

"That will follow him wherever he goes," Carlisle said, "all the way down to his trip … when he is removed from the plane at Dover [Air Force Base, Del.]. From the moment of his death, I was the first one to do that. I will always remember that."

After five months at Balad, Carlisle returned to her home station at the Royal Air Force base in Lakenheath, England, as the chief of a family practice clinic and an emergency room. Her staff often asked her questions about her deployment, questions she said she wasn't sure how to answer. She was angry at the world, she said, and that came across in her responses.

"Some things I said, I think, kind of shocked them," she said. "So I stopped talking about it."

Carlisle said she buried her feelings then and continued to do so after she was promoted to her current job as the chief nurse at the Bolling Air Force Base clinic in Washington, D.C. It wasn't until she attended some leadership conferences that her emotions threatened to get the best of her. At the conferences, videos were played showing the Balad hospital, and Carlisle immediately recognized the scenes.

"They were from my deployment," she said. "It just brought everything back, all of those emotions back."

Carlisle revealed her overwhelming stress, anger and depression to her friends, and they encouraged her to get help. She self-referred to behavioral health and finally faced the emotions she'd been squelching for so long.

Her counselor helped her to re-experience her deployment and to find the healing she so desperately needed. Even as she healed, ever the caregiver, Carlisle discovered a desire to help others battling the same issues.

She reached out to the Real Warriors campaign, which features stories of servicemembers who have sought treatment and continue to maintain successful military or civilian careers. This initiative, launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, is aimed at combating the stigma associated with seeking psychological health care and treatment, according to the Real Warriors Web site.

Her video profile now is featured on the site, she said, and she has no regrets about going public with her story.

"I hope this inspires others to go and get treatment, and at the same time, inspires their leaders, their supervisors, to look them in the eye and really say, 'Are you OK?'"

Carlisle next is headed to a squadron commander job at Misawa Air Base, Japan. She's ready for the new position and for the other more difficult challenges that may lie ahead, she said.

"I feel so good now — content, relieved and at peace," she said. "And I'm ready to deploy again."

Related Sites:
Real Warriors Campaign
Air Force Lt. Col. Mary Carlisle's Real Warriors Profile
Other Profiles
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury

Two Koreas trade fire, spooks markets

Koreas exchange fire near sea border, markets drop

SEOUL, Jan 27 (Reuters) – North and South Korea on Wednesday exchanged what appeared to be artillery fire near a disputed sea border with the South off the west coast of the peninsula, Yonhap news agency reported government officials as saying.

South Korea's presidential Blue House said both sides were firing into the air and there were no casualties, according to Yonhap. It has called a meeting of top national security officials.

Source: Reuters
* Exchange of land-based artillery fire, no casualties

* Incident seen as North attempt to increase leverage

* Seoul stock market and currency briefly impacted

* Little long-term market impact seen from standoff

By Jack Kim

SEOUL, Jan 27 (Reuters) – North and South Korea exchanged artillery fire near their disputed sea border on Wednesday, the second time in three months the rivals have clashed and briefly sending prices down on jittery Seoul financial markets.

Analysts doubted the latest clash would escalate and saw it more as an attempt by Pyongyang to stress the instability on the Korean peninsula and press home its demand for a peace deal that would open the way to international aid for its ruined economy.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North fired artillery shots from land towards the South but landing on its side of the disputed sea border off the west coast.

South Korea returned fire from its coastal artillery.

The presidential Blue House said both sides fired into the air and there were no casualties, according to Yonhap, adding it had called a meeting of top national security officials.

North Korean state media made no comment on the incident.

Earlier this week it accused the South of declaring war by saying it would launch a pre-emptive strike if it had clear signs the North was preparing a nuclear attack.

The latest clash also comes amid signals from Pyongyang it was ready to return after a year-long boycott to six-country talks — between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States — on ending its atomic arms programme.

"North Korea may want to return to the six-party talks, but only to ease pressure on itself and gain more economic assistance, which it really needs now," said Zhang Liangui, who is an expert on North Korea at the Central Party School, a prominent institute in Beijing.

"So North Korea wants to control the pace of contacts with South Korea and the United States. Incidents such as this are a way for it to show that it can control how and when there is any progress," Zhang said.

