Bulletproofing

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by Kate Hendricks Thomas

What if I told you that mental fitness is something you can develop in the same way you build your physical fitness?

We hear a lot these days about mental fitness in politics and leadership. When we do, the conversation often focuses on avoiding or managing stress. What if that isn’t actually useful?

The best illustration I’ve read highlighting the direct link between mental toughness and performance comes out of a research lab. A team of researchers wanted to look at what made subjects mentally fit or resilient and took some baby chicks into the lab to study their theory. Painting the chicks and grouping them in separate pens, the first group was left alone to interact happily and normally. The second group was periodically picked up and stressed in a confined space. After the stress, the chick was given time back in their group pen to recuperate. The third group was continually stressed in the confined space, with no recovery time or play opportunity with other chickens. The researchers created three distinct populations with different experiences.

After raising them for a time in this manner, all the painted chicks were placed in buckets of water, with researchers timing their struggle until drowning. I know, this sounds just awful.

The chicks that had been continually stressed drowned almost immediately; they just had no hope in the face of hardship that they could swim. The second group to succumb was comprised of those “happy innocents” in group one who’d never been confined and stressed. They didn’t know how to withstand this watery hardship and folded in the face of it. The last swimmers fighting to make it were the chicks from the stress adaptation group. Somehow, the confinement stressors followed by time to recover had rendered them stronger and able to swim and survive much longer than their peers. This group was resilient; they’d experienced hardship before and believed they had a chance to make it and recover.

They had those past mastery experiences to rely on, and they just fought to keep swimming.

Stress has a purpose. Stress is opportunity. It’s meant to teach us to swim!

To respond well to stress requires high functional capacity of your brain’s frontal cortex. This area of our brain houses something called our working memory capacity, which helps us with both emotional regulation (being able to think and not just react) and upper level cognition (focus). We can improve that capacity with the use of some well-studied, relatively simple exercises.

Think about the last time you experienced stress. I always think back to those really awkward years – for me it was 13. Think about that age, standing in the middle of the school lunchroom with your meal tray. As you gaze over top of your sandwich, anemic vegetables, and cookie snack pack, you anxiously wonder who’ll make room for you at their table? What happened in your body at that moment? Maybe your heart sped up, you started breathing fast, your face flushed – your body fired off a full-on stress response.
As the stress is registered by your brain, wherever that stress comes from – a chain reaction fires. Your body releases cortisol, adrenaline, and a host of other chemicals to help you cope. It also releases a hormone called DHEA into your bloodstream. DHEA’s entire role is to help your brain grow from the stressor you just survived. But there’s a catch – DHEA only does its job when you give yourself a post-stressor break.

You need that time to de-escalate your revved-up nervous system in order for DHEA to do its brain-building work for you! The hormone increases synaptic firing and neural connectivity (you’ll think faster) and increases working memory capacity (emotional regulation and focus). DHEA is what makes stressful experiences worth your time, but you have to create the space for it to do its work.

Creating this space is the heavy lifting of mental fitness training, and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. If I say rest, self-care, nervous system regulation and you think taking a nap, you’re on the wrong track.

When we’re asleep, our brain waves are long and slow. We call these delta waves, and our brain is in delta state. When you’re awake and ambulatory, walking and talking in the world you’re in theta state. What’s interesting for a lot of us in a hyper-stimulated environment is that we find ourselves often entirely on or entirely off, and the place in the middle where DHEA does its building work is theta state.

In this space you’re at rest, but still aware, and your nervous system has space to rebuild and strengthen. So what does a drop in stress hormones and downshifting of the nervous system feel like? Think about the last time you enjoyed an activity or training – when you took a deep breath in and you just felt that “Ahhh!” feeling – even if you were working hard and running up and down trails. You may find it while running, skiing, doing yoga, getting a deep tissue massage, taking a bubble bath, or even lifting weights. Some people call it a “click,” or a “shift.” Here’s where you have to experiment a bit. That moment will look different for everyone, but when you find it, take note. Do more of it – especially when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I find it often on a yoga mat. I have a friend who tells me she finds it swimming laps. Now for me, I’m trying not to drown while swimming laps, there’s nothing theta state happening for me there! Dedicate the time to finding your practice. What down-shifts your nervous system? Then do it. Ritualize it. Make downshifted moments part of your training routine.

All of us face periods of adversity, and no one’s going to ask us if we can swim before the crisis. We have to train for the hard times, and we can. Make a little time for your brain and watch yourself get sharper, smarter, more focused, kinder. You’ll also be ready for the bucket of water.

