PTSD advocacy and education hasn't come nearly far enough. We have made strides in ending the stigma, but Dr. Phil is a prime example of just how far we have yet to go. Changing the name of the disorder (I call it that because that's what it is) won't change a damn thing except make it even harder for VA benefit evaluators to quanitfy. Some people believe that this is an attempt by the government and US society at large to avoid living up to their responsibilities to our service members. While I gave this some serious thought, I finally came to the conclusion that this was not true either. Do you know what I see as the motivation for the classification change?
Incredible hubris on the part of the psychology/psychiatry professions at large. These no talent idiots actually think that they can 'heal' us. They give those who do 'get it', like Rod Deaton (his blog is amazing), a bad name. So now, I want to hear from the horse's mouth. Docs, prove my assertion wrong. Let me lay this out for you in terms that you can identify with:
If my strong opinion offends people, so be it. I have never been known to candy-coat what I perceive is the truth, no matter how much it hurts or offends others (a personal flaw, I know). I sure as hell won't start now. All that will ensue from making this classification change is people will be even more confused. I have already heard, "PTSI? Is that different from PTSD? I thought you guys coming home had PTSD. What's the I stand for? Illness?"
Think on that last quote for a second. Does anyone here really truly think that reclassifying PTSD will reduce the stigma? Or is it more likely that it will just add another layer of 'crazy' for people to label us with? Think long and hard on this folks. I can't say that my opinion is the correct one. I am no more the moral expert on this subject than the docs are. All I can say is that serious discourse needs to take place. A precipitous decision to change the classification doesn't do anyone any favors.
After reading this post on Rod Deaton's Blog, I am deeply disturbed. I am going to tackle each one of the articles in his post one at a time:
Steroid Injection May Prevent PTSD:
Wow. All I can say is medically irresponsible. I can just imagine that the military is using active duty folks to see if this holds any water. Can you just imagine? Forget about the devastating potential physical side effects of steroids for a minute. One of the most pervasive side effects from using steroids is heightened anger response. And that's not the part of the article that really disturbs me. The studies are being performed by supposed experts that are asserting that this works. They never stop to think that giving someone a shot of steroids is more likely analogous to putting a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. Thousands of people with PTSD didn't have symptoms until years (and in some cases, decades) later. So unless this study plans on tracking their human guinea pigs for the next 20 years to be sure, their claims hold no merit and their research premise is extremely faulty.
Troops Today Have Better Prospects For PTSD Recovery An Expert Says:
This expert doesn't get it. He goes on to comment part way through the article that the rate of occurrence of PTSD much higher in veterans and so is the rate of suicide. Um....DUH!?!?! I'm not an expert and I can put two and two together on this one. Active Duty and deployed for the fourth time - trauma is compartmentalized. Veteran is home and safe - trauma has no reason to stay compartmentalized. Gee, I wonder what comes next. I would really love to know where they find these 'experts'. The one factor they don't take into account: Current conflict veterans don't want to come forward for treatment because of the stigma attached to it!
[Video] Military Matters: A Search For A PTSD Cure
This is just disturbing. Our government gave 35 million tax dollars to this joker? He is a psychiatrist, right? I am dumbstruck by this. Anyone who has even the slightest inkling of what a 'disorder' is knows a psychological disorder can not be 'cured'. The symptoms can be managed to the point where, over time and a lot of hard work, a person is able to control the effects of the disorder and live life mostly symptom free from day to day. Oh, and General Odierno, I just lost all respect for you as a person and as a leader. You are a prime example of what is wrong with the military leadership. I wonder how many of these guys you sent back over after they were 'cured' will end up being a statistic due to your utter failure to protect them. How DARE you.
So Now, I Am Drawing A Line In The Sand:
I will not stand by and allow this to happen. I will not stand idly by while our comrades in arms are subjected to this dangerous trend in 'treatment'. For those of you out there with PTSD, it's time to take a stand. 35 million of our tax dollars are going to this hack. This doc in the video is confident he can cure PTSD. We all know this is a disorder that can be managed, but never cured. You can't take away the scars that have been left on our souls. Ask any doctor who has been around the disorder for a few decades and they will tell you the same. We need to demand better oversight to protect ourselves from this type of dangerous thinking. It is exactly this kind of propaganda that leads to people like General Barry McCaffrey saying, "PTSD can be cured within a year".
No more. The government needs to know we can advocate for ourselves. I, for one, am willing to stand up and say, "No More!". Are you?
