Sorry for the delay in getting this out to everyone. For personal reasons, I was not able to write this in a timely manner. For a good summary of what happened during the panel, click HERE. It's been too long since the panel for my memory to be clear of all that was said and the best I would be able to do is reading the paraphrasing of the live twitter feed. There are a few points that were made that were significant that I do remember and those are the ones that I will discuss in this post.
Veterans as Civic Assets:
One of the panelists, Koby Langley, commented that one of the major problems facing veterans is that they are not viewed as civic assets. I agree 100%. What was nice about him making that comments is that it puts that subject on the national radar. Veterans are volunteering and serving their local communities in record numbers and not much attention is being paid in the national media. Yes, they have articles about veteran volunteerism on websites like CNN and FOXNews. The problem: It's never THE item of news.
Veterans continue their selfless service after they leave the military, making a huge difference wherever they put down roots. This hard work and dedication to their communities, however, has not translated into gratitude and jobs. Serving honorably in the military used to mean stability and a guaranteed job upon separation from service. The communities we live in seem to have forgotten just what it is we sacrifice and how selflessly we serve. I don't say this on my account - my family doesn't live paycheck to paycheck, but too many veterans and their families struggle to make enough to keep a roof over their heads. Many veterans with disabilities that CAN work aren't given equal consideration for employment yet none of us can prove discrimination. I am lucky that I work for a compassionate company that does right by veterans.
Koby obviously understands this struggle that veterans face every day and is working to make sure that our plight is put on the national radar and stays there. Many thanks, Koby, for your efforts and I wish you success in your endeavors.
We were all in for a surprise visit before the panel got under way. Representatives Phil Roe of Tennessee and Tim Walz of Minnesota talked to the audience about all of the struggles facing veterans with PTSD. They vowed that no partisan politics would come into play when it came to doing right by veterans. I was surprised to see a Republican and a Democrat standing side by side voluntarily. The respect each man had for each other was obvious. It was very heartening to see.
With all of the partisan vitriol constantly being spewed from all corners of DC and across the country, more open cooperation is necessary for our country to move forward - especially concerning the long-term care for our nation's veteran population. Representatives Roe and Walz have dedicated themselves to doing what is best for veterans, regardless of constituency or political affiliation. I encourage them to continue on this path of cooperation. I know I will be paying much closer attention to their efforts in DC.
Again, I am sorry that I was unable to follow up on this panel like I did last year. Personal issues, aside, I still believe that the conversations being held at these panels is important and gives us all an idea where policy is headed (as well as what issues will be focused on by non-profits and veterans organizations). I just wish that I could have given this panel discussion the attention it was due. If you are interested in watching the whole panel and the Q&A, you can watch it below. I would love to hear from everyone on what was covered in this panel. Hope everyone has a great week!
So the MRI results came back negative for TBI. In fact, they said my brain health was incredibly good. Talk about a relief. The only problem is that I still have all of the problems but they just don't stem from TBI. The only other viable explanation is extreme sleep deficit.
So Now What?
Well, I talked with the docs and did research online and it appears that folks with PTSD are substantially more susceptible to sleep dysregulation. Working shift work where your schedule is inconsistent at best wreaks havoc on our systems. It leads to a substantial loss of quality sleep and overall hours of sleep resulting in a major sleep deficit that, over time, erodes cognitive abilities and short term memory (among other things).
Their solution is to recommend to my employer that I get put on a consistent schedule that will facilitate a strong routine. They want me to get up at the same time every day. Start and end work at the same times every day. Go to the gym the same time every day. Make dinner the same time every day. Go to bed the same time every day.
They said it will take time, but it will eventually retrain my body to digest, sleep, and burn at appropriate times and intervals. Now I just need to see whether my employer will be able to facilitate this or not. That is the major concern I have with all of this. If they can't facilitate that, what then? Well, I'm not crossing that bridge yet. Let's see what happens when I meet with HR tomorrow.
