Thursday, April 27, 2006

Thank You For Visiting PTSD Combat

I'll be away from my computer until Monday, soaking up a family event. Back to posting PTSD news early next week.

As long as I'm adding a personal note here, I'd like to thank those of you -- all 4,384! -- who have visited this past 2 1/2 months. The amount of traffic is great, but the type of traffic is even more impressive. We've become quite popular with the educational and government institutions, and it's great to see that. Please continue to share the link with others who may need the information, and let me know if there's anything specifically you'd like me to cover or seek out. I'm more than happy to help in any way I can.

Bush Budget Fight: Senate Not Likely to Raise Vet Fees

One Senator is reporting some good news re: veteran's health, if it holds. Senator Schumer says the Senate is not likely to back at least one provision of President Bush's 2007 proposed budget: raising veteran's fees for health care and prescription drugs.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From AP New York:

Lawmakers are gearing up to reject charging higher fees to some military veterans for their health care and prescription drugs, Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday.

The Bush administration's proposed budget for the 2007 fiscal year includes a boost in co-pay fees from $8 to $15, and a new $250 user fee to health care enrollment with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Congress has beaten back similar attempts in the past, and Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would push an amendment to cancel the higher fees when the Senate votes next week on a supplemental war spending measure.

Let's hope we can beat back a few more of the nastier provisions, too.

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Support the Troops Just a Slogan?

Wow, the editorial board at the Seattle PI comes out swinging for our troops and the families that have to help them heal as they return home in Thursday's (now online) Opinion: "The slogan adorns bumper stickers and those yellow-ribbon trunk magnets: 'Support Our Troops.' Great slogan. But is it anything more?" Find out what's got them so tweaked, and be sure to take the poll ("Is America doing enough to help severely injured and disabled Iraq war veterans?") at the bottom of the page.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

Continuing from the Post-Intelligencer:

Most Americans have enjoyed a separate peace during the three-years-and-counting war in Iraq. The war has brought no hardships, demanded no sacrifices, except from the soldiers who've been called to fight it and their families, for whom the hardships and sacrifices have been very real.

P-I reporter Mike Barber brought that home Wednesday with the story of Staff Sgt. John Bennett, his wife, Dena, and their four children. Bennett was severely wounded in Iraq. Much of his long recovery and rehabilitation -- including his time at the Seattle VA facility -- was a nightmare for the family. They lived on credit cards and stayed in seedy hotels, far from home.

The war is producing a steady stream of badly wounded and disabled soldiers for which our veterans' facilities are unprepared. Now Seattle has a chance to support our troops with more than a bumper sticker.

The Fisher House philanthropy has helped build 33 wheelchair-friendly centers where families can live and visit wounded soldiers. We need one here. Half of the estimated $4 million to build the Seattle Fisher House must be raised locally. As of this week, the tally stood at about $70,000.

Seattle, home to software billionaires and $1 billion in sports stadia, should do better than that.

I took the liberty of quoting the editorial in full, for educational purposes only.

Please, if you would like:

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Veterans Rally: Recap on State Protests

During the past two days, veterans and their supporters arrived in Washington, DC for a number of events geared to petition their government for their grievances. Those who couldn't make it to the national Capitol descended on their own state Capitols. Let's take a quick review of a few of the actions that took place.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mount Vernon, OH: Returning Vet Support Group Organizes

The people in Ohio are doing an outstanding job of standing up in support of our troops in tangible and important ways. This weekend I wrote of a new support program, the Veteran Freedom Fighters of America, starting up in Sebring, OH; and today there's word that the Mental Health Association of Knox County, OH (including Mount Vernon) is hosting an organizational meeting tomorrow to "solicit interest in getting a [PTSD support] group going in the county." The meeting will take place Wednesday, April 26, 2006 at 7 p.m. at the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Room A and B. Call 740-397-3088 for more information.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more meeting details...

From the Mount Vernon News:

Many in the community are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, and the Mental Health Association of Knox County has received many calls expressing an interest in a support group for those who have been diagnosed with this disorder. An organizational meeting will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Room A and B, to solicit interest in getting a group going in the county. Several agencies in the county, such as the Knox County Red Cross, the Knox County Veterans Services and hospice, have been invited to attend and provide information and resources. ...

Despite the very painful and real effects of PTSD, treatment is often successful. Among the treatments is individual psychotherapy, medication, family therapy is sometimes recommended, and peer-counseling groups. A peer-support group encourages survivors of similar traumatic events to share their experiences and reactions to them.

The Mental Health Association of Knox County, 11 W. Gambier St., invites anyone who thinks they may benefit from sharing their feelings and experiences with others to attend the meeting. For more information call 397-3088.

I wish this takes off, and a hat tip to the community for making this happen!

One Student's Plea: Troops Deserve Our Help

I just came across this article by NIU's Northern Star opinion columnist Henry Kraemer. It describes how his life was personally touched by the Iraq war, as he watched a distant cousin ship off to Iraq -- only to return home suffering with PTSD and eventually giving up on life and choosing suicide. The author's position of writing for a university newspaper provides an excellent opportunity at PTSD education -- and Mr. Kraemer takes it.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

Although I haven't quoted from the entire piece, I've clipped a substantial passage and hope the author agrees it a valid exercise in this case:

Since Jamie died, I've been thinking about the soldiers. According to CNN, there are about 132,000 American soldiers stationed in Iraq right now. That's five times more than the entire student body of NIU. A lot of them are our age. Most of them are willing to lay their lives on the line every day. Many of them do.

The war has been hard on a lot of them. The U.S. Department of Defense reports that 2,384 have died so far, and more than 17,000 have been wounded. Most of us know these figures - the death toll is on the news at least every week - but there is a hidden toll taken on soldiers. It may be the cause of many post-war suicides, and it may have killed Jamie. Post-traumatic stress disorder is affecting soldiers in a tremendous way.

Post-traumatic stress was identified first after the Vietnam War to describe the effects of battle on returning soldiers. The symptoms are seemingly endless: anxiety, depression, nightmares, irritability and flashbacks to name a few.

The American Medical Association surveyed 222,620 Army soldiers and Marines on leave from Iraq and found more than 21,000 of them suffer from post-traumatic stress. The study did not account for the 132,000 serving now, but the percentage is probably the same, if not greater. More soldiers may suffer from the disorder than report it. Many soldiers see it as a sign of weakness and therefore claim to have nothing wrong with them.

The military has tried to identify PTSD sufferers earlier than ever before. Leaders probably learned the lesson after Vietnam, when countless veterans came back emotionally shattered. There are now on-site therapy sessions held in combat zones - but these sessions do little to help the soldiers beyond diagnosing them. The damage has already been done.

PTSD is hitting soldiers in very much the same way it did in Vietnam. Then and now, the soldiers don't know friend from foe. This breeds a great deal of fear and anger. Lt. Col. Alan Peterson, an Air Force psychologist, told the New York Times of the devastation caused by ambiguous urban combat.

"These guys go out in convoys, and boom: the first vehicle gets hit, their best friend dies and now they're seeing life flash before them and get a surge of adrenaline and want to do something," Peterson said. "But often there's nothing they can do. There's no enemy there. ... They wish they could act out on this adrenaline rush and do what they were trained to do but can't."

