PTSD and Alienation

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Daily SFTT receives gut-wrenching stories of warriors suffering from PTSD.   For many of us, it is difficult to comprehend what goes on in the minds of these veterans and, unfortunately, we are left with the bitter after-taste of the harm they are causing to themselves and their loved ones.    We would like to lend a helpful hand, but most of don’t know where to start.   This poem from Universal Blogger is one person’s attempt to explain the alienation of PTSD.

From a Blogger named Universal

I can’t sleep, can’t feel
Anything.
Time passes in chunks now —
A month passes for me
Like someone else’s day.

Zombies don’t have rhythms;
I go wherever my trance
Takes me.
Today I panic in a store,
Where danger doesn’t lurk.

Maybe if I stay awake, there
Won’t be any nightmares tonight.
But I can’t go without rest forever.
It’s over, finished. So why am I
Sweating? Why am I still afraid?

Today I saw most of my family
For the first time in a year.
Nothing felt real; everybody was a
Stranger I am supposed to know.
“Dissociation,” I think a doctor said.

No bumps, no bruises. No broken limbs.
But my mind is shattered, along with my
Soul.
I don’t know how to tell you that, don’t
Know how to put the genie back in the bottle.

When my emotions got shut off, I didn’t get to
choose which ones I wanted to keep;
They all left; they are all gone.
And it feels like there is an invisible hand
Keeping me frozen on my bed.

I used to care about how I looked, but now
All I can think about is what I saw, what I
Experienced; nothing seems to matter beyond
That. I will do anything — anything at all —
To keep from repeating that time.

I think more now, talk less. Months of numbness
Are followed by a week of depression and tears.
I am weak, frail, imperfect.
Broken.
My identity then irrevocably altered.

Do I want help, you ask.
How are you going to help me?
You weren’t there; you don’t know
What I saw, what I did.
What was done to me.

How does one ‘undo’ a scorched mind?
Deep within me a voice mumbles ‘help;’
But you’ll never hear that. All you will
See is my distant, fixed stare and my
Clenched jaw. I can’t take the chance.

How long will it be before you
Give up on me? I know it’s coming;
I’m resigned to my fate. Resigned to a
Lot of things, actually. Here, in my bunker,
In Hell.

Just remember, “You are not Alone!”  There are many who care deeply about the fate of our brave warriors who suffer from PTSD and each of us in his or her own way is trying to reach out to connect.  Give us a chance.

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PTSD: Happy Talk from the Spin Masters

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I have never believed that one becomes wiser with age, but I do believe that watching the same sitcom over and over dulls your interest for the inevitable punch line.  Our military seems to react publicly in lock-step trying to explain the shocking story of a decorated Army Staff Sergeant who allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians.  This horrific incident has caused great distress within the ranks of active duty personnel and it is quite understandable that senior officers would try to calm service members claiming that the situation is “under control.”  While their actions are to be expected, the magnitude of this tragedy cannot be underestimated but most importantlythe situation is not under control.

Earlier, SFTT reported that ‘we’re not perfect,’  but getting better.”   Gen. Rodriguez knows this not to be the case, so why the “happy talk?”

Sadly, we have seen this picture far too many times as senior officials within our military try to blind the American public (and perhaps themselves) to a serious and growing problem within the ranks of men and women who are strung out with repetitive deployments and suffering from a host of other medical and psychological ailments.   Claiming that the situation is under control and having it under control are two different situations entirely.

Witness this incredible article entitled “Opinion: Soldier accused of shooting rampage:  Not PTSD alone”  in which a former Army doctor, Dr. Harry Croft asserts that there were other contributing factors that caused a decorated Army Staff Sergeant to murder 16 Afghan civilians.  Now I do not wish to question Dr. Croft’s credentials, but for him to assert that there were “other contributing factors” is akin to saying that if the Staff Sergeant hadn’t been carrying a loaded weapon while on guard duty, this situation wouldn’t have happened.   Maybe he was bullied in elementary school as a child or reacted negatively to a soft drink.  Indeed, there are any number of contributing factors which could have triggered this event, but I doubt very seriously whether anyone in the chain of command will step up and say I made a terrible mistake redeploying this troubled young man a fourth time to Afghanistan.

More frightening is the implication by Dr. Croft that PTSD alone is not responsible for his erratic behavior.  On the basis of 7,000 patients he claims to have treated, not one of them murdered 16 civilians.   Boy, that is a relief!  What Dr. Croft is asking us to believe  is that there were other more compelling reasons which caused this Staff Sergeant to go on this murderous rampage.   By engaging in this “happy talk” masquerading as clinical experience, Dr. Croft is essentially laying out the position that PTSD cannot be used as an excuse or primary reason for criminal behavior.

