The Holidays

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

As holidays approach, I’m uniquely grateful for the loved ones in my life. I’m also ever-mindful that there’ve been times when I didn’t have enough social support, and I won’t forget how hard those moments were.

And so I ask myself this time of year, have I reached out to anyone who may need a friend? Am I focusing outward?

My community is a military one, and we all know that we’ve lost too many this year. Not all veterans lose their social support systems upon returning home,though many of us do. It can be tough to stay close to people when we aren’t sure that we speak the same language any longer.

Some veterans are blessed with the ability to keep communication lines open, even in hard times and with loved ones able to weather the storm alongside. These are the cases that highlight even more powerfully the importance of connection, and I’ll always be grateful that this was my brother’s experience.

I was already deployed to Iraq when my brother e-mailed me to share that he was probably going to propose to his girlfriend before he headed over. She was a civilian schoolteacher from Philadelphia whom I had yet to meet, and I just rolled my eyes when he shared with me his romantic plans. I was surrounded by guys losing their girlfriends to the grind of deployment, and I expected that his schoolteacher would be mailing him a “Dear John” letter after a few months.I told him I didn’t have a problem with the proposal but admonished him to buy her a ring made out of cubic zirconia. No sense in buying a diamond he might never get back.

As younger brothers often do, he ignored my advice and bought her a beautiful ring.

Well, that is some cash he will never see again! Should have listened to me!

When a wounded service member is medically evacuated, he or she often has a long period in a hospital ward and in lots of different outpatient treatment facilities. There’re no guarantees and it’s painful for both the patient and those standing alongside. I watched the prospect of a long, uncertain recovery level some people. In others, I watched uncertainty and trauma bring out their diamond-hard character.

When my brother arrived at Bethesda, we didn’t know what he might be facing. There was so much damage. On his third surgery, the physicians in the operating room took a vote about whether or not to amputate his leg at the hip; he had infection setting in and they were worried it could get worse. Two voted to amputate, and three voted to give him a couple of days.

Ward 5 was a dark place some days. We were surrounded by morphine drips, pain, injury,and struggling families who weren’t sure what to make of it all.

Into this world walked my brother’s civilian schoolteacher.

She won’t be able to handle this.

Throughout this period I watched his young fiancé with a cynical eye. I stereotyped her on sight—she was a pretty girl who often wore makeup and always had on matching accessories. I assumed she lacked gravitas and would fall apart any minute.

She never did.

When her leave ran out at work she went back to teaching all day long in nearby Virginia, but made the drive every night to sleep in a chair at my brother’s bedside. I’d find her sitting by his side laughing about some silly thing or another, always keeping him smiling. She never complained and never gave up,never confessed fears about marrying a man with so many new health issues.

While I fumbled gracelessly in his hospital room, once even dropping a portable DVD player on his gaping wounds, she was all kindness and poise. She kept him looking toward their future on a daily basis. Even when he left the hospital and had to spend long days in a reclining chair. Even when he needed help with any and all of the most basic tasks.

The makeup had fooled me; she was more than serious. Only in her twenties, she helped him make it to the bathroom, shower, move, and get through hard physical therapy appointments without complaint. I don’t think I ever saw her with messy hair.

There were guys on the ward whose wives filed for divorce when they saw what they were going to have to struggle through together. I don’t think the thought ever crossed her mind.

She helped him through medical retirement, a search for a new career and a civilian identity, and they became parents with that joyous excitement reserved for newbies who don’t yet know how much sleep they will soon go without.

She married a Marine with three sisters, all of whom would gladly hide a body for her today—no questions asked.

She has a good memory though. Every now and again, I hear about that cubic zirconia comment. This Christmas will be no exception.

You can help reach out to veterans this holiday season by contacting Volunteer Services at your local VA Medical Center, signing up for your local Team Red, White, and Blue (,or simply reaching out a hand to a vet you know.

Thank you for engaging. Thank you for celebrating Christmas with military veterans.