Post-traumatic stress is ghostly and incessant, much like the soldiers' human enemies. Sufferers are torn apart by it, but military mores keep many of them from getting help. The military is commendably doing much to help them. But the responsibility also falls to us, the families they return to.

Our soldiers come home shaken. They come home hurt and lonely.

We can show them their home is a safe place. We can let them know what they're feeling is perfectly natural and encourage them to get help. If any of your friends or family show signs of PTSD, refer them to local veterans centers or to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

We all respect their service. Now they deserve our help.

I'd like to thank the Northern Star's Henry Kraemer (email him if you'd like to as well) for reaching out to do what he can to help educate Northern Illinois University's student body on the plight of our returning soldiers. His effort will make it easier for others to understand they have an important role to play in assisting the returning veteran's reintegration back into civilian life.

Army: 83 suicides in 2005, 67 in 2004
Do's and Don'ts List for Interactions with Returning Troops

Monday, April 24, 2006

Today's Combat Roles Not Only for Army and Marines

With the military stretched thinner than it's perhaps ever been, service members from all branches are increasingly faced with taking on new roles these days. Combat duty is no longer the sole job of the soldier or the Marine; and so, traditional battlefield fighters may no longer be the only ones asked to bear war's psychological burdens. Let's take a look at how the Air Force and Navy are affected by this broadening of combat roles and responsibilities in their ranks.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

First, let's take a look at the changes taking place in the Air Force via this article in today's Houston Chronicle:

When a group of U.S. Air Force commanders visited Iraq two years ago, they made some disturbing observations as they watched enlisted airmen working in the war zone. Many lacked basic combat skills and instincts. Some didn't know how to handle and load their weapons. A few even had their guns taken away as a safety precaution.

Within months, the high command mandated an overhaul of Air Force basic military training, which has been conducted here since 1942. Officials now say they've imposed the most dramatic changes in 60 years in the training's tone and curriculum.

Chief among them is a new, time-consuming emphasis on "warrior ethos," making every airmen capable of self defense in a service with a reputation for being removed from the front lines. The 38,000 trainees per year now spend less time learning to fold T-shirts so they can spend more time learning to wage war.

With 46 deaths recorded among airmen in Iraq — many of them in ground combat roles — trainees are embracing the new approach as a way of improving their survival chances in their almost-certain deployments to the war zone.

We're introduced to a couple of the newest trainees (classes began in November); after three weeks, one 19-year old airwoman is now confident in firing her M-16A2 training rifle. The only other weapon she'd ever fired up to that point was a BB gun.

That's more exposure to weapons than trainee Amanda Reed of Burlington Township, N.J., had before arriving for basic training, which now features rifle-handling from the outset. "I'm getting used to it. We still haven't fired them — we do that next week," she said. Her family wasn't aware of the new push for combat training, but "when I told them I was learning to use an M-16, my younger brother was very enthusiastic about that."

Like many recruits, Reed joined the Air Force with the notion that it wouldn't be as perilous as other service branches. "I still think that the Air Force isn't as dangerous as the Army or Marines," Reed said.

On his last day in basic, Alex Gaines, 20, of Portage, Ind., said he's ready to move on to training in electronics, but he's prepared to use combat skills if required. The former fast-food worker said he benefited greatly from the grueling training. "I have a lot more confidence, a lot more discipline. We learned how to work as a team," although it was tough initially, he said. "The first couple of weeks, we were like, 'What have we gotten ourselves into?' After that, it didn't get easier, but you adjusted to it," Gaines said. "They (instructors) pretty much want to see if they can break you down."

Trainee Jose Castro, 19, of Little Rock, Ark., agreed. "You try your hardest to do everything right and they just never gave you enough time to actually do it right or finish it. I guess that was the whole point, to stress you out. That's what was hardest for me," he reflected, on the eve of graduation.

As the first in his family to join the military, Castro said his decision wasn't embraced. He portrayed the Air Force as a relatively safe experience to win his family's support. "That's what I actually explained to my mother to make her at least accept it, because she wasn't too happy with it," Castro said.

Trainee Amber Huber, 21, a former waitress and bartender from Alma, Wis., said combat scenarios were among the toughest ordeals. "Once you get used to that, it's not bad," Huber said.

It's a bit of a bait and switch; but, our armed forces being what and who they are rise to the occasion time and again. Some Air Force stats are given:

  • Women make up 1/4 of the Air Force
  • Minorities make up 1/3
  • Average age of new enlistees, 20.2 years
  • 1/4 have some college or a degree
  • Shortest basic training of all branches (will be increased by 2 weeks next year)
  • 800 new trainees arrive weekly
  • 93% will make it through basic training
  • 84% complete that training in the standard 6 1/2 weeks
Go ahead and read the rest of the article to get a feel for what an average day of this branch's basic training is like; I'll close out our look at the Air Force with this quote:

"Now we're doing war skills training up front. We're prepping to deploy. What we did was shave off as much time as we could from the airmanship skills, and we put that into war skills training," the commander said.

A tad unnerving of a consideration.

Of course, if Air Force service members must be placed into combat roles, they need to get the proper war skills training. But stating it in terms of reducing the airmanship skills of an airman and replacing them with combat skills sounds to be a great loss in many ways.

The blending of the roles of our military branches seems to be a significant marker, a significant change in our modern military. As with traditional Guard and Reserve roles, the Air Force is quickly learning there are no longer clear lines of separation from one branch of service to the next: they're all in the Army now.

But the Air Force isn't the only branch of the military remolding itself -- the Navy is, too. Let's take a glimpse at some of the changes happening in that branch via this weekend's Norfolk Virginian-Pilot:

At 9 a.m. on a normal weekday, Lt. Jon French would be checking his e-mail, refilling his coffee cup and probably offering legal advice to a Norfolk sailor. Instead, the Navy lawyer, 28, spent Thursday morning crowded into the back of a truck with a dozen other Kevlar-clad troops, cradling an M-16, his eyes scanning the woods of this Army training base for "insurgents."

French, who works at Norfolk Naval Station's trial services office, left normal behind in December, when he agreed to go to Iraq so his married colleagues didn't have to leave their families . For the next year, French will work with Task Force 134, helping Iraqi lawyers and judges prosecute insurgents rounded up by U.S. forces. "It never occurred to me that I would ever be in combat boots with a rifle," said French, who joined the Navy while he was at Gonzaga University School of Law. "Anybody who's in uniform has to be ready to answer the call when it comes, and it did this time."

That call is coming for more and more sailors. Adm. Mike Mullen , the chief of naval operations, has told his ranks that the Navy will step up its contribution to the war on terror by increasing the number of "individual augmentees" filling support roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the downside here is that by tapping people not originally intended for these types of deployments creates a problem or two. The work and position they've left behind remains unfilled. More importantly, however, family members of these "individual augmentees" (or IAs) are left to deal with the stress of deployment on their own.

Unlike what's been built up over decades in the Army and the Marines, what's lacking in the other branches is a support structure to help these families navigate smoothly through this unusual -- and generally unplanned for -- event. Air Force, Reserves, Guard, Navy...they're all going to have to find a way to deal with this new reality because it's here, and it doesn't look to be going anywhere anytime soon.