In return for resuming disarmament negotiations, North Korea has demanded talks on a peace treaty with the United States to finally end the 1950-53 Korean War and the lifting of U.N. sanctions over its two nuclear tests.

Analysts say tightened sanctions since last year have badly hit the failing economy, especially its main export — weapons.

There have also been overtures for dialogue with Seoul after two years of increasingly tense ties with the government of President Lee Myung-bak who has linked improved relations to action by the North to disarm and end the security risk affecting the peninsula and the rest of prosperous North Asia.


News of the firing rattled markets, with Seoul's main stock exchange <.KS11> briefly extending losses and the won wiping out early gains against the dollar.

Both later recovered and analysts saw little long-term impact from the standoff.

"Investors know that North Korea is in dire need of material support, and the country will not likely take drastic action," said Shim Jae-youb, a market analyst at Meritz Securities.

North Korea has declared a no-sail zone in the Yellow Sea waters for two months ending in late March, South Korea's Unification Ministry said, a sign it might be preparing to test fire missiles.

The area is near a contested sea border between the rival Koreas that was the site of a brief naval clash in November as well as deadly confrontations in previous years between the states which are technically still at war. [ID:nSEO284842]

About a month before that clash, North Korea raised regional security concerns by firing short-range missiles off its east coast. (Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz, Christine Kim and Jungyoun Park in Seoul and Chris Buckley in

More Cosponsors for H.R.4051

I would like to thank Rep Chaka Fattah, [PA-2], Rep John Murtha, [PA-12] for co-sponsoring "H.R.4051 – the Cold War Service Medal Act" today! Contact your congressman and get them on board S.2743/H.R.4051

McNerney to secretary of Veterans Affairs: Keep Livermore VA hospital open

Updated: 01/22/2010 05:07:32 PM PST

LIVERMORE — Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, made a personal plea this week to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to keep open the Livermore VA Medical Center, which has long been earmarked for closure.

The congressman met with Shinseki on Thursday in Washington, D.C., according to a news release sent by McNerney's office. McNerney argued on behalf of the Livermore facility, whose tranquil setting he has often argued would make a good site for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression.

"I shared with the secretary the importance of veterans' services being available at the Livermore VA, and urged him to consider options that will keep the facility in veterans' hands," McNerney said in the release.

The congressman also urged Shinseki to expedite the site selection for a planned veterans medical facility in San Joaquin Valley. The facility is sorely needed to provide relief to San Joaquin veterans who have long had to commute for medical services, he said.

Veterans Benefits Equality

President Barack Obama

January 12, 2010

Dear President Obama,

I am writing you today because I have a dream one day all veterans will be treated as equal. Today, to many peoples surprise they are not. Cold War era veterans. are currently treated unfairly by a arbitrary system of dates that are used for determining VA healthcare and pension eligibility. This system leads to a staggering number of inequities in determining who is and who is not eligible for certain VA benefits.

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order 10925, which created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and mandated that projects financed with federal funds “take affirmative action” to ensure that hiring and employment practices free of racial bias. Ground breaking affirmative action program called first step that allowed minority students and workers have the same opportunities to receive a employment or education as everyone else. What I am asking today is that you reform the VA system so that veterans of all eras receive the same treatment by the VA when it comes to benefits free of bias .

Mr. President your administration has brought hope to the country that change is on the way. It is my sincere hope that can reform this inherently unfair system. We all took the same oath and no veteran is more or less worthy than any other. We all are veterans no matter when we served our country.

I will come to Washington with representatives from American Cold War Veterans anytime to discuss this matter and present some ideas for improving the VA benefits system. Please contact us we can help make this happen.

I have a dream Mr. President can you help make it come true.

Thank You.


Sean P. Eagan

Public Affairs Director Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans

Life Member Veterans of Foreign Wars

Jamestown , NY

West desert

Army says it used ‘voluntary human subjects,’ but ill man says ‘I was private first class I did anything they told me to do.’

By Matthew D. LaPlante

The Salt Lake Tribune

A large pile of artillery shells at one of the many… (Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune )

Even those who know the area best won’t step far off the narrow, muddy road that runs through the center of the desolate toxic dump at Utah’s Deseret Chemical Depot.

