Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, From the Frontline to the Homefront and Back Again

Happy Thanksgiving.

How is your holiday shaping up? I hope that you and yours are on your way to building a memorable one. Before moving into the heart of this post, I'd like to take a moment to personally thank the family that I'm blessed to have, who offer me the support and encouragement to continue plugging away.

This work means a lot to me, as do my studies; but, both of these endeavors take enormous amounts of time away from those that love me and that I love in return. So, I thank them for being there for me, nonetheless, through it all.

While certainly on a larger scale and scope magnitude, deployed troops also give up a lot to accomplish their goals and achieve their mission. Their families also give up one of the most valuable and perishable commodities we have in life: time with those we love the most.

This Thanksgiving, I wish you all the best -- ample hours with family and the very best of friends; a good meal; moments to relax or to kick things up if you prefer; and the grace to reflect, no matter the present appearance, on the many things we all have to be thankful for.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. -- Cicero (106-43BCE), Rome

In extended, I've collected a few reflective stops on the media landscape, as well as a few video 'shoutouts' from troops serving overseas to loved ones back home. Let's keep them all in our thoughts, as always, and recommit to extending ourselves to the families who await their return. Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers and friends.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Join Me at 'A Sycamore Thanksgiving'

Monday evening I'm participating in 'A Sycamore Thanksgiving,' the launch of an annual event at the Sycamore, Ill., library [facebook event page]. The free evening of entertainment, which organizers hope will be reminiscent of a holiday variety show, brings together 6 authors, 8 musical groups, 2 fashion shows, a photo exhibit and more -- all mixed up to keep it lively.

Please join us for what sounds to be a fun way to kick off Thanksgiving. Details from Dennis Hines, Midweek:

Thanksgiving is coming a few days early in Sycamore. Representatives from the Sycamore Public Library and Borders in DeKalb are set to host “A Sycamore Thanksgiving” Monday, Nov. 23 at the library, 103 E. State St.

Although this festival won’t feature turkey and stuffing, there will be a smorgasbord of entertainment and activities. The event will include performances from local musicians, book signings from local authors and a fashion show with representatives from maurices, Cracker Jax and Unique Concepts Salon.

“It’s a unique event in that we’re pulling together three rather disparate things. There’s a little something for everybody,” said Larry Zevnik, director of adult services for the Sycamore Public Library.

Details (and photos) below the fold.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Veterans, Reintegration and Military Mental Health: A Selection of Recent Broadcasts

Sharing a few recent programs that examine some of the reintegration issues of our returning troops. Thursday's Diane Rehm Show devoted the hour to military mental health [listen].

Mental health in the military: Increasing rates of suicide, depression, and substance abuse raise concerns about mental illness in the armed forces. What's being done to assess and treat mental health problems in the U.S. military?


Yochi Dreazen, military correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal"

Nancy Sherman, Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown Law School. She served as the inaugural holder of the Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the US Naval Academy from 1997-9. She is the author of three books, including 'Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind.' She is at work on a new book titled 'The Untold War: Inside the Hearts and Minds and Souls of Our Soldiers.'

S. Ward Casscells, M.D., John E. Tyson Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Public Health, and Vice President for External Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He is the former Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs).

Jennifer Crane, served in the Army from 2000 to 2003. She is a volunteer with the non profit organization 'Give an Hour.' Give an Hour is dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of the troops and families affected by the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jeff Hall, is a Major in the Army now based in Fort Riley, Kansas. He served two terms in Iraq.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NPR's 'Impact of War' Series Highlights Work of Soldiers Project Founder Judith Broder

A head's up: Give today's NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday a listen.

Last week, NPR introduced its month long look at the impact of war on military families -- the spouses and kids and parents doing time stateside while their loved one is deployed overseas.

Part of NPR's larger Impact on War project, its goals are to support member stations in collecting and sharing local stories, and "give a voice to the struggles and the triumphs of not just the military brass but the boots on the ground...and those affected by their absence during deployment and in death."

This morning on Weekend Edition Saturday, Gloria Hillard will introduce listeners to Dr. Judith Broder, founder of The Soldiers Project and recent Purpose Prize winner:

Broder saw a play in Los Angeles called The Sand Storm: Stories from the Front. Written by a Marine, it featured monologues of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The most horrifying aspect of it was the sense that I got that these were really just ordinary everyday guys, and they had seen things and done things that just shattered their whole sense of themselves," says Broder. "And that they would all need help."

That's when Broder, a clinical psychiatrist, put her retirement plans on hold and founded the Soldiers Project. It provides free counseling not only to service members returning from war — but to their families as well.

Today, the Soldiers Project has more than 200 licensed therapists nationwide — all volunteers who have received specialized training in everything from combat-related traumas to military culture.