I decided it's time to start getting involved at the local level. After seeing where the breakdown is from a top-down perspective, it's time bring that knowledge to our local community. I have reached out to a local non-profit, Lehigh Valley Military Affairs Council. One of the directors for the organization is an acquaintance I met through my father. They have a meeting tomorrow and I am going to try to be there to learn more about their initiatives. I know that the goal of the organization is to collect all of the local resources into one group, one strategic partnership - the pooling of resources. It is the kind of thinking that could get the attention of groups like Volunteers of America, the VFW, American Legion, Blue Star Families and others. This could be an interesting experiment. I have done a lot of looking online and I don't see any other local organizations that have the same approach - local efforts elsewhere are disparate and disorganized.
I have a vision of where this could lead but I need to see if the organization is just another bureaucracy or an organization focused on results. I know that some other states organize veterans services a lot more effectively than we do in PA. It is time that best practices get adopted - create a template for success that can be recreated anywhere. I intend to leverage my online influence to make things happen locally. It will not be easy, but I am optimistic. I will fill you all in on the details after the meeting tomorrow if I am able to attend (allergy testing in the morning). If not, I will be meeting with a member of the board one on one.
As things develop, I will keep you all posted!
Dear Gen. McCaffrey,
First, sir, let me preface my remarks by telling you I have the utmost respect for you and your continued service to our country. You are a no nonsense leader. You aren't afraid to speak your mind, no matter how difficult the position you take. Your advocacy efforts on the part of service members and veterans everywhere are laudable. That being said, I do have a major point of contention that I need to address: The recent view you expressed on PTSD.
During the 'After the Uniform' Panel Discussion on May 8 at the National Press Club, you asserted that, in most cases, PTSD can be cured within a year. By stating this, I feel you demonstrate a disturbing lack of understanding of the issues facing veterans and service members who suffer from PTSD. In the public arena, you are perceived as a material expert on military and veterans' issues. What you say informs many people's opinions on pivotal issues like PTSD. I am concerned that the view you recently expressed on PTSD is dangerously outdated and uninformed. These kinds of comments could have the potential to do a lot of damage to PTSD advocacy in the military and in the country at large, which is why I am reaching out to see if you would be willing to clarify your stance on this issue.
I do not intend to sound alarmist, but I felt the need to impress upon you the importance of this issue. As a combat veteran with PTSD, blogger, and PTSD advocate, I hear every day about the struggles facing our veterans, many of whom still suffer in silence. I hear the discouragement and the disillusionment in the establishment. The negative stigma and public misgivings about PTSD keep many men and women from pursuing treatment for a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder.
My first impression of you at the panel indicated that you are a man who values directness and productive discourse. It is a sign of a strong leader to surround himself with people who will challenge his opinions and positions on issues. I hope you understand that I am taking the time to write this letter because I am confident you are the type of man who will recognize this criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow. I invite you to contact me directly so that we can candidly discuss this issue and work together to better advocate for those who suffer in silence, before they become a statistic.
*NOTE: This is the body of the letter that was sent directly to General McCaffrey via email. The full document can be found below.*
One thing has become abundantly clear after listening to what this panel had to say. We know what the major issues are that face our transitioning service members and our current veterans: Unemployment, homelessness, women's issues, PTSD and TBI, timely care for our veterans, substantially more efficient claims processes. I could keep on going, but those are the major issues. When I was listening to everyone talk and listening to the concerns raised by others during the Q&A, I also discovered a larger and more disturbing issue that is impeding everyone's endeavors to render aid: overdeveloped and cumbersome government bureaucracy. Time and time again, it was brought to everyone's attention that the bureaucracy at the VA is causing most of these issues. I would contend that it is government bureaucracy as a whole that is the problem. The VA is run by an even bigger bureaucracy - Congress and it's army of administrators, chiefs of staff, assistants, office clerks...
Yes, we've identified the problem. Now it's time to do something about it. Find ways to facilitate private and public organizational hand shakes so that we can all become part of a network of support, working toward a common goal. Even if it takes time to make this happen, the process needs to start now. In the interim, we have a year until the next panel discussion and I am throwing down the gauntlet:
The Volunteers of America and ReMIND illustrate how cooperation leads to results. Let's continue to focus on solutions and cooperation. Thank you for being organizations of rare vision and action. Please let me know what I can do to further advocacy over the course of the coming year!
Betty Mosely Brown carried herself very professionally and passionately advocated for women veterans' issues.
This could not have been the most comfortable experience for Betty. With how much the VA has been vilified online and in the press recently, it appeared she expected a certain amount of backlash, especially during the Q&A portion of the panel discussion. Despite this, Betty brought up some very good points.
Betty's greatest asset is her ability to listen. I was talking with her in the hallway after the panel was over. She gave me her card and asked me for my input on how I thought the VA could address their inefficiencies, what the VA could do to get more assistance to the veterans faster. I definitely plan on taking her up on that offer.