You need to know how to become mentally fit to be the best student, professional, parent, and friend that you can be. Be the chick that lived well! Train yourself to swim.

Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is the author of Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance and co-author of Bulletproofing the Psyche.

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Carolyn May and Wiggles

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PTSD is an ugly, devitalizing, and enervating disorder. Sometimes you just want to hide and avoid people completely. It is difficult to do the things you once loved and PTSD symptoms have adverse and detrimental effects on relationships. When one considers what it means to be well, what it means to be mentally healthy, it is essential that we interact with others have compassion not only for other people, but for ourselves.

Compassion, companionship…. That’s what a service dog provides for their battle buddy. In 2018, I was blessed with the opportunity to receive a service dog from a non-profit organization Healing4Heroes. The process started with choosing a dog. I think Wiggles actually chose me. She is super loving and energetic. I thought to myself “This dog will force me to get out of bed,” even on days when I’m severely depressed and have zero motivation.

Wiggles presence has changed my life for the better. I have a reason to get out of bed, even on the days where the depression is consuming, and I don’t want to do anything. Even if the only thing she does is lay by me on those days where I don’t want to get up, her unconditional love is unfailing. In a world where it is hard to find compassion and unconditional love, my service dog is an exact reflection of those human needs.

I can walk into Walmart with her by my side without feeling panicked or overwhelmed by the excessive amounts of people. PTSD symptoms have caused me to be excessively situationally aware, to the point where I create danger in my mind that is not physically present. My service dog can post and make me aware of when someone is coming up behind me. She can put space between myself and another person so that I can maintain my personal boundary bubble. When I have mobility issues, wiggles gives me a brace to get back up on.

Wiggles senses my anxiety and puts her paw on me to put me in check and make me aware of my mood. She just looks at me and with her big brown eyes, tells me that I’m ok and I need to take a break. When I experience seizures from conversion disorder, she will place pressure on me and relieve some of the thrashing from the muscle spasms. I have an extreme aversion to touch, but that has not stopped Wiggles from giving me a hug every time I walk through the door (hug is actually now a command). In being affectionate with my service dog, I have slowly become more comfortable with human touch.

Having a service dog has made me a better person. I’ve gotten pieces of myself back that PTSD, depression, and anxiety stole from me. I am less withdrawn. I am more confident. I feel like me again.

Getting a rescue dog for a service dog actually rescued me.

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SFTT Salutes: Lance Corporal Charlton E. Johnson USMC, and his Canine Companion Aliana (Ali)

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STAND FOR THE TROOPS (SFTT) is honoring service dogs with our Service Dog Salute Photo Campaign that celebrates the unique relationship between Veterans and their canine companions. SFTT recognizes the significant role these support animals play and wants to show-and-tell this fact to the world.

Lance Corporal Charlton E Johnson Weapons Expert USMC, and his Canine Companion Aliana (Ali)

I am Lance Corporal Charlton E Johnson Weapons Expert USMC, Attached to a Weapons Plt in Golf Co 2nd Bn 5th Mar 1st Marine Div also; Spec 4, Weapons Specialist attached to the Scout Plt in Combat Support Company Naugatck CT.

I first met Didi Tolloch the Pets for Vets (PFV) Manager some 4 years ago and after our first interview became the 1st Veteran to adopt a dog through them in the state of Ct. I want you to know right now that Aliana Saved Me and it was not the other way around! She has become my reason for waking up every day, my reason for Living! I suffer from severe PTSD, Depression and other mental issues from my time in the Military.

 At mine and Aliana first meeting we Both Knew that we needed each other it was and still is A Perfect Match made from the Heavens! Didi and PFV have been there every step to make sure we were both taken care of, Didi is the reason why I can keep and maintain the expense of having Aliana!! Mary Jo Duffy (the trainer) should also be mentioned because she has helped with training and helping both of adjust to our new situation!

I would like everyone to know how grateful I am to these two ladies!! If I would win this, it would mean the world to Aliana and I as I am on Disability at the present time. So, thank you for taking your time to read this letter, as you can see I’m not too good with words and it’s not easy to express myself in the right light!! I’m attaching a picture of Aliana and I at ROAR’s 1st Furry Scurry Event in 2016.

“Semper Fi”

Charlton & Aliana Jane

You, too, can share your unique story and photo of you and your service dog, along with a short description (500 words or less) about WHY this canine relationship has made a difference in your life. We’ll post it right here in our Service Dog Gallery. Submissions will be eligible for a SFTT Lucky Dog Award where two teams will receive a year supply of dog food.

