Veteran Suicides: Will it Never End?

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In yet another disturbing article by the New York Times, entitled “In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans try to Save One Another,” author Dave Phillips chronicles the benign neglect of the VA in helping our brave Veterans to cope with the aftermath of war. With no disrespect to Mr. Phillips, a similar article could be written every week detailing the chronic neglect of the VA for warriors at risk of suicide.

While I suppose that there will be much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” over the New York Times article, but will any meaningful change come for the 300,000 to 400,000 Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. Based on the evidence, sadly one must conclude that no meaningful reform will occur within the VA.

The experience of one Veteran in dealing the VA is not uncommon from the countless other stories SFTT has heard from other Veterans,

After the eighth suicide in the battalion, in 2013, Mr. Bojorquez decided he needed professional help and made an appointment at the veterans hospital in Phoenix.

He sat down with a therapist, a young woman. After listening for a few minutes, she told him that she knew he was hurting, but that he would just have to get over the deaths of his friends. He should treat it, he recalled her saying, “like a bad breakup with a girl.”

The comment caught him like a hook. Guys he knew had been blown to pieces and burned to death. One came home with shrapnel in his face from a friend’s skull. Now they were killing themselves at an alarming rate. And the therapist wanted him to get over it like a breakup?

Mr. Bojorquez shot out of his seat and began yelling. “What are you talking about?” he said. “This isn’t something you just get over.”

He had tried getting help at the V.A. once before, right after Mr. Markel’s funeral, and had walked out when he realized the counselor had not read his file. Now he was angry that he had returned. With each visit, it appeared to him that the professionals trained to make sense of what he was feeling understood it less than he did.

He threw a chair across the room and stomped out, vowing again never to go back to the V.A.

Indeed, the article goes on to point out the following:

  • – Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.
  •  – A 2014 study of 204,000 veterans, in The Journal of the American Psychiatric Association, found nearly two-thirds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans stopped Veterans Affairs therapy for PTSD within a year, before completing the treatment. A smaller study from the same year found about 90 percent dropped out of therapy.
  • – Mr. Gerard’s experience shows, however, that the system is only as good as the V.A. treatment it is intended to connect to. The night he went to the psychiatric ward at the Indianapolis veterans hospital, he said, he waited and waited for a doctor to see him. After 24 hours, he gave up and checked himself out.
  • – After surviving an ambush in Afghanistan where several Marines were injured, Mr. Gerard said, he was treated for PTSD by the Marine Corps. But when his enlistment ended in 2011, so did his therapy. He tried to continue at the V.A., but long delays meant it was two years before he got any treatment, and even then, he said, he found it ineffective.

Earlier this month, SFTT reported the heart-wrenching personal story of Maj. Ben Richards and What I should have said about Veterans with PTSD and TBI.    His story is not dissimilar to the experiences encountered by the Marine Veterans at the VA and recounted in the New York Times article.  How much more will the American public continue to endure the systematic abuse by the VA and the inability of Veterans to seek alternative treatment outside the VA:

While the New York Times, SFTT and other organizations can continue to highlight the chronic problems in the care given to Veterans, we sadly cannot influence results in a positive direction given the stranglehold that the VA has on the care of Veterans.  We can only encourage the VA to “think outside the box” and allow Veterans the option of seeking alternative forms of treatment not currently prescribed by the VA.

 

 

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What I Should Have Said About Veterans with PTSD and TBI

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Not long ago I had the opportunity to represent the warrior-run non-profit One Mind for Research at a Hollywood Telethon to raise money for Veteran charities. My role in the production was a live, 90-second interview on stage with actor and host Alan Alda. We talked very briefly about my experience as a wounded warrior with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mr. Alda asked me: what did I expect when I returned home from a combat tour with TBI and PTSI? Perhaps because I was a little intimidated by the Hollywood venue, the big stars, and the brief time allotted, I didn’t deliver the message I would have liked, so I’d like to share with you now what I should have said then.

Actor Alan Alda played the irreverent trauma surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television comedy MASH.

Actor Alan Alda played the irreverent trauma surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television comedy MASH.

Alan Alda played the iconic character Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television series MASH. Alda’s character was an irreverent army doctor serving in a forward Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or MASH) during the Korean War. The opening credits of every episode included footage of medical evacuation helicopters bringing in a load of wounded warriors from the front. Amidst the pranks and comedy, MASH did a good job of telling the story of what happens once those helicopters landed. I would like to tell you about what happens before those helicopters land.

Two “laws” govern that space. The first is the law of the “Golden Hour.” We believe that if we can get a seriously wounded comrade to the MASH alive and within one hour, then our buddy will make it. In the show, sometimes soldiers didn’t survive after arriving at the MASH and that is also true today, although due to better medical tools the survival rate is much higher today than during the Korean War. As warriors, we can’t control what happens in the MASH. But our responsibility is to get the wounded to the helicopter on time. When one of us is hit, every all can feel the timer begin its count down towards the end of the “Golden Hour.” They are the most unforgiving of minutes.

The title screen and opening credits of MASH featured a pair of H-13 medical evacuation helicopters transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the surgical hospital. Note the wounded soldiers on the litters placed on sponsons above each landing skid.

The title screen and opening credits of MASH featured a pair of H-13 medical evacuation helicopters transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the surgical hospital. Note the wounded soldiers on the litters placed on sponsons above each landing skid.

The second law is recorded in a line in the Warriors Creed: “I Will Never Leave a Fallen Comrade.” To some this may be just another phrase from the canon of military tradition, but among warriors it is a sacred covenant that we make with each other that forms the foundation of a unique and special honor-bond.

Units that have this bond win. Units that do not, don’t.

As a student of the profession of arms, I had read and heard hundreds of accounts of these laws in combat. Many of these tales came accessorized with citations for valor like bronze and silver stars, even Medals of Honor. Remarkably, a large number did not simply because heroism is a daily duty and often goes unrecognized beyond the range of the last rifle round fired.

I would like to share how I learned about the persistent reality of these laws for myself.

My education began as a young lieutenant leading one of the reconnaissance platoons of the Brigade Reconnaissance Troop in the First Brigade (Ready First!) of the 1st Armor Division during a training rotation at Combat Maneuver Training Center (now the Joint Multinational Readiness Center) near Hohenfels, Germany. The brigade had tasked my platoon to conduct a recon and surveillance mission deep into Opposing Force territory. The mission was only part of a training exercise in the good ole’ pre-war days when a faithful warrior could look forward to a painless simulated death that would bring the Valhallan pleasures of a MRE and a nap before administratively resurrecting to roll out again in few hours. Levity aside, I was concerned about the level of risk the mission would have had we been executing in real combat conditions. If any of my troopers were wounded, it would be nearly impossible to evacuate them to a MASH.