It’s been more than 30 years since the U.S. Army used this vast scrubland, known as the East Demilitarization Area, to dispose of a deadly arsenal of chemical and conventional munitions — but the military still hasn’t figured out how to clean up its mess.

The Defense Department does acknowledge the disaster, just as it has belatedly admitted having tested a gamut of chemical and biological weapons on military members in Utah’s vast west desert during the Cold War. But the U.S.

Artillery shells rest and rust in a toxic dump in Tooele County. The U.S. military is trying to identify and mitigate the ecological problems left over from the Cold War. From 1945 to the 1970s, munitions and chemicals were disposed of in open trenches. The military doesn’t know how it will clean up the dump and officials say it could take many decades. (Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune )

government insists that the tests have contributed to long-term illnesses in only a handful of exposed service members. And that has led the Department of Veterans Affairs to deny almost all claims for care and compensation made by those who believe they got sick as a result of the tests.

Although the Cold War was fought mainly by proxy and politicians, it was not without its casualties: Many died while waiting on the military to so much as acknowledge its secret programs.

Now, Dwight Bunn fears he might also slip away before the government takes responsibility for its actions.

The former soldier is sick. And he wants to know why.

‘Don’t worry, this stuff won’t hurt you.’ »Bunn was 21 years old when he arrived at Dugway Proving Ground, just over the snow-dusted hills from the Deseret demilitarization dump, in Tooele County. The official mission of his unit, the 45th Chemical Company, was to create smoke screens for infantry assaults. But in the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, the Army had other uses for the group.

Among the company’s secretive duties: Helping to dispose of the carcasses of animals used in chemical weapons tests.

David Davidson, an Army veteran, can’t say definitively that he was sickened by his exposure to mass destruction munitions at Dugway — but he can’t say he wasn’t either. The West Haven man now must undergo four hours of kidney dialysis three times a week. (Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune )
in the 1940s and continuing through the 1970s, the Army tested and disposed of thousands of tons of chemical and biological agents in sparsely populated Utah, including munitions loaded with sarin, VX, mustard, tabun and various hallucinogens.

Bunn, whose tour of duty in Utah began as the U.S. was beginning to build up its forces in Vietnam, also believes members of his unit were exposed to Agent Orange. “They told us, ‘Don’t worry, this stuff won’t hurt you. It’s a defoliant and so it will kill the trees, but you’ll be fine,” he said.

Bunn said military officials have told him they can find no record of Utah tests involving the toxic herbicide, which has been linked to dozens of medical conditions.

But for the Washington state man, the government’s denials are less than convincing. After all, the military spent years disavowing the tests altogether. The denials ended in the late 1990s, but the government has offered medical care and compensation only to those who can establish, by a preponderance of evidence, their illnesses were the result of exposure.

As of 2008, just 39 of 614 benefit claims filed by veterans in relation to tests nationwide had been approved.

Bunn, who suffers from restrictive lung disease, has asked the VA for care and compensation for his condition, in which tissue surrounding the lungs hardens and makes it difficult to exhale.

But the 65-year-old veteran’s claim has been denied. And he’s infuriated by a government that kept the program secret for decades, and now expects him and others to be able to offer proof that the tests made them sick.

“I’ve been exposed to a hell of a lot of stuff,” he said. “Can I say definitively what did this to me? No I can’t. But I’ve never lied about it. The military — it conducted tests on humans and didn’t acknowledge it. That’s not right.”

‘Blow it up and burn it.’ » Long rows of wooden pallets, stacked with bomb casings and ragged pieces of shrapnel, memorialize the Army’s last attempt to clean up the Deseret demilitarization dump. The inefficient bomb-by-bomb effort was abandoned in the 1980s when military leaders realized it was too dangerous to continue.
An artillery shell rests in a toxic dump in Tooele County, in an area of the Deseret Chemical Depot used to dispose of hazardous waste. (Al Hartmann / The Salt Lake Tribune )

“They just walked away,” said Troy Johnson, Deseret’s environmental program manager.

