February 1999/March 1999
Office of the National Chaplain
VVA Fosters International Cooperation on PTSD
By Rev. Phil Salois, M.S.
Last November, while attending the annual meeting of the International
Society of Traumatic Stress Studies in Washington, D.C., I had the rare
and wonderful opportunity to meet two young doctors from Tashkent, Uzbekistan,
one of the former Soviet Socialist Republics. Recognizing that I
was a Vietnam veteran, they came up to me, introduced themselves, and immediately
requested my help.
Why had they traveled halfway around the world to attend this
professional mental-health conference? It became immediately apparent in
speaking with Dr. Fuad Aliev (the only one who spoke English) that they
came looking for assistance in learning more about Post-traumatic Stress
Disorder in wartime veterans and how to manage and treat it. They
were also interested in how to get their newly formed government to acknowledge
the existence of PTSD and treat it as a disability. I was able to
introduce them to all the right people in the Department of Veterans Affairs
for the treatment and management of PTSD component and, at the same time,
introduce them to VVA for the advocacy component. What follows is
an article that Dr. Aliev wrote for The VVA Veteran.
Ten years ago on November 15, 1998, the last young uniformed soldier
of the Soviet Army crossed over the Soviet-Afghan border on his way home.
The undeclared war of the Soviet Union against Afghanistan, unofficially
called "The Soviet Vietnam,'' was over. But the war did not end for
hundreds of thousands of veterans. The war is relived in their nightmares.
More than sixty thousand veterans of the Afghan War are now living in
Uzbekistan, a newly independent state. Approximately 20 percent of these
Afghan veterans suffer from PTSD.
Since its independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has been struggling to achieve
economic stability. The socioeconomic condition of veterans, and
particularly veterans with PTSD, worsens each day. Although the Uzbeki
government helps physically disabled veterans through a variety of programs,
PTSD is not recognized as a compensable disability for health and social
benefits. This is why a great number of veterans in Uzbekistan who
suffer from PTSD lack the help necessary to resume a normal life.
The veterans are making efforts to help themselves. As part of
this effort, the Center for Social and Medical Rehabilitation (MEDVA) was
established. "Our center was organized in 1992 based on the initiative
of veterans in order to provide help to veterans suffering from PTSD,''
said Dr. Nykolay Kuzmin, the General Director of MEDVA. "To our regret,
most of the physicians in Uzbekistan have little knowledge of PTSD and
therefore cannot help the veterans. Moreover, some physicians accuse
them of being malingerers. In the former USSR, psychology as a medical
discipline was extremely underdeveloped. There were practically no
psychological services available and, as a result, there are no specialists
in the field of PTSD.''
Last November, two representatives from MEDVA, Dr. Nykolay Kuzmin and
Dr. Fuad Aliev, attended the XIV Annual Conference of the International
Society of Traumatic Stress Studies in Washington, D.C.
"During the conference,'' Dr. Kuzmin said, "due to the kind help of
Father Philip Salois, we established important contacts with the Department
of Veterans Affairs: Dr. Matthew Friedman, Executive Director of
the National Center for PTSD in White River Junction VAMC (Vermont); Fred
Gusman, Director of the Clinical Laboratory and Education Division of the
National Center for PTSD in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park VAMC (California);
and Dr. Terence Keane, Director of the Research and Development component
of the National Center for PTSD in the Boston VAMC (Massachusetts).
Dr. Keane and Mr. Gusman have offered to provide us with training in PTSD
treatment. To learn first-hand from two of the world's foremost leaders
in the field of PTSD treatment is a tremendous opportunity for us and essential
in our work with veterans.
"Also, we had the opportunity to visit the national headquarters of
Vietnam Veterans of America in Washington, D.C. Prior to our visit, we
knew about the advocacy work of VVA. We are especially impressed
by the great work VVA is doing to fight for the protection of the rights
and benefits of veterans.''
MEDVA works in close contact with the Association of Afghan War Veterans
of Uzbekistan. This organization was founded just after the war as
part of the All-Soviet Union Afghan War Veterans Organization. The
activity of the organization during its first years was very intensive.
But after the breakup of the USSR, its activity dramatically decreased,
primarily because of the loss of government support and the worsening economic
conditions of many veterans. Many of those veterans have insufficient
income even to pay membership dues.
"The veterans of the Afghan War in Uzbekistan and other newly independent
states (former republics of the USSR) find themselves in a strange situation.
With the breakup of the USSR, the reality is that the Uzbeki government
was not responsible for this war,'' said Shukhrat Kholmatov, Chairman of
the Tashkent City Afghan War Veterans Association. "Practically all
social benefits veterans have in our country are inherited from the Soviet
period. With the dismal economic situation our country is facing,
the Uzbeki government is reluctant to give Afghan War veterans what is
rightfully theirs. Today, we are struggling for better lives for
In this struggle, the Vietnam-veteran experience is highly regarded
in Uzbekistan. "Certainly, our countries are very different, but
Vietnam veterans' approach to dealing with their government is very interesting
to us,'' said Kholmatov.
Today, Afghan War veterans in Uzbekistan are seeking a new structure
for their organization. The association currently is comprised of
hundreds of local organizations under the strict control of a Central Governing
Board and, therefore, cannot provide adequate consideration of the veterans'
needs. The organizational principles were inherited from the Soviet
period and do not reflect the democratic changes that have taken place
"We hope that establishing direct contact with Vietnam Veterans of America
will help us to create an organization to protect the interests of our
veterans,'' said Kholmatov. "We invite VVA chapters to cooperate
with us. I believe that Vietnam Veterans of America has a great deal
of experience to share with their young brothers in Uzbekistan.''n
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