 

TO SUBMIT YOUR STORY

  • Submit your story (no more than 500 words, please) and high-resolution digital photo to info@SFTT.org.
  • Include name, address, email and phone number with your submission.
  • For additional info, please contact Maura Kallaway 203-629-0288.
  • The first of the two awards will be announced 9/6 and 9/30, respectively.

 

By submitting your story (500 words or less) and a photo of your battle buddy, you agree that both items can be posted in their entirety along with any images on SFTT social media streams and www.SFTT.org.

 

 

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The Endocannabinoid System & PTSD:  Could Hemp Oil Be The Missing Link?

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Written by Fatima Cook and Gregg Cook

Let us begin with the basics.

What Is The Endocannabinoid System?

First documented in the 1990s, this system is a relatively new discovery and is an internal (endo-) receptor for cannabidiol, serving as a modulator and communicator between all the other systems in the body.  These receptors are found in the brain and gut as well as the immune, cardiovascular, nervous and endocrine systems, and even in the nuclear membrane of cells. When this enormously important endocannabinoid system is properly primed with sufficient cannabinoids – which in optimal health, the body is able to self-produce – the body maintains homeostasis, or balance, and functions the way it is naturally designed to do. In this way, the body can heal itself. We now know that, aside from the endogenous cannabinoids the body produces, they can also be found in small concentrations in such foods as cacao, echinacea, and fish oil, and is even present in mother’s breast milk.  In its most concentrated form, cannabinoids are found in cannabidiol, or hemp oil, also commonly referred to as CBD.

Hemp oil is extracted from the cannabis sativa plant (or the marijuana plant) and is one of the plant’s two main active compounds – the other being delta-9-terahydrocannabinol, or THC, the one producing psychoactive effects – the well-known “high.”  It has shown powerful results as a treatment for a variety of formerly untreatable conditions, ranging from auto-immune and neuro-degenerative diseases, epileptic seizures, chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often experienced by Veterans.

How Can Hemp Oil Treat PTSD?       

Hemp oil mitigates two defining characteristics of PTSD: the terror PTSD sufferers experience reliving past trauma and the anxiety that this terror can cause. The immense, unrelenting stress and fear which lead to the disorder cause significant dampening of the endocannabinoid system and the brain’s ability to regulate memories.  Hemp oil fills the gaps, priming the system to self-regulate and expedite the elimination of a conditioned fear. Hemp oil or CBD works synergistically with the body to quell anxiety, therefore allowing for a more restful night’s sleep without the disruption of flashback memories. The added benefit of hemp oil is that it works its magic without the psychoactive component of the hemp plant.

Not All Hemp Oils Are Created Equal

While there are many hemp products in the marketplace today, it is important to know which ones will provide relief and not empty the bank account. The first thing to know is that some CBD products are plant-based while others are lab-created.  Look for plant-based — nature usually does things better than chemicals. Specifically, search for a hemp oil that is derived from the whole plant, including stalks and stems, and pristinely grown without the use of pesticides.

Second, make sure the hemp oil is meticulously extracted so that the amount of remaining THC is undetectable.

Last, but of equal importance, is the bio-availability of the oil.  What we mean by this, is that most dietary supplements need to travel through the digestive tract in order to be processed and for its positive effects to take hold.  In the case of hemp oil, most of the beneficial compounds (upwards of 90%) are destroyed through the digestive process, turning it into a relatively useless, very expensive supplement.  An efficient and bioavailable hemp oil should have two distinct features:

  1. It should be delivered to the body through high-grade liposomes.  A liposome is a microscopic sphere made of phospholipids, the basic building blocks of cell membranes.
  2. Its particle size should be miniscule, ideally, nano-sized (1/100th the width of a single human hair).

When these two features are combined, the absorption of the oil into the body rapidly begins in the mouth.  Consumed regularly, a state of calm focus and restorative well-being can be easily attained.

Looking for more research?  There are thousands upon thousands of studies out there.  Have a look at pubmed.gov and projectcbd.org.

Please contact us at Deep Health Evolution with any questions or concerns about how hemp oil might help reduce the debilitating effects the “invisible wounds” of PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) have on Veterans.

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Farming As A Non-Pharma Rx For Veterans With PTSD

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While many Combat Veterans who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) follow conventional medical protocols involving high dosages of anti-depressants, others have discovered a more “natural” way to heal from invisible war wounds.