I shared my concerns with my troop commander, Captain Jerry Turner. CPT Turner admitted that he had shared the same concerns with his boss, the brigade commander, then-Colonel Michael Tucker. Jerry Turner and Michael Tucker were both men I had learned to trust and respect. They cared deeply about their soldiers. In our middle-of-the-night discussion across a humvee hood in the dark German woods, CPT Turned shared with me the promise COL Tucker had made to us: if we got into trouble, he would roll the entire brigade– some 150 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles and thousands of soldiers– to come and get us.

That mission was a great success and the platoon contributed to the Brigade crushing the opposing force in simulated combat …and I “died” towards the end of the fight with just enough time left to eat an MRE and take a nap.

When a small team of Army special operations soldiers was forced down in their helicopter during a night-time raid into al Qaeda- controlled portion of Anbar province in Iraq, Air Force F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert was on station to provide emergency close air support. As a large al Qaeda force was closing with the isolated Special Forces team,  Gilbert brought his F-16 to tree-top level to strafe the insurgent force with his aircraft's cannon- an extremely high-risk maneuver, but one that Gilbert felt he needed to make to save the US soldiers on the ground. In the darkness, he lost too much altitude during his strafing run and his plane crashed.

When a small team of Army special operations soldiers was forced down in their helicopter during a night-time raid into an al Qaeda- controlled portion of Anbar province in Iraq, Air Force F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert was on station to provide emergency close air support. As a large al Qaeda force was closing with the isolated Special Forces team, Gilbert brought his F-16 to tree-top level to strafe the insurgent force with his aircraft’s cannon- an extremely high-risk maneuver, but one that Gilbert felt he needed to make to save the US soldiers on the ground. In the darkness, he lost too much altitude during his strafing run and his plane crashed.

COL Tucker’s promise remained tucked away in the recesses of my memory until the end of November 2006. I was about to take command of a Stryker-equipped Cavalry Troop in 3rd Brigade (Arrowhead!), 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq. We were in the process of moving from Tal A’far to Baghdad. While we were on the march, an Air Force F-16 providing close support to an Army special forces unit securing a downed helicopter in a sparsely populated section of the nearby Anbar province crashed during a low-level night strafing attack. The pilot was unaccounted for and possibly still alive. Just as COL Tucker had promised, we rolled an entire brigade (the Stryker infantry battalion I was attached to, an Airborne infantry battalion and a heavy cavalry squadron) to find and rescue him. Thousands of soldiers to save one.

Unrested, the battalion paused only enough to unload baggage and take on fuel before heading out along roads so infested with IEDs that US forces had up to that time effectively abandoned the road network and relied almost solely on helicopter air assaults. We spent three days scouring the area. My Troop searched every structure and vehicle within a hundred-square kilometers. We even forced the dump trucks traveling from a nearby quarry to dump their loads to ensure no body could be concealed in them. In the end we were able to confirm that the pilot had died in the crash. His name was Major Troy Gilbert. He left behind a wife and five children. We didn’t know that at the time. All that mattered was that he was one of us and we were going to get him back, one way or the other. It was not the ending we had wanted, but we had fulfilled our covenant to each other that we would never leave a fallen comrade behind.

We paid a price to do so. During the mission one of our Strykers hit an IED. Specialist Billy Farris was killed and several others were seriously wounded. Inspired by his stepfather who had served in a Ranger Company in Vietnam, Billy had joined the Army immediately after graduating from high school in Phoenix, Arizona. His consistently superior performance had earned him a coveted position in the battalion scout platoon, and he had been recently honored as the Soldier of the Quarter. Billy also left behind a young son.

To a bureaucrat, who measures value with a financial ledger, the mission was a waste of resources. To a warrior, who understands both the true value and the true cost of the honor-bond, the mission was a necessary sacrifice.

Members of Bronco Troop, 1-14 Cavalry, search for Major Troy Gilbert in Anbar Province Iraq.

Members of Bronco Troop, 1-14 Cavalry, search for Major Troy Gilbert in Anbar Province Iraq, November 2006.

A few months later it was my turn to make and keep that promise. My Troop had just redeployed to the city of Baqubah, at that time the center and proclaimed capital of al Qaeda in Iraq. During a fiercely contested mission to search for weapons caches in a suburb of the city, al Qaeda ambushed one of my scout platoons and the platoon of combat engineers clearing the attack route through the city. At a narrow bend in the road, an IED built into the exterior wall of house exploded and disabled the lead engineer vehicle. As the platoon moved to recover the damaged vehicle, a large force of insurgents engaged them with RPGs, machine guns and AK-47s in the fiercest ambush we had experienced. Five of the combat engineers were wounded, some of them severely. The countdown toward the Golden Hour had begun.

The thundering explosions and rattle of automatic weapons fire brought silence to the Troop radio net as the routine reporting and chit chat between crews disappeared to clear the net for the inevitable contact report. The scout platoon leader was experienced, aggressive and cool-headed but his report was not good. The two platoons were surrounded and out-numbered. They had casualties, some seriously wounded. The outcome was in doubt.

“Hold on. We will come for you.”

My quick fragmentary order to the rest of the Troop was redundant before it was issued. Everyone had heard the report. Everyone knew what had to be done. Everyone was already moving.

As we reached the beleaguered platoons, my First Sergeant, who had already earned a Purple Heart earlier in the tour, moved his armored medical evacuation vehicle into the kill zone. In a scene worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, the scout platoon leader, Captain Aaron Tiffany, with his vehicle’s gunner, Sergeant Josiwo Uruo, and the platoons’ trusted Iraqi interpreter, Monroe, ran under heavy fire to the severely wounded soldiers and dragged them to the waiting evacuation vehicle.

The Medical Evacuation Vehicle, now escorted by a pair of Strykers, raced to the helicopter landing zone fifteen kilometers away. Medical evacuation helicopters had been called and were enroute. Inside the armored, eight-wheeled Stryker ambulance one of the wounded soldier’s heart stopped beating. The young medic in the vehicle, SPC Brian Mikalanis, beat the soldier’s heart for him, almost forcing him to live through the precious minutes to the door of the waiting helicopters. Before the Golden Hour ticked away they reached the medevac helicopters with five wounded soldiers still alive. A few minutes later the pair of helicopters landed at a real-life MASH where a real-life Hawkeye Pierce finished saving those soldiers’ lives.