Much has been done in recent years to raise awareness of Combat-Related PTSD. The statistics are now well-known: approximately 1 in 5 service members returns home with some degree of PTSD. What is also well-documented is the rate of suicide among veterans of all eras - 22 per day. The truest question remains - has all of this increased awareness decreased or increased the stigma of PTSD? While I feel that the efforts are to be commended, awareness without education has only increased the stigma. I see it and hear it every day online and in the real world. Yes, many more are aware of PTSD. The issue is that the increased awareness has not bred understanding.
People fear what they do not understand.
PTSD is grossly misunderstood. While many feel the best way to battle the stigma is to confront it head-on, it has been proven to do more harm than good. How many times have I heard it: "Yeah I know what PSTD is - it's when soldiers come home from war and their minds are broken." While this isn't always exactly, word for word, what I hear, the meaning is the same. PSTD was not a typo. If people can't even get the acronym right, what hope do we truly have of earning their compassion and understanding?
What is the end result of this stigma? Employers fear hiring veterans, with and without PTSD. Too many think that having PTSD makes us dangerous and a threat to the safety of other employees in the workplace. As a result, the stigma of PTSD hangs like a cloud of ignorance over all veterans - with or without PTSD. If employers believe that PTSD is dangerous, how likely do you think it is that they are going to take a 20% chance that the veteran they hire is going to have PTSD? If PTSD was a legitimate threat to the safety and stability of the work environment, would you, as a hiring manager or HR rep, play Russian Roulette with the efficiency and effectiveness of current employees? I think not. The stigma of PTSD has limited veterans' options for employment and made it even more difficult to live a fulfilling professional life. Like me, many veterans are relegated to positions not befitting their experience or education.
It's time for this trend to stop. As Executive Director of a new non-profit, Support No Stigma, I propose a new method to fighting this stigma - education of the general public on what PTSD actually is and empowering veterans to take charge of their own professional destiny by teaching them about entrepreneurship.
This can't happen in a vacuum. I need people to step up and join the conversation, to join the cause. Learn more about what we are planning to do to change the PTSD landscape for veterans everywhere. Don't shout "PTSD!!" from the rooftops. Enter the conversation with medical professionals, students, HR departments. Help them understand the TRUTH of PTSD and encourage them to empower veterans with or without PTSD.
Today was one of those days. I woke up tired and angry. I was a little bit nervous about going to work because I didn't feel in particular control. I went anyways. Not even two hours into my shift someone did something that really triggered me (disrespect will do that). Next thing I know, I am shaking from the adrenalin and fighting off some extreme anger. My only saving grace was that I was responsible for tasks that left me to my own devices and allowed me to essentially ignore everyone. I made it over six hours before my anger finally made it too exhausting and stressful to stay at work.
I just couldn't figure out what the hell caused me to wake up that angry. Nothing seemed to make any sense. After I got home, I got changed and went to the gym. I did cardio until I couldn't sweat anymore. It cleared my head a bit but I still couldn't figure out what the hell had set me into that pattern of barely concealed and controlled anger. I hadn't been there in quite a while.
And then it hit me.
I only seem to get that angry when I feel particularly out of control of something - the spectre of TBI hanging over my head fits the bill nicely. Now I just need to figure out what in the hell to do about it. I am going to have to change some things in my lifestyle to help compensate for this. I have no resolution to the TBI issue in the near future but the workout helped a lot. Time to get serious about putting my life in order. Adequate sleep, exercise to burn off the adrenalin, anything I can do to stay stable and prescient for my family.
Guess we'll see how it goes...
This issue would appear, on the surface to be cut and dry - the VA is understaffed, underfunded, and overwhelmed. The truth is not that simple and anyone paying attention knows it. There has been a coordinated PR campaign by the IAVA among others to 'motivate' the VA to square themselves away.
Unfortunately, I believe that, while they are making life uncomfortable for politicians and pressuring them to end the claims backlog, the way in which the IAVA has gone about it has caused too many veterans to not trust the VA. This loss of trust is tragic. It keeps many from coming forward to get the help they desperately need. Pushing for reform cannot be done quickly and piecemeal.
Let's examine the issues with the VA more closely:
Needless to say, there are a lot of problems at the VA. Many of them are due to the fact that the majority of our politicians who voted for sending us to war accounted for the enduring costs associated with waging it. Just remember - there's always three sides to every story: Yours, Mine, and somewhere in the middle lies the truth.
