Gerry Kissell and Kurt Yeager are the minds behind an amazing Kickstarter Project: A Comic Book Series called ‘Vindicated, Inc.’ The protagonist in the series is an amputee war vet. Gerry and Kurt have successfully raised over $10,000 - their goal was $8000. The idea really intrigued me, so I reached out to the creators and asked if they would mind answering some questions.
First off, for those readers who may not know who you are, can you tell us a little about yourselves?
(Gerry) Well, I have been drawing pretty much all my life. I served for a brief period, in the early 90’s, as a combat medic in the U.S. Army. Having served in the military had a huge effect on me, and, after seeing our men and women going to war in 2001, made me take a look at where my art career had gone and where I wanted it to go. I wanted to focus all my energies on serving those who served. Which is why so much of what I have done is military themed. But, it all lead to this book, Vindicated Inc., which is my love song to every soldier who has left a piece of themselves on the battlefield.
(Kurt) I’m a full time actor, writer and BMX stunt rider. Some of my favorite work has been on Sons of Anarchy as “Greg the Peg” and I’m looking forward to a new pilot I’m shooting for Cinemax/HBO called Quarry.
What motivated you to pursue this project?
(Gerry) Well, I was inspired by wounded vets, and had wanted to do something special for them for a long time. But, the inspiration for this story came to me last year, while on my way to drop of rent to my landlord. I drove the three blocks from his office to my apartment so I could write down the story concept. I then contacted my friend Jeff Sear4cy, who used to be with Wounded Warrior Project, and told the story idea to him, and after his reaction, I knew I had done it; come up with the perfect tribute to wounded vets.
(Kurt) I work with a lot of veteran and active service military groups. These guys and gals are the heart of our country and should be given far more than they are. I hear about the problems they face when they come home and it’s a big problem for some of our service members. These stories need to be told, and what better way than to tell it through the eyes of one of those who struggles from both physical and mental issues.
What’s do you hope to achieve with your work?
(Gerry) First and foremost, I hope to shed more light on PTSD and other veteran issues. I also hope the book is successful, because we cannot achieve anything if people don’t read it.
(Kurt) Firstly, I’d love to portray the PTSD and physical disability as authentically as possible. Everyone deals with PTSD in their own way, so it won’t reflect everyone’s experiences but it must be authentic. This isn’t a trivial matter and we won’t treat it with anything less than the respect it deserves.
Secondly, I want to make one hell of a graphic novel and film. I want this project to be an action thriller that twists and turns in ways that are anti-cliché. Who wants to make a movie that is like the rest? Not me. I want this to honor those who have served and make those service members cheer when the film ends.
Many veterans are coming home with some degree of PTSD and are experiencing major difficulties transitioning upon returning home. Do you have any intention of addressing this issue?
(Gerry) PTSD is a major theme within the story. Our main character, which Kurt will be playing in both the comic and in the live action film, has to learn to deal with his PTSD in order to survive. It drives him to do every action he takes.
(Kurt) Absolutely. This is a major theme of our project and needs to be expressed in the film with all the care and accuracy we can afford. I feel this is something that isn’t talked about because of fear, or “looking weak” or shame. It should be the opposite. It’s like a fist fight; you don’t hide your bloody knuckles after you pummeled some jerk-off. You show them off, tell the story, and wear the scars with a little pride for the rest of your life. This is no different. PTSD is not a good thing, it’s scary, painful and debilitating, but it should not be looked upon as a weakness or a failure of spirit. No; this is a result of being in a horribly dangerous, stressful position for a prolonged period of time. You’ve seen things you don’t want to remember, let alone talk about and this is a natural result. The only way to beat something back, like a bully, is to admit it, face it and deal with the reality of the situation. Is it easy, hell no. Is it necessary, yes. We hope to portray that.
Suicide is another very real danger facing many veterans when they come home - what are your thoughts on this issue? Will they be incorporated into the storyline?
(Gerry) I have planned to do at least three graphic novels, and suicide plays heavily in all of them, though more so in the planned Vindicated Inc: Book Two. In Book One and the film, Our main character lives in a veteran housing facility, and some of the residents, over time, take their own lives and our main characters have to come to grips with it.
What’s the tentative timeline for release?
(Gerry)Not totally sure yet. We are going back to the drawing board, so to speak, in writing the script. Kurt, Shane, Josh, Ernie, Mac and I all have given so much to the writing of my story, but in the end, it’s my baby and I need to make sure that no matter what, the final script stays true to my original vision of a character; a guy who starts out looking like an antihero, but as time reveals, he is as much a hero in the streets of Seattle, fighting crime, as he was as a soldier fighting terrorists. I suggest just visiting our sites to find out more on when to expect it to be released.
