Earlier this evening, I arrived home after a long and productive day in DC. I learned a lot about veterans' advocacy while I was there and what direction the discussion indicates we are headed. I want to be able to take the time to address this carefully and here's what I plan to do over the coming days:
After a long day, I am tired and ready for a good night sleep. I will catch everyone tomorrow with the first post: David Gregory: Moderator.
This is a touchy subject for everyone involved. Even family members of veterans with PTSD are stigmatized to some degree. This really needs to change and it needs to change on two fronts:
Later today, I travel down to DC. I will not be posting until after the panel, but be sure to stay tuned to twitter. I will be tweeting the subjects covered by the panel and any major developments. Also, I would love to hear what others think about today's vital issue of advocacy. Please chime in!
Veterans and Service Members have a serious image problem right now. We are seen as dangerous and amoral. We are increasingly becoming viewed and depicted as cold-blooded killers. Who do we have to thank for this wonderful phenomenon? The media - on TV, on the internet, in papers, every medium. Media outlets have this idea that negative press is the only thing that sells. Because of this flawed ideal, the only stories that get passed on are the ones that demonize our service members. In today's world, these horrible images are what everyone associates with our veterans and our service members. Guys posing with the body parts of insurgents, guys posing with tortured prisoners. These are the lasting images of this war that most who are outside of the military community identify our veterans and service members with.
Hey media: Get a Clue. I hear the words 'fair and balanced' and want to laugh. There is nothing fair or balanced about any of the media coverage we get nowadays. Just once, I would love to see a major media story about the loss and suffering that service members experience during their time overseas. A story of compassion and attempted understanding. It's one of the major reasons I am an advocate for 'After the Uniform. Bob Woodruff is one of the panel members. If anyone in today's media understands what service members and veterans feel and experience, it's the guy who almost died in an IED attack. I know he gets it. I can't say the same for most of these other politically-minded sycophants that pander to the party they ardently support.
This problem is not going to go away. The image of military service hasn't been this negative since Vietnam. Are you proud of yourselves, Media Outlets? Are you? I will say it now and I hope others carry the message to you as well. Find your ethics that you stashed somewhere and return to your roots of unbiased reporting.
We have made great strides in making education available to veterans when they return home from overseas. Just a few 'minor' problems:
OK, so maybe they are not 'minor' problems. These are very serious issues that really need to be addressed if we are going to give our returning veteran the best shot at success. Here are my ideas:
I think if we can address these major issues facing returning veterans, we can drastically improve their chances for quality employment and would be bolstering the local economies with solid workers in fields they need. The key has always been working together. Let's see what happens.
In today's day and age, the entire world is connected. We have access to traditional websites, phone apps, social media, and more. Let's take a look at how these are being effectively used to reach veterans and provide service for veterans.
These are the major issues. The general trend is that the average veteran is substantially more tech savvy than the providers of veterans' services. This needs to change. There are so many possibilities out there to reach veterans that wouldn't be reachable otherwise. Maybe it's time to think a little more creatively and crowdsource change. Maybe a VA sponsored hackathon is in order to get folks together, I don't know. I just know we need to get on top of this now, before we allow any more vets to fall through the cracks that don't have to.
I just got back from the pulmonary functions tests and the lady said there was significant obstruction, but that it didn't look like COPD - more like allergies. I didn't feel very confident that this lady knew what the hell she was talking about. If the allergies are constant and the lungs reaction is, therefore, also constant, how is it not chronic? I guess I will wait and see what the doc says for certain, but my anxiety went through the roof. It's my birthday and I am trying not to snap at everyone and everything.
I am trying to calm myself down and put all of this in a good perspective, but it is difficult. I have been scared to exercise. I was afraid of what might happen if I hadn't been to these tests yet. All these tests did was create more ambiguity and more questions. Historically, this is exactly the type of situation that would put me into a really deep funk and make me a real pleasure to be around. I know this and am trying to do make sure that doesn't happen. I have been extremely irritable the past few days and my wife doesn't deserve this.
The one thing I can't stop is the physiological change - my hands are shaking so badly from the adrenalin dump that I am having difficulty typing. I am going to focus on the part I CAN do something about - my attitude. Because of the PTSD, my mind is trained to think of the worst case scenarios with all of this. If I think about those, all that will happen is my anxiety and adrenalin will increase.
You know what? Fuck these tests. I am done with this. Come hell or high water I am going to enjoy my birthday today. I am going to start exercising my butt off - mind over matter. I am going to exercise to exorcise...
Historically, military experience has been viewed positively by employers. Employers knew that candidates with military experience would be mature for their age, responsible, mission/job focused, punctual, efficient, and in possession of strong leadership acumen. If all else was equal, the candidate with military experience invariably received the job offer.