In March, the Navy cut orders for more than 900 sailors to leave their posts for Middle Eastern combat zones. An additional 400 were tapped in April, said Rear Adm. Daniel Holloway , one of the Navy's top personnel officers. Overall, about 11,000 sailors are on the ground in the Middle East, said Navy spokesman Lt. Trey Brown . That includes mobilized reservists, augmentees and Navy units. That number has steadily increased since the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.

The increased commitment to sending individual augmentees into harm's way led the Navy to develop a two-week training program at Fort Jackson. The base in South Carolina's capital also puts Army recruits through basic training and gives refresher training to retired soldiers called back to active duty.

Before the classes began in January, Navy augmentees trained at Fort Bliss, Texas, or Fort Benning, Ga., where some deploying Navy units go to brush up on combat skills. It's like fast-track basic training, without the marching and in-your-face discipline. The sailors here learn to shoot machine guns, clear a building, frisk enemy prisoners of war and toss grenades.

Fast-track training? Although this isn't something I've looked into yet (but, certainly have plans to), I hope our Naval (and Air Force) troops aren't being short-changed along with fast-tracked.

After 25 years on ship and shore duty, Chief Warrant Officer Mark Rees is headed to Afghanistan, where he'll work with an Army unit training Afghan police. It's a big change for someone who specializes in the Aegis weapons system and had been serving aboard the destroyer James E. Williams .

Rees, who lives in Suffolk, said the physical adjustment of operating with a helmet, body armor and rifle has been his biggest challenge. "I don't normally carry an M-16. On a ship, I carry a pen and a notebook, and I write things down," Rees, 42 , said during a break from drills. "Every kid, I think, plays Army," he said. "Doing it this late in life, with real people shooting at you, may not be the smartest thing."

His wife is not enthused about his next tour, but Rees is being a good sport. "In my opinion, if we can help the Afghans, it's a good thing," he said, "if they want the help."

Rees and Chief Warrant Officer Chris Logan of Virginia Beach have had about a month to prepare for their new task.

Logan, a father of three, had been working at the Navy-Marine Corps Warfighting Intelligence Center at the Fleet Combat Training Center at Dam Neck when he got a phone call five weeks ago telling him he was on a short list to go to Afghanistan.

It wasn't a surprise. With his experience in intelligence, Logan figured he'd get tapped. He's happy he'll be working alongside Army personnel and that it's a six-month tour instead of a year. "I'd rather take directions from an Army guy on the ground than a Navy guy," Logan said. "Not that a Navy guy isn't competent, but they're more experienced," he said, referring to the soldiers.

That last quote goes back to the concern I raised earlier -- a solid point that needs to be considered as we continue down this road of expecting all branches to be ground war capable.

Brig. General James H. Schwitters , the commanding general of Fort Jackson, said the most important thing for sailors to learn is "operational awareness" -- knowing what to look for and what not to do if a fight breaks out around them. Schwitters, who last year finished a tour in Iraq helping to set up that country's army, said he worked with individual augmentees from other U.S. military branches and saw for himself they needed more training for emergencies.

He isn't worried about soldiers mistrusting the sailors who serve alongside them. "I'm not naive enough to think there aren't individuals who would feel that way," Schwitters said while at the training site, "but that almost never becomes a problem."

The drill sergeants took a few good-natured jabs at their Navy charges but said they're impressed by the attitude of the sailors, who are about evenly split between active and reserves.

Though the sailors are good-natured and interested in succeeding in their changing roles (they're in the 'Narmy' now, they say), their new responsibilities demand an increased awareness and ability to quickly react to situations they have until recently not been physically and mentally trained for.

For Cmdr. Bill Kern, the training and his upcoming tour in Iraq are a chance to combine academics and life experience. Kern teaches military strategic studies at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Thursday, Kern learned the hard way that teaching tactics and carrying them out are two different things. Acting as leader of a group of 15 sailors on a convoy exercise, Kern ran into all sorts of trouble when the "fog of war" descended in the form of a simulated attack.

His sailors were supposed to dismount and take cover in the woods, but instead of fanning out as they'd practiced, they clumped too close together. Half the group abandoned the right side of the truck and traipsed to the left, leaving the vehicle open to attack. Kern lost track of the radio operator who was supposed to stay by his side.

Through it all, the drill instructors quietly prodded Kern and his team: "Where's your radio?" "Leapfrog back and maintain security." "Get behind a tree. Not a skinny tree. Something that's going to stop a bullet."

When the exercise ended, Kern and at least seven of his team members had their helmets off -- a signal that the insurgents had "killed" them. Kern was brutally honest when the drill instructors asked him during a debriefing what his team did well. "It's a short list," he said, blaming himself for many of the lapses. "All the things we were taught, we weren't employing," he said. "We just kind of ran around willy-nilly."

French, the lawyer, was one of the bareheaded sailors. He and four teammates were ambushed as they rushed around a building. It was just a drill, and he hopes he won't see anything close to combat when he's in Iraq. Still, the experience left him with a sinking feeling. "When you come around the corner and see a guy standing there and you try to raise your weapon and you don't and your whole team dies, ..." French said, his voice drifting off. "There's so much to pay attention to."

My hopes are that both the Navy and the Air Force -- if they absolutely must place their service members into on-the-ground combat roles -- will continue to test and strengthen their training for these service members. It will ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of those they serve with.

Please consider thanking the Houston Chronicle and Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot for their coverage of this important development in the way our modern military is undergoing such a breathtaking metamorphosis.

PTSD Statistics, WWII to Iraq

Military Chaplain: Different War, Different Stress

What are some of the differences between this war and others that have been fought in the past, and how do those differences add to or subtract from the possible after effect known as posttraumatic stress disorder? One military chaplain answered these questions recently. Although the report is a few months old, the information is still timely and relevant.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the American Forces Press Service:

Chaplain: Different War Imposes Different Stresses
By Jim Garamone

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2005 – A different kind of war produces different kind of stresses on the servicemembers fighting it, said the 2nd Brigade Combat Team chaplain here. But recognizing those stresses enables the soldiers of this 3rd Infantry Division unit to begin to deal with them, said Chaplain (Maj.) Peter Brzezinski.

Brzezinski, a Presbyterian minister, called uncertainty the greatest stress to the brigade's troops. "Every time you go out the gate, there is the chance that something will happen," he said.

Brigade soldiers work with Iraqi security forces but also patrol East Baghdad on their own. Soldiers moving off the FOB stand the chance of being engaged by suicide bombers, suicide car bombers and small-arms fire. Improvised explosive devices are the big killers in this war, and enemy fighters are constantly changing their tactics and procedures. A route near the FOB has a reputation for being laced with IEDs. "I know it's stupid, but every time I go on (the route), I keep wondering if this is the last thing I'll see," said one soldier.

Soldiers here operate far differently than in 2003, during their initial run up to Baghdad at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The rules of engagement are far more restrictive, as troops recognize they need to be. In many cases, the soldiers are working in jobs they never received formal school training to carry out. For example, field artillerymen work as infantrymen and air defense artillery soldiers, as military police. "They've done very well in these new jobs," Brzezinski said. "This is a great, flexible force, but it does provide stress."

