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Monday, January 26, 2009

Quick Impressions from the Survivor Corps Veterans Community Reintegration Summit



Great things happening at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., today and into tomorrow as an historic conference has gotten underway. Its aim: Foster synergy among a wide range of stakeholders to better serve the reintegration needs of returning veterans and military families.

To do this, barriers and competition between entities need to be breached and broken down into a laser-focused 'megacommunty' made up of the federal, state, and local government sectors; large and small businesses; national and community-based NGOs and nonprofits; media (national, local and new); health care providers; educational institutions; veterans service organizations and veterans/military families.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

That Feeling of 'Aliveness' Combat Veterans Miss Most: Can it Be Recaptured in Ho-Hum Civilian Life?

A powerful post by Scott Lee, a Gulf War veteran who blogs over at PTSD, A Soldier's Perspective, arrived on Friday. We Cannot Make it Through the Confines of Our Minds Without the Help of Others is so full and rich and speaks entirely to my current research that I hope he doesn't mind my reprinting it here to share with you:

I am a Gulf War I vet, I felt the same as you when I returned home from combat. For me it was the total sense of feeling alive and being a part of my squad that I missed, although I did not figure this out until after 15 years of insanity.

In the mix, blood pounds through the veins and I received a powerful sense of completeness that I still chase today. The intensiveness of combat will never be matched in the civilian world, all the mundane things we did before seem totally a way to piss us off today. When faced with survival we let all the silly shit slough off of us and become one with the universe.

Our field of vision opens completely to encompass all within our sight, the tiny reflection in the corner of the eye becomes a sharp focus without having to direct attention its way. Time becomes suspended and we know and feel what omnipresence really means. How can anything else ever compare to this experiential endeavor?

I finally received help after 15 years, I could not drink enough alcohol, smoke enough weed, or seek out enough violence to get past the feelings of emptiness. I felt such an utterly and complete loss of self and sense of identity. We were trained to feel invincible, and it may even have seemed that way at times, but we did not get through combat without the help from the soldier next to us. We cannot make it through the confines of our minds without the help of others. We could not do it alone in combat, what makes you think that you can make it alone today?

He goes on to invite his readers to take a look at his process of returning to the fold of civilian life, learning how to deal with the changes that brings into a former combat veteran's life. Check out the rest of his postings.

I've included my response to Scott in extended.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Renaissance by Fire: Returning Veterans, Society & the Forging of a New Enlightenment

VAP_0198Just a few days ago, Vet Art Project creator and founder Lisa Rosenthal honored me with the opportunity to develop a program, one of many upcoming VAP offerings that I've mentioned here before, as part of February's month long Chicago Cultural Center Incubator Series.

The list of events taking place next month is enormous.

Please visit the Vet Art Project website for a full listing; you can also download the event flyer [pdf] for all the specifics. All activities and community outreach work that Lisa has been doing in neighborhoods all across Chicago since October, will culminate in a public performance not to be missed:

New Art About War from the Vet Art Project Incubator
February 23rd, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
Studio Theater
Chicago Cultural Center [Info and directions]
Randolph & Michigan Ave.
Chicago

No fee but advance reservations are recommended. For tickets: www.dcatheater.org or 312.742.8497.

But, a reminder: There are dozens of VAP offerings throughout February; please see the full listing [pdf].

If you are a Chicago-area veteran -- of any and all generation -- or a military family member, these events are meant to engage and delight you. If you're a civilian living in the area, you're definitely part of this community-veteran conversation and artistic expression. Please join us at any number of the free events being offered next month. Details on my event, Renaissance by Fire, in extended.

This is a special, special engagement for Chicago. Don't miss it!


Monday, January 19, 2009

PTSD, the VA and Suicide: Massachusetts Family Settles Government Lawsuit

On the heels of last week's news that the U.S. Marine Corps suicide rate is the highest seen since 2003, came the close of a chapter on one of the Iraq War's first such casualties. It was a case that received national exposure and made many stand at attention, wondering how the system that was meant to take care of our returning troops could fail so desperately.

Kevin and Joyce Lucey were at the leading edge of military families coping with the loss of a loved one returning home forever changed following deployment to the Middle East. Their pain moved them to go public, shining a light on the grave consequences of shortfalls at the VA at the time.