Not any more. I have been on the receiving end of this new discrimination. When I graduated from college in 2007 I had lots of interviews for jobs. I didn't get a single job offer. The most common response I heard from employers: I was overqualified for entry level positions. After a few rejections like this, I looked at mid-level management requirements. I was supremely under-qualified. I realized that the reason for this discrimination was that I was a veteran. I even had one employer tell me that I illustrated a lack of initiative and ambition (I graduated Magna Cum Laude, won the Outstanding Achievement in International Business Award, and was a member of a select group students investing real money on behalf of a local foundation).
This new attitude by many employers that view military service as a negative don't get it. I have had many young people, especially in college say, "You are so intelligent, how did you get stuck in the Army?" The prevailing view of the younger generations of employers is that the only people who go into the service are those that:
WAKE UP FOLKS! There are thousands of vets out of work because of this ignorance! It's time for a change and it's got to start now. If you don't know what the military has to offer, teach yourself. One of the best things you can do for your business is give veterans a fighting chance - we are very loyal to those that afford us an opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
For the first time in US military history, women are combat veterans. With this latest trend, the needs for veterans' care have changed drastically over the past decade of war. What has been done to address this?
Essentially Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
In my area there are hundreds of beds for male homeless veterans. From what I have been able to discover, there are FOUR beds for female homeless veterans. This is disturbing and reprehensible. It's not like this change happened overnight. The first female POW was rescued during the first year of the war in Iraq.
Despite this, there are very few services for female veterans. There is even still a stigma from male combat veterans. We need to provide for female veterans' needs and it needs to start now. Veterans' Organizations need to carry the torch and advocate for their female members and provide resources as well. We all need to do our part. The biggest responsibility falls on the male combat veterans. We need to remember that this war has bred a large number of female combat veterans. The "good 'ol boys" attitude is exclusionary and does not encourage female combat veterans to come forward. We need to understand that this issue affects all warfighters, regardless of gender.
Female Combat Veterans, please come forward and let your voices be heard. We can't do this without you either!
Here's the answer that I promised from yesterday's post.
When the doc asked me what the trauma in PTSD was that every combat veteran shares, it really did throw me. I thought about this and thought about this before the doc answered. He said, "The trauma is death". He went on to explain how witnessing and being confronted by death and the frailty of the human body is the trauma each and every combat veteran shares. One second, your friend is alive. The next he is dead. Helping to lift a wounded detainee onto a stretcher and sliding your arm into his chest cavity. The spectre of death is everywhere. Every combat veteran has to confront his own mortality. I a combat zone, daily. It is a truth that hangs over us like a shroud.
This truth (and I felt the truth of what he said down to my bones) was so simple that I couldn't believe that no one had ever asked me this question before in 8+ years of therapy. It was a realization didn't sit easy with me, but I don't think the doc intended it to. I think he wanted me to realize and appreciate the profound change that combat trauma brought into my life. I finally feel like I have a good starting point to really attack my PTSD from.
Up until I met this doc, I didn't realize how all over the place my thoughts and methods of coping really were. He made me realize that recognizing that I am exhibiting behavior I don't like is a good starting place, but unless you address the underlying trauma that is the root cause of the behavior, that's as far as you can go. He is going to help me learn how to do this, and for that I am grateful. As I learn and make realizations, I look forward to sharing them with you all!
For those that have been following my recent posts, I had a meeting with a new doctor today. He was going to evaluate me for admittance into his group therapy sessions. This has caused me an unbelievable amount of anxiety. What if I didn't get into the group? Well, that question in now answered. I am in. It is a Cognitive Behavioral Processing Group and it's goal is to help me identify problematic behavior, assess the triggers that cause it and trace the trigger back to the source. That's the cut and dry version. Here's more info if you want to learn more.
This new doc is driven. He's focused on helping veterans with PTSD and has been doing it for almost 34 years. I am very excited about being a part of his group. He asks a lot of questions and he wants me to be prepared before I go to group for the first time. We are going to have another session so that he can better educate me on what to expect. We sat and talked about my PTSD and my life and my upbringing and...well, everything. It was refreshing.
So, I can officially scratch one stressor off the list for the week. It is a great relief. In parting, the doc asked me one question that seemed really simple but it threw me for a loop. He asked, "For Combat Veterans, what IS the trauma in PTSD?" I didn't know how to answer. I responded that the trauma is different for everyone and he said I was wrong - that the trauma was the same for everyone. He said it just manifests differently for different people. He let me sit and squirm for a little and then he blew me away with the simplicity of his answer...which I will discuss and my reaction to it in one of tomorrow's posts. I ask that you ask yourselves that question as well:
For a Combat Veteran, What is the Trauma in PTSD?
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.