A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

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 our veterans.''

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 in Uzbekistan.

"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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