Even soldiers on the FOB have combat stress uncertainty. Rocket and mortar attacks, while rare, are a possibility. On the FOB, people don't even look up when they hear the occasional rifle or machine gun fire off base.

Uncertainty in an institutional sense also contributes to the problem, the chaplain said. Army researchers who did a survey at the FOB found the lack of predictability in deployments to be the greatest concern to soldiers. "If the Army could say, 'you will be home for this period and then on this date you will deploy,' the soldiers would be much happier," Brzezinski said. "Not knowing is a stressor on the troops."

Access to the Internet and efforts at Fort Stewart, Ga., the brigade's home, help reduce concerns about family, the chaplain said. The FOB's Internet Café, which enables soldiers to stay in touch via e-mail, Web cams and instant messaging, is packed at all hours. "Of course, if there is an incident here, then the infrastructure here is quickly overloaded," he said.

Also helping reduce stress is a sense of accomplishment. Brigade soldiers feel they are doing a good job with the Iraqi security forces and see daily progress in the region around their base, the chaplain said. "And everyone here is very proud of the way the elections went," he said. "When you feel good about your mission, you can put up with a lot."

The brigade's year-long deployment is drawing to a close. The 506th Brigade Combat Team from Fort Campbell, Ky., is replacing the 2nd Brigade. While the 506th is part of the 101st Airborne Division-remembered as the "Band of Brothers" of World War II and for operations at Hamburger Hill in Vietnam--it will serve as part of the 4th Infantry Division.

As the brigade goes home, the chaplain will work with unit commanders and top NCOs to make sure the soldier's reintegration with their families goes smoothly. The unit will arrive back in Georgia, reunite with their families, go through a week-long decompression routine, then start a month of block leave. "Then we will come back and begin the process all over again," Brzezinski said.

Posted in its entirety for educational purposes.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Fighting Never Ends: One Returning Veteran's PTSD Saga

Today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports on one recently returned Iraq veteran's struggle with posttraumatic stress disorder. After serving a 14-month tour in Iraq, Jacob Hounshell ("a private first class in a scout platoon who was cited for his quick thinking during battle") went AWOL as he struggled to fight suicidal demons and nightmares; his parents stepped in to stem their son's downward spiral. Living in a small town, their personal struggle became political as they went public with their problems.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

"I have a few bad days, but I take them as they come, and I've learned to deal with it," he said. [Jacob] Hounshell, 21, who went AWOL from the Army after a 14-month tour in Iraq, is trying to start over, free from the military service that he said was a constant reminder of his one-time mental problems and fractious run-ins with his Army command.

The Army discharged him this month, 14 months early from his four-year enlistment, after he finished a monthlong jail sentence. "I'm happy as hell," the Brownwood man said. "I can go on with my life." ...

[T]he military has started a number of programs to help soldiers adapt to life back home after being in a war zone for a year at a time.

Rare, though, is the family that opens the door to its life the way the Hounshells did last May, when Bobbie and Larry Hounshell called the Star-Telegram because they didn't know anyone else to call. The Star-Telegram profiled them in a front-page story in June.

Jacob Hounshell, a private first class in a scout platoon who was cited for his quick thinking during battle, had gone AWOL from his unit at Fort Hood with his parents' help. He was suicidal, angry and emotional, and he couldn't sleep.

He and his family said that his commanders were indifferent to his problems and that the highly touted mental-health programs were not helpful. The Army denied both accusations. "We're not trying to hurt our soldiers overseas, and we didn't want this fight with the Army," his mother said at the time. "But my son had problems when he came home, and all he was told was, 'Drive on.'"

In a small town, the Hounshells paid a price for going public. They said many people shunned them, made hateful phone calls and were quick to judge.

Eventually Bobbie Hounshell wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, asking for understanding from a mother who couldn't say "that we were right or we were wrong. It is a decision based on love and emotion."

Where to begin with this?

Why exactly would this family have to be on the receiving end of this type of public backlash? Ah, the Politics of PTSD which says that our soldiers should be silent and problem-free lest their cries for help provide aid and comfort to the enemy. Could that be part of it?

For nine months, Jacob Hounshell stayed at his house in Brownwood, eventually finding a steady job. In February, he learned that a federal warrant was about to be issued.

That day he drove to Fort Hood and surrendered. Reassigned to his old unit, he reported for duty to a different commander and first sergeant, who he said treated him respectfully. He said that he was offered counseling by Army psychologists but that he declined because he had already soured on the system. "I just wanted to deal with it like I had been," he said.

In a summary court-martial in early March, an officer found Hounshell guilty of being absent without leave. The officer sentenced him to 30 days, to be served in the Bell County Jail.

It was the maximum punishment for a private first class.

Please read the rest of the article; and feel free to contact the Star-Telegram to let them know you appreciate their coverage of this issue.

[Jacob's story previously covered in 20 Years Old and Destroyed By War and PTSD.]

 Related Posts

Sebring, OH: Community Returning Veteran PTSD Program

Little Sebring, OH is gearing up to offer its returning veterans a program of great importance. Robert Roerich, MD and Darla Hough have received approval from the local American Legion to use their space and resources for the first veteran and veteran family support group, tentatively called Veteran Freedom Fighters of America. Kick-off meeting is on Wednesday, May 10, 2006 from 7-9 p.m. All veterans and military family members are encouraged to participate in this program which will meet the 2nd Monday of every month (with an option to have additional meeting and support groups to be determined by its members). Contact 'Doc' Roerich if you have any questions.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for map and directions, agenda, etc...

Sebring is a village of approximately 5,000 people in Mahoning County of northeastern Ohio. It is 5 miles east of Alliance, Ohio and 10 miles west of Salem, Ohio. I'm pleased to share preliminary details of their inspiring Veteran Freedom Fighters of America program (please check back for any additional updates as I receive them):


Kick-off meeting is on Wednesday, May 10, 2006 from 7-9 p.m. All veterans and military family members are encouraged to participate in this program which will meet the 2nd Monday of every month (with an option to have additional meeting and support groups to be determined by its members).


American Legion Post #76
395 W California Ave
Sebring, OH 44672

Click on above image for GoogleMaps directions. Or phone the American Legion at (330) 938-9082.


The Veteran Freedom Fighters of America (VFFA) support network was founded by a veteran’s wife and a psychiatrist who saw a growing need to provide a community based support network for our returning military back from Iraq and their families. With many veterans experiencing increased stress in the aftermath of war, a critical need was identified to help heal the unseen wounds of war by providing timely support. It takes a village to help our warriors transition from military to civilian life free of the social stigma of suffering from mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicidal or homicidal acts.

A key component of fighting for mental peace of mind is knowing when there is a problem in relationships with friends and family. VFFA will help veterans and families fight for themselves, armed with knowledge of what problems can occur. The support group will not judge or stigmatize anyone but provide a nurturing, healing environment in order to truly return home.


I. Welcome by Darla Hough and Robert Roerich. Introductions among attendees of the meeting.

II. Informal discussion and timeline of what problems can occur with returning military and their families. Feedback of what members have experienced if they wish to share with the group.