Many have long suspected that senior officials within our military are not fully convinced of the deadly consequences of PTSD if left untreated.   Dr. Croft has deftly contributed to reinforce their position. I trust he did so unwittingly, since the lives of many other brave warriors hang in the balance until we come to grips with the problems of properly treating PTSD.

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PTSD: The Emperor has no clothes

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My dad, a retired Air Force officer, used to tell me as a kid that “If you don’t have anything smart to say, keep your mouth shut.”  Now I don’t always follow this advice, but I do think that society would be better served if we kept disingenuous chatter to a minimum.  Sadly, it would seem that our leaders – both civilian and in the military – are unable to keep their mouths shut when they have little to contribute to intelligent debate.  The TV show that comes to mind is “Lie to Me.”

In a stupefying assertion that is either delusional or simply a lie, Gen. David M. Rodriguez the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, reportedly said that “he’s confident in the Army’s ability to screen and treat these signature medical conditions (“PTSD” and “TBI”) from the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan – ‘we’re not perfect,’  but getting better.”

Gen. Rodriguez also stated that “Lewis-McChord is similar to other U.S. military bases in the proportion of soldiers who have seen heavy combat, served on multiple deployments and suffered conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Nevertheless, he failed to have comparative numbers readily available.  As the video clip below suggests, he asserts that those on the base should not be concerned about their safety.

Now I have no idea if Lewis-McChord has a higher incidence of “problems” than other bases in the US, but apparently neither does Gen. Rodriguez.  Why engage in meaningless “happy talk” when most everyone realizes we have a problem of  epidemic proportions of young men and women suffering from the debilitating effects of PTSD?

The tragedy is not that 1 in 5 brave warriors suffers from PTSD, but the silly assertion by Gen. Rodriguez that he’s “confident in the Army’s ability to screen and treat these signature medical conditions (“PTSD” and “TBI”).”   I am sorry Gen. Rodriguez, but you must have been one of the mindless sycophants standing on the sideline applauding a naked Emperor if you believe that spin text.

Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”) knows of no competent authority that believes that we are anywhere close to being able to effectively treat PTSD on a large scale.  As long as our military leaders remain in denial, our brave service members will not receive the treatment they deserve.  Effective leadership is saying, “Houston, we have a problem!”

The tragic massacre in Afghanistan is a wake-up call to take action.  Let’s not sweep it under the rug and let thousands of brave warriors continue to deal with the debilitating effects of PTSD on their own.   The choice is rather simple:  Deal with causes now or deal with the tragic effects later.   It’s a huge task, but it should start with a small child along the parade route saying in a loud voice, “The Emperor has no clothes.”

Richard W. May

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PTSD: A Question of Diagnosis

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The recent decision by the US Army to sack PTSD screeners at the Madigan Army Medical Center for questionable diagnoses raises more questions that it actually answers.

As reported by Hal Benton in the Seattle Times, “the Army Medical Command has identified some 285 Madigan Army Medical Center patients whose diagnoses of they went through a screening process for possible medical retirements, according to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.”

The issue here is not to determine whether there has been any conspiracy to defraud military personnel suffering from PTSD of their rightful medical benefits, but to illustrate the complexity in dealing PTSD fairly and, in a manner, that addresses a critical and growing problem among our military veterans.

Investigations into “conspiracy theories” occupies a lot of political energy that would best be directed at helping veterans suffering from PTSD fit back into our American way of life we all take for granted.

Certainly, a “conspiracy” to withhold rightful benefits is too distasteful to consider.  Equally difficult to contemplate is the concern within the medical community that the VA and other medical centers do not have the necessary tools or resources  to diagnose PTSD, much less treat it.   In fact, there is great concern that – given limited budgets and experienced medical practitioners and focused programs to treat PTSD – we are simply over-medicating our veterans and not really treating the core problem.

If true, then this is certainly a far greater conspiracy than the disciplinary action taken at the Madigan Army Military Center.   SFTT does not question the integrity or the intent of those who deal with patients suffering from PTSD.  This widespread and disabling disorder has grave consequences to those afflicted with PTSD, their loved ones and our communities.    Military and political leaders are acutely aware of the problem, but we seem to lack focus and resolve in providing our brave warriors with the necessary long-term treatment needed to give them hope.

