From the BlogDonate Now

Face of Defense: Service Dog Helps Soldier Move On

Army Master Sgt. Lyle Babcock, a management analyst for the Kansas National Guard, lives and works through his post-traumatic stress disorder with the help of Gunther, his service dog. Kansas National Guard photo by Army Sgt. Zach Sheely

Army Master Sgt. Lyle Babcock, a management analyst for the Kansas National Guard, lives and works through his post-traumatic stress disorder with the help of Gunther, his service dog. Kansas National Guard photo by Army Sgt. Zach Sheely

By Army Sgt. Zach Sheely
Kansas Adjutant General Department

TOPEKA, Kan., May 18, 2015 – Master Sgt. Lyle Babcock is a combat veteran who’s served more than 30 years in the Army. He is an avid fisherman. He loves to kayak.

He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Fortunately, he has help from a four-legged friend.

Gunther, a 2-and-a-half year old, 100-pound yellow Labrador retriever, is Babcock’s service dog. His duty is to be at Babcock’s side at all times, allowing Babcock to live and work through his PTSD.

“He’s been a godsend to me,” Babcock said of Gunther. “He’s allowed me freedom from my own prison.”

An Internal Battle

Babcock was deployed nearly 15 months to Afghanistan as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 102nd Military History Detachment, Kansas National Guard. He returned home to Topeka, Kansas, to his wife Traci and went back to work at Joint Forces Headquarters as the management analyst of the Human Resources Office, Kansas Adjutant General’s Department.

On the surface it was business as usual, but internally, the battle was still raging.

He struggled to reintegrate with society. He suffered from anxiety, problems sleeping and concentrating. He had panic attacks. His immediate instinct, however, was not to seek help out of fear of a stigma he thought people may place on him. Not until he started volunteering in the PTSD clinic at the Colmery-O’Neil Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Topeka did Babcock realize he wasn’t alone, others were struggling with the same inner turmoil.

“It was good to just sit down and talk with other vets and realize we’re all dealing with the same stuff,” Babcock said.

Another way Babcock relieved stress was through his love of being on the water. While researching kayaks to purchase, he discovered a group called Heroes on the Water, a nonprofit organization that helps service members and veterans relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayaking and fishing.

Discovering Service Dogs

A few months later, Babcock, along with a group of volunteers, started the Kansas chapter of Heroes on the Water. Through HOW, Babcock learned of a group that provides service dogs to veterans and service members struggling with PTSD and/or a traumatic brain injury.

Joe Jeffers founded Warrior’s Best Friend based in Kansas City, Missouri, with the goal of pairing wounded warriors with trained service dogs rescued from animal shelters throughout the United States. Jeffers contacted Babcock about the possibility of pairing an interested veteran from Heroes on the Water with a trained yellow Labrador.

As Babcock learned more about Warrior’s Best Friend and the service dog available, he realized that he might be interested in being paired with the dog himself. After discussing it with family, friends and a Veterans Affairs counselor, Babcock decided to take a leap of faith and filled out the application to be paired with Gunther.

A Hard but Necessary Step

“Our pairing was quite unique,” Babcock said. “He’d never been around water, so the first time I took him to the lake, of course it was like glass. He stepped right off the dock, headfirst into the water. His eyes were huge. I was right down there encouraging him and pulled him out of the water. That was the instant we connected.”

The two go everywhere together — restaurants, the grocery store, the lake, and even to work.

However, gaining clearance to bring him to the office was a lengthy process for Babcock. The most difficult part was disclosing to his leadership that he needed help.

“You want me to admit to you that I’m broken and that I want to start bringing a service dog in,” Babcock said. “That was a road block. That took me a long time to write that request and actually send it in. Looking back, it was a hard, but a necessary step.”

Babcock said that there are other service members in the Kansas National Guard who are living with PTSD, trying to fight it on their own, afraid, as he was, to admit they need help.

Extended Family

“The first thing is coming to grips with recognition that you do need some help and there’s no shame or embarrassment in that,” said Army Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, Kansas adjutant general. “We all find ourselves at points in our lives where we do need somebody to lean on and do need the ability to reach out.”

Tafanelli said the Kansas National Guard is an “extended family” and that the first step to getting better is recognizing there’s a problem.

“We owe it to all of our soldiers and airmen to look out for their wellbeing,” he said. “It really isn’t a weakness. In many cases, these traumatic events have had a lasting impact,” an impact that Babcock and Gunther outwardly embody.

Gunther wears a service vest akin to a uniform while he’s on duty. A patch on it reads “PTSD service dog — ask to pet.” Babcock does allow people to pet Gunther if they ask — which, according to Jeffers, is not the case with most service dogs. Jeffers compared service dogs to other medical tools, like a wheelchair or crutches — their purpose is to help their user to live as normal a life as possible.

Gunther ‘is Right There’

“This is something I spoke to the trainer with during the pairing process,” Babcock said. “I decided that as long as Gunther would maintain focus on me, I would allow others to pet him with my permission. He has always got an eye on me. When I say something, he’s up and moving and he’s focused strictly on me. If I start getting nervous, or anxious, or loud, he’s right there.”

At work, Gunther soon became one of the “employees.”

“I know my co-workers had some apprehensions about me bringing a service dog into the work area,” Babcock said. “Most of them had never been around a service dog before. I think some of them thought that Gunther would be like their pets at home — constantly seeking attention or being a distraction at work. I think they were shocked at how well trained Gunther is and most of the time they don’t even realize he’s there with me.

“When Gunther walks into the office with me, my co-workers greet him and tell him good morning. They look after him — the way they look after me. I understood that by taking this step there was a chance it would have a negative impact on others around me, which is the last thing I wanted. But the opposite has been true. They have been very accepting of Gunther and of the fact that I am receiving counseling for PTSD.”

Gunther didn’t only have to integrate at work, but also at home with Traci, the family’s Pomeranian, Pookie, and their three cats.

Ground Rules

“We laid a few ground rules,” Traci said. “I don’t need the added work. It’s his dog, but Gunther is definitely part of the family. He’s really grown on me. He’s a real likable dog. He’s well-mannered and well trained.”

“I learned, during the pairing process, that having a service dog is a lot of work and responsibility,” Babcock said. “They are 100 percent dependent on you, from feeding to cleaning up. They become dependent on you as much as you become dependent on them. A service dog is not for every service member or veteran dealing with PTSD, but he’s changed my life for the better.”

Gunther’s training was provided by Warrior’s Best Friend. Jeffers said the organization looks at 200-300 dogs to every one dog that they deem a service dog candidate. The dog has to demonstrate a certain level of focus and eagerness to learn in order to be considered for service. The dog’s training alone can take up to 14 months.

“It’s important that we get the dogs as early as possible,” Jeffers said. “The dog must be able to work in a minimum of three-hour segments and respond to roughly 25 commands, including block, wait and release.”

Once trained, an eligible veteran applicant is selected and is put through a familiarization process with the dog, which can take three to six months.

One of Many Treatment Options

“When you think about PTSD in terms of the symptom clusters (avoidance, intrusive, negative thoughts/emotions and hyper arousal) the ways in which a dog can help are many,” said Dr. Chalisa Gadt-Johnson, a licensed psychologist who works at the Topeka VA Medical Center. “The companionship is great for those who feel a sense of isolation, along with helping with those who may be avoiding people and/or places.”

While Gunther has helped him, Babcock acknowledged that a service dog may not be the best treatment option for all. Gadt-Johnson said there are other treatment options including peer-to-peer, group and peer-to-counselor counseling, which can teach better coping strategies. The VA Hospital in Topeka offers many education groups and treatment programs for substance abuse, addiction and psychiatric disorders, including a seven-week inpatient stress disorder treatment program, open to affected service members and veterans from around the country.

PTSD is not a new affliction, nor is it new to the Kansas National Guard, but for those suffering in silence, Babcock shared this advice.

“The first step in reclaiming your quality of life is to seek out help,” he said. “There are a lot of veterans and service members struggling with PTSD every day. We think the only solution is avoidance, isolation, drinking, drugs or even suicide. Sometimes the biggest step is admitting to ourselves that we can’t do it on our own, putting our pride aside and asking others for help.”

Babcock added, “I was afraid to take that first step. But now that I have, I wish I’d done it sooner. I’m starting to feel more in control of my life. My battle buddy, Gunther, is by my side, helping me get through the rough spots in my day. I don’t know what I’d do without him, but it took admitting that I needed help in order to get where I am today.”

http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=128841

Don’t Give Up on Mental Health Treatment

Capt. Anthony A. Arita, Deployment Health Clinical Center director

Capt. Anthony A. Arita, Deployment Health Clinical Center director

Posted by Myron J. Goodman, DCoE Public Affairs on May 14, 2015

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. If you’ve had a coach, personal trainer, inspirational teacher, or a really motivational friend, there is a good chance you heard them say something similar. Most likely, they said this to you because they wanted to encourage you to keep working toward your goal – whatever it was.

A senior military leader, and psychologist, has a similar hope – he wants service members to stick with mental health treatment and give it a chance to work even if they don’t see immediate progress.

According to Capt. Anthony A. Arita, Deployment Health Clinical Center director and experienced clinical neuropsychologist, people who give up on treatment too soon rob themselves of the benefits of care. Many forms of psychotherapy require 10 to 12 sessions to achieve noticeable symptom reduction. If medications are prescribed, it can take several weeks to find the right medications and therapeutic dosages.

If it’s not working, talk to your provider

If you don’t think your treatment is working, or if you are unclear about your treatment options, share your concerns with your provider. You should feel comfortable asking your provider to explain your diagnosis, and treatment plan, in a way you understand.

“For treatment to have the most impact, it’s important patients actively participate in the recovery process, follow their treatment plan – including taking medications as prescribed and completing therapy homework – and meet with their providers regularly with limited breaks in care,” Arita said.

Don’t expect a quick fix; recovery takes time, especially when patients have co-occurring conditions, such as alcohol or substance abuse, traumatic brain injury or chronic pain.

“Most people who persevere with treatment can expect very positive results,” Arita said.

It sounds like a lot of work; maybe I don’t really need it

If you think ignoring your medical conditions will make them go away, think again. Not taking your health seriously or choosing to do nothing may make things worse.

“Some people assume that forgoing medical treatment for severe psychological conditions, like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), won’t matter – this is simply not true,” Arita said. “Without proper care any medical condition can get worse and negatively affect many aspects of a person’s life.”

It may affect my career

Some service members don’t seek treatment because they fear it will hurt their careers. Although it is true that a severe medical condition — physical or psychological — may affect a person’s fitness for duty, according to Arita, participating in treatment or receiving a mental health diagnosis doesn’t automatically impact one’s status.

“The important thing to know is that treatment does work, so keep at it,” Arita said. “In most cases, people recover from symptoms and return to optimal readiness – and that’s what we really want for our service members.”

Not sure where to go for help? The DCoE Outreach Center is available 24/7 to connect you with resources and help in your area. Call 866-966-1020, email resources@dcoeoutreach.org or live chat at realwarriors.net/livechat.

Twitter:
Recovery requires persistence: don’t give up on your #mentalhealth treatment #MHAmonth

Facebook:
“Most people who persevere with treatment can expect very positive results.”

Deployment Health Clinical Center Director Capt. Anthony Arita emphasizes the importance of not giving up on #mentalhealth treatment. #MHAmonth

http://www.dcoe.mil/blog/15-05-14/Don_t_Give_Up_on_Mental_Health_Treatment.aspx

Hidden Wounds to participate in 2nd Annual Midlands Gives!

What is going on!?

On Tuesday, May 5, 2015, the Central Carolina Community Foundation is sponsoring the second Annual Midlands Gives Day. The goal for this day is to raise as much money for Midlands nonprofits as possible in a 24 hour period. The event will start at 12:00AM (midnight) and go through 11:59PM.

All donations must be made online using a credit card at the Midlands Gives website. When you make a donation on this day, all of the proceeds will go to the designated nonprofit. We hope you choose us!

Who is the Central Carolina Community Foundation and what is Midlands Gives?

The Foundation emerged in 1984 with a vision to establish itself as the central resource for philanthropy in the Midlands. Since then, through the generosity of donors, they have given more than $90 million to organizations nationwide and have invested time and resources in identifying the critical needs within the community.

Midlands Gives is a 24-hour local online giving challenge spanning 11 counties in the Midlands region of South Carolina. Last year’s inaugural Midlands Gives event was an incredible success, generating more than $705,000 for 150 local nonprofits through a one-day-only online public fundraising campaign that went viral.

 

Why should I pick Hidden Wounds?

Your donation on May 5th will help us further our mission of providing vital mental health services to veterans and their families. You can help ease the pain of a soldier, the worry of a mother and the grief of a child. An underestimated 22 Veterans lose their battle to PTSD everyday. We are helping make a difference in the military community and we can’t do it without your help.

Is anyone matching gifts?

An anonymous donor who wished to be called the Cheerful Giver is going to match the first $1000 that will go towards our goal of $5,000. That means when you help us hit the $1000 mark, we will only have $3000 left to go! Of course we don’t have to hold ourselves back; we can surpass that goal but we are leaving that up to you. Another opportunity for matching gifts will take place from 5:00pm until 5:15pm. Every gift of $100 will automatically be matched by AFLAC.

We are counting on your support!

Is there anything else we should know?

Midlands Gives along with awesome partners like AFLAC are holding contests for all organizations to participate in and possibly raise more money. Check this out!

Throughout the day, AFLAC is sponsoring Power Hours. Whichever nonprofit has the most donors during that hour will receive a $1,000 bonus. You can donate during each power hour, but only one donation per donor will be counted toward the contest during that particular hour.