By sharing the story of their son Jeffrey's 2004 suicide, they went far to drag post-combat suicide out of the darkened corners of our military family homes and into the lap of the civilian population, asking if what was happening to our returning troops was right or just. The verdict to the family's 2007 VA lawsuit came last Friday.


On National Day of Service: Civilians, Consider Serving Those Who Serve Us

"Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, is designated a National Day of Service. My husband is spending it with his 'Little Brother' via the YMCA's Big Brothers program, while my service today is in reaching out to help an Iraq veteran with an upcoming project he is organizing (more about this in extended).

The rest of my day is, unfortunately, devoted to studying for my classes, so additional service will have to come from me later. But, I'm inspired by the promise of the day, and the energy that everyone is putting into it all across the country. Fortunately, as Michelle Obama says in this explanatory video below, "This is more than a single day of service."



To extend that service into the future, may I suggest that you consider serving/helping one of those who have served us in uniform...and continues to serve now that he is out of it?


Thursday, January 15, 2009

U.S. Marine Suicides Highest Since 2003, Incoming VA Chief Promises Reform as Gulf Vets Testify on VA, DoD/VA Suicide Conference

The past two days have been stunning.

Seven years into the uptempo stress of our extended wars in the Middle East, as a first-ever joint three-day DoD/VA suicide prevention conference wound down in San Antonio, news came that the selected topic of study remains desperately relevant and urgent. Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times:

More active-duty Marines committed suicide last year than any year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, although the suicide rate remained virtually unchanged because the Marine Corps is increasing in size, according to a report issued Tuesday.

Forty-one Marines are listed as possible or confirmed suicides in 2008, or 16.8 per 100,000 troops, the Marine Corps report said. Nearly all were enlisted and under 24, and about two-thirds had deployed overseas.

In 2007, 33 Marines committed suicide -- a rate of 16.5 per 100,000 troops. The Marine Corps is adding troops and calling in reservists to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other foreign bases and stateside.

The Marine suicide rate is still below that for civilian populations with similar demographics -- 19.5 per 100,000. It is also less than that of the Army in 2007 (18.1 per 100,000). The Army suicide figures for 2008 have not yet been released, but officials said late last year they expected the number and rate to increase from 2007. [More OEF/OIF suicide stats].

The suicide rates for the Marines and the Army have been closely tracked because the two services have borne the brunt of the fighting and repeat deployments in the Middle East.

What's really disturbing about this news is that any increase has taken place, countering an aggressive Marine Corps suicide prevention campaign. Considering their laudable efforts, the figure takes on a starker tone.

Today, as General Eric Shinseki sat down before Congress in Washington, D.C., for his confirmation hearing to speak of his desire to improve VA services for our veterans, a nation's breadth away, Gulf War veterans appeared before a special VA panel assembled in Seattle, Wash., to tell of the care they have received over the years.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seeking Input for Upcoming Conference on Issues Regarding Military Veteran-Community Reintegration

Dear experts -- you know who you are -- on my PTSD Combat subscriber list and beyond, please consider sharing some of your knowledge with me as I prepare to participate in the upcoming Survivor Corps Community Reintegration Summit on Service Members and Veterans Returning to Civilian Life being held in Washington, D.C. at the Carnegie Institution.

The two-day program gets underway January 26-27, 2009, and is going to be quite exciting. It has the promise of drilling down on the issues that face our military families' transition back into the ebb and flow of civilian life. It will also illuminate some of the hurdles and challenges that those of us who want to help face in our desire to extend ourselves to them.

In order for me to make the best contribution possible, I'm humbly seeking your expertise and help.


California's Landmark Combat PTSD Case: Former Army Ranger Sargent Binkley Receives Treatment, Not Jail

If you ever feel less than empowered, if you ever wonder if members of society can actively play a role in shaping how its returning veterans are treated beyond the accolades given at welcome home parades and Veterans Day potlucks, look no further than the citizens of California for one shining example of how its done.

Back in September 2007, I linked to a piece by John Corté that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle in my post Combat Veterans, PTSD and Prison.

Corté's article introduced us to a former West Point graduate who served in Bosnia and Honduras who was arrested and facing a possible 12-year stint in jail for holding up two pharmacies to feed his painkiller addiction, the same medication the VA prescribed -- over 15 times -- for injuries suffered while the former Army Ranger was based in Honduras.