Sergeant Josiwo Uruo willing exposed himself to heavy enemy fire that had already wounded five soldiers to rescue our wounded comrades. He was later killed while again exposing himself to enemy fire in order provide covering fire for members of his team.

Sergeant Josiwo Uruo willing exposed himself to heavy enemy fire that had already wounded five soldiers to rescue his wounded comrades.

Bronco Troopers had fulfilled their covenant. We had come for our fallen comrades. But again, not without a price. All five of the wounded combat engineers made it home alive, but Sergeant Josiwo Uruo, a courageous young man from Guam with an ubiquitous grin, did not.

So to answer your question, Mr. Alda, when I returned home from Iraq as a wounded warrior with TBI and PTSD, I expected to be treated with the same commitment and urgency by the medical providers at home in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs that we expected from each other in any and all combat zones.

Unfortunately, my expectations and the expectations of thousands of other wounded soldiers and veterans like me have not been met.

They have not been met because the organizations responsible for caring for our wounded warriors not only do not share, but likely do not even comprehend, the honor-bond between warriors. Their creeds are written on their walls, not in their hearts.

This reality was brought to public attention in 2007 when journalists revealed the terrible living conditions and treatment being inflicted on Army wounded warriors by ambivalent Army Medical Corps bureaucrats– many of them superficial soldiers covered in warriors’ uniforms with hearts concealed beneath the camouflage fabric but bereft of any warrior honor-bond. Army leaders found the organizational ethos of the medical corps so antagonistic towards the warrior values espoused by the Army’s own creed that they made the unprecedented decision to bring in a combat arms officer – a warrior – to fix the problem. They brought in my old commander Mike Tucker, by then a major general, to take charge of and fix Walter Reed. I suspect Tucker knew as much about hospital administration as I do, which is very little. But he knew what he had taught me a few years earlier- that warriors do not leave their fallen comrades behind.

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ARCHI’s ACRES – Sustainable Employment for Veterans through Sustainable Agriculture

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COLIN AND KAREN ARCHIPLEY ARE TWO-TIME NATIONAL TREASURES!

 

The first occasion was defending the nation as a Marine Corps husband-wife team. Colin was not only a Marine Rifleman, he was a Marine noncommissioned officer. While media pundits and politicians focus on super fighter jets, unmanned drones and the Hollywood virtues of thermobaric Hellfire missiles, combat soldiers know that the most lethal, versatile and effective weapons systems in the American arsenal are sergeants. In combat they are responsible for making the very first tactical decisions, usually before anyone else even knows what’s happening. They can turn a bad plan into a brilliant victory while without them the best plans are often worthless. In my experience, the collective quality of these professional warriors defines a unit’s “elite-ness” more than any other factor. 

 

Former Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife Karen founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to help other veterans achieve meaningful employment in sustainable agriculture.

Former Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife Karen founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to help other veterans achieve meaningful employment in sustainable agriculture.

Sergeant Archipley repeatedly led Marine Infantrymen at the point of contact in Iraq, including through the brutal fighting in Fallujah in 2004. After three combat tours, the Archipleys decided the time was right to serve in other ways and the seeds of what would grow into a second national treasure were literally planted.

 

Before Colin deployed to Iraq for the third time in 2005, the Archipleys purchased a small 200-tree avocado farm, which they christened “Archi’s Acres.” The three-acre farm is nestled in a scenic semi-rural valley near Escondido, California, right behind the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton where Staff Sergeant Archipley was stationed.

The Archipleys might have been content nurturing their avocado trees and growing tomatoes if not for their first month’s $850 water bill – which sent them searching for a more financially sustainable way to run their farm. 

 

Archi's Acres. Two hydroponic green houses and avocado tree orchards framed by the 'Back 40' of Camp Pendleton in the background.

Archi’s Acres. Two hydroponic greenhouses and avocado-tree orchards framed by the ‘Back 40’ of Camp Pendleton in the background.

They discovered a solution to more than just their water-bill problem in hydroponic farming. When Colin returned home from his final deployment, they built a greenhouse and started growing basil. The soilless organic hydroponic system they built uses only one tenth of the water needed for an equivalent crop on a traditional farm and Karen was able to secure contracts to supply their organic produce to local super markets, including several Whole Foods stores.

 

Colin left the Marine Corps in October 2006 but wanted to maintain more of a connection to the Marines than afforded by the view from their home and farm of the hills of Camp Pendleton’s “Back 40.” That desire germinated another place for the Archipleys on the list of America’s national treasures — the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program– VSAT in proper military acronym form.

 

Through the VSAT program, Colin and Karen share their knowledge and experience with transitioning Marines and other veterans and help them replicate the success of Archi’s Acres. The six-week course they developed and teach not only provides veterans with enough knowledge of hydroponic greenhouse agriculture and the technical skills to set up and run their own greenhouse-centered farms, the Archipley team also teaches them the business and marketing skills to succeed as a business as well as a farm.

 

The greenhouses at Archi's Acres feature soilless, hydroponic growing systems and are automated to adjust for weather conditions.

The greenhouses at Archi’s Acres feature soilless, hydroponic growing systems and are automatically adjust to weather conditions.

The program’s title as a ‘training’ program insufficiently describes what the program really achieves. Even a lengthier descriptor such as a “seed-to-market sustainable organic agriculture entrepreneurial incubator” falls well short of the mark because VSAT provides far more than a skillset and post-graduation support.

 

The key to VSAT’s extraordinary potential is how Karen and Colin structured their program. From the outset they teamed with the nearby state university Cal Poly Pomona to get nationally-recognized accreditation. The university awards 17 college credit hours on completion of VSAT. The Archipleys also specifically engineered VSAT to meet the US Department of Agriculture’s experience requirements —  completing VSAT is equivalent to one year of farm management experience or a four-year degree in soil science — and so qualifies for a USDA-guaranteed farm loan. Combined with start-up equipment discounts the Archipleys negotiated with several leading national suppliers of agricultural equipment, meeting the requirements for a government-guaranteed loan provides Vets with the all-important financial resources to go into business as well as the technical know-how.

 

The Archipleys’ foresight enables Vets to take advantage – with their existing educational benefits – to cover the program’s $4,500 tuition. Since VSAT is a college-accredited program, Vets and even active duty service members can use the GI Bill, VA Vocational Rehabilitation or tuition assistance.  Several Veteran-serving nonprofits such as the Marine Semper Fi Fund, DAV and Armed Services YMCA also provide tuition grants for qualifying veterans.

 

Although not exclusively for Vets and transitioning service members, over 80 percent of their students are Veterans and many are struggling with invisible wounds and other service-connected disabilities.