 

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Dr. Henry Grayson on PTSD

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Over a week ago, I attended a fascinating lecture and discussion with Dr. Henry Grayson, Chairman of SFTT’s Medical Task Force, on the exploration of new treatments for veterans suffering from PTSD.  The meeting was hosted at the headquarters of the Organization for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) in midtown NYC.

The meeting was designed to explore some of the new methods to treat veterans with PTSD. Together with the physicians and clinical psychologists and the management of women who urgently require care to help protect themselves and loved ones from the terrible consequences of PTSD.   Thanks to the generous support of Warriors Salute, we now have 6 veterans in their program and, we are thrilled to report that Sgt. Brad Eifert will be graduating this month to resume what we hope will be a productive and meaningful life.

This tragic illness is now reaching epidemic proportions and many service members are finding it difficult to find the quality help they need and deserve.  SFTT has gathered together an eminent group of concerned and highly qualified medical physicians to explore what can be done to help veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq reclaim their life.  The purpose of Dr. Grayson’s meeting with the staff of Warriors Salute was to explore new treatment modalities which have proved successful in treating stress disorders.

As a layman, it would be presumptuous of me to opine with any degree of authority on these “new” treatments, but Dr. Grayson seems open to most any method as long as it produces no harmful side-effects.  While it would be impossible to summarize the nine hour of training, Dr. Grayson uses muscle testing to detect trauma since our body and mind might be considered “one unified field.”   He then uses the information gathered from this “testing” to help clear the neuro pathways by eliminating the thought that produces the tension.  Found below is a video of Dr. Grayson’s muscle testing technique:

Once these negative thoughts have been “cleared” then new positive thought can be introduced by stimulating pressure points and the mind to react differently to stimuli.

As Dr. Grayson would be sure to point out, there is no one treatment to address the complex traumas associated with PTSD. The use of muscle testing or applied kinesiology is a non-evasive way to help diagnose and treat stress-related disorders. We believe that Warriors Salute will introduce this new treatment modality into their overall curriculum and extend the number of treatment options available to our brave warriors.

SFTT would like to thank Dr. Grayson and the management and staff of Warrior Salute and IATA for their work in helping service members regain their lives. We are all the better for it.

Richard W. May

 

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SFTT targets PTSD: Interview with Eilhys England Hackworth

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I recently had the opportunity to sit down with SFTT Chairperson, Eilhys England Hackworth the wife, partner, co-author, and muse of Stand For the Troops (“SFTT”) founder, the late Colonel David H. Hackworth—America’s most valor-decorated soldier—from the late 1980s until his death. Since the passing of this great American hero in May 2005, Ms. England Hackworth has kept her deathbed promise to her husband to continue SFTT’s mission to protect America’s frontline troops.

The purpose of the meeting was to hear from SFTT’s Chairperson on why post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) has become such an important “hot button” for SFTT.  What follows below is are key excerpts of the interview:

SFTT:   Eilhys, thank you for your time.  I am continually peppered by questions from readers as to why we changed the name of our organization from Soldiers For the Truth to Stand For the Troops.  Can you explain the reason?

Eilhys:  Happy to do so.  Our new name speaks more easily to what we do on behalf of concerned Americans—stand for the troops—and more specifically, stand for our frontline troops, who stand tall for us and our country.  Our mission to ensure that America’s frontline troops get the best available personal combat gear and protective equipment, including body armor and helmets, remains a priority. But recently we’ve been fielding a horrifying number of cries for help pointing to a lack of adequate care for veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from symptoms of PTSD.

SFTT:  Yes.  PTSD has certainly become a serious problem for returning veterans.   How bad is it?

Eilhys:  Horrific!  Especially when every day in the United States, an average of 18 vets take their own lives – about one every 80 minutes!

 STTT:  That statistic is staggering. So exactly what is post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD?

 Eilhys: The causes or origins of PTSD vary significantly according to psychological, genetic, physical, and social factors but in shorthand:  PTSD changes the body’s response to stress. It affects the stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters).   While the military is trying to cope with the growing problem – now reaching epidemic proportions –  proper treatment is too often beyond the capabilities of our stretched VA hospitals.  Statistics suggests that at least 1 in 5 of our serving men and women suffer from PTSD and this has terrible side-effects on their families and friends.

SFTT:  When did you recognize the seriousness of PTSD for our returning veterans?