  • 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM
  • Noon to 1:00 PM
  • 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM

 

 

DoD: It takes only one person to stop a suicide

Security guards open a gate for motorist at the visitor entrance to Fort Lee, Va., on Aug. 25 after a female soldier with a gun turned the weapon on herself. (Steve Helber / AP)

Security guards open a gate for motorist at the visitor entrance to Fort Lee, Va., on Aug. 25 after a female soldier with a gun turned the weapon on herself. (Steve Helber / AP)

 

By Patricia Kime 

Just six days before the start of Suicide Prevention Month in September, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paula Walker, 33, barricaded herself inside an office at Fort Lee, Virginia, and, in what military leaders later described as “upset and rage,” killed herself with a personal firearm.

The Aug. 25 death stands out for several reasons. First, female troops like Walker die by suicide at rates much lower than male service members; they tend not to use firearms; and, unlike more than half the service members who commit suicide each year, Walker had deployed to a combat zone, spending 15 months in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Her death and others by military personnel this year show how difficult a challenge suicide is for the Defense Department, which is launching several initiatives in September as part of National Suicide Prevention Month.

“Suicide is complex and the trajectory toward death is as individual as the person,” Defense Suicide Prevention Office Director Jacqueline Garrick said in an interview Sept. 4.

Together with the Veterans Affairs Department, DoD is launching the “Power of 1” awareness campaign — a public service initiative based on the idea that it takes just one person asking a question, texting a friend in need or making a phone call to save a life.

In a DoD-wide message Sept. 2, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emphasized the impact of simple intervention.

“These brave individuals shouldn’t be avoided or stigmatized. They need to be embraced. Whether you’re a service member, a veteran, a DoD civilian, or a friend or family member of someone who is, you have the power to make a difference,” Hagel said.

Garrick said statements conveyed in a nonjudgmental manner, such as, “I’m worried you might hurt yourself,” “You don’t seem yourself,” or “You seem to be taking risks,” accompanied by, “Let’s figure something out,” can help.

“It’s knowing how to ask the right questions without being afraid of the answers, and part of not being afraid is knowing where the resources are,” Garrick said.

Last November, DoD expanded its Vets4Warriors program, an around-the-clock call center that offers peer counseling and support, to active-duty, National Guard and reserve members, retirees and their families.

Staffed by veterans representing all service branches as well as a handful of family members, the toll-free line (1-855-838-8255) receives an average of about 1,500 calls a month, according to the Pentagon.

Garrick said the program not only gives those under stress someone to talk to, but the staff can help callers navigate the complexities of the mental health system as well as provide case management.

“When someone is really stressed, it’s hard to navigate. Our peers are really good at problem solving,” Garrick said.

For service members in emergencies, the Military Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, is staffed by trained mental health specialists — many of whom also are veterans, according to VA.

The 24-hour phone service, online chat and text-messaging system, overseen by VA, has fielded more than 1.25 million calls since 2007 and is credited with nearly 40,000 lifesaving rescues, according to the department.

While DoD is ramping up its suicide prevention programs in September, officials say the department maintains a full-court press on the problem year-round with the goal of reducing a surge in suicides in the past 12 years.

In 2013, 259 active-duty personnel, 87 reservists and 133 Guard members died by suicide.

The suicide rate per 100,000 personnel in 2013 was 18.7 for the active component, 23.4 for the reserves and 28.9 for the Guard.

In comparison, the civilian rate, adjusted to similar demographics as those who serve, is 18.8 per 100,000.

“Getting help when you need it is not only a sign of strength, but it works,” Army Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington, military deputy to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in a news release. “Having the confidence to seek help when you need it is important.”

Concerned over the frequency of suicide among young veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America made the subject its top priority this year.

IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff said the DoD figures underscore the scope of the problem and call attention to the broader issue, that troops and veterans — including those recently discharged — are dying by their own hands in significant numbers.

“We’re outraged, which is why we’ve asked the president to draft an executive order focused solely on military and veteran suicide,” Rieckhoff recently told Military Times.

A poll of IAVA members earlier this year found that 31 percent said they have thought about taking their own lives since joining the military and 40 percent have a friend who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and died by suicide.

First Sgt. Paula Walker’s brother Paul told the British paper MailOnline on Aug. 27 that his sister’s suicide “came out of nowhere.”

“I am devastated at the loss of my twin sister. This was totally unseen. … You never know what’s going on in a person’s mind,” Paul Walker said, according to the paper.

And that, precisely, is the major challenge of preventing suicide, Garrick said.

In studying military suicide in the past several years, DoD has found the majority of those who take their own lives are young, white, enlisted men who have never deployed to a combat zone. About one-third told someone of their intent and nearly half had seen a doctor in the months before they died.

But often, those who die by suicide fit none of those descriptions.

“As much as I wish I could say there is a known portion of the population that dies by suicide, there are constant exceptions to the rules,” Garrick said. “Constant vigilance is needed.”

Related Links

http://www.airforcetimes.com/article/20140904/BENEFITS06/309040057/DoD-takes-only-one-person-stop-suicide

This November 2014 Hidden Wounds to partner with Sweat by Jamie Scott Fitness

JSweatUSLOGO

 

If you don’t know what Sweat by JSF is then let us help.
SWEAT offers a full-body, indoor-cycling workout that will change the way you think about “cardio.” The instructor will have you moving and working to the beat of the music so your mind and body remain engaged.

Unlike traditional cycling classes, added movements will work your shoulders, triceps, biceps, abs and obliques all while your lower body continuously cycles. The result is a calorie-torching, body-toning workout that feels more like a party.

You can rest assured that SWEAT instructors are the best at what they do, trained to lead these unique classes safely, effectively and always with personal attention given to all levels of riders.

Here is the press release as to what we have planned this November.

We are all touched by the dedication men and women make to our country every day in order for us to live in freedom and thrive in the United States.  How often do we really stop to think about those soldiers and veterans? It’s time we do.

Many of them walk among us after returning home and while they may seem ok, underneath they are suffering. They are suffering “an invisible war at home.” This war is known as PTSD.  Based in Columbia, SC, Hidden Wounds, a non-profit organization, works to provide peace and comfort for military personnel suffering from combat stress injuries such as PTSD, TBI and other psychological post war challenges.  SWEAT by JSF has been given the privilege to work with this organization during the month of November to honor our veterans. This partnership will bring awareness to the horrific physical and emotional injuries that come with war. We ride for those who cannot, and we ride to help those who have protected our freedoms.

We invite you to join SWEAT and Hidden Wounds in November every Friday at 4pm.  Your workout will be for more than just you…it will be for our veterans.  For without them, we would not have the freedom to ride!

 

 

All proceeds from the November Friday rides will benefit Hidden Wounds

 

SWEAT by JSF – 1125 Lady Street – Columbia, SC 29201- 803.764.7984 sweat@jamiescottfitness.com

Sniffing Gas Could Prevent PTSD, Study

By: Christine Hsu

August 28, 2014

Gas could help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder and other memory-related conditions, according to a new study. Researchers from McLean Hospital found that xenon gas, which is used in humans for anesthesia and diagnostic imaging, can help reduce the vividness of traumatic events. “In our study, we found that xenon gas has the capability of reducing memories of traumatic events,” Edward G. Meloni, PhD, assistant psychologist at McLean Hospital and an assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said in a news release. “It’s an exciting breakthrough, as this has the potential to be a new treatment for individuals suffering from PTSD.” “We found that a single exposure to the gas, which is known to block NMDA receptors involved in memory formation in the brain, dramatically and persistently reduced fear responses for up to 2 weeks. It was as though the animals no longer remembered to be afraid of those cues, ” he added. “The fact that we were able to inhibit remembering of a traumatic memory with xenon is very promising because it is currently used in humans for other purposes, and thus it could be repurposed to treat PTSD,” researcher Marc J. Kaufman, PhD, director of the McLean Hospital Translational Imaging Laboratory, said in a news release. “From here we want to explore whether lower xenon doses or shorter exposure times would also block memory reconsolidation and the expression of fear. We’d also like to know if xenon is as effective at reducing traumatic memories from past events, so-called remote memories, versus the newly formed ones we tested in our study,” he added. The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE. http://www.counselheal.com/articles/11073/20140828/sniffing-gas-prevent-ptsd-study.htm

Young war veteran shot, killed by police

WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL
By WMCActionNews5.com Staff – email

GERMANTOWN, TN –

(WMC) – A young war veteran was shot and killed by Germantown police officers Tuesday night just before 10 p.m.

Justin Neil Davis’ best friend, who asked to be called Val, told WMC Action News 5 that Davis went to Cameron Brown Park in Germantown off Farmington Boulevard, because it is where he had happy memories of his childhood.
Davis was reportedly sitting in his car with a rifle and thoughts of suicide when Germantown police shot and killed him. Wednesday night, family and friends say they still have questions. 

According to police, a “be on the lookout” or BOLO alert was issued for Davis, 24, who was reportedly unstable, armed and dangerous, and possibly suicidal.

Fayette County Sheriff’s Office received a tip on a crisis hotline about Davis. Fayette County deputies went to his house, but he was not there. That’s when Germantown police found Davis in a parked car at Cameron Brown Park armed with a rifle.

“I tried to get him to come out to my parents house … just to meet him somewhere just to talk him out of it,” Val said.
Val says while he texted Davis, law enforcement officers were tracking the Iraqi veteran on his cell phone, but that he was not allowed to talk with his friend.

Officers evacuated the immediate area around the park and established communication with him using the squad car’s PA system.

According to police, the situation escalated, and three Germantown police officers ended up firing their guns at Davis. He was pronounced dead at the park.

Investigators used orange paint to mark where Davis’ car and six police cars sat during the confrontation. The closest police car appears to have been about 20 yards away.

“Why did three cops have to unload their weapon on a single man?” Val said.

Davis’ friends and family say he was a war veteran who had trouble getting a job when he got home. They say he did not deserve to die this way.

“It’s just sad that people have to feel like they can’t help themselves and things go bad that way, you know?” Germantown resident Kelsey Beckum said.

The three GPD officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. The district attorney’s office asked Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to lead the case; the TBI would eventually turn it back over to the DA’s office.

Copyright 2014 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.   

http://www.waff.com/story/26034113/man-shot-killed-by-germantown-police-officers?clienttype=generic&mobilecgbypass&utm_content=bufferf9b50&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

.

Brain injury tied to dementia among military vets, reports study

By Joseph Mayton, Tech Times | June 26 2014

New evidence suggests that traumatic brain injuries sustained during combat or other situations are contributors to dementia among veterans later in life. The study, published in the journal Neurology, also says that veterans who did suffer brain trauma were more likely to have Alzheimer’s in later life.

While studies have previously corroborated head injuries, especially in boxers, contributing to dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life, this study is the first one to specifically discuss the role of military and combat with later life health consequences.

The University of California-San Francisco and San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center study investigated the records of nearly 200,000 American veterans over age 55 and who had visited a medical facility associated with the VA in the early 2000s. The veterans had a mean age of 68 at the start of the study.

Although none of those individuals had been diagnosed with dementia at the time of their medical visit in the early 2000s, a decade later found that around 16 percent of those who had a documented head injury were found to have dementia, compared with only a 10 percent occurrence in those who did not have a brain injury. That works out to a 60 percent increase of dementia in those with head injuries.

Researchers did say that those looking for definitive answers on dementia must continue to look for new research and understanding of injuries, saying that the brain is immensely complicated and brain trauma is only now beginning to have larger and more specific research being done by scientists.

“Head trauma is just one piece of a big puzzle,” added Rodolfo Savica, a neurologist with University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City, who wrote an editorial accompanying the Neurology study. “All of us receive hits in our heads. All of us. Ever since we were kids.”

Lead researcher Deborah Barnes, an epidemiologist at the VA and associate professor at UCSF, said that there must be caution when dealing with studies related to the brain.

“It doesn’t mean that every single person who has even repeated traumatic brain injuries will develop dementia,” she said. “This is just shifting people’s risk a little bit one way or the other.”

But with the rise in PTSD and other emotional and psychological injuries being reported and publicized by the United States military, it is clear that more studies like this one are needed to fully understand the role combat, head trauma and other brain injuries can have on veterans’ quality of life later in life after they retire from the service.

The researchers hope that more efforts will be made to look further at these issues. “Our results suggest that TBI in older veterans may predispose toward development of symptomatic dementia and raise concern about the potential long-term consequences of TBI in younger veterans and civilians,” the authors say in the abstract of the article.

http://www.techtimes.com/articles/9260/20140626/brain-injury-tied-dementia-among-military-vets-reports-study.htm?sf28506297=1

 

Study: High suicide rates for soldiers in, out of war

Suicide rates for soldiers who served in Afghanistan increased, according to a large study. (Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)

Suicide rates for soldiers who served in Afghanistan increased, according to a large study.
(Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)

A massive Army study focusing on records from nearly a million soldiers provides a more detailed analysis of the suicides trend plaguing the service.

Written by Gregg Zoroya

Suicide rates soared among soldiers who went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who never left the United States, according to the largest study ever conducted on suicide in the military.

To prepare the study, researchers scanned records from nearly a million soldiers.

Scientists have long speculated that the fast-paced tempo the Army was under at home and abroad during the war years was an overall strain that contributed to suicides and that deaths were not just a factor of combat duty. The research by the National Institute of Mental Health appears to bear this out.

“A simple explanation that war is hell and you send people to war and bad things happen to those people is an incomplete explanation,” says Michael Schoenbaum, an epidemiologist and lead author on the study looking at suicide rates.

The ongoing, $65 million study produced three separate research papers published online Monday by The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.