 

“Agriculture is blind to invisible injuries,” Karen told me. And that was what first interested Stand for the Troops in Archi’s Acres— leading them to dispatch me on assignment to visit the Archipleys in the summer of 2014. Karen and Colin where successfully solving some of the biggest challenges of disabled-veteran employment AND healing.  Simultaneously.

 

Invisibly wounded warriors face substantial barriers to achieving full and persistent employment. According to the experienced former military physicians who created the Veteran-serving nonprofit  Military Disability Made Easy, a typical combat Veteran rated at only 50 percent disabled by Posttraumatic Stress Disorder:

 

“… may try to work, but will not be able to hold a job for more than 3 or 4 months because of their inability to remember or follow all directions or other similar reasons based on the symptoms or circumstances described under this rating. (In other words, they wouldn’t lose their job simply because they have anger issues and would regularly get in fights. A person like that could also not hold a job more than 3 or 4 months, but they would still be considered able to work). This individual would only be hired for jobs like cleaning, picking up trash, or other simple-task jobs.”

While the Americans with Disabilities Acts legally obligates employers to make reasonable accommodations for Vets with combat disabilities like PTSD, the reality is that there is little understanding among employers or even among Veteran-employees of how to accommodate invisible injuries with their multiple insidious, inconsistent and difficult to predict mechanisms of disability. In many cases even reasonable accommodations are simply not enough.

 

But where even the best intentioned accommodations fail, Archi’s Acres succeeds. The keys are flexibility and scalability. For a combat Vet functionally impaired by invisible wounds, greenhouse agriculture enables a level of flexibility uncommon in most jobs. While nature dictates that some tasks must be done at certain times, for the most part a Vet can adapt his schedule to his own needs, health and abilities, providing the most effective and timely workplace accommodation. The owner of an Archi’s Acres-style hydroponic greenhouse agriculture business is able to scale both the scope of the business and his or her personal workload. A greenhouse farm as small as one-tenth of an acre can be run profitably. Alternatively, a Veteran with a larger farm or limited in the number of hours he or she can work can hire employees to do the work the Vet cannot. At the time I visited them, the Archipleys employed one full-time and two part-time employees to work their three acres (expanding to six) of avocado trees, tomatoes and greenhouses, freeing Karen and Colin to focus most of their time on running the VSAT program.

 

By June 2014 the Archipleys had coached and mentored 240 graduates through their VSAT program. Two-thirds of the those graduates now either own or manage farms. Impressively, Karen and Colin have been able to do so much for Veterans within the framework of a self-sustaining B Corporation (a special category of for-profit corporation that provides a significant public benefit) instead of a donor-dependent non-profit which means the Archipleys will be able to continue independently serving the Nation’s Veterans for years to come.

 

To learn more about Archi’s Acres and the VSAT program, visit their website at Archisacres.com, and watch this five-minute video and this 24-minute documentary.




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How a Vet Explains PTSD to Children

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Warrior and Children

Many of us when looking at the chronic problem of PTSD which ail our Vets focus primarily on the needs of Vet. Nevertheless, the family circle is also severely impacted and often there is little the Vet can do to make himself or herself understood with their loved ones. In an moving article cited below, Army Veteran Seth Kastle penned a book called “Why is Dad So Mad?” to help children understand or at least come to grips with some of the personal demons they are grappling with.

Clearly, this is a complex problems and affects people differently, but any discussion – particularly with children – can provide a loving framework that may help explain why Dad or Mom are “So Mad” after repetitive deployments. Found below is an excerpt from NBC news on Army Veteran Seth Kastle’s attempt to explain the ravages of PTSD to children:

Why is Dad So Mad?

Mental health disorders can be so complex that many adults can’t comprehend them. So, how exactly do you explain them to children?

Army veteran Seth Kastle encountered this problem with his own young family after returning from deployment. Kastle struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and found it difficult to communicate what was going on in a way that they would understand. So Kastle channeled a relatable activity — reading — and penned Why Is Dad So Mad?, a children’s book about a family of lions in which the father is suffering from PTSD.

The story depicts the father lion’s struggle through a raging fire inside of his chest, which was mirrored from a description of Kastle’s own PTSD. Through the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Kastle raised more than $6,000 to help hire an illustrator and get the book published.

Approximately 11 to 20 percent of recent veterans suffer from PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Kastle told NBC News that he hopes the project can help other military families who may be going through a similar struggle.

“No matter what, when they’re mad or sad at you, they still love you,” Kastle’s 6-year-old daughter Raegan told NBC News. “There’s always a fire in his heart, but no matter what, I know there’s love.”  read more at : Army Veteran Writes Children’s Book To Explain PTSD To Younger Kids

PTSD and Service Dogs

There continues to be much anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of service dogs for treating PTSD.  Nevertheless, the VA does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD.  Sure, the VA is researching the benefits of canine therapy in treating PTSD, but Veterans must find organizations willing to support Veterans.

A golden-haired pup named Tuesday gleefully walked through the Performing Arts Center at Crafton Hills College as his human, Army veteran Luis Carlos Montalván, asked him to perform tasks for the hundreds in the audience.

“We’ve been together for six years. Oh boy, what a six years it has been. Never would I have imagined we’d be speaking here in front of you in Yucaipaa. It’s amazing,” he said.

Montalván had enlisted in the Army at the age of 17, and had his first tour of duty in the 1990s.  Seventeen years later and after multiple combat tours in Iraq, Montalván’s military career came to a close. Leaving a life he had wanted to experience before he “could even remember” left him suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Montalván was introduced to Tuesday to help him cope with the realities of wartime and the events following. The two have become inseparable. So much so that Montalván wrote a memoir about his experiences with the pup in 2011 titled, “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.” The book became a New York Times best-seller.

“When people talk to Tuesday and me about joining the military, I tell them the truth — there’s good and there’s bad. (My opinion) is not from some bitter part of me or extraordinary biased thing, though it could be. In fact, we encourage people to serve.”  Montalván spoke for close to an hour addressing a number of subjects while keeping things age appropriate as there were dozens of children in the audience.

After his speech, Montalván fielded questions from the audience and signed copies of “Until Tuesday” and his newest book, a children’s book, titled, “Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond Between a Soldier and His Service Dog.”  Tuesday, with his reassuring looks and expressive eyes, was by Montalván’s side the entire presentation.