We're ten days out from this year's 'After the Uniform' Panel at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. This year's panel is dedicated to addressing PTSD. With this in mind I will be outlining the major issues facing veterans with PTSD. First up:
The State of Behavioral Healthcare
Behavioral healthcare in the United States is a disgrace. Little has been done to truly modernize care and the stigma associated with having a behavioral disorder is damaging and debilitating. Americans with behavioral disorders are treated like second class citizens by many and ignored by others. This is felt even more strongly by our military and veteran populations. The stigma associated with PTSD is such a strong deterrent that thousands never come forward to get the treatment they need out of fear of stigmatization - fearful of either torpedoing their military careers or severely limiting their employment prospects after they transition back to civilian life. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of groups out there dedicated to educating the general public about behavioral disorders. The real problem is that the stereotypes are so ingrained that people don't want to listen.
The advent of the internet age should have facilitated a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we approach treatment and awareness. The sad truth - nothing has changed. In our country, the internet is not used effectively to reach veterans or facilitate treatment. While this deficiency has been recognized by our Federal Government, little has been done to rectify the situation.
Case and Point: Earlier this month, the Federal Government announced the creation of a new website -
It opened to such huge fanfare that no one I know even knew it existed or that it had launched. Seriously, click on the image and take a look. It's only taken the United States until the middle of 2013 to get these types of basic aspects of facilitating care onto the internet.
Great Britain, Canada and Australia on the other hand...They have online access to anonymous peer-to-peer support, online therapy, and the ability to refer people to 'real world' professional care. One of the major pioneers in this modernization of behavioral healthcare in these countries is The Big White Wall -
Their approach is modern and allows people to come forward and get support without the fear of stigmatization. Their work has been lauded in many circles as the 'proof of concept' for the future of behavioral healthcare. Ever heard of them? No? Did you know they have been trying to gain entry into the US market?
It makes me wonder how many more of our brethren-in-arms would reach out for help if they had this kind of option for support and care accessible to them.
So there you have it. I think I have adequately drawn attention to the state of behavioral healthcare in this country. Up next: The VA
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Authors: Dr. Harry A. Croft, M.D. and Rev. Dr. Chrys Parker, J.D.
I do not make that claim lightly. While some aspects of their approach have been written about before, it's the manner in which they organize it all that has a huge impact on the way you, as a reader, will absorb it. The biggest impact they make with their approach is their focus on the physiological underpinnings that cause the behaviors attributed to PTSD. Having someone tell you it's the 'battle brain' doesn't tell you anything. When they explain to you that the basis for PTSD is physiological, when they explain in a way you can understand what is going on inside your body, I guarantee you will feel a great sense of relief. I know I did. I now have a reference to help me explain to others that my PTSD is not 'just in my head'. It will make the reader more aware of the way they respond in varying situations and facilitate recognizing the signs of being triggered much faster.This can also have another major impact on the lives of veterans everywhere: You now have a resource to give to your family to help them understand how you are different that 'before' and what they can do to support you effectively.
Their approach to writing this book is exceptional. For every issue or topic they address, they clearly delineate who is presenting his perspective. At first I didn't think that would work out. Two people writing about the same issue as separate and distinct voices? Wouldn't it be better to write collectively?
Yes, they both have their own unique perspective on the issues. Yes, their tone and reasoning varies, No, their rationale does not conflict - it complements. Croft has a tendency to take a more clinical, yet still conversational, tone to his commentary. Parker, the more spiritual. The change in voice also helps to keep the subject matter from getting dry. It provides you a unique opportunity to learn about these issues from all sides.
I don't want you to just take my word for it. Let me give you the guided tour and you can make the decision to read the book if you find it as beneficial as I do. For those of you not familiar with my review writing style, I break the book into sections and give my account of the 'good', 'bad', and 'unexpected' in each section. I take this responsibility very seriously and strive for objectivity. So let's dig in, shall we?
