Soldiers, Mental illness, Drugs and Suicide

Dallas Contact Crisis Line forum to raise awareness of military suicides
March 25, 2010
By DAVID TARRANT

After eight years of war marked by repeated deployments, military families have endured great sacrifices – but few as much as Maj. Gen. Mark Graham.

In June 2003, his 21-year-old son, Kevin, a promising ROTC cadet at the University of Kentucky, killed himself. He had been diagnosed with depression. Eight months later, the general’s oldest son, Jeff, died in Iraq when a bomb exploded while he led a foot patrol.

Graham and his wife, Carol, mourned privately for several years. But as the military struggled with an increase in suicides, the Army couple began telling their story to raise awareness about depression.

“All I knew was that Kevin’s death did not need to be in vain,” Graham said in a telephone interview joined by his wife. “Carol and I both would never want this ever to happen to anyone else.”

Graham is scheduled to speak about military suicides at a luncheon today in Dallas. Contact Crisis Line, the nonprofit 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, is sponsoring the forum at the Hilton Anatole. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, is also scheduled to speak.

Defense Department figures show that 160 active-duty Army personnel committed suicide in 2009 – up from 140 in 2008 and more than double the 77 suicides reported in 2003. The Army suicide rate is now higher than that of civilians. There is no single explanation, Pentagon officials say, but the wear and tear of repeated deployments appears to be a major factor.

“Soldiers are hurting, families are hurting, and it’s a tough time in the Army,” said Graham, deputy chief of staff of Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Ga. “Being in a war eight-plus years – it’s tough.”

Young veterans leaving military service remain at risk. The Veterans Affairs Department said recently that suicides among 18- to 29-year-old veterans have increased considerably – up 26 percent from 2005 to 2007.

In 2005, the suicide rate per 100,000 veterans among men ages 18 to 29 was 44.99, compared with 56.77 in 2007, the VA said.

“Of the more than 30,000 suicides in this country each year, fully 20 percent of them are acts by veterans,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said at a suicide prevention conference in January. “That means on average, 18 veterans commit suicide each day. Five of those veterans are under our care at VA.”

Graham said: “People need to know that you can die from depression. You can die from untreated depression.”

The VA has expanded mental health services to veterans and added 6,000 new mental health professionals since 2005. A 24-hour suicide prevention hotline that started in July 2007 has received 225,000 calls from veterans, active-duty personnel and family members.

But too many soldiers are reluctant to seek help for depression and anxiety because of the stigma attached to mental illness, Graham said. “One of the things we’ve tried to do is to make it clear that it’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to come forward and ask for help.”

In 2003, Kevin Graham was attending school while sharing an apartment with his siblings, Jeff and Melanie. His parents were living in South Korea, where the general was assigned.

Kevin was a “tender-hearted” child who wanted to be a doctor, said Carol Graham. At his older brother’s graduation from the University of Kentucky in May, Kevin looked in great physical condition, she said. He was exercising and getting ready for an advanced ROTC camp.

But at some point around then, he stopped taking his medication, apparently too embarrassed to admit to the military that he needed it. “He had told no one in ROTC” that he was taking Prozac, his mother said.

The Grahams feel guilt-ridden over Kevin’s death to this day. “I knew Kevin had been having problems,” Mark Graham said. “But it never even entered my mind that he could die from [depression].”

Painful as it is, the Grahams plan to continue to tell their story.

“It’s hard. It’d be easier to just curl up in a corner and do nothing,” Graham said. “But if it helps just one person not die by suicide, then it’s worth it.”

Source

Medicating the military

Use of psychiatric drugs has spiked; concerns surface about suicide, other dangers
By Andrew Tilghman and Brendan McGarry
March 17, 2010

At least one in six service members is on some form of psychiatric drug.

And many troops are taking more than one kind, mixing several pills in daily “cocktails” — for example, an antidepressant with an antipsychotic to prevent nightmares, plus an anti-epileptic to reduce headaches — despite minimal clinical research testing such combinations.

The drugs come with serious side effects: They can impair motor skills, reduce reaction times and generally make a war fighter less effective. Some double the risk for suicide, prompting doctors — and Congress — to question whether these drugs are connected to the rising rate of military suicides.

“It’s really a large-scale experiment. We are experimenting with changing people’s cognition and behavior,” said Dr. Grace Jackson, a former Navy psychiatrist.

A Military Times investigation of electronic records obtained from the Defense Logistics Agency shows DLA spent $1.1 billion on common psychiatric and pain medications from 2001 to 2009. It also shows that use of psychiatric medications has increased dramatically — about 76 percent overall, with some drug types more than doubling — since the start of the current wars.