Among key findings: while suicide rates for soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan more than doubled from 2004 to 2009 to more than 30-per-100,000, the trend among those who never deployed nearly tripled to between 25- and 30-per-100,000.

Rates for a civilian population of similar age and demographics remained steady at 19-per-100,000 during this time. The Army suicide rate, historically far lower than the civilian figure, surpassed it in 2008 and kept climbing.

The research tracked soldier records through the end of 2009. But suicides in the Army continued to rise thereafter, reaching a record high in 2012 before dipping last year.

Other findings revealed by the research published Monday:

• Researchers debunked theories that suicides were the result of two Army trends designed to recruit or retain people. One trend was the use of waivers for recruits with poor education or conduct records. The other was the practice of forcing soldiers to remain in the service beyond their enlistment, something known as “stop-loss.” Neither practice contributed to the rise in suicides, researchers found.

• Some of the same risk factors that predict suicide — such as a history of mental health problems, a demotion in rank or a disciplinary action — also were were found to predict fatal accidents among soldiers.

• About one in four soldiers in the Army appear to suffer from at least one psychiatric disorder and one in 10 have multiple disorders.

• Women have lower suicide rates than men in the Army except during deployments.

• About a third of soldiers who attempted suicide are associated with mental disorders developed before they joined the Army, an indication that the service could do a better job of screening recruits.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/03/suicide-army-rate-soldiers-institute-health/5983545/

How Congress Plans to Prevent Military Suicides

A shooting at Fort Hood last month has pushed military mental health back into the congressional spotlight.(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

A shooting at Fort Hood last month has pushed military mental health back into the congressional spotlight.(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

By 

May 7, 2014

 

Lawmakers hope to use an annual defense bill as a vehicle for mental-health screenings.

Jacob Sexton, a 21-year-old member of the National Guard, fatally shot himself inside an Indiana movie theater during a two-week leave from Afghanistan in 2009.

Sen. Joe Donnelly will unveil legislation Wednesday named after Sexton that would require service members to get an annual in-person mental-health assessment. Donnelly hopes it helps stop others from taking their own lives.

“This is about working nonstop with Jacob’s parents to prevent other families from experiencing that same pain,” the Indiana Democrat said in a video obtained by National Journal that will be released Wednesday.

 

Donnelly’s legislation, formally called the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, follows the Pentagon’s latest suicide numbers released late last month. The report found a decrease in the number of reported suicides among active-duty troops, but an increase in reserve and Guard members killing themselves.

There were 319 suicides reported among active members in 2012, compared with 261 in 2013, according to preliminary data. But suicide within the ranks of reserves and National Guard members increased from 203 in 2012 to 213 last year.

And while suicide is historically underreported, the Pentagon says a total of 841 service members attempted suicide at least once in 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of service members who kill themselves after they leave the military has increased dramatically. The VA estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide each day, totaling about 8,030 veterans every year.

Many service members already have an annual mental-health screening, but Donnelly’s bill is aimed at closing the gaps for in-person assessments. For example, Air National Guard members currently have an annual online assessment, but face-to-face examinations take place only every five years.

Lawmakers and service organizations worry that the stigma attached to mental-health issues keeps service members—both past and present—from asking for help or reporting mental-health problems. Attempting suicide is currently considered a crime under the military’s rules.

“Right now, the best and most consistent screening is happening only for those within the deployment cycle, and it leaves reservists and Guardsmen like Jacob underserved,” Donnelly said.

In addition to the mental-health screenings, Donnelly wants an annual report from the Pentagon to the Armed Services committees detailing the screenings and what care or follow-up was recommended. The Defense Department would also have to submit a report on how to improve its response on mental-health issues. And a committee to improve mental-health services for National Guard and reserve troops would be formed with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Donnelly isn’t alone in his search for solutions. Lawmakers have introduced a handful of other proposals to address mental-health issues in the military. Some argue such measures could help prevent a shooting like the one at Fort Hood last month, when Ivan Lopez, a 34-year-old Army specialist, fatally shot three people and injured 16 others before turning the gun on himself.

Republican Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, and Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia have introduced the Medical Evaluation Parity for Service Members Act in their respective chambers. Instead of requiring annual in-person mental health screenings, the legislation would require screenings for military recruits and for reserve and National Guard forces that transfer to active duty.

Donnelly and other lawmakers hope to get their proposals included in the annual defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. The bill has been passed for the last 52 years, and it’s likely the best vehicle for avoiding partisan fighting. And Donnelly’s legislation will get early bipartisan support, with Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker expected to endorse the proposal.

Donnelly originally introduced a version of the bill last year, with a pilot program on mental health screenings instead of annual in-person screenings for all servicemembers. The Pentagon was required to submit a report with feedback on screening tools included in the program, as part of the last year’s defense bill.

The report—part of a bipartisan push spearheaded by Donnelly—also asked for an assessment of new tools that could be used to improve mental-health screenings and better identify suicide-risk factors for service members. Donnelly received the report in March, and used it to help craft his new legislation.

“There is not one solution, there’s no cure-all to prevent suicide. But this problem is not too big to solve. We can start by improving our methods of identifying risk factors before it is too late,” he said.

http://www.nationaljournal.com/defense/how-congress-plans-to-prevent-military-suicides-20140507

U.S. special forces struggle with record suicides

A Navy SEAL takes part in a demonstration in Florida November 11, 2011. CREDIT: REUTERS/JOE SKIPPER

A Navy SEAL takes part in a demonstration in Florida November 11, 2011.
CREDIT: REUTERS/JOE SKIPPER

BY WARREN STROBEL

(Reuters) – Suicides among U.S. special operations forces, including elite Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, are at record levels, a U.S. military official said on Thursday, citing the effects of more than a decade of “hard combat.”

The number of special operations forces committing suicide has held at record highs for the past two years, said Admiral William McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command.

“And this year, I am afraid, we are on path to break that,” he told a conference in Tampa. “My soldiers have been fighting now for 12, 13 years in hard combat. Hard combat. And anybody that has spent any time in this war has been changed by it. It’s that simple.”

It may take a year or more, he said, to assess the effects of sustained combat on special operations units, whose missions range from strikes on militants such as the 2011 SEAL raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden to assisting in humanitarian disasters.

He did not provide data on the suicide rate, which the U.S. military has been battling to lower. In 2012, for example, more active duty servicemen and servicewomen across the U.S. armed forces died by suicide – an estimated 350 – than died in combat, a U.S. defense official said.

That trend appears to have held in 2013 although preliminary data is showing a slight improvement, with 284 suicides among active duty forces in the year to December 15, the official added.

McRaven’s command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, oversees elite commandos operating in 84 countries.

The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations commands comprise about 59,000 people, according to Pentagon documents.

Special operations forces have been lionized in popular culture in recent years, in movies such as “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the hunt for bin Laden, and “Act of Valor,” as well as a National Geographic special.

Kim Ruocco, who assists the survivors of military members who commit suicide, said members of the closely knit special operations community often fear that disclosing their symptoms will end their careers.

Additionally, the shrinking size of the U.S. armed forces has put additional pressure on soldiers, whose sense of community and self-identity is often closely tied to their military service, said Ruocco, director of suicide prevention programs for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an advocacy group for military families.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Jason Szep and Cynthia Osterman)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/17/us-usa-military-suicides-idUSBREA3G2EK20140417

TAMPA, Florida Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:40pm EDT

Marine’s inner struggle is the fight of his life

Staff Sgt. Javier Jimenez interacts with local Afghans as he tries to gather information about the movement  <a style=

of insurgents near Patrol Base Boldak, Afghanistan, on July 30, 2013. BOBBY J. YARBROUGH/U.S. MARINES” src=”http://www.hiddenwounds.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/image-1-300×199.jpg” width=”300″ height=”199″ /> Staff Sgt. Javier Jimenez interacts with local Afghans as he tries to gather information about the movement of insurgents near Patrol Base Boldak, Afghanistan, on July 30, 2013.
BOBBY J. YARBROUGH/U.S. MARINES

By Thomas Brennan

The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
Published: April 8, 2014

It was a sensation that Marine Staff Sgt. Javier Jimenez could physically feel: the weight of life was literally crushing him.

“You start running out of air, the room starts getting smaller around you and your heart starts pounding,” Jimenez said, describing the “horrible” feeling that overwhelmed him. “You’re more hopeless than you have ever been before. You start worrying about the next day, wondering if you are going to make it there because all you want to do is die.”

For years, 34-year-old Jimenez, an infantry Marine who is currently transitioning to Wounded Warrior Battalion East, has dealt with thoughts of suicide as a means to escape his overwhelming anxiety. Diagnosed with psychosis, a mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and an anxiety disorder, Jimenez said he is constantly battling the urge to end his own life. It won’t be by his own hand though, he said, and he’s never physically hurt himself. Instead, Jimenez engages in risky behavior that he said he hopes will result in an accident that kills him.

“Even in Afghanistan, I would walk in the open trying to get shot at,” he said. “I was putting myself in risky situations because I wouldn’t kill myself, but the whole time I wanted to die. I just want to be put out of my misery.”

His risky behavior in combat carried over to daily life, he said. Feeling as though he has no control over his life, Jimenez said living for tomorrow has become increasingly difficult with each passing day, especially now that he is not actively participating in infantry training.

“Fighting with yourself to live to the next day isn’t a way to live your life,” he said. “Sometimes you spend the whole day thinking about suicide — every single second. When you get out and put yourself in that risky situation, you feel a rush. It’s the only time you feel alive. Cutting it close is the only time you don’t want to die because you finally feel alive. Not wanting to die is a good feeling, and I try to feel it as much as possible.”

But he’s not without hope — or help.

He said the treatment he has received from mental health providers at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune has been “outstanding” and helps him understand that things will get better with time and effort on his part. The infantry unit he is attached to, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, has been fully supportive, recommending him for Wounded Warrior Battalion East so he can focus fully on his treatment.

“There’s a lot of help available when you’re debating suicide,” Jimenez said. “I know it feels like you’re stuck in a horrible place with no way out; but there is hope, and that’s one thing the groups and the doctors are showing me.”

Opening lines of communication

At the School of Infantry aboard Camp Geiger, both Marine and Navy leadership encourage Marines and sailors to attend an anonymous group where they can discuss the stresses of life, marriage, military service and more. The group, which meets weekly, is a safe haven for dozens of Marines aboard the installation to vent and discover they are not alone. Because the Marine or sailor’s leadership is not notified of their involvement in the group, many servicemembers have turned to the group, which also advocates for one-on-one treatment if the servicemember is interested.

“The program … was spearheaded about a year and a half ago when a need among our (Marines) was identified,” said Marine Col. Jeffrey Conner, the commanding officer of the School of Infantry. “Marines being Marines, they want to come to work and put their best foot forward and have their game face on … but when they have difficulty with that we give them the resources and support they need to do just that.”

The program is discussed both monthly and quarterly to identify trends and, if needed, request more resources for the Marines and sailors, he said. In conjunction with the program, he said, the unit’s Family Readiness Officer and chaplain help identify at-risk Marines and sailors and refer them to the program. The group, he said, allows for open communication among Marines and their leaders and also builds awareness on how to be cognizant of what your peers may be going through.

As the sergeant major of the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, Daniel Wilson, 40, of Jacksonville said that some of the Marines within his battalion are stepping forward and asking for help, noting there is a receptive environment that allows for personal development through therapy without judgment or reprisal. Because AITB trains senior enlisted Marines, Wilson feels as though the open-door policy toward mental health will have a trickle-down effect within the Marine Corps and make others more accepting of those who ask for help.

“The reason they seek treatment may not even be combat related, it could just be stress,” Wilson said. “The Marine Corps has not written the book on managing post-traumatic stress … but we are doing everything we can to wrap our heads around it. … This is just one of the ways we are doing that.”

At both Marine Combat Training Battalion and Headquarters and Support Battalion, Sergeants Major Therester Cox and Christopher Garza said the message to Marines afraid of seeking treatment is that there is no stigma at the School of Infantry and they will not see any backlash for getting help.

“Get out, get help and don’t be afraid,” said Cox, 39, of Jacksonville. “To me, No. 1, everybody is a man or woman first. You’re important to somebody. … Now add to the fact that you are a United States Marine. It’s very important that Marines understand they need to get help because the Marine Corps is counting on you. You aren’t able to do anything for the Marine Corps if you aren’t taking care of yourself as an individual.”

The group is led by Navy Lt. Crystal Shelton, a clinical social worker who devotes her time between clinical appointments to interacting with the Marines and sailors as they train students, hoping to build awareness of resources and to minimize any stigma associated with mental health treatment, she said. The program is designed to be used for early intervention, she said, and it is also used to help people determine whether or not they are having a problem; but in order to help, someone needs to ask for it.

“Right here, what is happening is what other places are trying to model themselves on,” said Shelton, 38, of Jacksonville. “We’re trying to send the message that waiting (to get treatment) doesn’t help the situation. By waiting it usually makes things worse in their life. It you think there is an issue, come in and talk to someone. You don’t have to wait until you can’t do your job anymore.”

Confidential resources

Navy chaplains, who are embedded within Marine units, often find Marines and sailors confiding in them when things in life aren’t going as planned. Trained to non-clinically identify symptoms of suicide, post-traumatic stress and other ailments, chaplains have access to resources they can make available to Marines such as counseling, retreats and more.

For Navy Cmdr. Marc Massie, 43, of Camp Lejeune, the best part of being a chaplain is that he can assist servicemembers with any problem and it will be kept 100-percent confidential. Chaplains are bound by law to maintain confidentiality regardless of the topic discussed even if the servicemember confesses homicidal, suicidal or fratricidal intents.

