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: 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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Medical Benefits More Costly for Active and Retired Military

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“Leave no man behind,”  is certainly a long-standing military phrase that captures the essence of the pride and valor of men and women serving in our armed forces. The origins of this phrase are not known, but  is used by the US Army Rangers, the USMC and special forces units around the world.

Regardless of its origins, the message is clear:  Our military takes care of their own and does not leave their wounded and brave heroes behind when they have sacrificed so much to defend our liberties. Clearly, political and military leaders in DC don’t operate with the same code of ethics and integrity.  Specifically, the Pentagon is proposing significant changes TRICARE, the military health-care program, to meet budget reduction targets.

As reported by USA Today earlier this month, “the Pentagon is proposing substantial increases in health care premiums for working-age military retirees. For some retirees, the premiums for TRICARE, would nearly quadruple from $520 per year to $2,480 in 2017.

“Veterans’ advocates denounced the proposed increases. Retired vice admiral Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America, called it a ‘a significant breach of faith with those who have already completed arduous careers of 20-30 or more years in uniform.'”

Quite understandably, the proposed increases in medical insurance premiums has provoked a firestorm in DC.  Reports the Washington Free Beacon,  “’We shouldn’t ask our military to pay our bills when we aren’t willing to impose a similar hardship on the rest of the population,’ Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a Republican from California, said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. ‘We can’t keep asking those who have given so much to give that much more.'”

While there are many sacred cows that may need to be sacrificed to bring our federal budget deficit under control,  axing medical insurance premiums and medical care for our veterans and active military personnel is not one of them.  If we as a nation can’t care for our brave heroes, then we shouldn’t be placing them in harm’s way in the first place.

Former Secretary of State and Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, Colin Powell said that, “War should be the politics of last resort.  And when we go to war, we should have purpose that our people understand and support.   Perhaps, General Powell should have added “and that we as a Nation have a clear responsibility to care for those we send to war.”

I am quite sure that General Powell would have assumed that to be the case, but it would appear that “sense of responsibility” seems to have been replaced by “sense of entitlement” among the current breed of Beltway bandits.

 

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Are Army Doctors fudging PTSD diagnoses?

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Make no mistake, the military brass recognize that many veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).  In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 5 veterans suffers from PTSD.

As such, it is difficult to reconcile a recent news report that US Army Doctors are trying to hold down the number of military service members that are diagnosed with “the Army’s top medical officer this week rejected assertions that commanders are discouraging doctors at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., from diagnosing soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho in remarks to lawmakers in the House subcommittee on defense appropriations stated that “the Army is not putting pressure on any of our clinicians.”  According to the news release, Lt. Gen. Horobo had launched a review into “discrepencies between initial PTSD diagnoses at Madigan and later conclusions reached by a forensic psychiatry team at the hospital.”

“Officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are reviewing the cases of 14 soldiers who passed through Madigan with PTSD diagnoses only to have those results changed by the forensic team in such a way that the soldiers would receive less generous disability benefits in retirement. The review was first reported by The Seattle Times.”

Indeed, there are several investigation underway to determine if there is undue pressure on physicians to question PTSD diagnoses since it could lead to costly benefits.  SFTT trusts that these investigations will prove these allegations false.  PTSD is often difficult to diagnose, but our brave warriors an objective and comprehensive diagnosis and continuing treatment to deal with this  problem which is now reaching epidemic proportions.

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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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Dr. Henry Grayson on Neuro Pathways: A Treatment for PTSD?

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As indicated earlier, SFTT is thrilled to have Dr. Henry Grayson as Chairman of SFTT’s Medical Task Force to help develop effective programs to treat our brave men and women suffering from PTSD. PTSD for veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is now reaching epidemic proportions. Government studies suggest that 1 in 5 veterans suffers from PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD manifest themselves differently from person to person – but make no mistake – PTSD is a serious problem and wrecks havoc on the lives of our citizen warriors and their loved ones.

Dr. Henry Grayson brings elegance and intelligence to this discussion of PTSD for which there is no simple cure or easy solutions. It requires patience and understanding. How we support our brave warriors will tell us much about our society. Over the coming months, SFTT will be reporting on “best practices” in treating PTSD and where and how service members can receive help. Found below, is a short video from Dr. Grayson discussing how a simple exercise can create new “neuro pathways” to reduce anxieties:

Clearly, the path to full recovery for our brave heroes is a long one, but thanks to the efforts of Dr. Grayson and many others who Stand for the Troops, we can help get our young men and women the help that they need. A world without hope is a dreary place indeed.

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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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Dream Therapy to Treat PTSD

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Several news organizations have commented on a new treatment using comforting sights. The world will be one he’s built himself in visits to his clinic, where, using biofeedback to track his response, he has trained himself to relax when he sees these images.”

The program reminds me of Stanly Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, where “society” tries to rehabilitate the main character Alex DeLarge through a programmed treatment to alter behavior based on stimuli to a series of slides and film clips.  The issue with this dream therapy treatment is whether it is therapy or something different: mind control or brainwashing.

While SFTT does not want to disparage this new treatment, we reported earlier  the US Army’s controversial “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program” where it appears that we are programming or engineering young men and women to respond in a certain manner of a set of troubling physical and mental stimuli.

SFTT’s panel of medical analysts will be commenting soon on this dream therapy program; however, we should be very careful how we characterize or define therapy.  In my opinion, therapy helps provide the patient with the tools and self-confidence to deal with his or her particular set of circumstances.   Is brain engineering or programming considered therapy?   I’m not sure.  It is certainly not a black and white issue.

Richard W. May

 

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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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