MaryAnn H.A. Dyer & Wookiee

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My name is MaryAnn H.A. Dyer, I am a Retired, 100% Disabled, female Army Veteran, with a Military Occupational Skill (MOS) in Intelligence (TSBICI). I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Night Terrors, Military Sexual Trauma (MST), Panic Attacks, Fibromyalgia, Degenerative Spine and Severe Migraines.

I love the Army and I love my Country; We take care of each other. The thought that I would need the help of a Service Dog to release anger that I’ve held deeply inside my soul for decades flabbergasted me. I was grossly mistaken. My therapist suggested a Pets-For-Veterans dog to me and I envisioned thoughts of a HUGE rabid beast to protect me…I got a 12 pound Shih Tzu mutt with an underbite and hair accessory!

Her name was Cookie. Seriously, that’s a nickname for someone with “Mother” tattoos working KP (kitchen duty) in the Army, peeling potatoes while smoking cigarettes. Our personalities clashed until I promoted her to my rival – Navy, she became Wookiee, a fighter pilot on the Millennium Falcon!

Wookiee not only rides with me in the HandyVan to VA appointments, she travels with me on airplanes to seminars. Wookiee controls not only my mood, but that of the crowd around us, which comes in handy should I have a panic attack and need her to perform conflict resolution and crowd control maneuvers. Wookiee is excellent at pain management and meditation techniques. She helps me move energy throughout my body, releasing it from pain for the duration of meditation. Truly a miracle I’d never experienced before.

In meditation, I drew parallels between Wookiee’s and my life while she was with Pets-For-Vets and I was in the military. She was badly matted and in need of a shave. I called that basic training where PVT Wookiee got a “high n’ tight” and learned her obedience commands. I was a Bulldog at Mad-Dog-Alpha-8-2; We both wore dog tags. I shared an open bay with sixty women and Wookiee shared an open kennel. I’ve been locked in War Rooms and Wookiee has been locked in cages. Wookiee and I guard each other’s back and are both loud in sounding off! We were destined to join forces together.

Upon awakening, I look into her “owl” eyes of wisdom and play with her gently on my bed. She gives me great delight and engages my maternal instincts. Taking Wookiee for walks, feeding and brushing her gives me reason to function regardless of emotion, pain or desire. She is an extension of myself, only better.
Wookiee sleeps with her head at my heart and wakes me before the night terrors can grip my mind, body and soul. She helps me re-write my life in a healthy, productive, humorous way. This Service Dog breathes life into my lungs; I am blessed to call her friend.


Russ Albrycht and Tink

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I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1998 and have deployed twice as a Combat Medic to Iraq.  For my first deployment, I worked in the EMT (Emergency Room) of a Combat Support Hospital during the busiest phase of the Iraq War and regularly received mortar fire during my second.  As one can imagine, I saw and experienced many things that no one should ever have to.  All of this led to pronounced anxiety and PTSD that has affected me in many different ways.

A few years after my second deployment, I heard about Pets for Vets and contacted them about a companion animal.  Shortly after, I was matched with an amazing dog, Tinkerbell.  She is named after Tinkerbell from Peter Pan who is known for always fixing things which is how she got her name.  She has done an amazing job at “fixing” so many different aspects of my life.

There have been many days where she put a smile on my face just from how excited she was to see me at the end of a long work day.  I have always been a person that needs to be constantly busy and there have many times where she has looked so cute watching me that I had to stop what I was doing to spend time with her or where I said “I should sit with her on the couch and eat dinner instead of at my computer”.  She also helps to show me the importance of stopping to smell the roses because during her beloved walks, she frequently stops to smell something.  This helps me to relax and enjoy life instead of feeling the need to constantly be busy.

I have spent a lot of time cuddling with her during and after having an intense emotional event.  This brings me a lot of peace and a strong sense of companionship because she is there to comfort me without my needing to explain what happened.  She is just happy to be with her Daddy.

She has also done an incredible job of bringing me closer to other people in my life since I can’t always be the one to watch her.  I communicate more frequently with my family now which started because I was checking in on her.  I also visit my second family on a weekly basis for dinner now since they watch her once a week and I cook dinner for them since they watched her all day.

I would definitely say that contacting Pets for Vets and taking Tink into my life has been one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.  I will be forever grateful to Pets for Vets and Tink for making such a difference in my life.