Be sure to listen in this morning (full audio should be online by 12:00 p.m. EST at NPR).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Study of Combat Trauma, PTSD at Fort Hood Outlined By University of Texas Researcher

A couple of weeks ago, a facebook contact drew my attention to an exciting university study tapping into Ft. Hood's returning troops and aiming to comprehensively determine their risk factors for combat PTSD. I read the article, and then filed it away, hoping to have time to pass it along to you here.

Considering last week's shooting, the study may increase in interest for some; but, the work conducted by Dr. Michael Telch's team deserves attention on its own merits. An introduction by Jeremy Schwartz, American Statesman:

Are some soldiers more likely than others to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a malady that affects nearly one in five service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan? Is there anything in their genetics, brain structure or ability to handle stress that might make them more or less prone to PTSD? And if researchers can pinpoint risk factors for the disorder, is it possible to "inoculate" service members before they deploy to a war zone?

A study at the University of Texas, called the Texas Combat PTSD Risk Project, is seeking to answer some of those questions using methods that researchers say haven't been tried before. The study put 183 Fort Hood soldiers through a battery of tests before and after their first yearlong deployment to Iraq and had them fill out a monthly "stress log" over the Internet while they were on the battlefield. The result is one of the more comprehensive studies to search for risk factors for the illness, which, along with traumatic brain injury, military leaders call the signature disease of the current conflicts.

Lead investigator Michael Telch, a UT professor of psychology and the director of UT's Laboratory for the Study of Anxiety Disorders, said the research could lead to prevention programs for PTSD.

"Just like with the prevention of heart disease or many other medical conditions, the first critical step in addressing the problem of combat PTSD and other combat-stress disorders is to identify the factors that increase soldiers' risk for developing them," Telch said in an e-mail. "We hope that this study will ultimately provide important new insights into the causes of combat PTSD and ways to prevent it."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Caregiver Clips: Military Combat Trauma Counseling Statistics, November 2009

This month's clips cover the current state and strain of military mental health counseling in the wake of last week's Ft. Hood shooting. First, from Emily Mullin, Scripps News Service:

Questions are emerging about how a few hundred military mental health counselors are treating thousands and thousands of men and women in the armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to official Army figures, 308 military psychiatrists serve 1.4 million active-duty members. On average, 200 behavioral-health personnel - including psychiatrists and other mental-health counselors - are deployed in Iraq and about 30 in Afghanistan.

Dr. Nancy Sherman, a military ethicist at Georgetown University, said the military and mental health care systems in general are "very stressed."

"We are a military fighting two wars at once with a non-drafted army," she said. Sherman said there has been a shortage of military doctors throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and likely a scarcity of military psychiatrists and therapists.

What Can Civilians Do? Show Them They Are Not Alone Beyond Veterans Day.

Veterans Day is over.

Most people have moved on from yesterday's momentary pause to recognize those with military service. Many have by now returned to their usual concerns. Meanwhile, others continue the work they do, 365 days a year, reaching out to the veterans and military families in their communities.

Which camp are you in?

Well, if you're reading this blog, chances are you have a pretty clear interest in issues concerning vets and returning troops. You may even be someone others look to in your area as a leader, bringing those with military service (and those without it) together to foster new dialogue and form new bonds.

But, if you're a seeker and not yet a sage, this post is for you.

To begin, allow me to introduce you to

Its founders are building a unique online space for "warriors and families dealing with combat stress to come together, where they can spend time with others and start the healing process."

Now in its second year, NotAlone will offer some dynamic member tools that I've not seen bundled under one roof anywhere else. These include: social networking, community forums, online PTSD assessments to track your progress, and live online workshops that really sound cool. Learn more (fast-forward to 6:00 for a run-down on how the site will work) in a video clip in extended.

Be sure to take some time to listen to a few of NotAlone's clips, and good luck in extending yourself to our nation's service members beyond the usual designated days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thank You, Veterans, on Veterans Day

Thank you, veterans, for your service and sacrifice.

Here's a list of events and promotions to celebrate your service. And, if you're a civilian, unsure of how to extend your thanks to veterans today, here are a few suggestions.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

For Those Lost at Fort Hood

For condolences, an online guest book and a Prayers for Fort Hood facebook page have been created for today's shooting victims. Wish to help? Consider donating to TAPS. May their grief be comforted.

[UPDATE Nov 6, 2009 10:51 a.m.]
Today, Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered U.S. military forces across the world to observe a moment of silence at 2:34 p.m. EST for those lost at Fort Hood. President Obama has also ordered all federal building and White House flags be flown at half-staff from now until Veterans Day.

