Breaking Ground At the Center of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury

June 8, 2008

In late January I told our readers about the DoD Center of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, that will be directed by newly promoted Brig. General Loree Sutton. I’m happy to let our readers know that on Thursday May 5th, the offical ground breaking ceremony was held in Bethesda, Maryland. What’s unique about the groundbreaking ceremony, is that Wounded Warriors joined Brig. Gen. Sutton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake in breaking ground for the new center. The center will provide state of the art treatment and is scheduled to open in late 2009. The center will provide rehabilitation and follow-up treatment for servicemembers suffering from TBI, PTSD and other complex psychological issues. The center will also serve as a research, testing and educational center.

“Above all, this center represents America’s dedication to providing first-class treatment for Troops who may be suffering combat-related stress and mental illness,” Gates said.

“Recently, the military, along with our partners in the VA and private sector have gone a long way toward putting programs and processes in place to deal with the psychological consequences of what has turned out to be a long war … This facility will provide a holistic approach featuring the latest advances to provide care for Troops and their Families throughout the recovery process,” Gates continued, noting that while technology has saved the lives of Soldiers, their brain injuries are not well understood yet.

One of the Wounded Warriors who participated in the ground breaking ceremony, was SPC Freddie Meyers. On May 3, 2007, SPC Meyers was shot in the head with an armor-piercing round that drove pieces of his skull into his brain. That resulted in a traumatic brain injury so catastrophic, that his doctors believed that he died three times. Read more

Army’s Committment To Mental Health Care & Prevention Of Suicides

May 31, 2008

On Thursday afternoon, I had the pleasure of participating in the Bloggers Roundtable discussion on Behavioral Health & Suicide Prevention. Speakers for the discussion were Lt. Co. Thomas E. Languirand, Chief of Command Policies and Programs Division, Chaplain (Col) Charles D. Reese, Office of the Chief of Chaplains and Col. Elspeth Ritchie, Psychiatric consultant to the Army Surgeon General.

LTC Languirand opened the discussion by saying that the Army values the well-being of it’s Soldiers and their Families. He emphasized that the Army is committed to them by ensuring that they can learn to increase their coping skills. The Army is committed to addressing the risk factors and to remove the stigma that is associated with seeking mental health care for problems. LTC Languirand stressed that the Army feels that even one suicide is one suicide too many and the Army is actively pursuing educational means and interventions that they hope will decrease the number of suicides in the military. Things that are being used, such as the Army’s Battlemind Training, are being utilized prior to and following deployments. That training as well is being offered to family members. The training is designed to teach Soldiers and their family members to recognize signs of problems, so that they can encourage each other and their family members to seek help when necessary. I’ve reviewed the Battlemind Training for Soldiers as well as the training for Family members and it’s definately a step in the right direction. The hope is that by teaching Soldiers what to look out for in each other and teaching Family members what to look for with their Soldiers returning from downrange, they can help in the prevention of suicides and other mental health problems. It’s great training and I encourage anyone who has contact with Soldiers to go to the Army Battlemind Training Website and utilize the information that is provided there.

Chaplain (Col) Reese then explained the role of Chaplains in suicide prevention and mental health care, saying that they offer religious and spiritual support for Soldiers and their Families. Chaplains also provide Soldiers and their Family members assistance with learning coping skills both during and after deployments. When units deploy downrange, Chaplains deploy with them, to offer their support with the myriad of difficulties that can arise during the deployment. Chaplains are also an essential piece in dealing with routine and crisis situations and they are the primary trainers in the Army for suicide prevention.

The last speaker, Col. Ritchie spoke in length about the ways in which the Army is working to expand their intensive out-patient programs, in order to ensure that Soldiers and their Family members have the assistance available to them that is necessary. She went on to mention the Holistic approaches that are beginning to be utilized in the treatment of PTSD, in suicide prevention and the treatment of TBI’s. There are several pilot programs in place, such as the Restoration and Resilience Center in Fort Bliss that I’ve reported about in the past. As you may recall, the program at Fort Bliss, utilizes alternative medicine, such as yoga, meditation, martial arts, qigong, reiki and accupuncture, to name a few. A similar program is in place at Walter Reed. Col. Ritchie stated that at this time, the programs are in the research stages and that they’re watching closely to monitor their results in the programs. Col. Ritchie also mentioned programs being conducted utilizing Virtual Reality in Fort Sill, Ok., Ft. Lewis, Wash. and at Walter Reed. Having read extensively about these programs and the successes they’ve had so far, I’m pretty impressed and feel that both of the programs bear watching, as programs that may prove extremely successful in treating Soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI’s.