“Tuesday is my best friend,” Montalván said. “Tuesday helps me out every minute, every hour, every day because he’s a pack animal and he wants to see his pack doing well. If I’m not feeling OK, Tuesday will do something to make me feel better. And how great is a hug from your best friend that loves you unconditionally?” Read more: Veteran Luis Carlos Montalván talks PTSD, animal therapy with his dog Tuesday

Army Veteran Montalván is just one of a number of stories of how Veterans have found new meaning in caring for and the friendship of a dog to help him recover his life.  Shouldn’t the VA wake-up and endorse canine therapy?

 

 

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Veteran Unemployment and PTSD

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Veteran unemployment continues to be a major problem in assimilating brave veterans back into society after their return from active duty in a hostile environment.  While there is an unemployment compensation program administered by the government for ex-service members called UCX, most veterans would prefer to have a job.

While the vast disparity in veteran unemployment compared to civilian unemployment levels that existed in the past has narrowed, a recent government study argues that returning Veterans are likely to face some period of unemployment.   “For veterans, unemployment is the biggest predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity, says a new study. The PTSD symptoms may be combat-PTSD-related or sexual-trauma-related, but either way, veteran unemployment predicts the severity of PTSD symptoms more than even indicators like depression.”

Veteran Unemployment and PTSD Symptom Severity

Aside from the stability that a job provides, some studies suggest that employment may also help Veterans cope with PTSD.  From my perspective, it is a bit of a “chicken-and-the-egg” situation as many potential employers may be unwilling to risk hiring a Veteran with symptoms of PTSD.  In fact, many of these Veterans may have resorted to drugs and/or alcohol to help them deal with PTSD.  This may make it next to impossible to receive employment offers given mandatory drug testing.   Nevertheless, for those employers willing to take the risk, a steady job can help mitigate the devastating impact of PTSD.

The researchers who did the study are not claiming causality in any way, there is simply a correlation between veteran unemployment and PTSD symptom severity. That said, it is reasonable to think that meaningful employment for veterans, particularly those with combat PTSD, may help returning veterans psychologically. While we don’t know that for a fact, what we do know is that veterans are a valuable addition to the civilian workforce and their work to defeat poaching in Africa is just one example of that value.  Unemployed Veterans Suffer More Severe PTSD Symptoms | Understanding Combat PTSD – HealthyPlace

Deeper Than Scars of War: Healing PTSD with Old Ways

Found below is a fascinating article which describes how one Veteran got back to his “Choctaw family roots,” to help deal with the symptoms of PTSD and simultaneously help preserve the great traditions of this Indian tribe.  Let me introduce, James Tom:

The scars of war run deep for Oak Park Heights, Minnesota resident James Tom, the type of scars that can’t be seen at first glance. Where the battlefield could have taken his limbs or his life, it instead gave Tom the debilitating affects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression that eventually took his self-identity. When the United States Army and the Veteran’s Administration gave Tom the status of full disability benefits, living with the illness could have “driven me stir-crazy,” Tom said. Instead, Tom found the only thing that runs deeper than any of his scars is his culture and heritage.

Tom traces his family roots to both the Mississippi and Oklahoma Bands of Choctaw, and there are about 20,000 Choctaw living in the United States today. Tom began an effort to not only preserve the skills and traditions of indigenous cultures, but to teach others what he has researched and learned.

Tom started slowly with research into his family, into the Choctaw and the indigenous people of the region. Tom said his parents had not taught him many skills or traditions of the cultures, so he began to learn by trying what he read about and saw by going to powwows and other gatherings. Making a drum for a powwow began by learning how to tan hides from deer. After deer hides, Tom turned to tanning buffalo hides using the traditional methods of brain tanning by using animal brains rich in emulsified oils to soften the skin for leather making.

It was through word of mouth in the community that Tom became known for his skill of the traditional method of brain tanning, causing many to seek him out to learn the skill. The week-long tanning process is difficult and requires a lot of commitment to do it correctly. The skins must be fleshed—scraped of all fats and membranes—then stretched and soaked in water. The fatty brain material is rubbed into the skin, soaked in water again and then smoked in a special fire.

Nawayee Center School is a charter school that teaches students who are predominately from Native American families. While the school teaches classes like math and reading, its mission is to connect students with their cultural identities through hands-on learning and programs like brain tanning and other indigenous arts.  “We were able to get a grant to bring James in and teach the students,” Ladd (School Director) said. “He first came to the school with squirrel hides. Now the kids are working on the big buffalo hide.”

For Tom, teaching others about this part of his heritage has helped him find peace.“I absolutely think it has helped me. I have been able to find my own identity again,” Tom said. “Everyone has a heritage and a big part of who you comes from it.”  This piece has been republished with permission from the Stillwater Gazette, where it originally was published on May 4. via: Deeper Than Scars of War: Healing PTSD with Old Ways

As this story illustrates, there are many ways in which Veterans can create meaningful employment opportunities for themselves and help others at the same time.

 

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Predictive Modeling to Prevent Veteran Suicides

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A study entitled “Predictive Modeling and Concentration of the Risk of Suicide: Implications for Preventive Interventions in the US Department of Veterans Affairs,” has recently been published online by the American Journal of Public Health.  In the extract cited below, the VA claims that predictive modeling can help identify Veterans with a high risk to commit suicide and, therefore, provide enhanced intervention to prevent Veteran Suicides:

 Objectives. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) evaluated the use of predictive modeling to identify patients at risk for suicide and to supplement ongoing care with risk-stratified interventions.

Methods. Suicide data came from the National Death Index. Predictors were measures from VHA clinical records incorporating patient-months from October 1, 2008, to September 30, 2011, for all suicide decedents and 1% of living patients, divided randomly into development and validation samples. We used data on all patients alive on September 30, 2010, to evaluate predictions of suicide risk over 1 year.

Results. Modeling demonstrated that suicide rates were 82 and 60 times greater than the rate in the overall sample in the highest 0.01% stratum for calculated risk for the development and validation samples, respectively; 39 and 30 times greater in the highest 0.10%; 14 and 12 times greater in the highest 1.00%; and 6.3 and 5.7 times greater in the highest 5.00%.

Conclusions. Predictive modeling can identify high-risk patients who were not identified on clinical grounds. VHA is developing modeling to enhance clinical care and to guide the delivery of preventive interventions. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print June 11, 2015: e1–e8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302737)
Read More: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302737

Assuming the findings our correct, this is a great tool in helping to provide targeted preventative treatment to those Veterans.

Veteran Suicides Still at Crisis Levels

While many public and private studies have provided hope that Veterans can reclaim control of their lives, veteran suicides continue to remain at near crisis levels.  Since the historic 2010 US Army study on veteran suicides and suicide prevention, most evidence continues to suggest that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrat of Connecticut) is quoted as saying “When you have 8,000 veterans a year committing suicide, then you have a serious problem.”