TAPS has suggestions for those wishing to lend support to the victims and grieving families. If you are a service or military family member, Military OneSource offers counseling options; please seek out their help (or that of others providing such support) if you are feeling the need to discuss the situation.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Afghanistan, Iraq Veteran Army Suicide Rate Continues to Climb

The problem is clearly complex.

The reasons are many-fold, as varied and numerous and hard to pin down as are people themselves. But this much we know: Our veterans are turning to suicide at an alarming rate; and, at least for now, all of the programs and outreach and educational campaigns the military and the VA have been throwing at the problem have failed to staunch the tide.

The latest numbers do not provide relief.

Yochi Dreazen, Wall Street Journal:

Sixteen American soldiers killed themselves in October in the U.S. and on duty overseas, an unusually high monthly toll that is fueling concerns about the mental health of the nation's military personnel after more than eight years of continuous warfare. ...

The October suicide figures mean that at least 134 active-duty soldiers have taken their own lives so far this year, putting the Army on pace to break last year's record of 140 active-duty suicides. The number of Army suicides has risen 37% since 2006, and last year, the suicide rate surpassed that of the U.S. population for the first time.

It's important to note that the above figure reflects only Army suicides; it does not include data from any of the remaining military branches or from the VA. And so, if this year's active-duty Marine suicide rate is the same as it has been in previous years (41/2008; 33/2007; 25/2006), expect to add another 30-40 incidents to the above total.

And yet, that figure isn't the full measure, either.

The Process(ing) of War: Creative Public Spaces for Veteran Storytelling and Reintegration

I'm spending the day today preparing for my facilitator duties at tomorrow's NIU Veterans Club Community Roundtable.

It's always a great honor to listen to the stories and thoughts of our local vets. And there are many, many such initiatives, big and small, gaining ground across the country.

Community members -- professionals and lay men and women of every skill set and sort -- are finding ways to help veterans process their experiences of combat while supporting their move from military life back into the civilian stream.

Educational institutions, in particular, are finding interesting ways of engaging on the issue and creating spaces for these necessary reflections. For instance, at NIU, Dr. Jeffrey Chown -- The Communication Department's Presidential Teaching Professor in Media Studies -- has been leading the charge.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Veterans Day 2009 Events and Promotions

Far from a complete compilation, I've drawn together a number of activities and promotions (free food for vets! :o) that are being offered to coincide with Veterans Day, which takes place next Wednesday, November 11.

I'll be adding to this list throughout the week.

Whatever you do from now until then, be sure to find some small or large way to extend yourself to the military families in your community (I've already posted on my plans; if you're in the Rockford/DeKalb, IL area, please join me).

NIU Veterans Club Kicks Off Its Veterans Day Events as National Military Family Month Begins

NIUVetsDay2008-062November ushers in National Military Family Month (read the president's proclamation), with Veterans Day observations around the country beginning in earnest this week and extending into next.

As I complete my final semester at Northern Illinois University, I'm looking forward to facilitating, attending and photographing a number of events spearheaded by its Veterans Club.

This will be my fourth Veterans Day at NIU (yes, I'm a slow poke); at the bottom of this post (in extended) you'll find links to previous years' coverage. Also: More info on the this year's events.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Combat, Trauma and Healing PTSD: A Collection of Educational Videos for Caregivers and Patients

Some top notch educational combat trauma and PTSD videos are available online, specifically aimed at patients/counselors. Above, from the Hazelden Foundation's "A Guide for Living with PTSD: Perspectives for Professionals and Their Clients:"

Through compelling client testimonials and expert guidance from renowned researchers at the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center and the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, this video educates clinicians, clients, and families on the history, epidemiology, challenges, and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sample cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions between counselor and client model realistic applications of the concepts presented. Free online training with credits is available from the National Center for PTSD.

Coverage of the First Joint DoD/VA National Mental Health Summit

A selection of press clipping on this past week's watershed conference, and, in extended, you can view Gates' and Shinseki's opening statements in full. First up, Thom Shanker, New York Times At War: Notes From the Front Lines:

In his most extensive comments on mental health challenges facing American forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that many military personnel fear a stigma if they seek help for psychological injuries.

And he criticized a government and military bureaucracy that is “frustrating, adversarial and unnecessarily complex” — even for those who actively seek assistance.

The critique was delivered by Mr. Gates as the keynote address during a “Mental Health Summit” convened by Eric K. Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs who previously served as Army chief of staff.

The two secretaries have pledged that the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs would improve how they share information so that the delivery of benefits could be streamlined, even as both acknowledged that the two current, long wars have brought attention to the types of invisible injuries often ignored in the past.

The fighting in Afghanistan now has surpassed the length of the Revolutionary War by about three weeks, Mr. Gates noted, making it the longest conflict in the nation’s history fought with an all-volunteer force.

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