Col. Ritchie stressed that the Army is actively looking to expand the number of mental health providers. They are also looking at increasing the number of Tricare providers and are working to help educate civilian providers and expand their knowledge base to better treat Soldiers suffering from PTSD. Efforts are also underway to educate primary care providers on how to treat PTSD.

The floor was open for discussion and many great questions were asked and answered. One participant had concerns about a Soldier seeking mental health help and staff at emergency rooms not picking up on signs of depression. Col. Ritchie responded by saying that Soldiers who are exhibiting signs of mental health problems are seen in the military emergency rooms by mental health workers and those problems are being addressed in the emergency rooms. She did admit that no system is perfect and that occasionally someone who may not vocalize that they’re experiencing depression or looking to harm themselves, may not be recognized, that they are working hard to ensure that no one needing mental health care falls through the cracks.

Mental Health care in Iraq and Afghanistan were addressed as well, with the participant asking if Soldiers were being prescribed anti-depressants downrange without being fully diagnosed with depression. Col. Ritchie assurred that mental health providers are in theater and are thoroughly evaluating patients to ensure that they receive the appropriate care. Evaluations used in theater are the same as evaluations utilized in the states. She stressed that providers understand the importance of correct diagnosis prior to prescribing medication.

The last question addressed the stigma of a Soldier seeking mental health help and how the Army was addressing that to ensure that Soldiers aren’t stigmatized when asking for help. Col. Ritchie stated that the military as a whole is dedicated to ensuring that the stigma is removed and the DoD has taken the lead to ensure that by revising the questionnaire for national security positions, patrticulary question 21. The revised question, she said, now excludes non-court-ordered counseling related to marital, family or grief issues, or counseling for issues related to military service in a combat zone. Another step is educating Soldiers and leadership on the importance of seeking help that the Army is actively pursuing. They are also working to ensure that leadership encourages Soldiers who need help with mental health issues, such as PTSD or depression, to seek that help and not stigmatize the Soldier when they do seek help.

This roundtable discussion was very informative and highlighted the many avenues the Army is actively taking to ensure that our Soldiers and their Family members receive the best care possible as quickly as possible.

Defenselink Bloggers Roundtable


Soldier/Cowboy Launches Army’s Wounded Warrior Sports Program

May 28, 2008

On February 11, 2007, SPC Jake Lowrey was in Fallujah, Iraq when he and a fellow Soldier were hit by an IED that left his fellow Soldier dead and left Lowrey severely injured. Lowrey lost his right eye, sustained a massive head injury from the explosion and suffers from PTSD. Less than a year after being injured, Lowrey, who’s been a cowboy all of his life, was back atop a horse and roping steers.

“This pretty much keeps me going - it’s the only thing that does,” Lowrey said. “Without it, I’d just be hanging out in my room somewhere.”

On May 10th and 11th, Lowrey officially launched the US Army Wounded Warrior Sports Program, by participating in a team-roping performance at Denny Calhoun Arena in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The program was designed to provide active-duty Soldiers who have sustained life-altering injuries, the opportunity to compete in a sporting event. The Army Wounded Warrior Sports Program pays for their athletic attire, registration fees, transportation and lodging and per deims. Lowrey traveled from his home in Alaska to El Paso, Texas and joined up with his fmaily for a ride to Silver City, N.M. There, he, his stepfather and grandfather loaded up a trailer with their horses and drove on to Las Cruces to participate in a weekend of roping. All three of them participated in the Troy Shelley Affiliate event.

“This is one of the best things the Armed Forces could have done, because it’s just therapy for these guys who feel like, ‘I lost that,’” said Retired SFC Pete Escobedo, Lowrey’s grandfather. “If you really want to do something with yourself … Jacob is a prime example. He’s really trying. We’re thankful for the Army for doing everything it can for him.”