It’s hard to understand why they even started. Just to the south of Deseret’s colossal, modern weapons incinerator, the charred shells of nearly 60,000 mortars form an artificial bluff hundreds of feet across. Some of the bombs are believed to be filled with the hardened remnants of mustard agent.

Not far away, ditches the size of swimming pools are filled with paint cans, fire extinguishers, oil drums, tear gas canisters and cluster bombs. Unexploded ordnance litters the ground.

When a lightning fire blazed through Deseret in 1999, explosions sent white smoke into the air as long-discarded phosphorus grenades were ignited. In some areas, the soil has a green hue; military environmental experts believe that’s where napalm was dumped.

The toxic disaster area covers thousands of acres.

“It was perfectly acceptable, back then, to just take this stuff out here, blow it up and burn it,” Johnson said. “Today, when we discard of these weapons, we have to be 99.999 — and then some more nines — percent clean. Back then, out here, they simply lit a match.”

‘You’re supposed to be obedient’ »David Davidson can’t say definitively that he was sickened by his exposure to mass destruction munitions at Dugway — but he can’t say he wasn’t either.

“The question is: Who knows?” said Davidson, who suffers from several types of cancer, kidney failure and heart disease and undergoes 12 hours of dialysis each week. “All I know is that I have a list of things wrong with me, but I’ve never been given a list of the things I was exposed to.”

The VA has denied the 73-year-old veteran’s requests for care.

The Army asserts it tested biological and chemical agents on “volunteer human subjects.” But Davidson — who arrived at Dugway in 1961 — takes issue with the notion that the tests were in any way voluntary.

“I was a PFC — a private first class,” Davidson said. “You know what that means? That means I did anything they told me to do.”

Once, Davidson recalled, he and other soldiers were packed into the back of an M35 cargo truck and driven into the desert, where a grid had been set up with stakes and string. “They stood us all out there, each at a different distance from where they were going to set off an explosion and told us to stick it out as the gas went off. Then we were supposed to come back and tell them how it affected us.”

Davidson doesn’t know what the gas was, but it created “a big fog” and sent him to his knees, gasping for breath.

“It’s interesting that they would do such a thing,” he said. “But when you’re in the military, you’re supposed to be obedient, and I did what I was told.”

‘They said this never happened.’ » For decades, military leaders remained silent about “Project 112,” a slew of tests overseen by the Army’s Deseret Test Center in Salt Lake City. Beginning in the 1960s, the program tested chemical and biological agents, including VX, sarin and e. Coli, on unknowing military personnel.

When the tests were finally acknowledged, the Defense Department agreed to help the VA track down those who were exposed. But in a report issued in 2008, the General Accountability Office scolded the military for its lackluster effort.

According to the report, the military arbitrarily ended its attempts to find victims in 2003 — even as some veteran advocates were finding hundreds of others whose illnesses might have been caused or aggravated by their exposure.

The GAO report didn’t surprise Douglas Rosinski, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represented a group of veterans that helped force an end to years of Pentagon silence about the tests.

“For 40 years, they said this never happened,” Rosinski said. “I would be surprised if the government was still being anything other than absolutely reluctant.”

Michael Kilpatrick, director of strategic communications for the Military Health System, said a renewed effort to locate service members exposed to chemical and biological testing will likely conclude in 2011.

More than 60 years after the testing began, Kilpatrick said, the government is still investigating “what exposures each individual may have had and to evaluate each individual’s current health.”

In the meantime, he said, “these individuals are eligible for an evaluation by the VA.”

And, for most, that’s all they’ll get.

Meanwhile, veterans who were exposed to the tests are fading into history. Bunn, the former soldier who was assigned to pick up animal carcasses, knows of just one other man from his unit who is still alive. “And the last time I spoke with him, he was having trouble remembering much about what happened out there.”

Ultimately, Bunn said, the human evidence of the tests will be gone. “All that will be left is the desert we used to stomp around in,” he said.

The California neuropathologist who discovered damage in the brains of former professional football players has found similar damage in the brain of a deceased Vietnam veteran — a potentially groundbreaking finding that suggests combat troops who suffer head trauma might be susceptible to a degenerative brain disease.