THE FULL INVESTIGATION:

Could meds be responsible for suicides?

Downrange: ‘Any soldier can deploy on anything’

How drugs enter the war zone

Troops and military health care providers also told Military Times that these medications are being prescribed, consumed, shared and traded in combat zones — despite some restrictions on the deployment of troops using those drugs.

The investigation also shows that drugs originally developed to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are now commonly used to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as headaches, nightmares, nervousness and fits of anger.

Such “off-label” use — prescribing medications to treat conditions for which the drugs were not formally approved by the FDA — is legal and even common. But experts say the lack of proof that these treatments work for other purposes, without fully understanding side effects, raises serious concerns about whether the treatments are safe and effective.

The DLA records detail the range of drugs being prescribed to the military community and the spending on them:

• Antipsychotic medications, including Seroquel and Risperdal, spiked most dramatically — orders jumped by more than 200 percent, and annual spending more than quadrupled, from $4 million to $16 million.

• Use of anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives such as Valium and Ambien also rose substantially; orders increased 170 percent, while spending nearly tripled, from $6 million to about $17 million.

• Antiepileptic drugs, also known as anticonvulsants, were among the most commonly used psychiatric medications. Annual orders for these drugs increased about 70 percent, while spending more than doubled, from $16 million to $35 million.

• Antidepressants had a comparatively modest 40 percent gain in orders, but it was the only drug group to show an overall decrease in spending, from $49 million in 2001 to $41 million in 2009, a drop of 16 percent. The debut in recent years of cheaper generic versions of these drugs is likely responsible for driving down costs.

Antidepressants and anticonvulsants are the most common mental health medications prescribed to service members. Seventeen percent of the active-duty force, and as much as 6 percent of deployed troops, are on antidepressants, Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, the Army’s highest-ranking psychiatrist, told Congress on Feb. 24.

In contrast, about 10 percent of all Americans take antidepressants, according to a 2009 Columbia University study.

Suicide risks

Many of the newest psychiatric drugs come with strong warnings about an increased risk for suicide, suicidal behavior and suicidal thoughts.

Doctors — and, more recently, lawmakers — are questioning whether the drugs could be responsible for the spike in military suicides during the past several years, an upward trend that roughly parallels the rise in psychiatric drug use.

From 2001 to 2009, the Army’s suicide rate increased more than 150 percent, from 9 per 100,000 soldiers to 23 per 100,000. The Marine Corps suicide rate is up about 50 percent, from 16.7 per 100,000 Marines in 2001 to 24 per 100,000 last year. Orders for psychiatric drugs in the analysis rose 76 percent over the same period.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the newer antidepressants commonly prescribed by the military can cause or worsen suicidal tendancys, aggression and other dangerous mental states,” said Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist who testified at the same Feb. 24 congressional hearing at which Sutton appeared.

Other side effects — increased irritability, aggressiveness and hostility — also could pose a risk.

“Imagine causing that in men and women who are heavily armed and under a great deal of stress,” Breggin said.

He cited dozens of clinical studies conducted by drug companies and submitted to federal regulators, including one among veterans that showed “completed suicide rates were approximately twice the base rate following antidepressant starts in VA clinical settings.”

But many military doctors say the risks are overstated and argue that the greater risk would be to fail to fully treat depressed troops.

For suicide, “depression is a big risk factor,” too, said Army Reserve Col. (Dr.) Thomas Hicklin, who teaches clinical psychiatry at the University of Southern California. “To withhold the medications can be a huge problem.”

Nevertheless, Hicklin said the risks demand strict oversight. “The access to weapons is a very big concern with someone who is feeling suicidal,” he said. “It has to be monitored very carefully because side effects can occur.”

Defense officials repeatedly have denied requests by Military Times for copies of autopsy reports that would show the prevalence of such drugs in suicide toxicology reports.

‘Then it’s over’

Spc. Mike Kern enlisted in 2006 and spent a year deployed in 2008 with the 4th Infantry Division as an armor crewman, running patrols out of southwest Baghdad.

Kern went to the mental health clinic suffering from nervousness, sleep problems and depression. He was given Paxil, an antidepressant that carries a warning label about increased risk for suicide.

A few days later, while patrolling the streets in the gunner’s turret of a Humvee, he said he began having serious thoughts of suicide for the first time in his life.