Lowrey did well in the competition. In the first round he successfully roped two of six steers, in the first round. In the second round, he roped two more and another in the third round. That left him in third place in the event. In the last round, his steer got away. Despite his injuries and the limit it places on his depth perception, Lowrey was encouraged that his roping skills will continue to improve. Since his injury, he’s already won an all-around crown in Alaska and teaming with his step-father, he captured a team roping title at the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association’s 2007 World Finals that were held in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I’m not back where I was, by any means,” Lowrey said. “I just keep practicing and hope it eventually comes back.”

Since his injury, Spc Lowrey has struggled with coming to grips with his injuries. His step-father, knowing him so well, felt like getting him back on a horse and doing something that he loves is probably the best therapy for him, that he could think of. Over the weekend in Las Cruces, the three generations of cowboys took turns roping steers.

“Jake has done remarkably well in coping with his injury,” said his grandfather Pete Escobedo. “Instead of saying: ‘Well I’m injured,’ he says: ‘I’m going to do what I can. The Good Lord handed me this hand, so I’m going to do with what he dealt me the best I can.’”

His step-father and grandfather are both proud of what he’s accomplished since his injury, though both are aware that what’s happend to him, have changed him. Both feel it’s important for him to stay active and not allow him to sink into depression and self-pity. So, they do what they can to keep him active and doing things that he enjoys. By doing so, they in turn teach him that despite his injuries, he can participate in the things he enjoys and excel at them.

“If we can ever get him where he’ll just start talking again and intermingling with people and not being paranoid, I think life will be good,” said John Escobedo, his step-father. “When he’s on horseback or working out, he’s a normal guy. But we’ll be sitting at the house watching TV or something and it ain’t the same buy. We drove six or seven to the world finals - 14 hours of drive time - and he probably said three words. But you stick him on a horse or in the gym, where his comfort zone is, and he’s fine.”

Jake believes his desire to get back on a horse, get active and participate in what he loves, sets him apart from some of his wounded peers. While some of them were stuck pitying themselves and didn’t want to do anything, Jacob couldn’t wait to get active again and start doing the things he loves to do.

“Some of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation people told me about it (Wounded Warrior Sports Program) when I was at the Warrior Transition Unit,” SPC Lowrey said. “About two days later, I sent in the paperwork. I sent them about four or five events they could pick from.”

Army sports specialist Mark Dunivan, feels that this was the perfect venue for Spc Lowrey. He said he expects more applicants to follow and began participating in the program. He’s already been contacted by an amputee who wants to run in the USA Triathlon Physically Challenged National Champions, that is scheduled for July in New York. The hopes are, that as the word begins to spread about the program, that more Wounded Warriors will participate.

This is a great way for our Wounded Warriors to begin walking down the path to their recovery. So many of them were involved in different sporting events prior to joining the military, as well as during their time in the military. People like SPC Lowrey, Major David Rozelle and scores of other Wounded Warriors who have not let their injuries stop them from participating in sporting events that they love, serve as fantastic role models to other Wounded Warriors.

To discover more about the Army Wounded Warrior Sports Program, please visit the Army MWR website, or contact Army Sports Specialist Mark Dunivan by email at .

Fisher House and Best Buy Team Up Again For Troops & Their Families

May 23, 2008

Last year, we highlighted a partnership between Best Buy and Fisher House to benefit our Troops and their families. Once again, they’re joining forces to equip Fisher House’s national network of “homes away from home” for service members receiving medical care and their families. Their goal is to equip the homes with even more technology, to allow them to stay in touch with their families and friends, while they’re away from home during hospital stays.

From May 25th to June 14th, Best Buy is launching a campaign nationwide, in order to generate support from their employees, customers and partners. Best Buy customers are able to donate to Fisher House at any Best Buy location, from the Best Buy website. Partners of Best Buy, including Samsung, Toshiba, Gateway and LG are donating flat screen televisions, lap top computers and appliances to the campaign.

This year, Fisher House has been designated as the Indy 500 charity. Proceeds from branded t-shirts and dog tags that will be sold during race week will benefit the charity. Best Buy employees will be on hand to staff the sales areas throughout the race. Best Buy employees will also be at the Fisher House in Richmond, Virginia in June to install newly donated computers and appliances. The Fisher House logo will also be featured on the Best Buy NASCAR car for the Coca Cola 600 to be run on May 25th.