Recognizing when PTSD is in Your Life:
The Good: In this section, the authors describe the types of behaviors that can be indicators of the presence of PTSD. They cover all of the bases here and make some very astute and pointed observations about the behaviors attributable to PTSD that made me squirm. They give anonymous real-world accounts of these behaviors from veterans in all different situations. They focus on the different ways in which our ability to socialize is compromised in both personal and professional settings and if you don't know whether you have PTSD, reading these depictions will leave you with no doubt.
The Bad: Depending on your state of mind, the examples they give could lead you to adopting a very stark outlook for the future. The authors could have done a little more at the end of the chapter to temper this potential reaction by offering encouragement and empathy rather than ending with a three sentence blurb that says 'if this is you, read on'.
The Unexpected: They depict relationships and how they impact all parties involved. Their descriptions detail reactions and behaviors of those affected by the veteran with PTSD and allows loved ones reading the description to evaluate more fully, from both sides of the interaction, whether PTSD is in their lives.
Educating Yourself About PTSD:
The Good: Croft and Parker explain how the things you experience can lead to PTSD. They explain how experiencing trauma causes the stress that gets us 'stuck in survival mode' and how this causes those affected by PTSD to behave a certain way. They go over the three major categories of symptoms: Re-experiencing, avoidance, and increased arousal. They explain how doctors evaluate you and that no two people manifest symptoms in exactly the same way. They do an amazing job of explaining all of this without getting lost in jargon that would be lost on the average reader.
The Bad: N/A
The Unexpected: They explain that the basis for PTSD is more than just behavioral. This is where they first posit that there is a strong physiological aspect of the disorder that is often overlooked. While this is delved into in depth in the next section, even hinting that PTSD has underlying physiological causes left me feeling a profound sense of relief.
Connecting Biology to Your Psychology:
The Good and Unexpected: The authors explain how people with PTSD have been done a huge disservice by the behavioral symptoms being discovered and documented before the physiological aspects of the disorder could be ascertained. They explain how, physiologically, your brain and your hormones play a huge (and I do mean HUGE) role in PTSD. They explain how the parts of your brain dedicated to survival become overstimulated. They present it in a way that makes you understand that the underlying physiological effects on your memory, your subconscious, and endocrine system are real - not imagined. PTSD is not something you can overcome with strength of will. You didn't make it up and it's not just in your head. To go into any further depth, I would have to plagiarize. This section of the book does so much to relieve the stigma we put on ourselves. If you know anyone who thinks this whole mess is just in your head, kindly shove this book in their face and tell them to shut the hell up and read.
The Bad: N/A
Organizing a Comprehensive Care Plan for PTSD:
The Good: Croft and Parker do an excellent job of explaining the different types of treatment available to help manage your PTSD. They talk about therapy, group and individual, and the most common modalities used to treat PTSD. They talk about medication. They talk about alternative treatments including massage, yoga, acupuncture, and meditation. They even talk about naturopathic alternatives. Most importantly, they explain that this is a plan - one that you control and direct. If something's not working, try something else. In essence, be your own advocate. Learn what you need to learn about the treatments available to you and make educated decisions. Don't let doctors throw medication and therapy at you and hope that something sticks.
The Bad: N/A
The Unexpected: In this chapter, they explain how some treatments need to be approached with caution. Some forms of therapy require that you need to be ready to actively engage in them. They also explain that certain medications can inhibit the positive effects of some forms of therapy. If I would have known these things previously, I would have demanded a change in my medication. This is powerful knowledge that will help every veteran with PTSD better direct their own treatment. In fact, some prescribing doctors and practicing therapists should be reminded of these 'minor' details.
Viewing Your Issues in a New Light:
The Good: In this section, the authors discuss how looking at your PTSD from a different perspective can be life-changing. They ask you to consider how it affects your spouse, your family, and the importance of protecting your children from trauma, emotional or physical. From my experience, PTSD is inherently ego-centric. You are in your own head all of the time. In this chapter, the authors forcefully suggest you take a look at how your behavior impacts those you love and what you can do to manage that aspect of the disorder. They also discuss how you can learn to view your environmental triggers as manageable. They even offer up an approach that was developed by one of the authors, Chrys Parker. It is called the 'I Am Able Method' (Copyright 2010, Chrysanthe L. Parker, All rights reserved). It is a quick and functional way of helping you manage your triggers and associated behavior. What astounded me is that it took until 2010 for someone to come up with this approach. Lastly, they talk about high risk behavior and substance abuse. While I am not an adrenalin junky or a substance abuser and these portions of the chapter did not pertain to me, I could see how they could be helpful to a veteran who is at risk.