Civilian doctors had also diagnosed PTSD.

His watershed case has gone to trial and the verdict was delivered yesterday. [ABC-San Francisco news report is now available online; KTVU news report up, which includes interviews with his parents.] Full details in extended.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Pardon the Dust...

Good morning.

Just a quick note to say what may already be apparent if you're a regular visitor: I'm in the process of sprucing up the PTSD Combat template just a tad. Although I won't have time for any really fun changes, I've been wanting to do a few things before classes begin this week. I've already added a third column to the layout and let the belt out a bit on the width of the page to make room for it.

Things aren't yet where they will eventually rest, so pardon the dust while I retool things and move the furniture around a bit today. Have a great day, everyone!


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reaction to DoD Decision Against Awarding Purple Heart to Veterans with Combat PTSD

This week's news that the Purple Heart will not be considered for those coping with the psychological wounds of war has gotten a reaction from many quarters. The military decoration is awarded for "being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy or opposing armed forces."

Through August 2008, 2,743 OEF and 33,923 OIF veterans have received the distinguished medal (of ~1.7 million given out since its modern inception in 1932; more Purple Heart history), which brings with it "enhanced benefits, including exemptions from co-payments for veterans hospital and outpatient care and gives them higher priority in scheduling appointments."

In extended, a selection of some of the debate on the matter. These are lengthy and multiple pieces, but are quite enlightening to read through if you have the time. The issue touches upon a slew of concerns dealing with our positions on tradition, progress, science, psychology, honor, equity -- all well worth examining.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Join Chicago's Vet Art Project in Fostering Creative Military Veteran and Civilian Artist Collaborations

The Vet Art Project keeps on marching right along.

Last month, I had such a great time attending one of the many outreach and community engagement events that VAP's lead artist and creator, Lisa Rosenthal, has organized since October.

What a shining effort!

Two more lead-up events are taking place this month before all of the work blossoms into February's month long Vet Art Project: Sharing Stories of War to Help Our Veterans Find Peace exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Study: PTSD Increases Obesity, High Blood Pressure and Insulin Resistance Risk

From EurekAlert:

Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to have metabolic syndrome than veterans without PTSD. New research [pdf] published in the open access journal BMC Medicine has shown that after controlling for other factors such as depression or substance abuse, there is a significant association between metabolic syndrome and PTSD.

Metabolic syndrome is composed of a cluster of clinical signs including obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. It has been associated with diabetes, cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

Any traumatic event or series of events can cause PTSD. According to the UK National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), up to 30% of people who have experienced a traumatic event may go on to develop PTSD and it may affect about 8% of people at some point in their lives.

Pia Heppner, of the Veterans Affairs of San Diego, VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health (CESAMH) and the University of California San Diego, with a team of researchers from the VA, analyzed clinical data from 253 male and female veterans. They found that those with a higher severity of PTSD were more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Heppner said, "This line of research suggests that stress and post-stress responses are related to long-term health outcomes. Studies show that veterans, prisoners of war and individuals exposed to severe trauma have higher rates of physical morbidity and mortality and increased health care utilization. Our findings suggest that metabolic syndrome provides a useful framework for assessing and describing the physical burden of PTSD and can be used prospectively to evaluate health risks that may be associated with combat exposure and PTSD."


You'll Never Walk Alone, Friends

Have been behind in my posting, again.

Did you have a holiday season filled with light, surrounded by those you adore? I hope so.

I'd planned to take a bit of a blogging holiday, but was not expecting that it would be as extended as it's been. A bit of post-holiday sniffles kept me from my work; but, I'm slowly returning back to 100% and will have updates for you, soon.

Today, however, I'd quickly like to share a bit of kindness and encouragement with all of you out there who have been such great friends and supporters of me and my work and everyone in our "extended family," our military families across the nation.

As it's Elvis Presley's birthday (he would have been 74), I'd like to share my favorite song recorded by him, written by Rogers & Hammerstein. Say what you will of the man, but his voice was pure grace when he sang gospel hymns and the like.

And, while he didn't serve in combat, when his country called, he did don its uniform (two great pics of him in the video in it).


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