III. Survey of what resources group members would want in the group, which may include:

  • Printed and digital information handouts on depression, PTSD, and suicide for personal use.
  • Distribution of a support group work book for member’s use.
  • Information on problems with spouse or significant other and children affected by a veteran with PTSD.
  • Stress management
  • Anger management
  • Resource manual for families on financial assistance, filing disability claims from the VA, health care and referrals to outpatient, hospital and crisis hotlines.
  • Setting up peer and family support groups with group facilitator.
  • Social activities and group functions, fund raisers, grant applications.
  • Outreach and networking with others at the local, regional, state and national level to set up veteran and veteran family support networks.

American Legion Post #76 will send out an invitation to their members in their newsletter informing them of their support in setting this veteran and veteran family community support network. A Salem, Ohio newspaper and others may also run a news story about this.

It is not necessary to contact anyone before coming, but if there are questions about the support network, 'Doc' Roerich will post about it on which has an announcement about this meeting. Additionally, you may contact the American Legion at (330) 938-9082 for directions or email 'Doc' at Roadmind University if you have any questions.

As the VA struggles to meet the increasing needs of our returning troops (alongside taking care of the those who've served in prior eras) more and more local and state efforts are being made to reach out and offer assistance. Programs like the one started up in Sebring, OH are vital to augment programs offered by the VA, providing yet another option and safety net for our returning troops and their families.

As Dr. Roerich says, "With the VA overwhelmed, understaffed and underfunded, getting the word out on the grass roots effort of concerned citizens and families to set up community based support networks in every hometown in America."

Other local communities are pitching in to help their returning troops in targeted and unique ways including those found in Minnesota, Oregon, and New Jersey and Philadelphia to name a few.

Kudos to them all. And here's to seeing more of this kind of thing pick up steam!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Army: 83 suicides in 2005, 67 in 2004

The news splashed across our television screens and our newspapers today: the Army reported its suicide rate figures yesterday. Although our armed forces have been increasingly working to ensure their troops receive mental health/stress support, the rate has still inched upwards to levels not seen since 1993. The data is heartrending.

If you're having trouble coping and are contemplating suicide, please get help.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the Associated Press:

In 2005, a total of 83 soldiers committed suicide, compared with 67 in 2004, and 60 in 2003 — the year U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq. Four other deaths in 2005 are being investigated as possible suicides but have not yet been confirmed. The totals include active duty Army soldiers and deployed National Guard and Reserve troops.

“Although we are not alarmed by the slight increase, we do take suicide prevention very seriously,” said Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin. “We have increased the number of combat stress teams, increased suicide prevention and training, and we are working very aggressively to change the culture so that soldiers feel comfortable coming forward with their personal problems in a culture where historically admitting mental health issues was frowned upon.”

Although the Army may not be alarmed, any military family member who has to go through this certainly is. Even one loss is too many. Although the suicide rate is not at an all-time high, the fact that it's creeping up even in the face of targeted measures implemented to stem the tide should be alarming -- even to the Army.
The suicide rate for the Army has fluctuated over the past 25 years, from a high of 15.8 per 100,000 in 1985 to a low of 9.1 per 100,000 in 2001. Last year it was nearly 13 per 100,000.

The Army recorded 90 suicides in 1993, with a suicide rate of 14.2 per 100,000. The Army rate is higher than the civilian suicide rate for 2003, which was 10.8 per 100,000, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the Army number tracked closely with the rate for civilians aged 18-34, which was 12.19 per 100,000 in 2003.

In the summer of 2002 a series of murder-suicides took place in quick succession at Fort Bragg after the base returned from Afghanistan; the incidents received much publicity at the time (and can be found as the first entries in the PTSD Timeline). Then, in the summer of 2003, there was an alarming increase in suicides in Iraq.

Since then, the Army has increased the number of mental health professionals and placed combat stress teams with units. According to the Army, there are more than 230 mental health practitioners working in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with “about a handful” when the war began, Curtin said. Soldiers also get cards and booklets that outline suicide warning signs and how to get help.

But at least one veterans group says it’s not enough.

“These numbers should be a wake-up call on the mental health impact of this war,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “One in three soldiers will come back with post traumatic stress disorder or comparable mental health issues, or depression and severe anxiety.”

Rieckhoff, who was a platoon leader in Iraq, said soldiers there face increased stress because they are often deployed to the warfront several times, they are fighting urban combat and their enemy blends in with the population, making it more difficult to tell friend from foe. “You don’t get much time to rest and with the increased insurgency, your chances of getting killed or wounded are growing,” he said. “The Army is trying harder, but they’ve got an incredibly long way to go.”

He added that while there are more psychiatrists, the soldiers are still in a war zone, “so you’re just putting your finger in the dam.”

If you'd like to learn more about suicide, take a look at the Center for Disease Control's Suicide: Fact Sheet.

Important info from the American Association of Suiciology:


Be Aware of the Warning Signs

Are you or someone you love at risk of suicide? Get the facts and take appropriate action. Get help immediately by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-8255 for a referral should you witness, hear, or see anyone exhibiting any one or more of the following:

  • Someone threatening to hurt or kill him/herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself.
  • Someone looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means.
  • Someone talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person.
Seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-8255 for a referral should you witness, hear, or see someone you know exhibiting any one or more of the following:

  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped - like there's no way out
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
What To Do

Here are some ways to be helpful to someone who is threatening suicide:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don’t dare him or her to do it.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
  • Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Be Aware of Feelings

Many people at some time in their lives think about completing suicide. Most decide to live because they eventually come to realize that the crisis is temporary and death is permanent. On other hand, people having a crisis sometimes perceive their dilemma as inescapable and feel an utter loss of control. These are some of the feelings and thoughts they experience:

  • Can’t stop the pain
  • Can’t think clearly
  • Can’t make decisions
  • Can’t sleep, eat or work
  • Can’t get out of depression
  • Can’t see a future without pain
  • Can’t see themselves as worthwhile
  • Can’t get someone’s attention
  • Can’t seem to get control
If you experience these feelings, get help!
If someone you know exhibits these symptoms, offer help!


  • A community mental health agency
  • A private therapist or counselor
  • A school counselor or psychologist
  • A family physician
  • A suicide prevention or crisis center

If you need immediate help, please get it:

Nat'l Veterans Foundation Help Line
1-888-777-4443 (M-F 9-9 Pacific)
Email help also available from NVF

Military OneSource - DOD contracted
1-800-342-9647 in USA (24/7)
1-800-3429-6477 outside of USA

NY/NJ Veterans VA Nurses Helpline

Gulf Coast VA Medical Center Hot Line

Suicide Hotlines

Suicide Help Online

Miles Foundation - Domestic Violence

National Coalition for Homeless Vets

Veterans of the Vietnam War

Related Posts

Storming Washington: Veterans March to the Capitol

As veterans from across the country descend upon Washington, D.C. next week and take part in Veterans March 2006, I thought I'd share a quick story with you today on a few who are taking part (click on 'Article Link' below for that).