Through farming.

“It’s as natural as it gets,” says MAJ Ben Richards, SFTT Director of Veteran Affairs. “Working outside with your hands in the earth to help plants grow and feed people?  It doesn’t get much more rewarding than that for many survivors of wartime trauma.”

Just as farming is palliative for Combat Veterans, these civilian soldiers may be the cure for the farming industry.  While the suicide rates of American Veterans and American Farmers are both rising at unprecedented speed, the key to halting this acceleration may ironically lie within the symbiotic relationship between the two occupations.  Research shows that Veterans with PTSD feel a greater sense of purpose and community when working as farmers.

One of our partners, Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (AiSA) offers courses in sustainable agriculture for Veterans and military service members that have not only afforded these men and women jobs, but have also ameliorated their PTSD symptoms.

“Our goal at Archi’s Institute is to provide Veterans who suffer from TBI and/or PTSD with the tools and knowledge they need to either start their own small hydroponic farms or to work for other farmers,” says Karen Archipley, Co-Founder and Marketing Manager (AiSA).  “We’ve seen Veterans who are struggling to function in their daily lives come to our Institute and not only learn skills that help them forge a new career path, but they also make friends and emotional connections, giving their lives renewed meaning.”

This new breed a warrior-farmer may be just what the “dying breed” of hands-on agriculture needs.

As we approach Memorial Day, please consider giving to Treatment of Ten, our fundraising initiative to send 10 Broncos for our integrative TBI/PTSD rehabilitative program, consisting of a non-prescription drug protocol, including organic farming among other therapies.

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Treatment of Ten Campaign Extension Until Memorial Day, May 28, 2018

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Guess what?

Because of you, the Treatment of Ten fundraising campaign is becoming a success.

We’ve raised almost enough funds to send one Combat Veteran to our medical facility in Idaho so that he can receive the treatments and therapies that he needs. Now, we need to send the other nine!

To do that, we’ve extended the campaign until Memorial Day because we’re determined to follow Hack’s “orders” to take care of his men and women who are forever on the tip of the sword, whether it be physically when in combat or mentally when at home. These ten Broncos whom we’re committed to help heal are struggling with Traumatic Brain Injury and /or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder here at home, constantly reliving their tours in Iraq!

I’ve been reading some statistics, old and new that have re-broken my heart:

• About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives. About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma. About 10 of every 100 women (or 10%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%). Learn more about women, trauma and PTSD. (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp)

• Two-thirds of homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in one major sample had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a much higher rate than in earlier cohorts of homeless veterans, who have PTSD rates between 8 percent and 13 percent, according to a study in press in the journal Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research. (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/03/ptsd-vets.aspx)

• For many service members, being away from home for long periods of time can cause problems at home or work. These problems can add to the stress. This may be even more so for National Guard and Reserve troops who had not expected to be away for so long. Almost half of those who have served in the current wars have been Guard and Reservists. (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/reintegration/overview-mental-health-effects.asp)

• Another cause of stress in Iraq and Afghanistan is military sexual trauma (MST). This is sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurs in the military. It can happen to men and women. MST can occur during peacetime, training, or war. (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/reintegration/overview-mental-health-effects.asp)

• One early study looked at the mental health of service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. The study asked Soldiers and Marines about war-zone experiences and about their symptoms of distress. Soldiers and Marines in Iraq reported more combat stressors than Soldiers in Afghanistan. This table describes the kinds of stressors faced in each combat theater in 2003:

• Soldiers and Marines who had more combat stressors had more mental health problems. Those who served in Iraq had higher rates of PTSD than those who served in Afghanistan. (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/reintegration/overview-mental-health-effects.asp)

• Thousands of men and women continue to risk their lives in the United States military to protect the freedom of citizens like me. Their psychological and physical well-being of every human being is important. It is particularly important to care for those who get injured while protecting all of us. Why not reach out and help us today to at least take care of our first cohort of 5 who served and sacrificed.
(https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/curious/201409/11-reasons-combat-veterans-ptsd-are-being-harmed)

Let’s keep the needle moving. Please give today to help send the Broncos to Idaho.