“Confidentiality means that it doesn’t matter what a servicemember says to a chaplain, it will not be repeated to anyone else,” said Massie, the station command chaplain for New River Air Station. “The reason the military does this is because it gives the servicemembers a safe place to go. The doctors, nurses and MCCS are great, but they are not 100-percent confidential.”

Whether real or imaginary, many Marines and sailors have fears that asking for help will ruin their career, he said, and part of what chaplains do is try to break down those walls and make it OK to talk. If someone were to walk in his office and confess that they were suicidal, which has happened in the past, Massie said that a chaplain will do whatever it takes to get the servicemember whatever assistance they need before they leave their office and even offer to go with them.

Sometimes, according to Massie, going to talk to a counselor can be a scary thing, especially when a Marine or sailor must tell their command they will be attending therapy. Massie said he has assisted many servicemembers in telling their command that they will be attending therapy and doesn’t allow the command to poke and prod, which often times makes the servicemember uncomfortable.

“I’ve counseled atheists, Wiccans and every other denomination,” Massie said. “It doesn’t matter if you even believe in a religion. We come at things with a human approach and just talk to people. We become a friend with them and check in on them from time to time to make sure they’re doing OK.”

It’s one more example of letting troops know that they’re not alone.

“I think most Marines would be surprised if they knew how many of their peers has asked for help,” Massie said. “It’s not as uncommon as people may think.”

Just ask Jimenez, the staff sergeant working to find his way back.

“There are people going through the same thing,” he said. “I feel alone but I know I’m not alone. That really helps when you’re fighting your own battle.”

thomas.brennan@jdnews.com 

http://www.stripes.com/news/us/marine-s-inner-struggle-is-the-fight-of-his-life-1.276930?=&utm_source=Stars+and+Stripes+Emails&utm_campaign=Daily+Headlines&utm_medium=email

Marine battled back, yet fell to suicide

Farrell Gilliam was buried in Fresno Jan. 21, carried to his grave by Marine pallbearers and friends. (Courtesy Gilliam family.)

Farrell Gilliam was buried in Fresno Jan. 21, carried to his grave by Marine pallbearers and friends. (Courtesy Gilliam family.)

 

 

By Gretel C. Kovach MARCH 28, 2014

*GRAPHIC LANGUAGE

He rarely spoke of it. Not to his family or best buddies, fellow Marines or medical staff watching over him.

But Cpl. Farrell Gilliam had endured far more by the time he died this year at age 25 than most people could comprehend.

The Camp Pendleton infantryman survived three months of combat in 2010 with the “Darkhorse” 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Sangin, Afghanistan — one of the deadliest battlegrounds of the war.

Amid firefights and insurgents’ bombs, Gilliam saw limbs strewn across the ground. He loaded broken, bleeding bodies for medical evacuation, and grieved for the friends they could not save.

Gilliam’s tour ended early when his legs were blown off by an improvised explosive device, or IED. “Farrell’s Fight,” his struggle on the homefront that his big brother helped him chronicle online, included more than 30 surgeries and three years of rehabilitation.

It was a story of triumph over wounds that would have been fatal in earlier conflicts. A story that was coming to an end, but not how anyone who knew him expected.

 

Gilliam was months away from a medical discharge from the Marine Corps and a new life as civilian college student. Physically, he had one surgery left to remove hardware in an arm. Psychologically, he was suffering from invisible wounds he hid behind smiles and upbeat banter.

Or so his family discovered on Jan. 9, when Gilliam committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in his barracks room in San Antonio.

Gilliam finally succumbed to his battle wounds, said Sgt. James Finney, his former squad leader in Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger — to him Gilliam was killed in action just like the other 25 from their battalion.

“It was an 8,000-mile sniper shot,” said Finney, 27, now an infantry instructor. “His passing was directly due to a situation because of his wounds received in Afghanistan. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

The suicide rate for active-duty troops spiked in 2012 to nearly one a day, a record during this era of warfare and twice as high as a decade before. At least 350 took their lives that year, more than the number of service members killed in combat. (Final numbers for 2012 and a year-end tally for 2013 are pending, a Pentagon official said.)

Last year, 45 Marines committed suicide and 234 tried to. It was by far the highest number of suicide attempts for the service since at least 2003.

Among veterans of all the armed forces, at least 22 commit suicide daily, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gilliam’s death blindsided his family and friends. Amid their raw first waves of grief, anger and irrational guilt, they pray that sharing his story might inspire others to stop suffering silently. Or spur a family to intervene. Or close a gap in support or education.

“I want no family to have to go through the pain that we are going through. If there’s just one person who gets that help that saves them … then it’s worth it,” said Gilliam’s brother, Daniel Lorente, 30, of Palo Alto, who cared for him full time as his non-medical assistant early in his rehabilitation.

Cpl. Farrell Gilliam and his brother Daniel Lorente in a Palo Alto fire truck in 2011 on the way to Gilliams flying lesson with a cousin. Courtesy photo

Cpl. Farrell Gilliam and his brother Daniel Lorente in a Palo Alto fire truck in 2011 on the way to Gilliams flying lesson with a cousin. Courtesy photo

Combat

As a teenager, Gilliam scored high on tests but was uninterested in school. He was introspective and brash, a gun-lover who wanted more excitement than the Navy had offered his parents. He enlisted with the Marines at age 17 so he could serve his country and “blow s* up.”

“He just wanted to be a grunt,” said his mother, Lisa Gilliam of Fresno.

After a sea tour, Gilliam volunteered for combat. He deployed in October 2010 as an infantryman and designated marksman to Sangin, a Taliban stronghold in southwestern Afghanistan where U.S. Marines were taking over from British forces.

Four Marines died in a bomb strike on the first day. Gilliam served on the quick-reaction force, manning the Mark 19 grenade launcher or .50-caliber gun, pitching in with litter teams after roadside bomb attacks and shootouts.

When he called home Christmas Day, apologizing for upsetting his mother by missing the holiday for the first time, he sounded like a man fighting to survive.

“Is it bad?” Lorente asked. “Are you guys doing OK?”

“We are taking hits. S* is just rough right now,” Gilliam said. “We are doing everything we can.”

Cpl. Farrell Gilliam (right) on a 2010-2011 deployment to Sangin, Afghanistan.

Cpl. Farrell Gilliam (right) on a 2010-2011 deployment to Sangin, Afghanistan.

Gilliam shielded his mother from the worst so she wouldn’t worry. But Lisa Gilliam, a pediatric nurse practitioner specializing in surgery and trauma care, realized after that phone call that her son was going to need help.

“I could tell in his voice,” she said. It was exhausted. Haunted. “I knew he was not going to come home the same as he left.”

A week later, on Jan. 5, 2011, Farrell Gilliam stepped on an IED. The Marines were walking through a desert neighborhood of mud-walled compounds near their base, toward a distant radio tower.

Gilliam, a team leader, was at the back of the patrol. About 10 Marines had trod ahead, marking a narrow path as they went, before he triggered a pressure plate buried in the dirt.

Finney heard the explosion. He looked back and saw a cloud of dust. No one answered him on the radio but he could hear yelling. When he crested the hill, he saw Gilliam inside a bomb crater.

One of Gilliam’s grenades had detonated in the explosion, mangling his side. His feet were blasted away and his right arm broken.

Gilliam was the first from their squad of “Regulators” to be wounded. “I didn’t want to believe it, but at that point we’d kind of gotten used to guys getting hurt,” Finney said.

By then, 24 had been killed with the battalion. Gilliam and the Lima Company quick-reaction force had responded to 18 urgent casualty evacuations, most of them limb amputations.

Navy hospital corpsmen and Marines worked rapidly to stop Gilliam from bleeding to death. They cinched his legs with tourniquets, stuffed his guts back in his belly and injected him with morphine.

One Marine held down Gilliam’s thrashing body while another calmed him, assuring him he would be fine.

On the drive to Forward Operating Base Nolay, a corpsman jammed his fingers in Gilliam’s wounds to keep him awake. To keep him alive until the medevac flight crew finally put him to sleep.

Gilliam was terrified he would die on that helicopter, like a squad leader from his company, Sgt. Ian Tawney.

Lisa Gilliam heard her son speak of it only once. It was after he arrived on Jan. 9, 2011, at Bethesda, Md., and the National Naval Medical Center. He was in the intensive care unit, suffering terrible flashbacks.

“What are you afraid of?” a chaplain asked.

Gilliam recounted every detail. His voice was hoarse from the breathing tube that had just been removed. He was crying.

“I remember putting one of my guys on the medevac. They took off and he died later,” his mother recalled him saying.

Then one day they put him on the helicopter, too. And Gilliam was afraid. So afraid.

“That I was going to die later, too,” he said.

REHAB

Both legs had to be amputated above the knee because of debris rammed into his flesh, trauma from the explosion and infection. Gilliam also lost half of his abdominal muscles, a section of arm bone and portions of his testicles.

On the upside, his brain and face were intact, he kept both arms, and with help from hormone treatment, he could expect to father a child normally.

When Lisa Gilliam’s husband, from whom she was long separated, called saying their son was badly wounded and may not live, she screamed into the phone as if he were dead.

Gilliam’s family members thought he was protected in the war zone by his training and armored Humvees.

“I didn’t know what an IED was. I had to look it up,” Lisa Gilliam said. “What the hell are they out there doing looking for IEDs? I thought they were shooting guns behind bunkers like you see in the World War II movies.”

Her daughter Sarah, 22, just didn’t understand. “I thought she was trying to tell me he was dead. I couldn’t comprehend: he’s lost his legs but he’s alive?” How could that be?

Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, pins on Cpl. Farrell Gilliams Purple Heart medal while the young Marine is in the Intensive Care Unit at Bethesda, Maryland Jan. 28, 2011.Courtesy photo

Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, pins on Cpl. Farrell Gilliams Purple Heart medal while the young Marine is in the Intensive Care Unit at Bethesda, Maryland Jan. 28, 2011.Courtesy photo

The first year of recovery was rough for Gilliam. He was overcome by bouts of anger, fear, depression and frustration, even as he fantasized about returning to combat.

“I remember him saying, ‘We need to hurry up and get me better so I can go back.’ I was like, ‘You are going to kill Mom if you go back!’” his brother Lorente said.

Gilliam responded: “What? This time around if I step on an IED, I’ll just get new (prosthetic) sticks and I’ll be fine!”

Medications clouded his mind and made him vomit regularly for five months straight. He flushed them after one surgery, then had to order more to cope with the pain.

illiam sometimes slipped into what his mother called “black moods.” He would sit, unresponsive, for hours or even days at a time.

“He would just, like, check out. He would be fine and then it would be like turning off a light switch and he would just be somewhere else. You couldn’t reach him. You couldn’t talk to him,” she recalled.

In time, those dark spells grew shorter and less frequent.

These were normal struggles for a young man coming to terms with half his body blown away, according to his father, Mike Gilliam, a civilian defense worker from Ridgecrest, Calif. Family and fellow Marines tried to help him adjust.

“His first sergeant told him, ‘You ain’t got that much to be angry about.’ He knew it. He just had to get over it and get some perspective. And he was,” Mike Gilliam said.

“You’ve got lots of guys out there who lost both their arms and one leg and they just lay in their bed twitching. Or they get their brain rattled and they don’t think straight anymore. They lose their jaw.

“Good grief, he came out pretty good. The politicians, they loved to pose with him. He was a photogenic case,” he said. A handsome young man with dark almond eyes and a mischievous grin whose bedside visitors included the president and the commandant of the Marine Corps.

Gilliam got over his “attitude problem,” his father said, and tried to recover as quickly as possible. Soon he was zipping around corners of the VA Palo Alto on one wheel of his chair, a move immortalized as a “Farrell turn” at the hospital where Gilliam’s portrait still hangs.

“Every time I saw him, he was in good spirits,” said Finney the former squad leader. Even while coming out of physical therapy, which can be tiring and painful. “He always acted like he was going to beat it.”

Cpl. Farrell Gilliam is reunited with his unit for the first time in May 2011 at Camp Pendleton, at a memorial ceremony for 25 killed in action serving in Sangin, Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Courtesy photo

Cpl. Farrell Gilliam is reunited with his unit for the first time in May 2011 at Camp Pendleton, at a memorial ceremony for 25 killed in action serving in Sangin, Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Courtesy photo

 

TEXAS

In October 2011, Gilliam transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, home to one of the nation’s top rehabilitation programs for the more than 1,500 Iraq or Afghanistan war veterans with an amputated limb.

He would be far from family in California, but they thought the Center for the Intrepid — with its surf tank and other amenities — offered him the best long-term chance of recovery.

Gilliam moved into the wounded warrior barracks at Fort Sam Houston, among its detachment of about two dozen Marines and equal number of staff members.

On Jan. 5, 2012, he celebrated the first anniversary of his “Alive Day,” when Marine amputees mark the moment they cheated death in combat, and toast those who weren’t so lucky. Gilliam wrote on his Facebook page: “One year ago today I got blown the f* up, but I’m here on the river walk in San Antonio getting hammered with my buddies.

“SUCK IT TALIBAN, YOU LOSE,” he wrote.

More than 500 people hit “like” on the post. After a long string of supportive comments, including jabs at Taliban living in caves, Gilliam wrote: “this just made my day.”

Cpl. Farrell Gilliam with his grandmother, Theresa Stavens, brother Daniel Lorente, and mother Lisa Gilliam in Bethesda, Maryland March 2011 on Gilliams first outing from the hospital. Courtesy photo

Cpl. Farrell Gilliam with his grandmother, Theresa Stavens, brother Daniel Lorente, and mother Lisa Gilliam in Bethesda, Maryland March 2011 on Gilliams first outing from the hospital. Courtesy photo

During visits home last year for the holidays, he seemed to be thriving. Independent again, full of life and plans for the future. And more outgoing than before he was wounded.