Dr. Bennet Omalu, an expert in forensic neuropathology and the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, Calif., said the 61-year-old Army veteran had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as psychotic behavior, much of which had been attributed to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the autopsy showed something else: an abnormal buildup of harmful proteins in the vet’s brain, the same proteins linked to repetitive concussions in boxers, and now football players.

“This is a sentinel case,” Omalu said. “The brain findings in this deceased Army veteran are similar to the brain findings in the retired contact-sport athletes. Now, we need to look at more brains.”

The case suggests that some veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological disorder, may actually have brain disease caused by concussions, he said.

Links between concussions, brain function and PTSD are being widely and carefully explored by military researchers such as Dr. James Kelly, a leading concussion expert who is overseeing long-term studies on troops.

Not all researchers agree that concussion-related brain disease is a main or important culprit. But all say that more brains and more time are needed to crack open the mystery of how a head injury can affect a combat veteran’s mind.

Doctors hope such findings will lead to earlier diagnoses of problems inside the brain, and eventually to the development of drugs that can slow the deterioration process.

The tau factor

Omalu autopsied the veteran soldier, whose name cannot be released due to patient privacy laws, after he died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in 2007.

It was a routine examination, but Omalu became suspicious after the medical history revealed a litany of psychological disorders, such as PTSD and manic depression. Many of the former football players Omalu autopsied had similar histories, so he kept the veteran’s brain for further testing.

Shavings of the brain were bathed in chemicals that react to abnormal proteins, marking them as brown and red splotches. Omalu recognized what he saw. “I saw tau,” he said, “the same protein I saw in the contact-sport athletes.”

Though he cannot prove the veteran suffered head trauma from blasts in combat, Omalu said it’s possible, because the former soldier had never shown any signs of psychotic behavior or drug use prior to going to Vietnam, according to family members and medical records.

It has long been known that boxers who suffer too many blows to the head can suffer long-term brain damage — a condition dubbed dementia pugilistica. Now, there is growing scientific evidence that persistent head trauma, like repeated concussions in football, can contribute to the build up of tau.

Tau “impairs normal functioning and eventually kills the brain cells,” Omalu said. It causes a degenerative neurological condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The condition can mimic Alzheimer’s disease: its symptoms include dementia, memory loss and depression. But the condition differs from Alzheimer’s in that only tau is detected in the brain cells, rather than in combination with beta-amyloids, other proteins thought to play a part in Alzheimer’s.

Also with CTE, tau is only found in certain regions of the brain rather than spread throughout it, as in Alzheimer’s. Tau cannot be detected by MRIs or CT scans, and as of now can only be tested for during an autopsy.

In 2002, Omalu diagnosed the first known case of CTE in a former professional football player after studying the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. Omalu, then a medical examiner in Pittsburgh, published his findings in the medical journal Neurosurgery.

Doctors employed by the NFL challenged his work, but family members of former football players asked Omalu to test for CTE, and he diagnosed several more cases in deceased players, including two more Steelers, guard Terry Long and offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk, and Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters.

Now, excessive tau has been found in the brains of 11 deceased NFL players, two professional wrestlers and a hockey player.

“Every time your brain receives a jolt that would move it back and forth at a high rate of speed in your head, irreversible brain damage may occur,” Omalu said.

The brain does not simply heal itself, Omalu explained, and even concussions in which a person does not lose consciousness or recovers quickly may result in brain damage later. Whether head trauma is solely responsible for triggering the buildup of harmful proteins within the brain cells is not known, and doctors are researching if steroid and drug use or genetics augment the development of CTE.

“There is no exclusive cause,” Omalu said, “But (head) trauma is a significant contributing factor.”

New research front

Since 2000, about 160,000 servicemembers have been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, caused by powerful explosions.

Whether troops will suffer the same long-term damage as head-crunching football players or punch-drunk boxers is of paramount importance to the military, whose researchers in recent years have also wondered about links between concussions on the battlefield and PTSD. The military is currently funding some 50 studies looking into TBI, PTSD and other brain disorders.

Military researchers are developing databases and studies that will follow troops with mild traumatic brain injuries to see if they exhibit neurological problems as they age, said Kelly, the neurologist, who is working with the military as part of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injuries.

“It’s a complex picture,” Kelly said. “We don’t have a handle on the long-term effects of what happens to these people.”