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PTSD: Current Status, Key Challenges and Promising Treatments

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Yuval NeriaPost-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) frequently occurs after the experience of traumatic events such as wars, disasters, acute medical events, and domestic violence. It is known as the signature disorder of combat and disaster.  Lifetime prevalence PTSD is substantial, estimated as approximately 8% in the United States, with a prevalence of about 4% in any given year  Among U.S. military personnel, frequently exposed to traumatic events, PTSD rates are even higher ranging from 19% to 22%. Military personnel are at higher risk for experiencing traumatic events, including exposure to combat, injury, loss, captivity, and sexual abuse. Consequently, PTSD is a common syndrome among veterans, and is frequently associated with functional impairment. Veterans with PTSD often suffer from a wide range of additional psychiatric symptoms including depression and substance and alcohol abuse.

PTSD symptoms are often persistent and disabling unless there is a timely targeted intervention. Symptoms of PTSD are wide-ranging and can affect trauma-exposed people in a number of debilitating ways. They include re-experiencing of the traumatic event (including intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks), avoidance of thoughts of the traumatic event and people, places, or other stimuli that evokes the trauma, changes in cognitions such regarding the world and yourself, hypervigilance, hyperarousal (including irritability, concentration difficulties, and disrupted sleep), and increases in troubling thoughts and negative feelings. PTSD is commonly associated with functional impairment, substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and increased utilization of medical care.

While a number of psychotherapies and pharmacotherapies for PTSD have been developed, research has consistently shown that more than one-third of PTSD patients never fully remit, even if treated. Meta-analysis of psychotherapy for PTSD has found short-term improvements compared to baseline only in about 50% to 60% of patients, with the majority continuing to have substantial residual symptoms. The efficacy of medication in PTSD is also unclear, with a critical lack of advancement in the psychopharmacologic treatment of the disorder. Only 20–30% of PTSD patients experience a complete remission following pharmacotherapy. Importantly, research has shown that among military personnel with PTSD, treatment reach is low to moderate, with a high percentage of service members not accessing care or not receiving adequate treatment.

Researchers in the field have raised a call to action to validate novel interventions that will improve treatment engagement and retention among veterans and family members. Here I would like to highlight three promising treatments that may address some of the above problems.

Attention-Bias Modification Treatment for PTSD:  Emerging research has demonstrated a relationship between biased attention to threat and PTSD.  Attention-bias relates to how people focus their attention; research shows that people with high levels of anxiety tend to focus on negative information in their environment. This knowledge has motivated the development of a novel therapy, attention-bias modification treatment (ABMT), currently provided at Columbia Psychiatry thanks to the generous support of SFTT. ABMT is designed to modify patients’ threat bias, i.e., change their attentional habits, with the use of a computer program. Participants with PTSD and attention bias towards or away from threat (documented by the dot probe task) undergo a 4-week (8-sessions) course of ABMT or an inactive Attention Control Program. Findings from this study are about to be published in the near future.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy for PTSD: Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) is a time-limited, evidence-based treatment, has previously shown efficacy in treating major depressive disorder and other psychiatric conditions. Rather than focusing on the trauma, as in exposure based treatments, IPT focuses on the patient’s current life events and social and interpersonal functioning for understanding and treating symptoms. This treatment currently provided at Columbia Veterans Center, is a novel use of IPT as treatment for PTSD. Evidence from studies conducted at Columbia Psychiatry suggests IPT may relieve PTSD symptoms without focusing on exposure to trauma reminders. Hence, IPT offers an alternative for patients who avoid or do not respond to exposure-based approaches. Interpersonal Psychotherapy focuses on two problem areas that specifically affect patients with PTSD: interpersonal difficulties and affect dysregulation. The treatment help the patient identify and address problematic affects and interpersonal functioning, and to monitor treatment response.

Equine Assisted Treatment for PTSD. Equine-Assisted Therapy for PTSD (EAT-TSD) is a unique, group treatment that might reduce symptoms of PTSD, particularly individuals who encounter difficulty in more traditional treatments. In EAT-PTSD, a mental health professional and an equine specialist work together to guide participants with PTSD through a series of structured activities with a horse. Presently this treatment is studied at Columbia Psychiatry as part of the Man O War Project . It is an eight-week study aimed to examine how well EAT-PTSD works for veterans with PTSD. Treatment groups consist of 4-6 veterans at a time. 90-minute EAT sessions take place at the Bergen Equestrian Center in Leonia, New Jersey. Columbia Psychiatry provides transportation to treatment sessions. Treatment does not include riding horses. Through various interactive exercises with the horses, the veterans learn how their actions, intentions, expectations, and tone have an impact on their relationship with the horses (and ultimately with the people in their lives). Over the course of treatment, the equine specialist and the mental health professional assist veterans in drawing connections between what the horses may be doing, thinking, or feeling, and their own PTSD symptoms, increasing emotional awareness and ability to regulate emotions and behaviors, and learning to more effectively interact with the horses, and by extension other people as well.