Gilliam had reconciled himself to a wheelchair because his missing abdominal muscles made it difficult to use prosthetic legs. But he didn’t let that confine him.

He bought a big truck with hand controls and drove it to New Mexico to see a friend. Cruising with his sisters, he would dance in the driver’s seat to anything from Angels & Airwaves rock to classical music.

Gilliam ate only organic food, worked out diligently and adopted the Paleo Diet. On Thanksgiving, he propped his cookbook on the counter and mixed up pumpkin muffins with almond flour.

“I was in awe,” his brother Lorente said. “Whatever they are doing in San Antonio has changed my brother into this young man who was going to be able to take over the world if he wanted to.”

There was a nice young lady in the picture. A part-time job waiting for him and studies toward an English major at Arizona State University, for which he had already started online classes.

Gilliam loved reading — especially Kipling, Wordsworth and Emerson — a pastime he shared with his good friend James McCain. The two were going to be roommates after Gilliam left the Corps.

Gilliam had served with the U.S. senator’s son, a 25-year-old Marine veteran, before deploying to Afghanistan. When they reconnected after Gilliam was wounded, McCain was impressed to find “practically the only other person on the planet” who knew about the philosophy of naturalism.

He was “a really deep young guy I really enjoyed talking to,” McCain said. They spoke almost every day.

“The sweetest guy I ever met really. There wasn’t an angry bone in his body. When I would get pissed off, I would end up calling him. ‘Jim, we’ll be alright,’ he would say. That taught me a lot about life,” McCain said.

Gilliam never mentioned wanting to kill himself, not even in jest, McCain said. But he remembers the one time his friend revealed the burden of his wounds.

They were drinking beers one afternoon about six months ago. Gilliam was on the couch when McCain got in his chair to wheel over some refills. “Man, this is the best beer-getting chair!” McCain joked.

“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome when you don’t have to be stuck in it the rest of your life,” Gilliam said.

McCain and Gilliam celebrated New Year’s with friends in Arizona. After exchanging a pile of books, Gilliam left on Jan. 3 for Texas. “‘Alright man, see you soon,’ he said. And that was it,” McCain said.

“He seemed fine. His normal self.”

TRIGGER

Gilliam told his sister Sarah that he had a great time in Arizona and didn’t want to return to San Antonio. “He didn’t want to sit in his room and wonder when he would see everybody again. It just went downhill from there,” she said.

He sat alone in the barracks drinking a bottle of Scotch, ignoring his sister’s protests.

“It was an overwhelming sense of isolation, from everybody and everything,” Sarah said.

A couple days later, on Jan. 5, on what he now called his “Survival Day,” Gilliam wrote a long post on Facebook. He ruminated over each moment of the IED attack and thanked everyone by name who helped him.

“Three years ago today I won (or lost) a game of hide and seek with an IED in Afghanistan,” he wrote.

“Doc Brown, Doc Gojar, Gutierrez, Griff, and Finney, and countless other surgeons, doctors, nurses and corpsmen helped keep my name off the KIA list.

“Every morning I wake up and realize that I am actually alive, I think about all of you,” he said.

He mentioned his hope that stem cell technology could give him a new pair of legs, then wrote: “I love you guys. I think about you every day and will continue to do so until I can no longer think due to Alzheimer’s, dementia, or death. Thank you.”

On Jan. 9, three years to the day after he returned to the United States from Afghanistan, Gilliam sent a mass text to his closest relatives and friends.

“I love you. Far more than you know,” it said.

Responses filled all of their phone screens: I love you too, brother; Love ya, Gilly …

Sarah was worried. “How ya doing by the way?” she texted.

No response.

“Seriously though are you ok?”

No response.

“IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME YOU WOULDN’T MAKE ME WORRY.”

An hour after that, a barracks resident heard the gunshot.

The family of Camp Pendleton Marine Cpl. Farrell Gilliam, from left, sister Erin Gilliam, brother Daniel Lorente, mother Lisa Gilliam, and sister Sarah Gilliam, at Seaport Village in San Diego on Saturday. Cpl. Gilliam, who was terribly wounded in Afghanistan, recently took his own life. Marines and relatives don't consider it suicide and is petitioning to have his name on a stone memorial with the other 25 members of the battalion killed in action. Hayne Palmour IV

The family of Camp Pendleton Marine Cpl. Farrell Gilliam, from left, sister Erin Gilliam, brother Daniel Lorente, mother Lisa Gilliam, and sister Sarah Gilliam, at Seaport Village in San Diego on Saturday. Cpl. Gilliam, who was terribly wounded in Afghanistan, recently took his own life. Marines and relatives don’t consider it suicide and is petitioning to have his name on a stone memorial with the other 25 members of the battalion killed in action. Hayne Palmour IV

AFTERMATH

Lisa Gilliam saw two Marines at her door and thought they were gathering donations.

They said her son had passed, but she couldn’t believe it. She screamed: “How do you know? How do you know!”

Gilliam didn’t appear to suffer from depression, PTSD or suicidal tendencies. He quit all medications several months earlier, as far as his family knew.

“The universal reaction was, ‘Where did this come from?’” his father said. “No one was under the impression that he was going through any kind of battle in this regard.”

To this day, he can’t accept it. Maybe a brain lesion or seizure was to blame, he wonders, though naval investigators ruled the shooting a suicide.

Lisa Gilliam was disturbed to learn that her son hadn’t received psychological treatment for two years.

He didn’t seem to need it, she agreed. As in the civilian world, the military can’t force personnel into psychological care unless they appear in danger of hurting someone, she was told.

“He put on a great face in the day. But I think nights, alone in the barracks there at San Antonio, were probably hell for him. The Marine Corps and the military in general, they need to look at these different stages. They can’t say just because they aren’t showing signs, that there’s nothing going on upstairs,” she said.

When the troops return home, “the war is not over for them. It rages for them in their heads and their hearts. Farrell’s physical was the least of his problems, apparently. We didn’t think so, but look at where we are at now.

“That’s what PTSD is. It’s like a tumor that you can’t see. If it’s not treated, it’s going to kill you.”

As a family, they have so many questions about Gilliam and other combat veterans.

Why bother to heal their bodies if you can’t heal their minds? Why do wounded Marines have single rooms instead of being forced to buddy up? Why couldn’t Gilliam live with a Jack Russell therapy dog like he wanted? Why is it so easy to sneak a gun into the barracks?

And the most important question of all. The one they know can never be answered: Why did he leave them?

As the Corps grapples with fallout from 13 years of combat, it encourages Marines to look out for each other and for signs of distress. Many are reluctant to ask for help because of the stigma against psychological care, a fear of appearing weak and mistrust of medical providers who haven’t seen combat.

“We are a stubborn breed,” said Capt. Ryan Powell, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.

PETITION

After Gilliam died, Marines who served with him in Sangin started talking about the battalion’s 26th KIA.

Mark Soto, the father of a “Darkhorse” Marine who struggled with suicidal impulses but got help, started a petition. It asks the Corps and Defense Department to add Gilliam’s name to the memorial stone at Camp Pendleton for the 5th Marine Regiment war dead.

It quickly gained more than 1,000 supporters.

Jim Binion, whose stepson Sgt. Matthew Abbate was killed in Sangin, encouraged readers of his “Hella Sick Clothing” blog on Facebook to sign the petition.

When some objected to Gilliam being counted among the KIA, Binion replied: “Farrell woke up to pain every day, and PTSD like you can only think of in nightmares, and one night the demons got him.

“If you have a problem with us pushing for Farrell, feel free to leave the page. But I know what Matt expected from me. He would not leave a brother behind.”

Finney, the former squad leader, said Gilliam deserves respect for being one of the few Americans who volunteered to be a Marine grunt. On top of that, “he goes to a combat zone and receives a Purple Heart. It makes him 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent.”

Then he quoted from Henry V. The same words Gilliam used on Memorial Day 2012 when he beseeched the public to “remember our fallen, so they will not die.”

“Our 25, the giants of our generation, who fell in battle against the mighty Taliban, in the far off lands of a place called Afghanistan. A place the rest of us will never leave.”

Then from Shakespeare: “He which hath no stomach to this fight let him depart. But we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers! For he today that sheds his blood with me shall always be my brother.”

McCain said he doesn’t understand why one of the strongest people he ever met wanted to end his own life. “We never will,” he said. “He’s just gone and I will always love him.”

Lisa Gilliam is proud of her son, but angry too. “He overcame so much. He was wounded to a horrible degree and yet he, he got through it. He did everything they asked him to do.”

So many surgeries, they stopped counting. All of his physical therapy. Learning to respond gracefully when children pointed and stared.

To kill himself, “sorry for my French, but it’s a big f* you to everybody, to everybody that had a part in his care and helping him come so far,” his mother said.

The family is strong and will persevere, but “it’s devastating,” his brother Lorente said, starting to weep. “It was such a battle on the homefront. It was a battle for us as a family for so long. I hate to see my Mom have to suffer, and my sisters …”

Sarah is angry too, they all are. “But maybe that’s the whole problem — he fought for so long and he just couldn’t anymore,” she said. “It’s easy to think you did this to me. But it wasn’t about any of us. It was about what he was going through.”

Then there’s the guilt. “We wish we could take the pain away. We wish we could have done more,” said his sister Erin, 20.

 

While in treatment during the summer of 2011 at the VA Palo Alto Polytrauma Center, Cpl. Farrell Gilliam stayed up all night building a Lego toy that he donated to a childrens program. Courtesy photo

While in treatment during the summer of 2011 at the VA Palo Alto Polytrauma Center, Cpl. Farrell Gilliam stayed up all night building a Lego toy that he donated to a childrens program. Courtesy photo

Now they mourn him, each in his own way.

Gilliam had a generous and gentle heart, his relatives said. When Sarah needed a kidney transplant in December, he argued with his mother that he should be the one to donate since he was younger.

When Erin admired a $1,500 special edition set of Harry Potter books, he gave them to her at Christmas. “He was very insightful. He took the time to know people,” Erin said.

Gilliam’s father had returned to work immediately after Gilliam was wounded. He didn’t know what else to do. No one knew what to say to him then, and they know even less now.

“You see your son in a box, you find out what you believe,” Mike Gilliam said. For him, it’s the resurrection. “I anticipate seeing him again. … He got a head start on the rest of us. But we will see him.”

What to feel is more difficult.

“Everybody around me is screaming their heads off. I’ve got nothing. I’m just kind of dealing with the situation. I am kind of waiting until the lights are out and everybody is tucked into bed and there is nobody around.

“A parenting thing you know, you deal with the problems after nobody else is around,” he said.

A son dies young, before his father — Mike Gilliam expects he will be dealing with it for years.

“What he was going to be. I miss that” most of all, he said. “What he was gonna be …”

FINAL REST

Strangers and friends. Medical staff from both coasts. Marines who fought with him in Afghanistan. Hundreds and hundreds across the country paid their respects after Gilliam died.

“They came from all over,” his brother Lorente said. “It was really moving how many people’s lives he touched. It was absolutely humbling.”

It started in San Antonio at the airport.

“We have the privilege and the honor today to be escorting a fallen warrior home to his final resting place,” the announcer said. Everyone in the terminal froze and fell silent.

Gilliam was loaded into the cargo hold of the plane under the scrutiny of his staff sergeant. The Marine escorted his body, standing vigil beside him every moment, until he was buried.

When the plane landed in San Jose, firefighters shot two arcs of water over the aircraft in salute. Police stopped Friday afternoon traffic to make way for the hearse and more than 100 Patriot Guard motorcycle riders.

On the drive to Fresno, every overpass was crowded with people. Firefighters standing at attention atop their trucks. A Marine honor guard. Sheriff’s deputies. Forestry workers.

Finney, Gilliam’s former squad leader, was among the Marine pallbearers who carried his coffin draped in red, white and blue.

After a volley of rifle fire in salute and the playing of taps, the Gilliams released a flock of white doves at Beth Israel Cemetery in Fresno, where he was buried Jan. 21 with full military honors.

Gilliam’s sisters tattooed his final text message prominently on their bodies. When she feels sad, Erin Gilliam rubs the flesh of her inner bicep where her brother’s words are inked. Sarah Gilliam has the words on her wrist.

“If anything good comes out of this,” Sarah said, “I just want it to be that somebody gets help that nobody thought they needed.”

Farrell Gilliam in 2008, on a sea tour with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

Farrell Gilliam in 2008, on a sea tour with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

gretel.kovach@utsandiego.com; (619) 293-1293; Twitter @gckovach; Facebook: U-T Military

 

 

 

 

 

Iraq war vet introduces military suicide bill

By Ashley Fantz, CNN

The first Iraq war combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate introduced legislation on Thursday aimed at reducing the number of military veterans who commit suicide. No matter the cost of the measures urged in the sweeping bill, “that is the cost of war,” Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana told CNN.

Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide.

To Walsh, that is more than a number. From 2004 to 2005, he commanded an infantry battalion of the Montana National Guard in Iraq. When the unit returned home, one of Walsh’s soldiers committed suicide.

When Walsh became adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, a few more guardsmen died by suicide.

“Far too often, we’re leaving our veterans to fight their toughest battles alone,” Walsh said. “Returning home from combat does not erase what happened there, and yet red tape and government dysfunction have blocked access to the care that saves lives. It is our duty to come together for real solutions for our heroes,” Walsh told CNN on Thursday.

The Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act is collaboration between Walsh and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Founded in 2004, IAVA is the first and largest organization for new veterans and their families, with 270,000 members nationwide.

The next step for Walsh is to get a co-sponsor for the bill. He said he’s already received bipartisan support behind the scenes.

The veterans organization is working on getting a similar bill in the House, said IAVA political director Kate O’Gorman.

What’s in the bill?

Among the bill’s key objectives is to give veterans more time to receive mental health treatment.

Currently, when a service member separates from active duty — whether they are transitioning to being a veteran or becoming a Reservist or a member of the National Guard — they have five years to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, O’Gorman said. Sometimes it can take longer than five years for service members and veterans to realize they’re experiencing the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress and other mental injuries.

About 25% of IAVA’s members, O’Gorman said, have experienced a delayed onset of PTSD after getting out of the service.

Many times, five years is just not long enough for veterans who are dealing with the stigma of mental health issues. It can take many years to emotionally come to grips with the diagnosis alone, and then it takes time to find and receive the right care.

To address that, Walsh’s bill would extend the time to receive mental health treatment from five years to 15 years.

The legislation also seeks to improve the quality of mental health care providers by making their jobs more competitive with the private sector, O’Gorman said. Right now there are more than 1,000 open jobs at the VA for mental health care jobs, including psychiatric nurses, physician assistants and psychiatrists, among others, she said.

The bill will introduce a pilot initiative that would allow a student to have their loans repaid if they work for the VA, O’Gorman said.
It also calls for annual reviews of care programs within the Defense Department and the VA to ensure resources are being used effectively to help service members and vets struggling with mental health issues.

Further, the legislation points out that the VA and the Defense Department use two different computer systems and mandates that those systems be amended so that they speak to each other more seamlessly.

The legislation would also try to streamline the way the Pentagon and the VA prescribe medication. Currently, they use different drug prescription protocols, Walsh and military experts told CNN, and that can create a difficult situation.

For example, a service member overcomes the hurdle of admitting they need care, seeks help from a DOD doctor and, after several tries, gets on a drug that works for him or her.

When that warrior become a veteran, they go to a VA doctor only to be told that the drug the DOD doctor gave them is not available under VA protocols.

The bill was introduced the same week that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America held its annual Storm the Hill initiative. Teams comprised of four veterans whoses live have been rocked by a fellow warrior’s suicide met with lawmakers in Washington. The veterans shared their stories, and implored those in power to do something substantial to address the problem.

Dollar costs and mental costs

It’s unclear how much it would cost to do everything the bill lays out, according to Andrea Helling, Walsh’s spokeswoman. Walsh is waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to provide a figure, she said.

But the senator stressed that it will cost far more in years to come if changes are not made soon to improve mental health care.

The legislation comes at a time of fierce belt tightening in the armed forces. In February, the Pentagon said it would reduce the size of the Army to pre-Word War II numbers, retire the a popular A-10 “Warhog” attack jet and reduce some benefits for warriors.

“This is a budget that recognizes the reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges, the dangerous world we live in, and the American military’s unique and indispensable role in the security of this country and in today’s volatile world,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in February.

“There are difficult decisions ahead,” he said. “That is the reality we’re living with.”

Downsizing due to modernization and budget constraints began under Hagel’s predecessor, Robert Gates.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are the longest continuous battles the United States has fought.

The Iraq war lasted from 2003 to 2010 and Afghanistan has been raging since soon after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. President Barack Obama has said that the United States could withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

More than 2 million Americans have served in combat in those two wars. Researchers estimate that as many as 300,000 service members may meet criteria for PTSD and between 200,000 and 300,000 have suffered a traumatic brain injury from mild to severe, according to Dr. Stephen Cozza with the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress.

The nonprofit think-tank RAND Corporation estimates a third of veterans likely have TBI, PTSD or depression, which puts the overall number affected at around 600,000.
A large body of research indicates PTSD is associated with increased likelihood of suicidal behavior.

Beyond the bill

A large body of research indicates PTSD is associated with increased likelihood of suicidal behavior.

Walsh was sworn into the U.S. Senate in January after Montana Gov. Steve Bullock named Walsh, his lieutenant governor, to serve the remainder of Sen. Max Baucus’ term after he became U.S. ambassador to China. Walsh is running for election in November.

Walsh’s legislation, IAVA’s O’Gorman told CNN, has bipartisan support. And the goal is to get it passed by Memorial Day, far before an election is a concern.

Walsh said lawmakers must also address suicides amongst military family members, too.

The Pentagon is currently not tracking the number of suicides among relatives. CNN recently explored the topic and spoke to dozens of relatives who said they had contemplated or attempted killing themselves.

Warrior suicides and military family member suicides are “connected,” Walsh said.

Speaking about a warrior under his command who had been deployed three times whose wife was left to care for triplets, Walsh said he understood that families have been under extreme stress for years.

The relatives have made “enormous sacrifices,” he said.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/27/politics/military-suicide-legislation/index.html?c=&page=>

Vet Launches Suicide Prevention Campaign: ‘I Am A Suicide Survivor … And I Am Not Embarrassed By It’

n-ANDREW-large

Out on a mission one day in northern Iraq in 2009, a convoy of gun trucks grinds through rising dust. In the turret of the lead truck, Spc. Andrew O’Brien, 21, crouches behind his .50-caliber machine gun. His job: to watch for IEDs, improvised explosive devices. He swivels anxiously to watch the passing landscape for the deadly bombs hidden in trash bags, squashed cartons, dog carcasses, maybe that discarded truck tire.

From up ahead, another convoy approaches: U.S. military police in heavily armored vehicles known as MRAPS, supposedly invulnerable to bomb blasts. As they squeeze past, O’Brien and the gunner in the lead MRAP rotate their guns away from each other. Anonymous under their helmets, goggles and dust scarves, they nod to each other in a silent salute.

Not long after, they hear a ka-rump and there goes the slow-rising column of black smoke. O’Brien knows that other convoy got hit.

Back at Forward Operating Base Summerall that evening, O’Brien and his crew are lined up for formation. They cast sideways glances at a wrecked MRAP, the one whose gunner had nodded to O’Brien. A bomb dangling from a tree had detonated into the gunner’s hatch. What’s left of the MRAP is partially covered with a tarpaulin, and the sergeant is telling O’Brien and his guys not to look under that tarp; it’s off-limits.

He couldn’t help himself. Until then, the war had seemed almost distant. He wanted to know the worst. That could have been his truck, his guys. He thought seeing the worst would make him hyper-aware, help him spot IEDs and keep his own crew safe. After formation, he snuck around and lifted the tarp and peered inside. The wreckage hadn’t yet been cleaned of human remains.

O’Brien, now 25, is a lean, good-looking young man; his chiseled features and quick grin give little hint of the torment that moment created, of the nightmares that crushed his spirit and drove him toward suicide. “It was the worst thing I’d ever seen in my life,” he told me.

 

s-BRIEN-large300

Andrew O’Brien, second from right, seen here with his fellow soldiers in Iraq.

 

His outfit, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, went home to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii that spring and the nightmares that had begun in Iraq followed him. Inside the wrecked MRAP he would see the bodies of his crew, guys he’d grown as close to as brothers. “It was like the worst thing you experienced in your whole life, happening over and over again, every night,” he said. “It became exhausting.”

Guilt, shame and anger boiled inside him. He felt guilty for disobeying his sergeant’s order not to look at the wrecked MRAP, ashamed that he had damaged himself and ended up diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “I hated civilians because they didn’t know what I’d been through and … you just come back angry at the whole world,” he said.

Back then, he felt he couldn’t talk to anyone about what was going on, not even to an Army psychiatrist. “I felt I was alone,” he said. “I thought everybody else was fine and I was just the weak guy who couldn’t handle it.”

So in November 2010, just over a year after returning from Iraq, he went home, scooped up four bottles of prescription pills and washed them all down with a few beers. Then he went around punching holes in the walls with his fists. “All of a sudden I felt the pills kicking in and felt myself dying and quickly realized I had made a mistake,” he wrote later in a post online. His consciousness fading, he shakily dialed 911.

When he woke up in intensive care, his older brother, a soldier who’d served in Afghanistan for 15 months, was on the phone. “He told me how much he loved me. He said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I said, ‘You’ve seen much worse, I don’t have a right to feel this way.'”

His brother’s answer, O’Brien said, “changed my whole life. I was hearing it from another veteran. He said that the worst thing you saw was the worst thing you saw, you don’t need to compare that to anybody else. You should be proud of what you did.”

After he was released, O’Brien felt he had an entirely new perspective on PTSD, suicide and how to handle emotional turmoil. He asked the base chaplain if he could brief soldiers, in order to pass on what he’d learned. “The suicide briefings we had were a joke — guys would just be laughing,” he explained. “I wanted to show them like it really was.” But the answer was no.

O’Brien soon left the Army when his contract ran out on Feb. 13, 2011, and for two years he bounced around, working at this and that, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. Then he happened to see the latest statistics on military suicides, and his idea of briefings hardened into resolve, and then a plan.

Unofficially, on his own, he began arranging to speak with groups of soldiers, parents, veterans — anybody — about PTSD and suicide, telling them what he’d learned about navigating the tricky and sometimes dangerous transition from the battlefield to civilian America. These talks turned into a national campaign to spread his message: If you are suffering from war trauma, you are not alone. And it’s not a sign of weakness to get help.

In his brother’s words, the worst thing you saw was the worst thing you saw.

Too many don’t get that advice, with tragic results.

“I am a suicide survivor from PTSD and I am not embarrassed by it,” O’Brien says in a video posted on his website. Suicide “is hard to talk about. But it needs to be talked about. By me not being embarrassed by it and sharing my suicide attempt, I am helping other servicemen and women understand that it’s okay to be affected by the war. It is war and it comes with being in war.”

He backs up to explain. “Soldiers go through three transformations: The first is becoming a soldier, which is easy — they break you down and build you back up. The second is coming back from war and trying to become the person you were before.” That’s where people can get stuck, he said, short of the third transformation: “Realizing that’s not gonna happen and you have to be the person you are now.”

Everywhere he speaks with troops — most recently in August at Hawaii’s Schofield Barracks, where he attempted suicide almost three years ago — he says he meets people who admit that they, too, have gotten stuck and considered or even attempted suicide but were reluctant to get help.

“This stigma, this thought that if you have PTSD you are weak, the thought if you have issues you are weak,” O’Brien says, “that is what is killing our troops.”

s-BRIEN-large3002

 

This article is part of a special Huffington Post series, “Invisible Casualties,” in which we shine a spotlight on suicide-prevention efforts within the military. As part of the series, The Huffington Post contacted military service members and veterans who have considered suicide to learn what saved them from that irrevocable step.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/21/suicide-prevention-campaign_n_3866633.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

$250K awarded to help Alabama Veterans suffering from PTSD

3337960_G

David Lynch Foundation Announces $250,000 Grant to Teach Transcendental Meditation to Alabama Vets with PTSD.

Birmingham, Alabama, The David Lynch Foundation (DLF) has announced a $250,000 grant to provide Alabama veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Syndrome  (PTSD) an opportunity to learn Transcendental Meditation (TM).

The DLF was established by the film-maker David Lynch in 2005 to fund the implementation of scientifically proven stress-reducing techniques for those in need including, veterans with PTSD and their families;

John Harrod, Executive Director of the Alabama Transcendental Meditation Program and a full-time TM teacher, will host a presentation at the Hoover Library – Main Branch Wednesday evening March 5th at 6:30 P.M. P.M. to introduce the Alabama PTSD project and discuss the tremendous benefits TM brings to veterans with PTSD. Veterans who attend the events will be eligible to learn Transcendental Meditation at no cost.

“”Thousands of veterans with PTSD have already learned TM and it has been transformative” says Harrod.  “The U.S Government now spends between $ 4-6 billion dollars a year trying to help vets, but no treatment has proven widely effective.  Transcendental Meditation is extremely effective, and brings immediate and ongoing relief and benefits.”

A recent study published in the July 2013 issue of Military Magazine found the twice-daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation among vets with PTSD at Fort Gordon, Georgia markedly reduced symptoms of PTSD, some by as much as 50% in the first few weeks.

Last week, the Journal of Traumatic Stress announced the publication of a new scientific study showing that African war refugees who learned Transcendental Meditation experienced an immediate and dramatic reduction in PTS symptoms by as much as 90%.

Significant Reductions in Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Congolese Refugees Within 10 days of Transcendental Meditation Practice

And the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Veterans Administration is currently conducting a $2.4 million research study on TM as a treatment. The results of that research will be announced later this year.

“There are thousands of Alabama veterans who suffer with PTSD”, says Harrod. Meditation has come to the forefront as a something that works..  Vets say they get their lives back.  It’s simple to learn and to practice and all any vet has to do learn is to come to this presentation.

Anyone interested or wanting more information can also contact John Harrod at jharrod@tm.org or by phone at 250-979-7073.

Anyone wanting to learn more about TM and PTSD can go to www.tm.org and www.davidlynchfoundation.org

logo_small

The Marlboro Marine: 2004 and Today

marlboroTwo lives blurred together by a photo.

By Luis Sinco, Times Staff Photographer

Times photographer Luis Sinco made James Blake Miller an emblem of the war. The image would change both of their lives and connect them in ways neither imagined.

The young marine lighted a cigarette and let it dangle. White smoke wafted around his helmet. His face was smeared with war paint. Blood trickled from his right ear and the bridge of his nose.

Momentarily deafened by cannon blasts, he didn’t know the shooting had stopped. He stared at the sunrise.

His expression caught my eye. To me, it said: terrified, exhausted and glad just to be alive. I recognized that look because that’s how I felt too.