Kelly said he had never heard of CTE being diagnosed in a combat veteran, and would not comment on Omalu’s findings because Omalu had not yet published them.

Kelly, who is directing a research group and clinic dedicated to the study of mild traumatic brain injuries in troops, said his team would be in an ideal position to examine combat vets for CTE because they will be able to match extensive clinical records with autopsy findings.

“We are concerned that CTE is a condition that we need to watch for,” he said, “We will be looking into these possibilities with diligence. That is what the center is intended to do.”

Kelly said doctors are already looking at the neuropathology behind PTSD, citing a recent study that shows hyperactivity in some regions of the brain.

There was also a study, which Kelly worked on, showing that troops with PTSD who have never had concussions can show the same cognitive and emotional problems as those with mild traumatic brain injuries.

“Our job is to look at the problems that they have now and help them,” Kelly said of combat veterans with mild traumatic brain injuries. “And we don’t want to guess at what is going to happen to them down the road.”

Blasts near the brain

When a bomb explodes, violent waves of air called overpressures can rupture hollow organs, such as the intestines and lungs, and bruise solid organs. The force also affects the brain’s structure and functioning, said Dr. Shawna Scully, an Army major and chief of neurology at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

“There is going to be a question now,” Scully said. “Are there links between repeated exposure to concussion in the combat environment that could be culminating in a risk to our servicemembers in the future?”

Omalu said combat veterans who suffer head trauma from their proximity to blasts will likely receive the same type of jolts — quick acceleration and deceleration forces of the brain slamming into the skull — as football players or boxers do. Neurologist Dr. Ann McKee, who has examined the brains of several former athletes as the director of neuropathology services for the New England Veterans Administration, thought likewise.

“Some of the injury is probably quite similar,” she said, “but I would have to examine individuals who have had blast injuries.”

All the doctors interviewed agreed that there is scant information about how blasts affect the brain, since it’s only recently that combat vets have been able to survive such blasts in large numbers, thanks to improvements in body armor and better first aid on the battlefield.

Also, blasts damage many parts of the body, and troops injured in them often arrive at hospitals with gashes from shrapnel, profuse blood loss, severed limbs, damaged lungs, burns and often more than one of the above. All these injuries can alter the brain’s ability to function, Scully said.

Scully, however, was cautious about linking harmful proteins in the brain to PTSD and possible long-term brain damage in servicemembers with mild traumatic brain injuries.

“When you are talking about chronic neurodegenerative disorders, you are going to see accumulations like this,” she said of the buildup of tau proteins, “and you are going to see other concerns as well.”

Treatment hopes

McKee, who is also the director of Boston University’s brain bank and co-director of an institute dedicated to the study of CTE, said she has suspicions of a link between concussions and PTSD.

“In my personal opinion,” she said, “there may be a significant subset of patients with PTSD that actually have brain disease.”

A person’s mood, Omalu explained, is maintained by a delicate balance of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.

“Tau kills the brain cells that synthesize these neurotransmitters and you lose your ability to maintain your mood,” he said. “No matter how much Prozac you give them, you are not going to stop that destruction.”

When the athletes diagnosed with CTE reached their 40s, some even earlier, they began to suffer depression, memory loss, severe mood swings and dementia. The football players were also prone to suicide. Long drank anti-freeze, Waters shot himself in his home, and Strzelczyk slammed his car into an oncoming tractor-trailer.

Omalu and his colleague — neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes — are trying to find ways to test for tau in a living person by tapping the spinal fluid or examining the blood. They are also working with pharmaceutical companies to possibly develop drugs that would prevent the buildup of these harmful proteins after head trauma.

“I think we can develop some sort of intervention treatment that will mitigate the advancement of traumatic brain injuries,” Omalu said.

He also hopes servicemembers, especially those who have been diagnosed with PTSD or who have suffered concussions on the battlefield, will agree to let their brains be studied after their deaths.

“I’ve met military personnel diagnosed with schizophrenia who before they went into the Army to serve were fine,” Omalu said. “We’re talking about drug treatment to prevent these diseases. We’re just beginning to understand the science of brain trauma, and we can only get better at it.”