“I had three weapons: a pistol, my rifle and a machine gun,” Kern said. “I started to think, ‘I could just do this and then it’s over.’ That’s where my brain was: ‘I can just put this gun right here and pull the trigger and I’m done. All my problems will be gone.’”

Kern said the incident scared him, and he did not take any more drugs during that deployment. But since his return, he has been diagnosed with PTSD and currently takes a variety of psychotropic medications.

Other side effects cited by troops who used such drugs in the war zones include slowed reaction times, impaired motor skills, and attention and memory problems.

One 35-year-old Army sergeant first class said he was prescribed the anticonvulsant Topamax to prevent the onset of debilitating migraines. But the drug left him feeling mentally sluggish, and he stopped taking it.

“Some people call it ‘Stupamax’ because it makes you stupid,” said the sergeant, who asked not to be identified because he said using such medication carries a social stigma in the military.

Being slow — or even “stupid” — might not be a critical problem for some civilians. But it can be deadly for troops working with weapons or patrolling dangerous areas in a war zone, said Dr. John Newcomer, a psychiatry professor at Washington University in St. Louis and a former fellow at the American Psychiatric Association.

“A drug that is really effective and it makes you feel happy and calm and sleepy … might be a great medication for the general population,” Newcomer said, “but that might not make sense for an infantryman in a combat arena.

“If it turns out that people on a certain combo are getting shot twice as often, you would start to worry if they were as ‘heads up’ as they should have been,” Newcomer said. “There is so much on the line, you’d really like to have more specific military data to inform the prescribing.”

Military doctors say they take a service member’s mission into consideration before prescribing.

“Obviously, one would be concerned about what the person does,” said Col. C.J. Diebold, chief of the Department of Psychiatry at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. “If they have a desk job, that may factor in what medication you may be recommending for the patient [compared with] if they are out there and they have to be moving around and reacting fairly quickly.”

Off-label use

Little hard research has been done on such unique aspects of psychiatric drug usage in the military, particularly off-label usage.

A 2009 VA study found that 60 percent of veterans receiving antipsychotics were taking them for problems for which the drugs are not officially approved. For example, only two are approved for treating PTSD — Paxil and Zoloft, according to the Food and Drug Administration. But in actuality, doctors prescribe a range of drugs to treat PTSD symptoms.

To win FDA approval, drug makers must prove efficacy through rigorous and costly clinical trials. But approval determines only how a drug can be marketed; once a drug is approved for sale, doctors legally can prescribe it for any reason they feel appropriate.

Such off-label use comes with some risk, experts say.

“Patients may be exposed to drugs that have problematic side effects without deriving any benefit,” said Dr. Robert Rosenheck, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University who studied off-label drug use among veterans. “We just don’t know. There haven’t been very many studies.”

Some military psychiatrists are reluctant to prescribe off-label.

“It’s a slippery slope,” said Hicklin, the Army psychiatrist. “Medication can be overused. We need to use medication when indicated and we hope that we are all on the same page … with that.”

Combination’s of drugs pose another risk. Doctors note that most drugs are tested as a single treatment, not as one ingredient in a mixture of medications.

“In the case of poly-drug use – the ‘cocktail’ — where you are combining an antidepressant, an anticonvulsant, an antipsychotic, and maybe a stimulant to keep this guy awake — that has never been tested,” Breggin said.

Newcomer agreed. “When we go to the literature and try to find support for these complex cocktails, we’re not going to find it,” he said. “As the number of medications goes up, the probability of adverse events like hospitalization or death goes up exponentially.”

Looking for answers

Pinpointing the reasons for broad shifts in the military’s drug use today is difficult. Each doctor prescribes medications for the patient’s individual needs.

Nevertheless, many doctors in and outside the military point to several variables — some unique to the military, some not.

A close look at the data shows that use of the antipsychotic and anticonvulsant drugs, also known as “mood stabilizers,” are growing much faster than antidepressants. That may correlate to the challenges that deployed troops face when they arrive back home and begin to readjust to civilian social norms and family life.

“The ultimate effect of both of these drugs is to take the heightened arousal — the hypervigilance and all the emotions that served you once you were deployed — and help to turn that back down,” said Dr. Frank Ochberg, former associate director for the National Institute of Mental Health and a psychiatry professor at Michigan State University who reviewed the Military Times analysis.

Dr. Harry Holloway, a retired Army colonel and a psychiatry professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., said the increased use of these medications is simply another sign of deployment stress on the force.