I raised my camera and snapped a few shots.

With the click of a shutter, Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, a country boy from Kentucky, became an emblem of the war in Iraq. The resulting image would change two lives — his and mine.

I was embedded with Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, as it entered Fallouja, an insurgent stronghold in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, on Nov. 8, 2004. We encountered heavy fire almost immediately. We were pinned down all night at a traffic circle, where a 6-inch curb offered the only protection.

I hunkered down in the gutter that endless night, praying for daylight, trying hard to make myself small. A cold rain came down. I cursed the Marines’ illumination flares that wafted slowly earthward, making us wait an eternity for darkness to return.

At dawn, the gunfire and explosions subsided. A white phosphorus artillery round burst overhead, showering blazing-hot tendrils. We came across three insurgents lying in the street, two of them dead, their blood mixing with rainwater.

The third, a wiry Arab youth, tried to mouth a few words. All I could think was: “Buddy, you’re already dead.”

We rounded a corner and again came under heavy fire, forcing us to scramble for cover. I ran behind a Marine as we crossed the street, the bullets ricocheting at our feet.

Gunfire poured down, and it seemed incredible that no one was hit. A pair of tanks rumbled down the road to shield us. The Marines kicked open the door of a house, and we all piled in.

Miller and other Marines took positions on the rooftop; I set up my satellite phone to transmit photos. But as I worked downstairs in the kitchen, a deep rumble almost blew the room apart.

Two cannon rounds had slammed into a nearby house. Miller, the platoon’s radioman, had called in the tanks, pinpointed the targets and shouted “Fire!”

I ran to the roof and saw smoldering ruins across a large vacant lot. Beneath a heap of bricks, men lay dead or dying. I sat down and collected my wits. Miller propped himself against a wall and lighted his cigarette. I transmitted the picture that night. Power in Fallouja had been cut in advance of the assault, forcing me to be judicious with my batteries. I considered not even sending Miller’s picture, thinking my editors would prefer images of fierce combat.

The photo of Miller was the last of 11 that I sent that day.

On the second day of the battle, I called my wife by satellite phone to tell her I was OK. She told me my photo had ended up on the front page of more than 150 newspapers. Dan Rather had gushed over it on the evening news. Friends and family had called her to say they had seen the photo — my photo.

Soon, my editors called and asked me to find the “Marlboro Marine” for a follow-up story. Who was this brave young hero? Women wanted to marry him. Mothers wanted to know whether he was their son.

I didn’t even know his name. Shell-shocked and exhausted, I had simply identified Miller as “A Marine” and clicked “send.”

I found Miller four days later in an auditorium after a dangerous dash across an open parade ground in the city’s civic center. Miller’s unit was taking a break, eating military rations.

Clean-shaven and without war paint, Miller, 20, looked much younger than the battle-stressed warrior in the picture — young enough to be my son.

He was cooperative, but he was embarrassed about the photo’s impact back home.

Once our story identified him, the national fascination grew stronger. People shipped care packages, making sure Miller had more than enough smokes. President Bush sent cigars, candy and memorabilia from the White House.

Then Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, head of the 1st Marine Division, made a special trip to see the Marlboro Marine.

I was in the forward command center, which by then featured a large blowup of the photo. “You might want to see this,” an officer said, nudging me to follow.

To talk to Miller, Natonski had to weave between earthen berms, run through bombed-out buildings and make a mad sprint across a wide street to avoid sniper fire before diving into a shattered storefront.

“Miller, get your ass up here,” a first sergeant barked on the radio.

Miller had no idea what was going on as he ran through the rubble. He snapped to attention when he saw the general.

Natonski shook Miller’s hand. Americans had “connected” with his photo, the general said, and nobody wanted to see him wounded or dead.

“We can have you home tomorrow,” he said.

Miller hesitated, then shook his head. He did not want to leave his buddies behind. “It just wasn’t right,” he told me later.

The tall, lanky general towered over the grunt. “Your father raised one hell of a young man,” he said, looking Miller in the eye. They said goodbye, and Natonski scrambled back to the command post.

For his loyalty, Miller was rewarded with horror. The assault on Fallouja raged on, leaving nearly 100 Americans dead and 450 wounded. The bodies of some 1,200 insurgents littered the streets.

As the fighting dragged on for a month, the story fell off the front page. I joined the exodus of journalists heading home or moving to the next story.

More than a year and a half would pass before I saw Miller again.

Back home, I immersed myself in other assignments, trying to put Fallouja behind me. Yet not a day went by that I didn’t think about Miller and what we experienced in Iraq.

National Public Radio interviewed me. Much to my embarrassment, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a resolution in my honor. I became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Bloggers riffed on the photo’s meaning. Requests for prints kept coming.

In January 2006, I was on assignment along the U.S.-Mexico border when my wife called. “Your boy is on TV. He has PTSD,” she said. “They kicked him out of the Marines.”

I’d spoken with Miller by phone twice, but the conversations were short and superficial. I knew post-traumatic stress disorder was a complicated diagnosis. So once again, I dug up his number. Again, I offered simple words: Life is sweet. We survived. Everything else is gravy.

As the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion approached, my editors wanted another follow-up story.

So in spring 2006, I traveled to Miller’s hometown of Jonancy, Ky., in the hollows of Appalachia. I drove east from Lexington along Interstate 64, part of the nationwide Purple Heart Trail honoring dead and wounded veterans, before turning south.

Mobile homes and battered cars dot the rugged ranges. Marijuana is a major cash crop. Addiction to methamphetamine and prescription drugs is rampant.

Kids marry young, and boys go to work mining the black seams of coal. Heavy trucks rumble day and night.

Miller showed me around. At an abandoned mine, he walked carefully around a large, shallow pool of standing water that mirrored the green wilderness and springtime sky. He picked up a chunk of coal.

“Around here, this is what it’s all about,” he said. “Nothing else.

“It was this or the Marines.”

Often brooding and sullen, Miller joked about being “21 going on 70,” the result, he said, of humping heavy armor and gear on a 6-foot, 160-pound frame.

Before he was allowed to leave Iraq, he attended a mandatory “warrior transitioning” session about PTSD and adjusting to home life.

Each Marine received a questionnaire. Were they having trouble sleeping? Did they have thoughts of suicide? Did they feel guilt about their actions?

Everybody knew the drill. Answer yes and be evaluated further. Say no and go home.

Miller said he didn’t want to miss his flight. He answered no to every question.

He returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C. His high school sweetheart, Jessica Holbrooks, joined him there, and they were married in a civil ceremony.

Then came the nightmares and hallucinations. He imagined shadowy figures outside the windows. Faces of the dead haunted his sleep.

Once, while cleaning a shotgun, he blacked out. He regained consciousness when Jessica screamed out his name. Snapping back to reality, he realized he was pointing the gun at her.

He reported the problems to superiors, who promised to get him help.

Then came a single violent episode, which put an end to his days as a Marine.

It happened in the storm-tossed Gulf of Mexico in September 2005. His unit had been sent to New Orleans to assist with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Now a second giant storm, Hurricane Rita, was moving in, and the Marines were ordered to seek safety out at sea.

In the claustrophobic innards of a rolling Navy ship, someone whistled. The sound reminded Miller of a rocket- propelled grenade. He attacked the sailor who had whistled. He came to in the boat’s brig. He was medically discharged with a “personality disorder” on Nov. 10, 2005 — exactly one year after his picture made worldwide news.

Back home in Kentucky, the Millers settled into a sparsely furnished second-story apartment. Four small windows afforded little light. The TV was always on.

Miller bought a motorcycle and went for long rides. He and Jessica drank all night and slept all day. He started collecting a monthly disability benefit of about $2,500. The couple spent hours watching movies on DVD, Coronas and bourbon cocktails in hand. Friends and family gave them space.

Miller had hoped to pursue a career in law enforcement. But the PTSD and abrupt discharge killed that dream. No one would trust him with a weapon.

But at least he didn’t have to go back to Iraq. He started to realize he wasn’t the only one traumatized by war.

“There’s a word for it around here,” Jessica said. “It’s called ‘vets.’ ” She talked of Miller’s grandfather, forever changed by the Korean War and dead by age 35. Her Uncle Hargis, a Vietnam veteran, had it too. He experienced mood swings for years.

Sometimes, Miller’s stories about Iraq unnerved his young bride. He sensed it and talked less. Nobody really understands, he said, unless they’ve been there.

On June 3, 2006, the Millers renewed their vows at a hilltop clubhouse overlooking the forests and strip mines. It was a lavish ceremony paid for by donors from across the country who had read about Miller’s travails or seen him on television. Local businesses pitched in as well.

His father and two younger brothers were supposed to be groomsmen but didn’t show up. His estranged mother wasn’t invited.

Miller looked sharp in his Marine Corps dress uniform of dark-blue cloth and red piping. Jessica was lovely in white, her long hair gathered high.

Instead of a honeymoon, the young couple traveled to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of the National Mental Health Assn. The group wanted to honor Miller for his courage in going public about his PTSD. Its leaders also wanted him to visit key lawmakers to share his experience.

As a boy, Miller confided, he had embraced religion, even going so far as to become an ordained minister by mail order. He knew the Bible verses, felt the passion for preaching.

That’s how he found his new mission: to tell people what it was like to come home from war with a broken mind.

Three days after their wedding, I tagged along as the young couple flew to the nation’s capital. Easily distracted by the offer of free drinks for an all-American hero, Miller stayed out until 3 a.m. He was hung over when he met with House members a few hours later.

Miller chatted up GOP Rep. Harold Rogers, the congressman from his district. He smoked and frequently cursed while recounting his combat experiences. I cringed but stayed on the sidelines, snapping photos.

Miller shuffled from one congressional office to the next, passing displays filled with photos of Marines killed in Iraq. As he told his story over and again, the politicians listened politely and thanked Miller for his service. One congressman sent an aide to tell Miller he was too busy to meet. No one promised to take up his cause.

After Miller picked up his award, he took a whirlwind tour past the White House and Lincoln Memorial, but his mind was elsewhere. At a bar the night before, free booze had flowed in honor of the Marlboro Marine. Miller wanted more.

“Let’s get drunk,” he said.

I returned to Los Angeles the next morning, thinking I would catch up with Miller in a couple of months.

A week later, Jessica called. After they got home, Miller’s mood had become volatile. He was OK one minute and in a deep funk the next, she told me. Then he’d disappeared. She hadn’t seen him for days.

Could I come to Kentucky and help?

Why me? I thought. I am not Miller’s brother. Or his father. I could feel the line between journalist and subject blurring. Was I covering the story or becoming part of it?

I traveled all night to get to Pikeville, Ky., and soon found myself with Jessica, making the rounds of all the places Miller might have gone. I wanted to be somewhere else — anywhere else.

Finally, the next morning, Jessica saw her husband driving in the opposite direction. She did a U-turn, hit the gas and caught up with him down the road.

He got out of his truck. A woman sat in the passenger seat.

“Who is that, Blake?” Jessica demanded. “Who is she?”

He said her name was Sherry. They had just met, and he was helping her move. Jessica didn’t believe him.

I thought: Didn’t I attend this young couple’s fairy tale wedding just 10 days ago? Now, here they were, in a gas station parking lot, creating a spectacle.

Jessica grilled Miller. He bobbed and weaved. He appeared sober and sullen. Then he dropped a bomb. He didn’t want her anymore and had filed for divorce.

“You guys might want to go home and talk,” I suggested.

There, the tortured dialogue escalated.

Jessica pleaded with Blake to stop and think. They could quit drinking, she said. They’d get help for him and as a couple. Maybe they could move away — anything to work it out.

Miller slumped on the couch. I sensed his unease and feared he would become violent, so I stayed for a while even though I felt intrusive. But he remained strangely calm, albeit brooding and distant.

I returned the next morning. He called his attorney and put the phone on speaker. If uncontested, the lawyer said, the divorce would become final in 60 days. Jessica went to the fire escape to gather herself.

Miller remained unmoved, chain-smoking. The local newspaper had been calling him about rumors that he was getting divorced. It was a major local story. Finally, he wrote a statement. He asked for compassion and respect for their privacy.

The next day, I found Miller in a back bedroom at his uncle’s house. He told me that he had come close to committing suicide the night before. He had thought about driving his motorcycle off the edge of a mountain road.

He showed me the morning newspaper. His divorce was the lead story.

I felt torn. I didn’t want to get involved. I desperately wanted to close the book on Iraq. But if I hadn’t taken Miller’s picture, this very personal drama wouldn’t be front-page news. I felt responsible.

Sometimes, when things get hard to witness, I use my camera as a shield. It creates a space for me to work — and distance to keep my eyes open and my feelings in check. But Miller had no use for a photojournalist. He needed a helping hand.

I flashed back to the chaos of combat in Fallouja. In the rattle and thunder, brick walls separated me from the world coming to an end. In the tight spaces, we were scared mindless. Everybody dragged deeply on cigarettes.

Above the din, I heard what everybody was thinking: This is the end.

I’ve never felt so completely alone.

I snapped back to the present, and before I knew it, the words spilled out.

“I have to ask you something, Blake,” I said. “If I’d gone down in Fallouja, would you have carried me out?”

“Damn straight,” he said, without hesitation.

“OK then,” I said. “I think you’re wounded pretty badly. I want to help you.”