Sheldon Ewers, U.S. Navy Veteran and his Amazing Service Dog Roy

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I can say I am alive today because of my Service Dog Roy!

In May of 2017 I received a significant mental blow.  On that day while home by myself, I received a letter in the mail explaining to me from an employer, I was broken, I was terminated, they had no position for me.

Fired, rejected, useless, failure as a husband and father.   After reading the letter, I walked to my room, opened the drawer and pulled out a 40 caliber Sig Sauer pistol.  While crying uncontrollably, I sat on the floor by myself and pushed that pistol as far back in my throat as I could.  With every fiber of my being I had every intention of pulling the trigger. Across the house in my living room was my service dog Roy.  How he knew I will never know!  One minute I was alone, the next minute he was licking me and pressing his body to mine.  Roy’s paws on my arms and licking me at the same time.  The combination of my despair and love of my service dog and his persistence to make me hold on to him saved my life literally.  I have the (above) photo of that moment only because a friend insisted I send her one to know I was ok.

Since that day, I have completed my Bachelor of Arts degree with the intent of attending Michigan State University in August of 2019 for a Masters in Vocational Rehabilitation.

Without the love and support of Guardian Angels and the devotion of my Service Dog Roy I would not be alive.  I have attached two photos:  The first depicts the despair of that fateful day, the second is my life reborn with Roy by my side.


Sheldon Ewers

U.S. Navy Veteran and former Lieutenant Michigan Department of Corrections




PTSD and Fireworks

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Written by: Rebecca McCoy

Rebecca McCoy lives in Florida with her husband who has military related PTSD, two children, and extended family. She writes about her experiences as a supportive spouse and shares her unique perspective and wants to help others who are living with PTSD. She shares her story at and on her Facebook page: A Spouses Story PTSD.

Has anyone noticed that many with #PTSD are having additional symptoms or increased symptoms right now? Now, do you know why?

For those of you in the United States… What’s coming? Ah… the 4th of July! (There are certain anniversaries or such going on in other countries as well) Which means…

Fireworks…Crowds…Celebrations…Expectations! Oh fireworks!


Many ask, “Why fireworks?”. Because they might resemble what someone, especially military/war related OR a natural disaster, went through, their trauma, which lead to PTSD.

Many that do understand believe it’s because of the sound they produce, which is very true however not the full truth to them. What about the vibration they give off, vibrations from fireworks can also effect one. Then you have the light produced from them, it can be another PTSD trigger as well.

So what if the one with PTSD might be able to manage through the lights, vibrations, sound but you can’t figure out why fireworks are still a trigger to their PTSD. But are you still missing something? What about the smell? Ah… you may not have thought about that one, the smell. Many that have experienced military trauma relate the smell of fireworks to combat.

In a situation where natural disaster was at hand, it may be more of the sound, lights, and vibration over the smell sense that trigger a person.

You have to keep in mind ALL of the body’s senses when it comes to PTSD. PTSD can react to or be triggered by anything that can be sensed that reminds them of what happened to them and was going on around them at the time of their trauma.

At times, those that are triggered by fireworks can find ways to cope through them, others may have a more difficult time doing so. It all depends on the person, their level of coping at that time, as well as if there is time to prepare for a possible trigger.

So what can you do?

* Some will face what is going on. Actually sit, watch, and focus on fireworks to try to help keep themselves grounded to present time and place.

* Some will stay inside to avoid the smells fireworks produce. Or to avoid the light they produce, also by keeping the curtains shut to block the light.

* The vibrations are a slight bit more tricky. There’s no avoiding those. If vibrations are a trigger you have to focus to keep yourself grounded. Prepare yourself to what you know is actually taking place or going to take place. Helicopters are another thing that is a huge trigger to many due to vibrations, which seem to fly more during the holiday weekend.

* If the sound is a trigger, sometimes playing music or something you like such as watching a movie can help drown them out. Ear buds or headphones/headsets are wonderful in these cases.

* Using coping techniques/skills can help. To name a few common ones… Breathing exercises, meditation (which there are many different types of meditation, mindfulness is one we use), grounding techniques including focusing on someone or something.