“For a long time, the ops tempo has been completely unrelieved and unrestrained,” Holloway said. “When you have an increased ops tempo, and you have certain scheduling that will make it hard for everyone, you will produce a more symptomatic force. Most commanders understand that and they understand the tradeoffs.” Source

This is a long list. It is an accumulations of things that happen to ordinary people on drugs. Soldiers would have many of the same problems.

There are over 2,000 entries. They include

Suicides, Murders, Robberies, Hostage situations And other health related side affects.

4.8 Million Person Increase in Bipolar Disorder in Last 11 Years: Majority Due to SSRI Use

200,000 a Year Enter Hospital Due to Antidepressant- Induced Mania/ Psychosis: FDA Testimony

A few thousand reasons not to take Drugs

After you read it you may think twice about taking  meds.

Don’t Let the DEA Ban Recommending Medical Marijuana for Veterans

The DEA is preventing doctors at veteran’s hospitals from recommending medical marijuana to patients — even in the 14 states where medical marijuana is legal.

The Veterans Administration is taking advice from the DEA based on the federal government’s assertion that marijuana has no medicinal value. This especially tragic because of the widespread evidence that marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for post traumatic stress disorder which is all too common among our veterans.

In fact, in New Mexico for example, PTSD is the most common affliction for patients enrolled in the state’s strictly regulated medical marijuana program.

But veterans who could benefit from medical marijuana, regardless of the legality in their own states, have to go outside the VA system and find new doctors just to learn about and try a potentially helpful medicine.

Sign this petition and tell the Obama administration that our veterans deserve better. They deserve to have doctors who practice medicine, not politics. Source

Give them Medical marijuana, it is much safer then pharmaceutical drugs.

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Erroneous Reports Deny our Veterans Benefits

March 17 2010

The time is now to expedite what they so righteously deserve.

(GARDEN GROVE, Calif.) – As a member of Veterans-For-Change, an advocacy group for Veterans rights, benefits, and treatment, my co-members and I would like to bring to your attention the ever-increasing serious problems affecting veterans and their families every day.

President Barack Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention held in Phoenix, Arizona on August 17, 2009. He stated, “Whether you left the service in 2009 or 1949, we will fulfill our responsibility to deliver the benefits and care that you earned. That’s why I’ve pledged to build nothing less than a 21st-century VA.”

Perhaps you are not aware of the problems affiliated with the VA and Veterans Benefits. Veterans-For-Change would like to address the following problems/issues.

Blue Water Navy & Agent Orange:

Every day, thousands of veterans who served on land and in the waters in Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and CONUS are denied benefits they are entitled to for exposure to dioxin from Agent Orange and other defoliants.

Learn more, visit:

BlueWaterNavy.org

In both S.E. Asia and CONUS Agent Orange was used at least from 1963 through 1975 although there have been reports of use and disposal activities as late as 1978 in Korea as a defoliant. In S.E. Asia, the chemicals were used to protect our troops and prevent the enemy from hiding in the foliage to kill many more of our fighting men and women.

In the CONUS, they were used to keep surroundings of various military buildings free from unwanted vegetation growth and keep it clean and neat looking.

Veterans who served not just in Korea since 1962 but also on the DMZ are denied benefits due to erroneous reports about where these chemicals were deployed and that there is a “residual life” of Agent Orange Dioxin which if this was true, then why are we in Vietnam helping the Vietnamese government to clean up the land that was contaminated some 40 years ago.

According to the reliable website, publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/, “October 13, 2009 Secretary Shinseki decided to establish service-connection for Vietnam Veterans with B cell leukemia, such as hairy cell leukemia; Parkinson’s disease; and ischemic heart disease. This is based on an independent study by the Institute of Medicine showing an association with exposure to Agent Orange. Vietnam veterans with these diseases may be eligible for disability compensation and health care benefits”, however, Secretary Shinseki failed to acknowledge the recommendation for presumption of exposure for the Blue Water Navy.

Veterans-For-Change believes exposure to Agent Orange is truly exposure to a deadly chemical, regardless of the location where it was deployed. One of the chemicals in the Agent Orange herbicide combination contained contaminating traces of TCDD (dioxin). Dioxin has been shown to cause a variety of illnesses in laboratory animals. Studies also suggest that the chemical may be related to a number of cancers and other health effects in humans: publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/health_effects.asp

The research data speaks for itself – Agent Orange was and is a deadly, toxic chemical, destroying the health and lives of many Veterans, including those who served in Korea and on the DMZ.