Contributed by Dr. Yuval Neria
Stand For The Troops Special Medical Advisor
Professor of Medical Psychology, Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology
Research Scientist, The New York State Psychiatric Institute
Director of Trauma and PTSD Program, The New York State Psychiatric Institute
Director of Columbia-NYP Military Family Wellness Center
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University Medical Center

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The Unknown Soldier

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Released in 1968 by the Doors, the Unknown Soldier was considered an antiwar song and banned on many radio stations. The song, however was more of dig at the American media and the way that the Vietnam conflict was televised into our homes and became a part of our daily lives. The lyrics “Breakfast where the news is read/ Television children fed/ Unborn living, living dead/ Bullets strike the helmet’s head” portrays how the news of the Vietnam War was being presented to ordinary people.

Jim Morrison sings about how in the late 60’s American families stared at violent television images, watching a world far away where the unknown soldier is shot, yet life at home went on as usual.  The entire scenario seems to normalize the war. People were numb and continued to live their normal lives while their soldiers were dying. The fact that the soldier has no identity is also a strong message to the ignorance and lack of emotion that people had towards the men who were fighting ‘for them.’ And as we all know, the soldier who had no name came home to an unwelcoming party.

Today, military conflicts continue to play out daily on our televisions, our cell phone news feed and throughout social media.  This time those who are called to duty are welcomed home but soon forgotten by an overwhelmed VA and by the very people they serve. Today our veterans are faced with homelessness, mental health issueseducational hurdles, long waits and scandalous policies at the VA, and a military suicide rate of 22 a day.

It’s true that today’s veterans have never been more respected, unlike those who returned from Vietnam. But unlike Vietnam veterans many Americans have no personal connection to anyone who has served or is serving in the Armed Forces.  Many organizations have hit the media and social outlets to drum up support for Veterans in need but again, America’s eyes have glazed over to the  issues faced by our Veterans.  Even when it was discovered that a nonprofit claiming to help veterans at risk was misappropriating funds, there was little or no public reaction. And so, it seems the numbness prevails.

Forty years later the unknown soldier is the one struggling with PTSD. The unknown soldier is the one whose life was a daily pill that is now an addiction.  The unknown soldier is homeless. The unknown soldier is the one who suffers in silence. The unknown soldier is one of 22 each day that takes his own life.

Perhaps it’s time the unknown soldier had a name and America a plan to support those who served.

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Vietnam Combat Veteran Brian Delate Goes Back to Move Forward

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The post that follows comes from my dear friend Brian Delate who I first met in 1996. We were at a party at my daughter’s house, as Brian’s late wife Karen and my daughter were in graduate school together. I was immediately taken with both Brian and Karen, it was hard not to be. They were attractive and warm, funny and smart and they both loved movies, a passion we shared. Brian and I soon realized that we shared another passion, a commitment to helping veterans heal from the invisible wounds of war. As a Vietnam veteran, Brian knew, respected and came to love my late husband Hack and he always told me that if SFTT ever needed support, he would help us — and the veterans we strive to heal — in any way he could. In honor of Treatment of Ten, I asked Brian to write a piece for us. And he did. Beautifully and poetically. Thank you, Brian.  ~ Eilhys England Hackworth.

It is January 2013 and I am back in Vietnam as both an American Combat Veteran and a writer/performer of MEMORIAL DAY (when remembering makes you want to forget… and being forgotten makes you want to die…), a one-man show I enact.  In each performance, I must step into the limits of human experience, which for me is my time spent as a warrior in a specific war during a specific year: 1969-70.

I had visited Vietnam the year before.  In 2012, I stood on the hallowed ground, where death once danced wildly with (my) life, realizing that my invisible wounds of PTSD needed deeper exploration. I broke away from the group I was traveling with in Hanoi to spend 24 hours in Chu Lai – my area of operation where thousands of my fellow American soldiers were also stationed.  To “go back” was a challenge because as we all know Life Goes On. Or tries to. Once in Chu Lai, I saw some old hangars that are dormant, but now resemble something out of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. The runways that were vibrantly active in 1969 are now barely discernible. In another few years they won’t be visible at all.