If you're going to the event (taking place April 24-26), you can find all the information you need (including program itinerary, guest speakers, lodging help, maps and directions, etc.) online at Resources for those of us who unfortunately can't be a part of this: Catch streaming online coverage beginning at 0900 on Tuesday morning; or tune in to Stardust Radio's coverage. Go, vets, go!

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the Times (out of Northwest Indiana). Reprinted in its entirety for educational purposes:

One bishop is headed to Washington D.C., where he will join thousands of veterans lobbying for veterans' rights. James Wilkowski, Evangelical Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of the Northwest, said social justice is a moral obligation. He wants to encourage the government to take better care of those who have served. Wilkowski represents Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Wilkowski, whose home church is Holy Family Church in Chicago, will be one of many keynote speakers at the march. He will also serve as the chaplain for the event.

Veterans March 2006 will be April 24, 25 and 26. Wilkowski said about 10,000 will march. Dale Peters, Republican head of the Veterans of Progress in Illinois, also will participate in the march. "We have served and we are treated like second class citizens," said Peters, Darien, Ill., resident. "Every veteran is my brother."

Peters said he will march with thousands of other veterans to support those who have served and experienced what conflict is like firsthand. "(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a real disease. American children are taught not to kill and then they see this stuff," Peters said. "Our health care has dropped. Our wounded troops are not being taken care of."

Wilkowski said his intent is to do what is necessary to help veterans. He is asking the community to send him letters that he hopes to present to government officials in Washington. "I want to personally present these letters to the Secretary of Veteran Affairs," Wilkowski said. "There is sort of an indifference within the American public regarding the needs of veterans. It's really time for us to defend the defenders."

Wilkowski said he wants to provide a voice for those who have died serving their country. He said cutbacks on veteran benefits impact everyone who has served, particularly the aging population. "Sadly, I think our veterans are always on the bottom of the priority list. What we are finding is that the VA and the government is cutting back," Wilkowski said. "I think we need to start getting our priorities realigned."

Wilkowski encouraged all community members, whether they are veterans or not, to write letters regarding the importance of providing health care to veterans. "Please take ownership of the issue of veterans in our country," Wilkowski said. "Please embrace the needs of our veterans because we have what we have thanks to them."

Although I can't be there physically, I'm there in spirit with you all. All of my best for a successful petitioning of our government!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Madison, WI: Combat PTSD Art Therapy Program

If you're in the Madison, WI area, you're invited to a limited engagement exhibit, The Art of War: Trauma, Healing & the Vietnam Veteran through July 10, 2006. The exhibit features artwork loaned to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum by the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum of Chicago which "highlight not only the Vietnam experience, but also how veterans have dealt with the trauma of war." A free PTSD art therapy program is also scheduled for May 2, 2006.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for details and directions...

First, the art therapy program details:

In conjunction with the "The Art of War: Trauma, Healing and the Vietnam Veteran," the Wisconsin Veterans Museum will offer a program on the use of art therapy to assist with post-traumatic stress disorder on Tuesday, May 2, at 7 p.m. in the museum's education center on the second floor. Dr. Dean Krahn from the Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital will discuss the topic. The program will include art from current hospital patients.

The museum, an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, is at 30 W. Mifflin St. on the Square. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. For information, call 608-264-6086.

Some more Art of War event information and details:

A war veteran once said, "If you don't know any history it's as though you're born yesterday." And today the quote's scariest implications, being a naked babe in battle, unarmed with experience, are compounded by Vietnam veterans' reality: Their experience-weighted voices, and art, may be their most important weapons today.

We need such weapons because these survivors understand what it was like and how to fight a guerrilla war such as Iraq. Part of the problem may be a repressive psychosis -- it's all too easy to dismiss the Vietnam War as a national nightmare. "Were it not for my pictures, I could easily have convinced myself I was never there," marvels Army still photographer James McJunkin, in an artist's statement from a new show of almost hallucinatory potency, "The Art of War: Trauma, Healing and the Vietnam Veteran," at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum through July 10.

Location: 30 W. Mifflin Street (on the Square), Madison, WI
Museum hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
More information: 608-264-6086.

 Related Posts

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Outstretched Hands: Organizations Helping Our Veterans

Yesterday, I received this email:

The father of a good friend just died, and a group of us would like
to make a donation in his memory. My friend says he was active in
veteran's affairs (American Legion I think), so I thought that an
organization helping returning Iraq vets would be a good place to
start. Any suggestions?

I've been meaning to get a post up on just this topic for some time. What better time than now?

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for some of my favorite charities...

We're all interested in making sure that the funds we decide to donate get the most bang for their buck. The following organizations directly help our veterans -- each in their own way -- with very little waste. Your support goes directly where it's needed: to our troops/veterans and their families.

Without further delay, here are a few of my favorites:

Gift from Within
A non-profit organization dedicated to those who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), those at risk for PTSD, and those who care for traumatized individuals; develops and disseminates educational material, including videotapes, articles, books, and other resources through its website; maintains a roster of survivors who are willing to participate in an international network of peer support; is designated by the Internal Revenue Service as 501(c)(3) public charity, eligible to receive tax-exempt grants, gifts, and donations.

Donate online via PayPal button, or send a check by mail:

Gift from Within
16 Cobb Hill Rd.
Camden, Maine 04843

Fisher House
Because members of the military and their families are stationed worldwide and must often travel great distances for specialized medical care, Fisher House™ Foundation donates “comfort homes,” built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times - during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury.

There is at least one Fisher House™ at every major military medical center to assist families in need and to ensure that they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment. Annually, the Fisher House™ program serves more than 8,500 families, and have made available more than two million days of lodging to family members since the program originated in 1990. Based on a comparison of fees at a Fisher House™ (the average charge is less than $10 per family per day, with many locations offering rooms at no cost) with commercial lodging facilities in the same area, it is estimated that families have saved more than $60 million by staying at a Fisher House™ since the program began.

Contribute online or send your contribution to:

Fisher House™ Foundation, Inc.
1401 Rockville Pike, Suite 600
Rockville, MD 20852

Operation Homefront
A nonprofit committed to helping to ease the burden of military families left behind during times of war, Operation Homefront makes it easy to help in a real and tangible way by purchasing groceries for our military families who have members actively serving overseas. Buy a bag or groceries for them by purchasing commissary gift certificates in denominations of $10 or $25.

Purchase online or mail a check off to:

Operation Homefront
South Coast Plaza Village
1631 W. Sunflower Ave. Suite C-34
Santa Ana, CA 92704

Angel Flight for Veterans
This nonprofit works to provide long distance transportation for Veterans in need of Medical care. Their aim is to ensure that no financially-needy veteran / active duty military person or their family member(s) is denied access to distant specialized medical evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, or rehabilitation for lack of a means of long-distance medical air transportation. Patients needing help call the National Patient Travel HELPLINE at 1-800-296-1217.

Donate online or mail a check to:

Angel Flight for Veterans
4620 Haygood Road, Ste. 1
Virginia Beach, VA 23455

Homes For Our Troops
Provides handicap accessible homes for our severely wounded Veterans. Homes for Our Troops is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization strongly committed to helping those who have selflessly given to their country and have returned home with serious disabilities and injuries. They assist injured service men and women and their immediate families by raising donations of money, building materials and professional labor and coordinating the process of building a new home or adapting an existing home for handicapped accessibility. With the growing network of professionals in the building industry, building material manufacturers, and generous donors from across the USA, Homes for Our Troops is able to provide this service at little or no cost to the veteran.