Many of these Veterans are continuously denied as the missions they served on were, and still to this day remain, classified by the DoD even though former President Bush signed executive order 13292 on March 28, 2003 directing classified missions beyond 25 years be declassified.

Now President Obama has signed Executive Order 13526 to declassify mission orders based on the 25 year rule.

Veterans-For-Change, as an advocacy group, has as its mission to broadcast and inform all veterans about their rights concerning Agent Orange, regardless of when and where the military veteran was exposed. You, the legislators of our proud and courageous country owe a debt of not just gratitude, but benefits and care to our veterans. Please take a stand and help us to provide the best care for our veterans. Take action today

TCE/PCE Contamination, Illnesses CONUS:

Learn more by visiting:

Salem-News.com El Toro articles

For over a year now there have been media outlets such as CNN, Salem News, Veterans Today and countless local newspapers in each region of our nation telling stories of active duty military, veterans and their families all being diagnosed with many unexplained illnesses.

Studies have shown, and evidence presented by several sources showing TCE (chemical degreaser) and PCE (chemical dry cleaning solution) have been used on most, if not all military bases throughout the Continental United States dating back to the mid 1950’s and disposed of by simply dumping waste into the ground. Both chemicals are known carcinogens.

Most recently TCE has been heavily addressed surrounding the Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune, North Carolina where there was a Male Breast Cancer Cluster. According to a recent report, Camp LeJeune is where at least 40 men reported a cancer cluster in this location, all related to exposure at Camp LeJeune, according to the St. Petersburg Times. According to the report published, “A Marine Corps spokesman declined to comment on the cancer cluster, saying epidemiologists were better qualified, but the spokesman noted the Marine Corps had spent approximately 14.5 million on research initiatives regarding health issues…” Perhaps it would be of interest to you to get to the bottom of this so our military will be better protected, able to fight wars, and our Veterans will live a healthier life, proud of their military service and the actions they took to preserve and protect the freedom of American citizens, such as yourself.

Tests have proven the drinking water not only on this base, but other bases as well were contaminated, thus contaminating military personnel and their families as well as civilian personnel who worked on the bases. And let us not forget that TCE/PCE was used on board all ships as well and that cleaning clothing, showering washing hands all put this chemical into their water purification system, also contaminating all those who work and lived on board our ships!

Clear Cell Carcinoma, liver & kidney cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer in men and women, children with Leukemia and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are just some of the illnesses veterans and their families suffer from exposure to these contaminants. Many of these cancers, such as esophageal cancer are terminal, with only a 5% survival rate!

Veterans-For-Change has drafted a bill and we are actively gathering petition signatures to get any member of Congress to sign and present to the floor for a vote and passage to give the benefits to these families who are so desperately in need of medical treatment, healthcare and funding!

Veterans-For-Change would like to know, will you be the one who steps up to the plate and will sign and present this bill?

Contracted Medical Care:

When VA Medical Centers are not readily available, or aren’t able to provide services and care needed in that region, private facilities are contracted.

Less veterans are properly and adequately served and the costs to the taxpayer is several times higher than if the VA would simply add on to a facility to meet the need and/or build a VA Medical Center where needed most to meet the veteran community needs.

Most contracted facilities aren’t even up to par with the standard of health care, charge more and offer less and there are no controls nor is there any over-sight.

A shining example of need are the 100,000 veterans of the Rio Grande Valley who are expected to drive 250 miles each way to the nearest VA Medical Center, and are only provided a very small contracted clinic which is nothing more than an industrial injury clinic, nowhere near able to handle and or understand veterans who suffer illnesses caused by Dioxins, TCE, PCE, Burn Pit fumes, PTSD, etc.

Veterans-For-Change expects members of Congress to uphold the promises of decades to care for those who fought to defend our Country, and to practice what was established by the Continental Congress in 1776 — “the United States has the most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans for any nation in the world.” Now, in the Twenty First Century, it is time to draft, sign, and present legislation to correct wrongs from centuries ago. It is time to practice what was created and promised to motivate, service and care for our veterans – ‘nothing less than a 21st-century VA.’

President Obama has said: “We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America, a commitment that begins with enlistment and must never end.”

If our nation rescinds its promises and ignores its obligation to those who have fought to preserve freedom throughout the world, we compromise the right to ask our men and women to serve and defend our national principals. The choice is yours. With the election of 2010 in mind, please take action to defend and service our country and our proud and deserving veterans today!

Veterans-For-Change has been crying out to all 535 members of Congress going on four years this April 2010, as President Wilson said, a leader’s ears must ring with the voices of the people! Veteran’s voices will be ringing in the polling places come November! Do you hear us?