There is no doubting General McCaffrey is an expert on Military Affairs. He recognizes the unfair burden this war has been for so few to carry. He also recognizes that our current generation of military and veterans are the most battle-weary of any generation preceding them (the downside to an all-volunteer force in the modern age). Aside from these acknowledgments, McCaffrey brought up four major points:
General McCaffrey demonstrated a keen understanding of the many different facets of the challenges facing our service members and our veterans. Despite this, I still was left with a sour taste in my mouth. While I recognize his years of service and his dedication to his country and its men and women in uniform, one simple sentence is what I will remember him for: "PTSD can be cured within a year"
I am not going to address this comment here. Because I feel so strongly about this comment, I will be drafting a letter to General McCaffrey (which I will post in the blog and forward to him) and afford him the opportunity to respond.
Barbara Banaszynski exhibited a lot of passion for veterans' issues and very much seemed like a 'doer'. She made strong points on a number of issues:
Lastly Barbara said one thing that really stuck with me: "It is not what we say, it is what we do."
*A Note to Barbara Banaszynski*
I was honored to be invited by your organization to be part of this discussion. I look forward to learning about your initiatives moving forward. As the year progresses and we get closer and closer to next year's panel, I would love to catch up with you periodically and learn about your successes and your failures and what the VOA has learned from both. Your organization recognized that more needed to be done to provide for veterans and are acting now to make a difference. David Burch has my email but if you ever want to contact me directly, you can send me an email.
At first I was a little concerned and still am: Bob Woodruff was supposed to be the one sitting on the panel. I hope that this posting finds him in good health.
That being said, Lee Woodruff is Bob's wife and the co-founder of his Foundation. I was very impressed with her depth of knowledge on issues facing veterans returning home, especially PTSD and TBI. Lee is a lead from the front personality. She understands that we can't tackle these difficult issues sitting behind a desk in Washington and discussing policy. She is out on the front lines of this battle every day, meeting with veterans. She understands their concerns, their hopes.
Lee is not afraid to ask difficult questions. At the same time, she understands that antagonizing the VA or any organization dedicated to the welfare of our country's veterans is counterproductive. Yes, she voices a lot of concerns, but she understands that she and her organization need to work with the existing organizations and infrastructure to effect positive change in the system as a whole. Lee is aware that there are literally thousands of local organizations that want to help, but the bureaucracy in place that runs the current system makes it near impossible to work together. She is working to change that. She also brought to everyone's attention what she calls the 'hidden casualty' of this war: Intimacy
Lee recognizes that medical technology has advanced to the point where guys that are making it home never would have in previous conflicts. She also points out that a lot of these young wounded are concerned that the opposite sex won't be able to see past their wheel chair - that they will never be able to connect with someone romantically, intimately. This doesn't even take into account all of the folks with PTSD or TBI that have difficulties connecting emotionally or intimately with their spouses or loved ones. When we should be enjoying the prime of our lives, we are instead left wondering if we are ever going to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labors, our sacrifices.
As a combat veterans with PTSD, I understood this a long time ago. What I failed to understand is that most of America has no clue. That's got to change and Lee is making sure it does. This is an issue that needs to be on everyone's radar.
*A Message to Lee Woodruff*
I applaud the efforts you and your husband make on the behalf of veterans everywhere. Your compassion for the plight of the young wounded, especially those with TBI or PTSD is a shining example that others should strive to emulate. We had started to discuss the disconnect between local organizations and the national ones when we were unceremoniously shooed out of the room and into the hallway. I would love to continue that discussion and see what we can do to work together to further the cause. Here's my email.
David Gregory did an admirable job of moderating the panel. He did a great job of keeping everyone on point. When folks would start to go off on a tangent about an unrelated subject to the question at hand, he would find a way to gently interrupt and refocus the panel.
David asked a lot of difficult to answer questions and didn't shy away from asking even more difficult follow-ups. As a mediator, his job was to not have an opinion on any of the subjects discussed and he did a great job remaining objective during even the most emotionally charged topics.
There is one point he brought up as a moderator that he felt very strongly about that he had to make sure he impressed upon the listeners and the panelists: Media Accountability
He brought up how the media has a responsibility to ensure that the plight of returning veterans does not fade from the collective consciousness of the general public. He didn't really expand upon how the media was going to do this, but it was nice to hear that coming from a prominent member of the media establishment. I will be interested to see how this plays out in the coming months.
*A Note to Mr. Gregory*
If you do, by chance, actually read this, I would love to hear more about your perspectives on media accountability and what you believe the media can do to advocate more effectively for veterans' rights and services. You can reach me by email.
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.