Donate online or send your contribution by printing this mail-in form.

Quilts of Valor
The mission of the QOV Foundation is to cover ALL combat wounded servicemembers whether physical or psychological with wartime quilts called Quilts of Valor (QOVs). The wounded servicemembers from the War on Terror or Long War are to be considered first and foremost. The second mission is to teach our children how to sew QOVs. This skill will teach sewing skills in addition to becoming civically involved and volunteering for the betterment of our nation. A natural extension of our mission will be to link up with our coalition countries and see that their combat wounded are also covered. When all is said and done what we are doing is providing a means by which our combat wounded can have a better life. This foundation will do whatever it takes to reach this goal. Tax deductible donations via their site or by mail in the forms of cash, fabric, supplies and other needed items. Email or phone Catherine at or via phone at 302.236.0230 for more information on how you can help.

Donate online via PayPal Button.

Well, there are a lot more doing outstanding work for our veterans; so, I invite you to add any of your favorites in comments.

And a thank you goes out to the person who emailed me yesterday with the question which inspired this post. The thanks is not only for getting me motivated, but for the actions your social circle is taking. What better way to honor this man's life and work with the American Legion, than by carrying onward his life's mission beyond the time that he had with us on earth?

My condolences to your friend's family. And thanks for writing...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

County Veterans Service Offices Swamped

We hear a lot about the influx of veterans seeking out health care from the VA; but, what about other organizations set up to provide assistance to our vets? How are they dealing with the crunch? Today's Minneapolis-St. Paul Pioneer Press tells us how things are going in our county veterans service offices -- both in Minnesota and in neighboring Wisconsin (and we can imagine the same can be seen across other states as well). A few stats, a few explanations, and a few stories in this informative piece.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From the MSP Pioneer Press:

Artillery fire continues to reverberate for the former [Vietnam-era] Army specialist: [Dennis] Molick has tinnitus, or ringing of the ears, a common affliction of veterans. The condition prompted Molick to visit his local Veterans Service Office in Anoka County — one of several Twin Cities offices handling a burgeoning number of veteran requests for everything from health problems to burial arrangements to vocational help. "We're seeing record numbers of people coming in to access these types of things," said Duane Krueger, director of the Veterans Service Office in Anoka.

Since 1999, the number of client visits to Krueger's office has almost tripled, and the two-person staff saw 31 people on March 31, a one-day record. Late last month, Krueger asked for and received from the County Board the OK to hire another person. Other counties report similar increases. "There shouldn't be an office that isn't busy right now, especially in the metro area," because of the large population of veterans here, said Jon Larson of the Washington County Veterans Service Office. "We never get caught up here."

Provided and paid for by each individual Minnesota county, these Veterans Service Offices fulfill an important role in a local community.

[T]hey assist veterans and their survivors in applying for medical benefits, filing claims for service-related conditions, burials, home loans and education benefits. Neighboring Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties in Wisconsin also have veterans service offices. Most offices do not track their clients by age or war period. But directors from around the Twin Cities agree on several reasons for the increases.

The Iraq war is creating a new tide of veterans. Vietnam veterans are aging into their 60s, some with conditions related to war injuries or post-traumatic stress renewed by seeing Iraq coverage in the news. World War II and Korean War veterans are even older, and their deaths are leaving survivors with questions about government benefits. And rising health care costs, along with the tendency for employers to offer less insurance coverage, have prompted more veterans to consider treatment at a VA hospital.

In addition, the offices are seeing more veterans who are suffering the effects of Agent Orange exposure.

Anoka County has about 28,000 veterans, Krueger said. Last year, his office logged 3,559 visits from clients. In 2006, the office is on track to see 4,000.

In the light of this increasing need, it's obvious that more money and manpower will need to be devoted to these services; unfortunately, budgets are bursting on just about every level of government these days. Not all offices have the opportunity to hire another employee to meet the rising needs. Not all offices are having an easy time of even remaining open.

From the Quay County [NM] Sun:

Joe Valverde, a veteran of the Korean War and the Vietnam War, told [county] commissioners he was concerned about the scheduled July 1 closing of the veteran’s service office in Tucumcari. “We need all the help we can get and we need it locally,” Valverde said. If the office is closed, Valverde said Clovis is the next closest office. Between Quay, DeBaca and Guadalupe counties, the Tucumcari office serves more than 2,100 veterans -- 1,319 of them in Quay County.

A trip to Clovis isn’t easy for veterans, Valverde said, because of health problems and rising fuel prices. “I’m not primarily looking at myself,” Valverde said. “We have other veterans who do need help.”

The representative of the office, Albert Trujillo, said the cut would be made because the office doesn’t serve as many veterans as other offices around the state. However, Trujillo felt having the local office was the best scenario for veterans. “We have one-on-one contact,” Trujillo said. “They (other offices) have bigger workloads, but I don’t see that as a reason to close our office down.”

Commissioners said they would send letters of support to U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a member of the House of Representatives’ Veterans Affairs Committee, along with Gov. Bill Richardson and state legislators Clint Harden and Brian K. Moore. Additionally, commissioners said they would do whatever else they could to help prevent the office’s closure [names linked to official contact page if you'd like to send a note, too].

A hat tip to all the hard-working people in our county veterans service offices all around the country -- you're doing important work for our society. Please read the entire piece (local office #s provided), and then join me in thanking the Pioneer Press for their coverage of this issue.

Track down your own state's veterans benefit services from this National Association of County Veteran Services page.

Near Buffalo, NY? Catch Former Vietnam POW Talk on PTSD

If you're in the Buffalo, NY area next Wednesday (April 26th), you may want to mark you calendar for a thought-provoking and rich evening of posttraumatic stress disorder eduction and discussion. St. Joseph University Parish Church and Compeer of Greater Buffalo welcome Captain Dick Stratton USN (Retired) to discuss his intimate experience with PTSD following 2,251 days in the Hanoi prison system as a POW during the Vietnam war.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more details...

From the press release:

Mr. Stratton's appearance is particularly timely in light of the ongoing war in Iraq and the recent hardship that Hurricane Katrina has brought to so many. We encourage the entire community and, in particular, veterans and their loved ones, social workers, educators, psychologists and psychiatrists to attend this valuable conference that is free to the community. ...

For information on attending this special program, contact Annette Pinder at 883-3331, Ext. 18. St. Joseph University Parish is located at 3269 Main Street, Buffalo, New York 14214, next to the University at Buffalo. Parking is available behind the church.

Plan to attend on Wednesday, April 26, 2006 at 7:00 p.m.

Reconnecting with Your Kids After Deployment

The DOD has once more christened April the Month of the Military Child. Since 1986, this month is set aside to focus on honoring the littlest member of the military family. I'll share resources and family transition tips for those returning home from a long deployment overseas.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

First, some military resources you might want to make use of:

Explore Grand Forks [ND] Air Force Base's Escape Zone, a new interactive learning center opened just yesterday at 410 Seventh Ave., Building 320, on base. Open for all active-duty military families (Reserve and Guard included), the Escape Zone offers a place for parents to join their kids in a number of hands-on activities and programs aimed at helping with their pre- and post-deployment bonding. Phone (701) 747-5608 for more details.