The Bad: N/A
The Unexpected: N/A
Empowering Yourself Through Strong Systems of Support:
The Good: Croft and Parker explain the necessity of having strong systems of support. They detail how disparate the effects of PTSD are on people that have created strong support networks and those that haven't. The talk about family support, support from friends, getting support by giving support, and spiritual support. I have mentioned how lucky I am to have a strong support network. My family is loving, compassionate, and supportive. While my PTSD has caused me to alienate many of my friends over the past ten years, I am finally learning how to make new ones. For two years, I have been offering insight and support through my website and blog. Just one small problem. My life has no spiritual component. None. Zip. Nada.
The Bad: N/A
The Unexpected: I didn't know why blogging and giving to others always made me feel better, more stable. Now I know. The authors explain in physiological terms why showing compassion for others and giving of yourself is so rewarding. When I finished reading that section of the chapter, I felt vindicated and motivated. It was a wonderful feeling and one that has persisted. Additionally, the authors forced me to evaluate my spiritual health. The verdict - on life support. I have said on more than one occasion that what I experienced shattered my soul. While I have attended to healing and gaining support in the other three areas, I have conscientiously avoided confronting the spiritual pain and loss I have felt. It was an unpleasant but necessary revelation and one I plan on addressing as soon as I can figure out who to talk to about it.
Redefining the Meaning of Your Life: Posttraumatic Growth:
The Good: In this final section of the book, the authors talk about how to 'keep the faith' long term. They talk about dispositional optimism, the importance of maintaining your support networks and social ties. They emphasize the insidious nature of self-doubt. They also talk about the importance of holding onto your core value system - the system of morality and beliefs that define you, Those who tenaciously hold on to this core of their identity are better equipped to manage their PTSD.
The Bad: After all of the insight I gained in the other sections of the book, this section seemed slightly anti-climactic. While I understand their intent to leave the course of your recover open, it felt like it was rushed.
The Unexpected: N/A
Croft and Parker have done something amazing in this book. They have tied together all of the pieces of the puzzle - and have done it in a way that speaks to the experience they have working with veterans. Their R-E-C-O-V-E-R Approach is comprehensive, simple, and approachable by all, regardless of their progress on their personal road to recovery. The most important aspect of this book is the emphasis that they place on the physiological nature of PTSD. It has given me much clearer insight and understanding into my behavior. I highly recommend that veterans and their loved ones read this book. You can't understand what you don't have knowledge of. Take the time - you won't regret it.
I wanted to reach out and make you all aware of the amazing work these folks are doing for veterans and service-members with PTSD and TBI. The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF) is responsible for building the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE). The NICoE is a proof of concept for what a state-of-the-art treatment and research facility for PTSD and TBI should be. The work they are doing is inspiring and they want to do more. Right now they are in the process of raising 100 million dollars to build nine more of these centers around the country to make the level of treatment available at the NICoE available to the veteran population all over the country.
I learned a few days ago that they were involved in a fundraising competition and wanted to help spread the word. In a nutshell:
'The Crowdrise Veterans Challenge is a unique opportunity to engage the public to take action, share with their networks and compete with other teams (veterans charities) in fundraising efforts. It's a fun and social platform and Craig Newmark, of Craigconnects is offering incentives to donors, team members and top fundraising charities. The top 3 fundraising teams will receive grand prize donations from Craigconnects and the Rahr Foundation. The campaign began on Memorial Day and ends the 4th of July.'
Top fundraising organizations have a chance to win additional money for their organizations. Their mission is incredibly important for veterans with PTSD and TBI. If you can afford to support this cause, I ask that you do so. Even if you can't support with money, please help me spread the word. The competition ends July 4th, so we've got a month to help them realize their goals! The best part - you can become a team member and help raise funds for the team as a whole! With everything going on trying to get my own non-profit up an operational, I do not have the time to dedicate to actively fundraise for this amazing cause. Considering how involved and passionate this community is, I wanted to make sure you all knew about it and help raise the money they need to succeed.