He looked at me for a moment. “All right,” he said.

luis.sinco@latimes.com

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-marlboroman11nov11-blurb,0,5435312.blurb

10 Actions for Responding to a Veteran in Crisis

1620522_657754587621156_365710197_nFor more than a decade now, our country has been at war in two very different locations, with very different missions. In that time, more than 2.2 million troops have deployed and served in those bloody conflicts. They have endured unimaginable heat, bitter cold, and sand storms that peel the skin off your bones; they’ve missed births of children, weddings of friends, anniversaries of parents, and funerals of fallen brothers; they’ve witnessed the wholesale slaughter of innocents and savage acts of hatred and violence, as well as acts of such immense bravery, honor, and sacrifice as to change forever their version of courage.

But living through all that does something to you.

The civilian world often says with a bewildered shake of its collective heads, “We’ve lost so many young people during these wars.” But in truth, only those who were there, or loved those who were there, have truly suffered the losses. Since only 1% of America puts on a military uniform, the rest of America has remained largely untouched. It is the 2.2 million who bear the greatest burden; most of them lost someone they knew, sometimes right before their eyes. It’s also the 6,500 families who are devastated by the death of their loved one, who welcome home a flag-draped coffin, and who mourn in silence for years afterward.

Living through all that does something to you, too.

Tens of thousands of combat-weary warriors are now being discharged out of the military, often without a game plan as to what they will do next. Many of them entered the military right out of high school, so being a warrior is the only job they’ve ever had. And translating their specific skill set to civilian employment is tricky.

Now, after eight years of service, they take off the uniform that is their identity, turn in the weapon that they feel closer to than their own mother, leave behind a highly structured, mission-driven system with a clear chain of command, and enter into a world that looks utterly insane to them—a place where phenomenally popular “reality TV” is comic book dumb and bears no resemblance to the hard, cold reality they’ve lived.

Many of them are using their GI Bill and entering college, but are quickly learning that school is a different kind of battlefield, fraught with insensitive professors, clueless peers, and (thanks to getting their bell badly rung by an IED or two) new learning difficulties. Most are adapting, growing, and building new lives for themselves that make all of us proud. But some of them are really struggling.

Some don’t know how to handle the disorienting re-entry, not to mention the bad memories that sometimes run in their heads like horror movies they can’t turn off. So they drink, they drug, and they isolate themselves, partly because they are trying to achieve some inner quiet, and partly out of fear that one day they might completely lose control.

If that sad day comes, and the rage gets away from them, they usually rage against the people they love, often because even in their presence, the combat veteran feels misunderstood and very alone. Sometimes they aim their rage at themselves and put a 9mm in their mouths, wanting just to ease the crushing guilt they feel over having survived when their brothers didn’t.

But either way, when a battle-hardened combat veteran is involved, these won’t be your typical 911 calls. These guys are not only trained to kill, they’re desensitized to the sights, sounds, and sensations of killing; the usual hesitation in pulling the trigger has been trained out of them. Imagine your SWAT team being called out twice a day for 365 days in a row. Tactically, that’s the amount of experience you could be up against when you encounter a combat veteran.

These situations will require heightened awareness and additional skills to bring the incident to a positive resolution. The following are guidelines to help you navigate your way through the situation and reach the other side safely.

1. Look for clues that your subject is a veteran. Optimally, your dispatcher should routinely ask callers if they know whether the subject is a veteran. That will give you a leg up. The next obvious cues are things like dog tags, a military tattoo, combat uniform, desert boots, or a distinct military bearing. Also listen to what the subject says. Use of military words or phrases (e.g., “weapon” for gun, “squared away” for things being OK, “Groundhog’s Day” for the sameness of every day, etc.) are hard to stop saying after eight years. If the situation allows you to actually talk with the subject, ask him directly, “Have you ever served in the military?” If yes, see if you can get any additional information from him without escalating him, such as which branch he served in, where he deployed to, and how long ago he got home. The more information you obtain, the more leverage you’ll have to work with.

2. Once you’ve determined the subject is a combat veteran, take extra safety precautions. Most veterans I know carry a weapon on them all the time—usually a knife, sometimes a Ka-Bar. But some of them will also have a firearm in a gym bag or in their vehicle somewhere. Remember: their M4 was their guardian angel for many years. They feel tremendously vulnerable without something to replace it. If you’ve been called to a veteran’s home for a fight, domestic situation, or suicidal gesture, assume there are weapons and ammo in the house.

3. When a veteran decompensates, the situation can become violent very quickly. If at all possible, establish some distance between the subject and everyone else around him. Phrases such as, “Hey, let’s give him some breathing room, folks, give the guy some air,” can clear some people away without insulting the veteran. This type of non-confrontational response will also decrease the veteran’s sense of threat, which is crucial in helping the veteran to feel safe.

4. Keep in mind that the veteran’s actions may be somewhat or completely out of his conscious control at that moment. He’s probably in nine kinds of pain and probably hasn’t gotten the help he deserves. So if it is at all appropriate and feasible, thank him for his service. Even if you have to take him down and handcuff him, try to be as respectful as possible. Do what you can to help the veteran save face. Obviously, in a foot chase, you’re not stopping to make nice. If the guy is threatening you, you’re not thanking him for his sacrifice. But if, for instance, it’s a suicide gesture or the guy is in an argument with someone, thanking him changes the tone of the encounter and builds rapport, which is key to de-escalation and resolution.

5. Combat veterans can have some pretty dramatic responses to being startled. My advice: minimize the surprises. You can’t control noises on the street or what other people do, but if, for instance, you need to pull out a pad and pen, don’t just suddenly reach into your pocket—his warrior brain may kick in and think you’re attacking him. Cue him into what you’re doing by saying, “I’m just going to take some notes.”

6. A corollary to that is to do things that will calm him. For instance, maintain an exterior that looks relaxed and confident. Use supportive language. Control your own voice; he’ll sense anger or disgust in your tone, which he’ll interpret as being disrespectful. If one of his kids is crying or his girlfriend is screaming at him, find a way of separating him from that. Neurologically, he’s torqued up, and additional stressors like that can escalate things unnecessarily.

7. If you have any ties to the military yourself, or if your family member served in Iraq or Afghanistan, mention it. If you have any ties to New York City, tell him something like, “I personally appreciated you going over there and kicking the crap out of Bin Laden.” The more real you can be with him, the less likely his subconscious is to view you as an enemy when it comes time for you to take action and the more likely he is to drop his defensive posture.

8. Let him talk, as long as it is helping him wind down. Validate how tough his situation is (whatever that may be). If he’s ranting about something going on in his life, don’t argue with him, just nod your head and say something non-committal like, “Yeah, that sounds like a tough situation.” Time is your friend in these cases. Sometimes, the guy just needs to have a reason (jail) to regain control.

9. Think of the subject’s behavior as symptoms of an injury, not as a mental illness. I’ve never understood how a soldier witnessing his best friend or battle buddy getting blown apart makes him disordered. Far more empowering (and accurate) is that the soldier has been injured by the experience. An injury requires some care and some time, maybe even some adjustments afterwards, but doesn’t label the person as “broken.” If you approach the subject with the understanding that he is injured vs. emotionally disturbed, he’ll be far more likely to trust and connect with you.

10. If at any point the subject begins saying things that make no sense or are incongruous to the time and place, call the paramedics immediately and clear the area. If he starts shouting something like, “We’re three clicks away and under fire!” or if he starts calling out names of people who are not present, he is most likely experiencing a flashback and is living out a memory. That means he’s unpredictable. He may look straight at your uniform with the U.S. flag on it and, in his state, be absolutely convinced you are a suicide bomber about to detonate. He has no control over this behavior and cannot be “talked out of it,” and attempting to do so may agitate him further. If he appears to be living out a battle scene, create as large of a perimeter for him as possible, let him know that the “medics” are on their way “to help with the wounded” and alert EMS to the situation when they arrive. And remember, be respectful. These are symptoms of a significant injury.

Given what they’ve been through, our veterans deserve our most profound compassion and assistance. Special veteran courts are being established nationwide and are allowing many veterans to receive clinical care instead of getting lost in the legal system. They can, and will, heal, if we as a nation become savvy enough to work toward giving them a leg up instead of a hand out.

Alison Lighthall, RN, BSN, MSN,FIAS is the editor of The American Institute of Stress’s Combat Stress e-magazine. She is also president of Hand2Hand Contact, a veteran-owned and operated training and consulting company that helps civilian organizations to better understand, work with, and care for veterans. She served as a captain in the Army Nurse Corps from 2004–2007, and is a member of the ILEETA trainers organization.

– See more at: http://www.stress.org/10-actions-for-responding-to-a-veteran-in-crisis/#sthash.N2hv8aW3.dpuf

Visit Hidden Wounds’s profile on Pinterest.

Bush hosts summit on helping veterans transition

DALLAS (AP) — Efforts must be made to end the stigma attached to post-traumatic stress disorder, which can hinder military veterans’ transition into civilian life and employment, former President George W. Bush said Wednesday.

Addressing a summit at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Bush said some veterans are reluctant to seek help and that employers often don’t realize the condition can be treated.

“As a result of public misunderstanding, employers sometimes cite it as a reason for not hiring vets,” Bush said.

“As most doctors today will tell you, post-traumatic stress is not a disorder. Post-traumatic stress or PTS is an injury that can result from the experience of war,” he said. “And like other injuries, PTS is treatable.”

Bush said his institute has been working with Syracuse University on a study of the issues affecting veterans who have served since 9/11. Bush said full results of the study will be released this spring and that the information will help employers understand what veterans have to offer, noting that both veterans and employers have a hard time translating military experience.

“You don’t see many job postings that say: ‘Wanted: Experience hunting insurgents and terrorists. Willing to risk life for co-workers,'” Bush said.

“Or what’s a veteran supposed to put down?” he asked. “My last office was a Humvee?”

He said that the institute will also work with higher education officials on how to recruit and retain veterans.

“We recognize that in helping our veterans we can unleash the potential of a generation of resourceful, determined and experienced leaders,” Bush said.

Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, also spoke at the summit that included panel discussions with former military leaders, business people and nonprofit leaders. Jill Biden and first lady Michelle Obama founded the Joining Forces campaign to rally the country around its servicemen and servicewomen.

“Our military families have done so much for our country and each of us can do something in return,” she said.

The summit is part of the institute’s Military Service Initiative, which has also hosted golf tournaments and mountain bike rides for those wounded while serving in the military. The institute is part of Bush’s presidential center on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Associated Press
Posted on February 20, 2014

Suicides in the Army declined sharply in 2013

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Suicides in the Army fell by 19 percent in 2013, dramatically reversing a rising trend plaguing the Army for almost 10 years.

There were 150 suicides among soldiers on active-duty status last year, down from a record 185 in 2012, according to Army data. The numbers include both confirmed and suspected suicides.

Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, chief of Army personnel, says he is cautiously optimistic in seeing success in Army programs to avert suicides by giving soldiers coping strategies for keeping a positive or optimistic outlook.

“I’m not declaring any kind of victory here,” Bromberg says. “It’s looking more promising.”

Within the ranks, it has meant that people such as Levertis Jackson, an Afghanistan War veteran whose despair led him several times to try to kill himself, have chosen life.

“It was like before, all my doors were closed, and I’m in a dark room,” says Jackson, 41, married and father of four. “(Now) I look for reasons why I need to continue to live.”

He left the Army last year after completing an experimental treatment plan at Fort Carson that helps soldiers cope with deadly, self-destructive impulses. Research results slated to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show a promising 60 percent reduction in suicide attempts by 30 soldiers who participated in the program.Efforts such as this one conducted by the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah and the University of Memphis are part of complex effort by the Army to reduce suicides. Larger initiatives include years of expanding behavioral health counseling.

“I think we’ve hit the turning point where people are really, really talking about behavioral health and the fact that it’s OK to have problems. It’s what you do with those problems that’s important,” Bromberg says.

The Army has spent tens of millions of dollars in a long-term study of suicide, teaming with the National Institutes of Health, and has developed a comprehensive program of instilling emotional resilience in soldiers.

Suicide researchers say the decline may be the inevitable result of the nation ending involvement in one war in Iraq and winding down its role in another in Afghanistan.

“I get the sense when I work with military people now, they just don’t seem as burnt out as they used to be,” says Craig Bryan, associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies. “I mean there was a while there, they were just driven into the ground, even if they’d not been deployed, it was just keep going more, more, more, more.”

Bromberg agrees. “I think we’d be naive to think that this period of stress and strain doesn’t impact families and soldiers in some way,” he says.

Scientists may never know precisely what led to a steep rise in suicides that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described as an epidemic.

Many agree it was fueled by the cumulative strain of fighting two wars at once, an unprecedented demand on an all-volunteer force in which family separations, multiple deployments and combat exposure became a way of life for years.

During periods of weeks or months, more troops were dying by their own hand than were killed in combat, according to military data.

The Army’s many suicides drove up totals for the entire military, leading to a record 351 such deaths among active-duty troops in 2012 — the deadliest suicide year on record for U.S. forces. The subsequent decline in suicides for the Army last year appeared to have the same effect, pushing down total Defense Department suicide numbers for 2013.

Though the Pentagon has not released its 2013 final figures, internal documents show 284 actual and presumed suicides among active-duty troops for the year through Dec. 15, a pace that would leave it significantly lower than 2012 suicides.Even as these deaths among active-duty soldiers declined last year, deaths among those on inactive status — members of the National Guard or reserve who were not called into active duty — remained at record levels.

The Army reported a record 151 suicides among these “citizens soldiers,” whose only contact with the Army are drills one weekend a month and two weeks of training each year. That’s an increase from 140 suicides in this group of soldiers in 2012.

The 150 suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2013 is the lowest number for that service branch since 2008. About one in five of those suicides last year were by soldiers who had never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Army figures.

By Gregg Zoroya
USA Today
Published: January 31, 2014

Powered By: Push Digital