Where can my readers go to stay up to date on the progress of this project?
(Gerry) They can visit our website at:
as well as my site, http://gerrykissell.com
or even our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/Vindicated.Inc
Needless to say, I am very excited to see how this project moves forward. Any project that depicts disabled veterans leading lives of honor and integrity while learning to cope with their disabilities is a vital step in the right direction.
Thank you, Gerry and Kurt, for taking the time to answer these questions for my readers. I look forward to seeing what comes from your project in the coming months.
In the future, you will see blogs entries from guest bloggers who have a message or mission that I think is relevant and worth supporting. First Up: Natalie Cramer of the Blue Star Family Platoon!
Max, thank you so much for offering me this great opportunity to guest blog for you today! I'm much appreciative for the chance to share my project with your readers and followers and friends.
With me going through the mess I went through over the past month, I hadn't seen my individual therapist for a while. We caught up on all that had happened and she was relieved that I was relieved. She was concerned with how quickly my ability to manage my PTSD deteriorated during this trial. We got to talking about it and about my support networks and it became abundantly clear that the only support network I don't have is the spiritual one. It took a lot of explaining to fully articulate what I find spiritual. I don't believe in God, at least not an anthropomorphic one. Attributing humanity to a being beyond our comprehension smacks of hubris and I just don't buy into it. That was the easy part to explain. The hard part to explain was what I DO find spiritual - connection with nature. Connection with the natural world around me - especially water. It is one of the major reasons that Native American beliefs resonate so strongly with me. On the flip side, I am not interested in visiting a 'retreat'. I would want to learn the culture so entwined with the beliefs. The reality is that Native Americans are reticent to share what is sacred to them with outsiders - if you weren't born into it, you wouldn't understand is a common sentiment I have found online.
She asked me to think back and describe to her the last I felt truly at peace - spiritually whole. I thought about it for a while and I told her it happened on my honeymoon to St. Croix. I was out in the ocean with my snorkel and fins on while my wife was taking a nap. I just closed my eyes and let the current take me for a while. The weightlessness of my body, the fell, smell, and taste of the ocean, and being surrounded by teeming sealife. I felt at home in a way that I hadn't felt since before I went to Iraq. It was a glimpse of 'wholeness' that I haven't felt since. I had to explain that it's not that it paradise - it's that there is no pressure to be anything other than who you are. No masks, no responsibilities, no obligation to others. I have always found the life on St. Croix to be healing in a way I can't describe. I used to visit my grandparents down there almost every summer as a kid. So, what to do? The reality of just picking up and moving to paradise is slim to none. How to I recreate the essentials of that spirituality that heals me so completely? I feel spirit yearning to be whole and the source of my healing is far removed from the world I inhabit.
Well, at least I have something to think about now.
Here's the thing: with all of changes that I have to make in my life to put my sleep back in balance, life is presenting a lot of new challenges...and lots of uncertainty. What if work will not accommodate my need for a set schedule? Why can't I seem to get to bed at a reasonable time? Why is it still so hard for me to get up and get active?
What if? Why? How?
I asked myself these questions a lot yesterday and tried to come to terms with all of the things that are going to need to change in order for my life to center itself. I got up, went about getting new sneakers and then went running in the afternoon heat. It felt amazing. Things fell apart as the day wore on. I ate dinner and had planned to sit down and work on making some changes to one of the websites. Well, that didn't happen and as the evening wore on, I lost track of time and that I intended to go to sleep at 10PM. 1230AM rolled around and I felt like an idiot. Talk about being frustrated with myself. If I can't get to bed at a reasonable hour, then I can't regulate my sleep and catch up on the huge deficit I already have.
So, just like the old challenges, I pick myself up today, dust myself off, and try again. Today, I am going to work on the website and blog entries in the morning, clean the apartment and go for a run in the afternoon, and take some free time in the evening. That's the goal. Now I just need to push forward and make sure that I meet those goals.
So, yeah. The challenges are new but the approach to overcoming them is the same. Grit and determination. Intestinal fortitude. Finding ways to keep myself motivated. All of these things are not new to me - just the problem to overcome. The important thing for me to remember is that I have never given up in the past and I won't now. I have past successes and failures to teach me what I need to do to move forward.
Because Every Day is a New Day.
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
As I continue my life with PTSD, I will share my challenges and discoveries on this blog.