Don't miss these two great clearinghouses of family info: DeploymentLINK and the valuable Blue Box of resources.

Highly recommended -- lots of Blue Box family reintegration guides, including the following must-haves workbooks:

Access the DOD's Military Child in Transition website, brimming with great information for both parent and 'military brat' (said lovingly, of course :o). Some of the gems you'll find here are the 85-page Military Students on the Move Toolkit for Parents [pdf]; the 29-page Parent's Guide to the Military Child During Deployment and Reunion [pdf]; and the 12-page How Communities Can Support the Children and Families of Those Serving in the National Guard or Reserves [pdf].

Check out the DOD's Military Homefront website. Take a special look at the resources collected on their Children & Teens page.

Have your kids explore Kids Information on Deployment Stuff (KIDS), a website made especially for them. Click on their grade level (grouped into three categories), and away they go!

View the Army Reserve Family Programs Readiness Video, Dealing with the Emotional Side of Deployment, that explores what to expect during your soldier's deployment. You'll also learn to handle the stress and emotions that you'll be feeling during this anxious time. Although the video is geared toward the couple's relationship, kids will benefit, too.

Take a look at the Deployment Health Clinical Center Family & Friends page. It has a lot of resources waiting for you including links to the following videos: Making Your Reunion Work, Family Readiness Groups, and Family Assistance Center.

A few other resources:

Give Zero to Three a quick look; they're a nonprofit whose mission is to "support the healthy development and well-being of infants, toddlers and their families." They have some veteran-specific resources including the 8-page booklet Little Listeners in an Uncertain World: Coping strategies for you and your child during deployment or when a crisis occurs [pdf].

Read WNBC's great article
which provides a list of things parents and teachers can do to support military children. A few tips include:

  • Keep in touch. Help kids find ways to keep in touch with their parents overseas. E-mail and/or phone calls can be helpful, when available. Kids can also send letters and/or packages.

  • Build a scrapbook. If a parent will or may be out of contact for an extended period of time, help kids keep a journal, scrapbook or photo album of daily events to share with their mom or dad when they return. Pay particular attention to holidays and special occasions like birthdays, school plays or graduations. Kids will want to help parents "catch up" on these events when they return.

  • Leave comforting reminders. Some parents record themselves reading a familiar and soothing story before they leave. Others write notes or leave photographs to be opened each day or week.

  • Kids need predictability. Be careful about promises to call at a certain time or come home on a specific date.

  • Schoolwork issues. Children may experience a slight decline in classroom performance while a parent is on active military duty. Children may have difficulty studying with so many other things on their mind. Other children may actually focus on schoolwork as a way to deal with their anxieties. In general, teachers should be told that a parent is on active military duty. It may help them understand any academic or behavioral changes they may see in the classroom.

  • Get in touch with other military families. Help kids make contact with other kids whose parents are on active military duty. In some areas, school guidance counselors or local therapists are organizing informal groups to give kids a chance to talk about their thoughts and fears.

  • Limit TV. Many children in military families are riveted to the details of daily media coverage. In part, this may be an effort to master the situation by gathering as much information as possible. This can be an important and healthy reaction. Young children (preschool and school age) should not watch war-related coverage unattended. It's best done with a parent or other adult who can provide reassurance and/or help answer questions. Even adolescents should be encouraged to limit TV viewing. Research clearly indicates that constant exposure to war related coverage may heighten anxiety. Read more on kids' viewing of TV war coverage.
These are only a few of the suggestions, so I'd highly recommend taking a look at the entire article.'s Your Children and Separation page offers solid advice and links to more solid resources for military parents. A few suggestions:

  • Be Truthful. Children are very perceptive! As soon as the servicemember starts planning and preparing for a drill or deployment, the child will catch on that something is up. Do not lie to your child in an attempt to shield him or her from the truth or they may assume something worse. Talk to your child openly and honestly.

  • Share Feelings. Children often lack the vocabulary to share their feelings. It will help if parents talk about their own feelings which will help children communicate their feelings. Let your child know that even negative thoughts and feelings are OK and normal.

  • Explore Destination. Using a map or globe, show your child where you are going and chart your route. Using books or encyclopedias, explore weather conditions, cultural norms, or products produced in that region.

  • Communicate with Teachers. If your child is school-age, let the teacher know what is going on at home. The teacher may use maps and chart your travels with the class!

  • Design an Activity to Pass Time. With your child, design or create an activity to help mark time. For younger children, make a paper chain with a link for each day you will be gone that the child can use to measure time (the child will break a link each day). For an older child, choose a book that you both would enjoy and each read a pre-assigned passage everyday.

  • Show Your Workspace. If possible, set aside time to show your child the ship and where you will be eating, sleeping, and working. Or, take your child to the armory prior to departure and show him or her the artillery guns or weapons that you might be working with while away.

  • Let Your Child Help You Pack. Letting your child help you pack will allow him or her to be more involved in the process and also allow them to "care" for you. If possible, let them decorate the inside of your footlocker. Not only will they have great fun but you will enjoy their artwork for days and months to come.
Read to learn to identify signs of possible distress in your child.

Finally, the following helpful tips come from the Blue Box's A Soldier and Family Guide to Redeploying:

Deployment Reunions and Children

Deployment reunions and reintegration are a process, not an event. The process requires time and effort. Stress levels may remain high up to seven months post deployment. School is a setting that remains the same for the child of a deployed parent[; t]herefore, it's an important part of their life. Families and schools working together help children adjust to the changes inherent in deployment reunions and reintegration.

Tips for Parents:

  • Talk with you children before the service member comes home much as you did when the parent was preparing to leave.
  • Tell your child's teacher about the return of the military parent from deployment.
  • Use the services of the Family Support Center and Army Community Service to help address the special challenges of wartime deployment reunions and reintegration.
  • Know that children's behavior will greatly depend on how their parents renegotiate, compromise, and communicate.
  • Take care to avoid abruptly shifting love and attention from the children to the returning spouse.
  • Help children understand that they have changed while the parent was away, AND that the parent has changed, too. Assure them that even though the parent may look or act differently than the child remembers, the returning parent is their same father or mother that left and that loves them.
Understand that children may experience a variety of feelings:

  • Happy that they will see the parent again.
  • Afraid that the parent will not like the way they have changed, or that the parent will leave again.
  • Excited about being able to share some of their favorite activities again.
  • Proud that their parent is doing an important job for our country.
  • Jealous of the time and attention taken from them and now given to the returning parent.
  • Worried that all these feelings are not normal.
Know that the children may not respond to discipline from the returning parent because of the loyalty to the parent that remained behind. Children may test the limits of the family rules to find out how things may have changed with the return of the deployed parent.

Go slowly and let the children set the pace in accepting the parent back. Plan some special time for just the child and the returning parent to get reacquainted.

And finally, just go easy on yourself. Take things one step at a time. And seek out outside help in all of its forms to help support your transition back into the family you so missed -- and so missed you -- while you were away.

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