Many other government leaders on both sides of the aisle echo similar views, but there has been little meaningful improvement in veteran suicide rates over the past five years.

While we are hopeful that the diagnostic modeling with bring targeted relief to long-suffering Veterans, past experience would suggest that VA is slow to implement change and many Veterans will not receive the help they require.

It has become very fashionable to blame the VA for all problems – real or imagined – but clearly more must be done to address this alarming problem.

 

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Maj. Ben Richards and his HBOT Treatment

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Editor’s Note: Found below is a very moving letter from Maj. Ben Richards and the benefits he received from being treated by Hyperbaric Oxygen from Dr. Paul Harch. The letter is quoted in its entirety.

QUOTE

Maj. Ben RichardsIn the spring and summer of 2007 I (Maj. Ben Richards) had the privilege of leading Bronco Troop, 1-14 CAV, a Stryker-equipped cavalry troop, during intense combat operations in and around Baqubah, Iraq. Bronco Troop was blessed with the deep bench of top- quality Noncommissioned Officers that distinguishes great units from good ones. Five of the six officers in the troop were West Pointers. At one point all six of us were captains and the experience paid dividends in a challenging operating environment.

At the peak of operations a new second lieutenant arrived straight from the basic course to take over a scout platoon. I greeted him shortly after he arrived at our dilapidated combat outpost and told him we would have a Combat Action Badge for him the next day. His face showed that he clearly thought I was joking. By the following evening he had survived an IED hit to his Stryker, been in two firefights and earned his CAB. The rest of us had earned our CABs on our first day in town two months earlier as well. A few weeks later he was wounded by a grenade fragment while leading his platoon in a dismounted close combat assault on an al Qaeda fighting position. The courage, competence and character of these young officers was in every way a credit to our alma mater and a testimony to West Point’s continuing role as the corner stone of our Nation’s defense.

During those several months of combat operations, ninety percent of my men hit at least one IED- often more than one. In May 2007 a suicide-bomber driving a sedan laden with explosives rammed into my Stryker and destroyed it. A few weeks later we hit a second ‘plain vanilla’ IED buried in the road that damaged our second Stryker sufficiently that it was later coded out as not being worth fully repairing. After each hit, we got back up and returned to the fight because we knew that there was going to be a fight and we fight as a team, even when it hurts.

On returning home I, like so many others, began a personal movement to contact battle against an enemy that I could not see, could not anticipate and was neither trained nor equipped to combat. Six months after arriving back at Fort Lewis, I was diagnosed with PTSD. To be honest, I only sought help after being ‘command directed’ by my wife. At that time, I was not intimidated by PTSD. I had every confidence that it was something I could beat. I was surprised and not a little embarrassed that I had it all. I gave it a year, tops. By then I would be fully back in the saddle. The extent of damage to my brain caused by the pair of mild traumatic brain injuries was not recognized until over three years after the injuries and not fully diagnosed until yet another year had passed.

While I was serving in Iraq, I was extremely fortunate to be selected by the History Department at the Academy to return for a tour as an instructor. I arrived in the summer of 2010 in pretty rough shape. Less than a year into the assignment I collapsed under the weight of disabling chronic pain, memory problems, cognitive deficits, sleep deprivation, drugs (the legal kind), emotional problems and all the detritus that often accompanies invisible injuries. At one point, heavily under the influence of prescription medications, I even seriously considered taking my own life.

West Point was up to the challenge. The History Department leadership kept me in the department so that they could personally oversee my care. My fellow instructors, both civilian and military, took on the burden of my workload without complaint, as they would have carried me, my rifle and my ruck to the CASEVAC point. I’m sure theirs was a long, hard walk out. It was real leadership, at real personal cost and sacrifice.

The Department’s Colonels breached every administrative and bureaucratic obstacle to ensure I literally received the best care available in the Department of Defense for my injury profile. When it turned out that the best care was not enough, and after they had done everything within their power to assure my future well-being, they fare welled me with honors and fanfare well beyond those merited by a junior major.

The day I took off my uniform for last time was one of the saddest in my life. I saw only an empty husk of the new cadet who had marched in the rain on R-Day eighteen years earlier and so full of the potential that enables a Firstie to sit with generals and presidents while a second lieutenant hides from majors in the motor pool. I was permanently broken. The natural processes of neural plasticity had run their course and come up wanting at the end. Medications could only partially mitigate the pain while causing new problems of their own. The results of evidence-based psychotherapies became part of the new canon of evidence that those therapies, so promising for victims of rape and traffic accidents, are disappointingly much less effective against combat-related PTSD. Acceptance and accommodation were all that was left to aspire to.

It was at that moment of hopelessness that the Long Gray Line extended its hand to drag me back from the edge. John Batiste, class of ’74 , a retired general officer and president of the veteran-serving non-profit Stand for the Troops founded by the legendary COL David Hackworth (SFTT.org), hunted me down to deliver a life-changing message.

We will help you, he told me, and by that I mean really help you and not in the sense of providing a palliative weekend retreat or the cathartic commiseration of other wounded warriors.

Had John not been a grad and a soldier of such well-known reputation, I would have hung up the phone. I did not have the hope left to waste on vain promises with unlikely outcomes, but because John was who he was I gave him the time. He gave my life back.

The problem of invisible wounds and injuries was one that merited a Manhattan project. Instead it had the Army medical corps bureaucracy that ran Walter Reed into scandal, regularly abused invisibly wounded warriors exiled to Warrior Transition Units and never seemed to get past the word excuse, so clearly bookmarked in their dictionary, to the word execution. It was a corps of capable and dedicated medical operators who did not deserve their uninspired and ineffective leaders. Their obvious failures were difficult for me to understand after having spent a career in the company of men and women I would follow anywhere. And then there was the VA.

Unwilling to accept defeat at hands of inefficacious bureaucracies, John and SFTT recruited a team of medical experts and began scouring the country for new and more effective approaches to treating TBI and PTSD. Their rescue mission had led them to Doctor Paul Harch, a practitioner of Hyperbaric Medicine at the Louisiana State University Medical School in New Orleans. Harch, John said, would treat me.

Dr. Harch had become the point man for league of medical practitioners and researchers using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy to treat brain damage caused by TBIs. By the time I arrived in New Orleans, these practitioners had already treated over a hundred invisibly wounded warriors as well as several well-known NFL football players to include the legendary quarterback Joe Namath. Harch had personally completed a research study with 20 soldiers and marines whose brains had been damaged by combat TBIs. The results were unprecedented.