* Talk to someone through these times. Having someone to talk to and focus on can help, as well as help keep you grounded.

Whatever works for you or try different things until you find what’s best for you in each situation, just make sure you do something. Flashbacks and triggers are no joke and sure not a fun experience so do or try things that can help get you through these times.

PTSD does start showing more symptoms when one is getting closer to days like the 4th of July. Recognize that there is a cause for additional symptoms and they are not something that are just coming out of the blue. With PTSD, there is always a “something” to cause the flashbacks or triggers. When you learn to recognize the causes or reasons, it makes it a little easier to handle and learn to cope best as possible when those things come.

To those without PTSD…

Please take into consideration and understand that if one with PTSD cannot manage to join in holiday activities, it’s not that they don’t want to, it’s due to what is going on now that may be triggering their symptoms. They may be overwhelmed, feel pressured, experiencing higher anxiety and stress levels, and a good chance due to the fear of the unknown which is very common with PTSD. It will all depend on a person’s coping level/ability to what they can manage and what they cannot at this point, as well as any triggers which may occur.

So let those with PTSD set their own pace and be the one to push themselves if they are in a position they feel they can. It is perfectly okay to invite them and include them in holiday activities, it actually will make them feel good, but at the same time do not pressure them to do so.

Many may retreat away from others during this time, please understand that this should not be taken personally, when this happens normally it’s due to them needing space to cope and manage their symptoms, as well as not wanting others to see what they go through.

I hope everyone has a peaceful and relaxing holiday, please stay safe out there!



New Study Suggests that Blood Test Can Detect PTSD

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According to a recent Dutch study involving military personnel deployed to Afghanistan, there is evidence to suggest that blood-based miRNAs (Micro RiboNucleic Acids) may serve as “candidate biomarkers for symptoms of PTSD.”

Image from Biochemistry for Medics

A research group from the Netherlands collected blood samples Dutch soldiers before, as well as 6 months after deployment.

Author of the study, Dr. Laurence de Nijs (Maastricht University), states the following:

“We discovered that these small molecules, called miRNAs, are present in different amount in the blood of persons suffering from PTSD compared to trauma-exposed and control subjects without PTSD.

“We identified over 900 different types of these small molecules. 40 of them were regulated differently in people who developed PTSD, whereas there were differences in 27 of the miRNAs in trauma-exposed individuals who did not develop PTSD.

“Interestingly, previous studies have found circulating miRNA levels to be not only correlated with different types of cancer, but also with certain psychiatric disorders including major depressive disorders. These preliminary results of our pilot study suggest that miRNAs might indeed be candidates as predictive blood markers (biomarker) to distinguish between persons at high and low risk of developing PTSD. However, several steps need to be performed before such results can really have an impact on the larger field and in clinical practice. In addition to working towards biomarkers, the results may also provide novel information about the biological mechanisms underlying the development of PTSD”.

While more studies are required to confirm the results of this study, it does suggest that blood-testing could help identify risk factors for susceptibility to PTSD for troops scheduled for deployment.

It is difficult to generalize from such a limited test sample but clearly, evidence based markers seem to be a far better way to test the incidence of PTSD and brain trauma than the simplistic PTSD screening questionnaires currently employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

There continues to be much promising research into preventing and curing PTSD and TBI, but sadly the VA continues to insist on failed therapy programs while sponsoring research studies than focus on helping Veterans cope with the symptoms of brain trauma rather that provide meaningful solutions.  The cannabis and ecstasy studies suggest that the VA feels far more comfortable dispensing prescription drugs rather than provide Veterans with a meaningful path to full recovery.

While thousands of Veterans continue to suffer from combat-related brain trauma, the VA has done precious little to help these Veterans and their families cope with this debilitating problem.  While the VA insists that they are doing everything possible to help Veterans with PTSD and TBI, the story of Eric Bivins and countless other brave warriors paints a far different picture of what Veterans can really expect at the VA.