Source

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March 18, 2010 : Gulf War Veterans need to be made aware of the following articles.  Alert for all female veterans you know the drill!  Self Breast Checks often and Mammograms.  VA does provide this, so make use of that service!

Male Veterans yes you too can get breast cancer.  Again our females will have to teach you the principles of breast self exams.  Basically you work in a clockwise pattern and outward and inner in direction from the clock face.  If you palpate any lumps or bumps under the skin GET IN TO A DOCTOR for further Assessment!

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U.S. military monitors Twitter, YouTube

August 10, 2009

WASHINGTON — As the Pentagon warns of the security risks posed by social networking sites, newly released government documents show the military also uses these Internet tools to monitor and react to coverage of high-profile events.

The U.S. Air Force tracked the instant messaging service Twitter, video carrier YouTube and various blogs to assess the public backlash to the Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty this spring, according to the documents.

While the attempts at damage control failed — “No positive spin is possible,” one PowerPoint chart reads — the episode opens a window into the tactics for operating in a boundless digital news cycle.

This new terrain has slippery slopes for the American military. Facebook, MySpace and other social media sites are popular among service members, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan who want to keep in touch with friends and family. The sites are also valued by military organizations for recruiting or communicating with other federal agencies.

But posting information on them makes it vulnerable to being lost or stolen, according to Pentagon officials. On Thursday hackers shut down Twitter for several hours, while Facebook had intermittent access problems — an indication of the shortcomings of relying on these services.

The Marine Corps’ computer network blocks users from accessing social media sites, which service officials say expose “information to adversaries” and provide “an easy conduit for information leakage.”

That prohibition might extend to other parts of the U.S. military pending a top-level review ordered in late July by Deputy Defence Secretary Bill Lynn. In a memo, Lynn said such sites are important tools but more study is needed to understand their threats and benefits.

Air Force officials are already aware of the potential benefits.

According to the Air Force One documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, a unit called the Combat Information Cell at Tyndall Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Florida monitored the public fallout from the April 27 flight over the Statue of Liberty and offered recommendations for dealing with the fast-breaking story.

The presidential plane took off for New York from Andrews Air Force in the state of Maryland accompanied by two F-16 jet fighters. The purpose of the flight, which wasn’t publicly announced, was to get new photos of the specially modified Boeing 747 with the statue in the background.

The mission became a public relations disaster as panicked New Yorkers, fearing another 9/11-style attack, emptied office buildings. In the aftermath, Louis Caldera, director of the White House military office that authorized the flight, was fired.

The Combat Information Cell’s first assessment of the event said “Web site blog comments ‘furious’ at best.” Local reporting of the flyover was “very critical, highlighting scare factor,” it added.

A Twitter search revealed a rate of one “tweet” per minute about a pair of F-16s chasing a commercial airliner. A tweet is a text message of up to 140 characters delivered to the author’s subscribers, who are known as followers.

Media coverage over the next 24 hours “will focus on local hysteria and lack of public notification,” the cell predicted. “Blogs will continue to be overwhelmingly negative.”

“Damage control requires timely counter-information,” but the opportunity for that had passed, the assessment said. The cell recommended acknowledging the mistake and ensuring it didn’t happen again.

An update on April 28 said the story was still “reverberating, surprisingly resilient.” The tweet rate had grown to three per minute and the words “New York” had been pushed into Twitter’s high-frequency topic category. Videos of the event posted on YouTube had been viewed more than 260,000 times, it said.

1st Air Force spokesman Al Eakle explained that the command had no role in planning or co-ordinating the Air Force One flight. But the units tracked social networks and blog traffic “to obtain what lessons we might learn so as not to repeat them in the future.” The assessments were sent to the command’s leadership so they’d know how the public was reacting, he added.

John Verdi of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington said gray zones can emerge while monitoring social networking sites because participating is based on trust.

“Lots of times individuals upload private or sensitive information that they expect to share with their friends or family and not the whole Internet world,” Verdi said. “It would certainly be a major problem if the government were accessing that information under false pretenses.”

Paul Bove, an Air Force digital media strategist, said service personnel are instructed not to do that. Nor are they to use aliases or represent a position that’s beyond the scope of what they do.

“We always tell people, ‘Stay in your lane and don’t talk about something that you’re not qualified to talk about,”‘ Bove said.

Source

Published in: on August 12, 2009 at 12:36 am  Comments Off on U.S. military monitors Twitter, YouTube  
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