When I was being evaluated by the military’s top neurologists in 2011, the prevailing medical wisdom was that modern medicine could do very little, if anything, to help a brain heal after being damaged by a mild TBI. There was a period of natural healing of up to several years, but at four years post injury, they had no expectation that my brain would improve and many reasons to suspect that it would instead begin to degrade. I arrived in New Orleans with repressed expectations.

I found Dr. Paul Harch to be a dedicated and innovative professional. He exhibited a reserved persona that I soon found to be a façade masking a burning passion for healing and especially for healing those that hope had passed by. Harch is a man of great moral courage, conviction and compassion. A classical gentleman endowed with the noblesse oblige of an heir of a great inheritance of character and natural capacity.

 Harch and his colleagues had pioneered a protocol for using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to treat brain injuries. The medicinal effects of oxygen at higher the atmospheric pressure have been recognized empirically for over a century. It is perhaps best known as a treatment for diving injuries. It is also widely used for healing hard-to-treat wounds and is approved by the FDA for over a dozen different medical conditions. Using HBOT to treat brain injuries, like most of the prescription medications I had been prescribed by the DOD and VA, is considered off-label but its safety has been recognized by Institute of Medicine.

Treatment consisted of 40 one-hour ‘dives’ in a Plexiglas tank that I would describe as similar to a torpedo tube at a rate of one dive, sometimes two, a day. The tube is filled with 100 percent oxygen which is then pressurized to 1.5 atmospheres. Protocols for wound healing and dive injuries use higher pressures. The pressure loads oxygen into the blood stream like carbonation in an unopened can of soda. The introduction of the extra oxygen into the brain initiates a cascade of chemical interactions that my star-man roommate could probably explain but that I would struggle to elucidate here. The end result is the creation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and the repair or regrowth of brain cells.

Before I began treatment, we did a SPECT neuro-imaging scan of my brain. A SPECT scan uses an injective radioactive agent to image blood flow in the brain. It is one of the more sensitive imaging tools for detecting brain damage caused by mTBIs and in many cases is superior to CT or MRI scans, especially if more than a few months have elapsed since the time of injury. The images showed the poor blood perfusion typical of a brain damaged by TBIs- not unexpected as previous scans of other types had verified multiple points of structural damage. The image meant that my brain wasn’t using the amount of oxygen that a normal brain would have been. That difference was apparent not only in the scans but in the neuropsychological testing and other measures of cognitive and emotional impairment with which I had been evaluated.

By the time I had completed 20 ‘dives’ the changes I was experiencing were becoming undeniable. Nearly every facet of my injury profile began to improve. Pain levels dropped. Sleep improved. Memory improved. Attention span lengthened. Irritability decreased. I started feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. Good things. Happy things. I was able to sustain a light workout program for the first time since 2008. We scanned my brain again. The amount and extent of blood perfusion had increased significantly, matching the subjective results that even my guarded skepticism was compelled to recognize. The SPECT image is one of the most reliable predictors of the long-term prognosis of brain injury and mine had just changed radically.

The Harch’s covered the cost of my treatment from their own pockets, as they have for dozens of other veterans before me at no small sacrifice. John and SFTT rallied donors, mostly West Pointers, to help cover living expenses for four months of care. Gulf coast alumni quickly assumed an overwatch position and contributed several thousand dollars. I couldn’t have covered the costs alone. Even a 100% VA disability rating only matches the pay of a private first class. Not enough to maintain dual household with four kids at home.

HBOT has not completely healed my wounds, but it has given me more back than I thought possible. More than five years after leaving Iraq, a husband and a father finally come home to his family. The treatment that Dr. Harch provided unquestionably saved my marriage. It has enabled me to participate in and experience life in ways that I, and my DOD and VA doctors, had assumed were gone for good. I have even been able to contribute a little bit back. I am no longer a husk. Looking back on those dark days, I don’t think it would be unfair to say that Paul Harch and SFTT probably saved my life.

UNQUOTE

Editor’s Note:  This very moving story by Maj. Ben Richards highlights the benefits of HBOT in treating PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.    Shouldn’t we be doing more for our brave veterans.

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Veterans with PTSD – Insights by Dr. Henry Grayson

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Dr. Henry Grayson, one of SFTT’s distinguished members of its medical task force always points that there are no two identical cases of Post Traumatic Stress.   In effect, each individual brings a set of prior conscious and unconscious experiences – dare I call it “baggage” – that is often triggered in totally unpredictable ways during periods of great stress.  Many veterans have suffered traumatic events in combat and this battlefield stress is almost impossible to overcome when these brave warriors return home.

Dr. Grayson touches on many aspects of this in this lengthy but informative video which discusses his book “Use Your Body to Heal Your Mind.” Dr. Henry Grayson is a scientific and spiritual psychologist who founded and directed the National Institute for the Psychotherapies in New York City. He is the author of Mindful Loving, The New Physics of Love, as well as co-author of three professional books. Dr. Grayson integrates diverse psychotherapies with neuroscience, quantum physics, subtle energies with Eastern and Western spiritual mindfulness. He practices in New York City and Connecticut. SFTT is indeed fortunate to count on Dr. Grayson in our efforts to support our brave Veterans.

Retired Veterans Seek Help

While many focus on Post-traumatic stress disorder for Veterans returning from our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Sadly, many traumatized Veterans from Vietnam were largely ignored and many still suffer from the invisible wounds of that war.  Found below is an excerpt from an article which describes how these Veterans cope with these recurring “nightmares.”

This is a common story among older combat veterans, who have contended with both the stigma of appearing weak and the lack of knowledge about the mental effects of combat. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — characterized by hyper-vigilance, intrusive thoughts, nightmares and avoidance — wasn’t a formal diagnosis until 1980, and effective treatments weren’t widely available until the 1990s.

“They came home, stayed quiet and tried to muddle on as best they could,” says Steven Thorp, a San Diego psychologist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “They worked really hard as a distraction, 70, 80 hours a week, so PTSD didn’t really hit them full force until they retired, or the kids left the house, or they’re reminded of loss through the deaths of their friends.”

Dillard didn’t know how to right himself, but he knew exactly what had changed him: one long, terrible night in the jungles north of Saigon during his first tour, when Delta Company, his unit from the 101st Airborne Division, was nearly overrun by hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers. That night he witnessed heroics by his captain, Paul Bucha, and waited with Delta Company buddies like Calvin Heath and Bill Heaney for a dawn they feared would never come.