Drs. Paul Harch and David Cifu Spar over Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

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Well over a year ago, Dr. Paul Harch, one of the leading experts in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) published an authoritative report entitled “Hyperbaric oxygen in chronic traumatic brain injury:  oxygen, pressure and gene therapy” for the U.S. National Library of Medicine (Medical Gas Research).

In this report (a lengthy extract is printed below), Dr. Harch argues persuasively over the many benefits of using HBOT in treating brain injury:

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment for wounds in any location and of any duration that has been misunderstood for 353 years. Since 2008 it has been applied to the persistent post-concussion syndrome of mild traumatic brain injury by civilian and later military researchers with apparent conflicting results. The civilian studies are positive and the military-funded studies are a mixture of misinterpreted positive data, indeterminate data, and negative data. This has confused the medical, academic, and lay communities. The source of the confusion is a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition, principles, and mechanisms of action of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This article argues that the traditional definition of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is arbitrary. The article establishes a scientific definition of hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a wound-healing therapy of combined increased atmospheric pressure and pressure of oxygen over ambient atmospheric pressure and pressure of oxygen whose main mechanisms of action are gene-mediated. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy exerts its wound-healing effects by expression and suppression of thousands of genes. The dominant gene actions are upregulation of trophic and anti-inflammatory genes and down-regulation of pro-inflammatory and apoptotic genes. The combination of genes affected depends on the different combinations of total pressure and pressure of oxygen. Understanding that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a pressure and oxygen dose-dependent gene therapy allows for reconciliation of the conflicting TBI study results as outcomes of different doses of pressure and oxygen.

Not surprisingly, Dr. David Cifu, Senior TBI Specialist in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Health Administration, gave the standard stock answer from the spin doctors at the VA that:

There is no reason to believe that an intervention like HBOT that purports to decrease inflammation would have any meaningful effect on the persistence of symptoms after concussion. Three well-controlled, independent studies (funded by the Department of Defense and published in a range of peer reviewed journals) involving more than 200 active duty servicemen subjects have demonstrated no durable or clinically meaningful effects of HBOT on the persistent (>3 months) symptoms of individuals who have sustained one or more concussions. Despite these scientifically rigorous studies, the clinicians and lobbyists who make their livings using HBOT for a wide range of neurologic disorders (without scientific support) have continued to advocate the use of HBOT for concussion.

To Dr. David Cifu’s stock VA response, Dr. Harch responded as follows:

The charge is inconsistent with nearly three decades of basic science and clinical research and more consistent with the conflict of interest of VA researchers.  A final point: in no publication has the claim regarding effectiveness of HBOT in mTBI PPCS been predicated on an exclusive or even dominant anti-inflammatory effect of HBOT. Rather, the argument is based on the known micro-wounding of brain white matter in mTBI, and the known gene-modulatory, trophic wound-healing effects of HBOT in chronic wounding.  The preponderance of literature in HBOT-treated chronic wound conditions, is contrary to Dr. Cifu’s statement of HBOT as a “useless technology.”

As a layman, Dr. Harch’s detailed rebuttal (see FULL RESPONSE HERE) completely destroys Dr. Cifu’s “non-responsive” comment to the scientific points raised in Dr. Harch’s report.  In my view, it goes beyond the traditional “professional respect” shown by peers:  Dr. Harch was pissed off and, in my opinion, had every right to be.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Cifu has not responded to the irrefutable arguments presented by Dr. Harch.

The discussion of HBOT is not a subject of mild academic interest.  Specifically,  Veterans are being deprived of hyperbaric oxygen therapy because Dr. David Cifu and his cronies at the VA are misrepresenting the overwhelming evidence that suggests that HBOT restores brain function.

Why?  Indeed, that is the $64 question.

It is difficult to forecast how this academic drama will play out.  Nevertheless, I suspect that David Ciful will eventually be viewed by Veterans as performing a similar role within the VA as Alvin Young, aka “Dr. Orange.”

I hope and pray this is not the case.  On behalf of tens of thousands of Veterans who are denied HBOT treatment for PTSD and TBI by the clumsy and sloppy claims of Dr. Cifu and others within the VA, please “do the right thing” and lend your support to HBOT as a recommended VA therapy for treating brain injury.