As always, thanks to everyone who supports PTSD and TBI awareness and treatment. It is your compassion and dedication that inspires me to drive on every day.
Yours In Health,
Recently, I have noticed an uptick in the severity of my PTSD symptoms and my coinciding depression. It's starting to make me worry a little bit that not having a functional group to attend is slowly eroding my ability to cope and adversely affecting the effectiveness of my coping mechanisms. Or...It could be just a temporary uptick because of the uncertainty surrounding my upcoming TBI evaluation. Either way, it's decidedly annoying and not something I am handling well.
What to do? I am going to have an individual therapy session this week and I plan on talking to my therapist about my concerns and my frustrations with not having a group to attend. My PTSD is fighting to get through - the anger, the depression, the nightmares, and the insomnia. I also have been dealing with a higher than usual level of hypervigilance. Most nights I toss and turn so badly that I end up sleeping in my recliner, uncertain as to why I don't feel safe - I just don't.
What's even more frustrating is that there is a very clear dichotomy in my life. Everything is going so well with my non-profit and my plans for it. The more I work at it, the more I feel fulfilled and stable. When I have days where I don't have time to work on it, I feel a hair's-breadth from snapping at people. Today would be a prime example. I had to go to work early and I have not been able to do anything for my non-profit. I knew I wasn't going to have the time when I woke up this morning and it made it exceedingly difficult to deal with people at work. I am not even certain what ticked me off so much - they just did.
So, time to hold it together and hope I can figure this out. I only have ten more days to go until my TBI eval, so we'll see how it goes. I guess we'll see if I can hold myself together until them Fingers crossed.
The day started off so well. My wife and I took my daughter down to a local mall and we walked outside and enjoyed the weather, ate at Red Robin, and my daughter played with the other kids in the fountain next to the Starbucks. No really, she did:
I feel relaxed. I am enjoying the day. In the mid-afternoon, we get in the car and head home. When we get there, I very quickly fall asleep in my recliner...and wake up choking on my own bile from a nightmare. I bolt out of my seat and start gagging and puking up bile into the sink in the kitchen. My daughter saw the whole thing happen and it's a first I could have done without. She is scared out of her wits and very worried about her daddy. I stay as calm as I can since I am still gagging and trying to clear my wind pipe and my wife is a champ, explaining that daddy's ok. I did my best to reassure her that I was ok, but she wasn't satisfied until my gag reflex receded and I was able to pick her up.
Caley: "Daddy, you cried."
Me: "Yes I did, bear bear."
Caley: "It's OK, Daddy, It's OK" (hugs me fiercly)
Me: "I'll be OK, Caley. Daddy just had a bad dream."
Caley: "I love you, Daddy."
After that exchange, my heart melted into my figurative boots. Caley asked to be put down and went back to playing in the living room and I was left to reflect on my nightmare. It was about the death of an Iraqi translator that was killed for working with the US. He knew it was dangerous but worked hard to ensure the safety of our troops wherever he was. He wasn't the only Iraqi to die protecting us. The Kurdish Peshmerga (Special Forces) guarded our safehouse in Khanaqin. Many were murdered after they returned home to the Kurdish North for disobeying orders and staying to protect us while we got set up in town. These are not isolated incidents. These men were believers in what the United States stands for and died to protect our troops. They paid the ultimate sacrifice too, but you will never see a monument to their courage and selflessness. The men and women have always been there in any war - the forgotten heroes. The locals who believe so strongly in us that they protect our troops and sacrifice themselves for our cause.
I don't know why I had that nightmare in the middle of a wonderful day. I think I may actually be grateful for it. All of us are mourning the loss of those we served with who didn't make it home. All I ask is that you take a moment to reflect on the nameless ones who never expected to be remembered. Take a minute to praise and give thanks for those who have selflessly sacrificed themselves to ensure our troop's safety in a hostile environment and paid the ultimate price for their efforts.
Because, In My Eyes, They Were All American Service Members, Too
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.