“That night marked all of us,” says Dillard, 66, who now lives on a ranch in Livingston, Texas, and assists other veterans with their disability claims. “It’s been the source of lots of nightmares.” via: PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Retired Veterans Seek Help – AARP

Military Suicides and PTSD

Our military leadership is rightly concerned about the rate of suicide among military veterans.  SFTT has been reported on this growing problem for some time, but little substantive change has occurred over the last several years.  Sure, the government has announced many measures to deal with the problem such as the “Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act for American Veterans,” but suicide rates continue to be high.  Found below are some of the recent government initiatives, but the even more compelling arguments why these token actions are not enough to stem this epidemic problem.

Suicides by active-duty troops and veterans are at levels that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Each day, on average, a current service member dies by suicide, and each hour a veteran does the same.

In response, President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in February. The act aims to make information on suicide prevention more easily available to veterans; it offers financial incentives to mental health professionals who work with vets; and it requires an annual evaluation of the military’s mental health programs by an independent source.

The law is commendable, but it won’t come close to ending military suicides. That would require radical changes in the policies, procedures, attitudes and culture in two of our biggest bureaucracies: the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Fifteen years ago, the suicide rate among patients in a large HMO in Detroit was seven times the national average. Its leaders decided to try to end suicides — not just reduce them but end them. In four years, the incidence of suicide at the HMO was reduced 75%; with more tinkering, the rate went down to zero, and has stayed there, at last count, for 2 1/2 years. The difference was an all-out commitment to the cause.

The HMO also implemented measures to provide timely care by enabling patients to get immediate help through email with physicians, to make same-day medical appointments and to get prescriptions filled the same day too.

A similar commitment by the military could achieve dramatic results, at least among active-duty troops. These troops are in the system now, their activities are being monitored regularly, so there are plenty of opportunities for assessment and treatment.

Then there is the matter of stigma. It’s not the military’s responsibility alone to destigmatize psychological problems, but there are steps the military can take.  Service members with PTSD who are able to manage it should be strongly considered for promotions just as though they had recovered from physical wounds. Their ability to overcome mental injury should be recognized, so it inspires others.

To keep its troops mentally healthy, the Defense Department must reduce the number and duration of combat deployments and do more to prepare troops for assymetrical warfare. It must help them adjust to life when they come home — with jobs, housing, loans and legal assistance. It must enforce, not just approve, a policy of zero tolerance related to sexual harassment and assault.

Each element has a price, and collectively the cost will be astronomical. We must be prepared to pay it if we are sincere in our commitment to support our troops.

John Bateson was executive director of a nationally certified suicide prevention center in the San Francisco Bay Area for 16 years. His latest book is “The Last and Greatest Battle: Finding the Will, Commitment, and Strategy to End Military Suicides.”  via: Support our troops? Dealing with PTSD requires commitment

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SFTT and PTS

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For several months SFTT, its medical task force and its Board have been thoroughly analyzing the battlefield of brave warriors suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and examining the resources and procedures currently available to treat this crippling disability. We have purposely dropped the “D” from PTSD since most scientific research indicates that PTS is far more serious than simply a “disorder”.

There are countless stories of brave young men and women suffering from PTS, some of which have been chronicled in SFTT. The social consequences of this growing problem are enormous and, sadly, there is no magic bullet on the horizon to deal with this problem in the numbers required to stem its insidious growth. Substance and alcohol abuse, joblessness, homelessness, alienation, low self-esteem and even suicide are just a few of the manifestations of PTS faced by returning veterans and their loved ones.

Sadly, the VA has been unable to stem the near epidemic growth of veterans suffering from the conditions of PTS and TBI (“traumatic brain injury”). Fortunately, a number of public and private institutions have emerged which are beginning to address some of the necessary conditions that must be in place to provide a lifeline to our veterans and promote a path to “wellness.”

Over the next couple of weeks, SFTT will be sharing some of these “new” treatment procedures and existing programs where our brave Veterans can receive the treatment they merit. Our ultimate objective to share these resources with Veterans and their loved-ones by re-positioning SFTT to become the go-to resource for those afflicted by PTS.

There is much information on PTS available to Veterans, but it is hard to identify actionable resources that have proven to be reliable to Veterans. SFTT – with the support of its medical task force – intends to become that “do-to” resource by partnering with other organizations that have the same goal: Help our brave Veterans reclaim their lives.

Join SFTT by becoming a Member and help provide our brave Veterans the Lifeline they deserve.

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Veteran Treatment Courts and PTSD

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It is pleasing to see that CBS decided to feature one of the 120 or so Veteran Treatment Courts in the United States on one of its most popular investigative programs: 60 Minutes. Found below is a brief summary of this very moving and disturbing report:

Two and a half million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them, more than once. The VA tells us about 20 percent come home with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD. So, that comes to about 500,000. For some, returning is harder than they imagined. The suicide rate for the Army is up 15 percent over last year. For the Marines its up 28 percent. A few of our troops return to become something they never thought they could be: criminals, for the first time in their lives.

Around Houston, in Harris County, Texas, 400 veterans are locked up every month. We met a judge there who saw them coming before the bench, fresh out of the warzone and he thought a lot of them were worth saving. Judge for yourself once you meet some of our troops, coming home.

A byproduct of the 1995 Crime Bill, the Veterans Treatment Court (Vets Court for short) is a way for Veterans facing jail time to avoid incarceration. If they accept, they are assigned to a mentoring Veteran and must remain drug-free for two years, obtain a high school diploma and have a steady job at the end  of the probation period. This may seem like a good deal, but the path to recover their lives is difficult and fraught with temptation, particularly for those Veterans with PTSD.

SFTT applauds those in law enforcement and the judicial system and supporting Veterans organization for developing such an effective and common sense approach to help Veterans reintegrate into society. 60 Minutes paints a very sympathetic picture of the Veterans Administration in this rehabilitation process, but Vets that we have talked to who have participated in Vet Court programs paint a somewhat different picture.

It is evident that there is a high incidence of dependency on drugs, potent painkillers, antidepressants and alcohol among those with PTSD. One graduate of the Veterans Court Program who now is a substance abuse counselor told me that close to 90% of Vets with PTSD have substance abuse issues.

Now, the VA has very strict rules on issuing prescription medication to Veterans with documented substance abuse problems. In other words, it may be difficult for Veterans to receive proper treatment for PTSD if substance abuse and PTSD are treated as mutually exclusive problems. This clearly introduces a level of difficulty for the VA in providing the type of comprehensive rehabilitation treatment these Vets deserve. Some may call it Catch 22, but I am sure our Vets find it no laughing matter.

In any event, SFTT applauds the Veteran Treatment Courts and is committed to help them expand across the United States.

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