Now, in 2013, I am back in and around Chu Lai, with a driver, a translator and a cameraman. We drive around kind of hit-and-miss on different roads to see what I could remember. I forgot how very beautiful the beaches are. And for whatever reason, they are completely empty of people and development.  This absence intrigued me; what was I expecting? Wanting? Looking for, exactly? Life going on, perhaps?

We are on a mission of sorts. I had brought with me a snapshot of myself standing on a particular beach in a very striking cove-like area where I and another soldier saved a drunken infantry guy from drowning. In so doing, we all almost drowned. Very scary. I never imagined one of my near-death experiences during the Vietnam War would involve drinking and the ocean.

 

Having found the cove, my companions give me some time near to reflect and pray for all those who did not survive — and now, to my own surprise, I include the former enemy, the Vietnamese, their families, and their communities.

Believe me when I say how totally unthinkable this sentiment was at one time; I am surprised at my own compassion and ability to forgive.

At the end of this particular day in 2013, I stayed at a beautiful old Inn near Chu Lai for the night where I met an older, very fragile and very friendly Vietnamese man, who was one of the few Vietnamese I have met who admitted to fighting the communists. He expressed in very broken English the horrible aftermath for him and his family.  We connected emotionally, and at one point, he held my hand firmly, wept a little and thanked me for visiting. He then sent “good wishes” to the Americans.  This was just one “memorial moment” I experienced on my MEMORIAL DAY trip.

Days later, I complete two performances of my show with a singular astonishing result.  Once was at the University of Hanoi — college kids are college kids — meaning that they really do not care about the war. As they say repeatedly, “We’re tired of hearing about that war.”

In the other instance, we visited the Veterans Association of Vietnam (VAV) which is a high-level government agency with a new leader who can veto my performance in a second. In short, the stakes were high for me to knock their socks off.  The head of this agency was a Lt General (one of their war heroes) and he had three other senior officials with him along with our central government ‘minders’ and a couple of important representatives from the USA/Vietnam Society.

I got to do about 12 minutes of MEMORIAL DAY and it landed pretty powerfully on these men and women — they really got it. When I first met the General, we shook hands politely and we nodded. After I finished the piece, he immediately stood up, came over to me and, with great vigor, shook my hand hard. He then looked me in the eye and kept touching first his heart and then my heart with his fist, saying, through the translators, ‘We identify with the humanity.’

This surprised everybody. The other officials followed suit and the formalities disappeared and a load of personal sincerity and even some humor dropped into the room. My new friend on this trip, Pete, a former infantry captain, gave me a single line review — ‘You’ve got balls, man.’

A day or two later, we are at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, where we would interact with a combination of their psychologists, veterans and students. Initially, there was the time-consuming formality of introductions and translations back and forth. Then Dr. Edward Tick (our leader and author of War and the Soul) gave a smart and informed speech, addressing what is known and has been gathered from both sides, with regard to the aftermath of the Vietnam War that took place here so long ago.

I sat next to one of their psychologists, also a Combat Veteran from circa 1970. He made very clear that everybody in his world (family, friends, immediate community, et al.) was involved with the fight against America. What really got my attention was how they dealt with returning soldiers. The family and the community shared the burden even more than the government.

There was an instance during the talk where one of the students questioned Dr. Tick’s assertion of the value of bringing American Veterans back to Vietnam — returning them to the scene of their trauma.

Dr. Tick has had tremendous success with helping hundreds of Veterans trust the healing benefits of one’s community and spirituality along with these kinds of “going back” visits.

I spoke up at this point because I was here last year in 2012, and at that time, instead of feeling some immediate kind of transformation, relief or release, I fell back into re-living many of the fears I had had during the war. I ended up re-experiencing some of the trauma versus working through it or purging it.

Let me explain.

While I was in the city of Hoi An in 2012, I was sitting in a very beautiful dining room at a very elegant hotel with my wife Karen.  We were having breakfast and a young waiter walked by.  He and I made eye contact. Immediately, an emotional tumor (as I have come to call them) erupted and I couldn’t stop it wailing. I had to get outside of the hotel in order to regroup.

Quick back story: As a young sergeant in 1969, after coming off of a rough night with my squad and not having slept for some time, I got into it with a young Vietnamese man.  We called them Cowboys. They were really just thugs — he spit in my direction and I went into a berserk rage and proceeded to beat him, almost to death. At one point, I left my body and felt like I was watching somebody else commit this violence. Finally, I could not pick up my arms to punch anymore, but this Cowboy kept trying to spit in my direction, even with one eye unattached and literally coming out of his head. After my maniacal behavior, I experienced another layer of deep self-loathing.