 Eilhys:  You know we’re always very connected to what’s going with our warriors.  And early this year, the stories kept hitting the radar just as the suicide and homicide stats were becoming inescapable!  We announced a new PTSD Initiative headed up by Major General John Batiste, U.S. Army (Retired) and then he arranged our close collaboration with a new treatment program, CDS Warrior Salute, with CDS President/CEO Sankar Sewnauth and Major General Robert Mixon, U.S. Army (Retired). But the full tragedy of the effects of PTSD struck home when the heart-breaking story of 36-year old veteran Staff Sgt. Brad Eifert who tried to commit suicide by firing on police officers became a front page New York Times story a few months ago.  Fortunately, Sgt. Eifert didn’t kill himself or anyone else, but it could have been a tragedy.  But then, in spite of the efforts of a compassionate judge, tireless lawyer and inspired Vet Court, who agreed that untreated combat stress disorder or PTSD had  motivated his behavior, he still was about to be sentenced in the absence of any recourse.

 SFTT:  What did you do?

Eilhys:  Within a day or two, I was able to speak with the trial judge, the lawyer representing Sgt. Eifert, the Vet Court Rep and his probation officer and then together John Batiste and I got him admitted to Warriors Salute to serve his probation there – in treatment.  A goal achieved because of inspired teamwork on every level from Michigan, Connecticut, and Rochester, New York.  I’m thrilled to report that Sgt. Eifert will graduate from the program next month with a second chance at life. And all of us are now in the process of delivering several more candidates from the court system to Warrior Salute – and their rightful chance to regain their interrupted young lives.

 SFTT:  You must be so pleased to have rescued this young man?

Eilhys:  “Pleased” is not the right word.  It is our “obligation” to help our returning heroes.  For each person that we’ve been able to reach out to, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of others that need the specific hands-on sanctuary that we’ve been able to offer.

SFTT:  What’s the answer?

Eilhys:  Well, SFTT is assembling a panel of leading experts in this field to determine “best modalities” for treating PTSD and hopefully eventually replicate the Warrior Salute state of the art and science program that evolves at strategically located regional treatment centers. In fact, Dr. Henry Grayson is hosting a seminar for Warrior Salute clinicians on December 3rd in New York City to introduce his highly effective treatment. Hopefully, SFTT   will be sharing highlights on the SFTT website.  And we’ve started developing a national/local resource with several Senators and Congressional representatives to provide an interactive list of public and private treatment options in their states.

SFTT:  This sounds very exciting, but the task seems quite overwhelming.  How can people help?

Eilhys:  Well, it’s key that we both destigmatize PTSD and raise public awareness of the terrible problems faced by our returning warriors.  The social and economic consequences to our society are staggering should we let our brave heroes down.   While many people have given truly valuable time to get our PTSD initiative off the ground, funding is required at this point for a meaningful impact.  Hopefully enough concerned citizens will join the effort by contributing anyway they can. The more members and active volunteers the greater SFTT’s ability to affect change.

SFTT:  Thank you Eilhys.  I am sure SFTT readers will flock to help our brave warriors in their hour of need.

PTSD has alarming social consequences.  If you want to help, please consider becoming a member of SFTT.  Our brave warriors will need your support long after the smoke has cleared from the battlefield.

Richard W. May for SFTT

 

 

 

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VA Care for Patients with PTSD

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As military service members deployed in Iraq begin come home, the alarm bells are beginning to sound as the Veterans Administration (“VA”)  now seems over-stretched to deal with alarming number of cases of service members with PTSD.

According to a recently published Rand study, excerpts of which are reported  by Health Affairs, “There is a large and growing population of veterans with severe and complex general medical, mental, and substance use disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar I disorder, PTSD, and major depression. Substance use disorders may occur alone or in combination with any of these other diagnoses. Over the five-year study period, the population of veterans with mental and substance use disorders grew by 38.5 percent, with the largest growth occurring in veterans receiving care for PTSD. Half of the veterans with mental and substance use disorders also had a serious medical disorder. Study veterans also accounted for a much larger proportion of health care use and costs than their representation among all veterans receiving VA health care. “

The sad reality is that this report is based on statistics compiled by Rand for 2007 and, as such, the severity of the problem is likely to be far greater for veterans with additional deployments past 2007.

As Jason Ukman of the Washington Post reports, “the cost of medical care for veterans is expected to skyrocket in coming years.”   According to sources referred to by Mr. Ukman, “The number of veterans seeking mental health services has increased sharply. Last year, more than 1.2 million veterans were treated by the VA for mental health problems. In fiscal year 2004, the figure was roughly 654,000. The largest increase has been among veterans diagnosed with PTSD.”

The severity of this problem is already taxing over-stretched VA resources and is likely to increase as  troops in combat zones return home.  How we deal with these troubled warriors will say much about our military and political leadership.

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