Anyway, back to 2012 and the hotel in Hoi An: After I was able to regroup, I went back into the dining room, sat back down with Karen and spoke about what had happened. As we continued to sit there, the same young waiter came by, smiled and asked me if I wanted more tea. This time nothing happened — we made eye contact once again, but in this instance a guilt-ridden memory was rapidly evaporating. It was like that scene in the film The Mission, where the DeNiro character endlessly drags his armor around as a form of punishment or penance, for having killed his brother. A native cuts the rope connecting him to the armor and he is free.

In that moment, after being triggered, re-living my trauma and then returning to breakfast, I experienced a significant purging that, in my opinion, would not or could not have taken place had I not been actively seeking more Meaning and Truth or Seeking what was Missing. I was replacing an old memory with a new memory, an important component to Healing.

In one of my last days in Vietnam 2013, I get to present a sample of my play at a Writer’s Conference with over a hundred Vietnamese writers and veterans in attendance. Some of what I present in the play does not need translation — it is a combination of specific movement with music that shapes a narrative of what it is like to prepare for combat, engage in that combat situation and then recover from combat. I use the overture from Tannhauser by Wagner, the music representing the sacred and the profane aspects of what Combat Warriors endure.

I want to mention that PTSD is a collective wound and a soldier/Veteran cannot carry that wound alone. If they try to, they will either collapse or the damage to the individual will never be healed and the casualties and hurt will continue to accumulate, affecting their family, friends, colleagues and community.

And lastly, the Greeks had this interesting insight on the — ‘Definition of Happiness – which is making full use of your powers along the lines of excellence.’ That does not mean living in any kind of perfection, but it is about living and living fully. That is what I am doing now and I am here to help my fellow Combat Veterans do the same thing.

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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Give Veterans a Chance with Ben Richards

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As sound-bite politicians and Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) administrators (past and present) slug it out over the future direction of the VA, Maj. Ben Richards has put together a comprehensive 8-week program to treat 10 fellow Veteran warriors who suffer from PTSD and TBI.

Hackworth-Richards Fundraiser

The program is called the Treatment of Ten. SFTT, founded by the legendary war hero COL David “Hack” Hackworth, is helping to raise $150,000 to help these brave Veterans get the therapy they deserve.

Some of these therapies are currently denied Veterans at the VA because of their entrenched bias against Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) and other alternative treatment therapies. Sadly, the VA treatment offered to our Veterans for PTSD and TBI is shameful as amply documented by previous articles and blog posts published by SFTT.

In his own words, Maj. Ben Richards describes his experiences with the VA and explains that there is hope for Veterans and their caregivers who suffer from terrible brain injury.  Sadly, this non-invasive therapy is not available at the VA and won’t be anytime soon.

Found below are some of the non-invasive therapies that these Veterans in the Treatment of Ten will receive over an eight week period at an HBOT facility in Idaho.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or HBOT
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment which enhances the body’s natural healing process by inhalation of 100% oxygen in a total body chamber, where atmospheric pressure is increased and controlled. According to Harch Hyperbarics, “oxygen is transported throughout the body only by red blood cells.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a method in which a changing magnetic field is used to cause electric current to flow in a small region of the brain via electromagnetic induction. iTMS employs a safe, painless, and non-invasive brain stimulation technology to generate a series of magnetic pulses that influence electrical activity in targeted areas of the individual’s brain.

High Performance Neurofeedback
High Performance Neurofeedback or EEG Neurofeedback is a noninvasive procedure that involves monitoring and analyzing EEG signals read through surface sensors on the scalp, and uses the EEG itself to guide the feedback.

Low Level Light Therapy
LLLT (aka as PBM or Photobio Modulation) uses “red or near-infrared light to stimulate, heal, regenerate, and protect tissue that has either been injured, is degenerating, or else is at risk of dying.”

Cranial Electrical Stimulation
CES uses waveforms to gently stimulate the brain to produce serotonin and other neurochemicals responsible for healthy mood and sleep. Proven safe and effective in multiple published studies, the device is cleared by the FDA to treat depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Maj. Richards plans to use these results to develop a template for other communities and medical facilities to adopt the same procedures in helping Veterans cope with debilitating brain injury.

Your support is needed to help with fund this initial program. Unlike many other Veteran support programs, 100% of ALL contributions go to support the TREATMENT OF TEN. If you want to truly support Veterans, please make a contribution now by CLICKING THIS LINK.

Let’s give our Veterans a chance to reclaim their lives.

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