As many of you are aware, Fisher House is a not for profit organization that builds and donates to the government homes on the grounds of military medical centers to ensure that the families of service members receiving treatment at these facilities can have their families close by during their hospitalization and recovery. Fisher House began that program in 1990 and in 1994 a similar program at VA medical centers began. Currently there are 38 Fisher Houses across the United States with 5 more under construction. Over 110,000 families have been served to date.

If you’d like to take part in this worthwhile campaign, please visit the Best Buy website. If you’re going to be attending the Indy 500, consider purchasing some of the merchandise that will be on sale to benefit the Fisher House Foundation. Everything that you contribute will go to benefit the men and women of our Armed Forces who are patients at a military medical center. You CAN make a difference for our Wounded Warriors and their families!

Best Buy Online Fisher House Donation

Fisher House

Fort Riley Launches Warrior Internship Network

May 15, 2008

For wounded warriors who may not stay in the military, after recovering from their injuries, one thing that weighs heavily on their minds, is what kind of work they’ll be able to do, once they become civilians. It’s something that’s a huge worry to many of them, because often, they’ve spent much of their adult life in the military and their jobs skills sometimes don’t transfer well into the civilian workplace. Programs such as this, set the Soldiers transitioning into civilian life, allow the transitioning Soldier the opportunity to succeed and excel.

At Fort Riley, Kansas, it’s been recognized that this can be a problem and officials there have taken their Warrior Transition Unit one step further, by partnering with the Junction City, Kansas based Welcome Home to Heroes Foundation to create the Warrior Internship Network. Soldiers who participate in the program are placed as interns within approved businesses, in order to gain experience in different vocations and provide them with practical job skills that can aid them in obtaining employment once they’re out of the military.

“The WIN provides a mutally positive opportunity for the Soldiers and the community,” said Col. Lee Merritt, commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Riley. “This is Fort Riley stepping out to do right by our injured and ill Soldiers, and this benefits the Greater Fort Riley community, by putting valuable Soldier skills, experience and discipline assets into the local business community.”

Soldiers who are interested in the program, are screened to determine the types of jobs that they’re capable of doing, as well as to determine what types of jobs that they might be interested in. Through the WIN program, there are a vast number of options available to the Soldier. They might chose to learn the construction trade, learn mechanics, not only on cars, but planes and motorcycles. They may decide that they’d be interested in becoming a massage therapist or perhaps work as a deejay at one of the local radio stations. Business from many different fields are participating in the program.

“The workplaces and the Soldiers have to be mutually right for each other,” said Tom Kelly, guidance counselor for the Warrior Transition Brigade’s Soldier and Family Assistance Center. “The businesses must be safe, ergonomically sound and provide a positive work experience based upon a good match with a Soldier-intern.”

One Soldier participating in the program, Sgt. John Iaukea was trained as a tank mechanic in the Army. He was able to utilize his analytical and mechanical skills in a job at Geary Community Hospital. He feels that the program is the best thing the Army has done for him, as he’s able to fill his days with productive and meaningful work, instead of sitting around worrying about his injuries and whether his decreased physical abilities would affect being able to get a job.

This is a great opportunity for the young men and women who are part of the Warrior Transition Units. I think it’s fantastic that the military is putting forth the effort they are to ensure that our wounded warriors are able to either stay in the military, or more easily transition into the civilian workforce. This is a program that should have been in place many years ago.

Fort Bliss Center Using “Holistic” Approach To Treat PTSD

May 14, 2008

PTSD is a topic that I covered a lot here at ASM. It’s a topic that’s on the minds of many of us, as we deal with our Troops, whether that’s through the various Troop Support Organizations we’re involved with, through our jobs or because we have a family member who’s in the military. The treatments for PTSD are evolving as more and more Troops are returning from combat zones and experiencing difficulties readjusting to life at home. PTSD is being addressed in the military as well as in the VA centers across the country.

At Fort Bliss, their new treatment program is one that is revolutionary in the way PTSD is approached and treated. The program, the brainchild of clinical psychologist John E. Fortunato, is one that uses a holistic approach to treating PTSD. According to Fortunato, his proposal wasn’t one that was met with open arms initially, because it involved utilizing holistic approaches such as yoga, massage therapy and other nontraditional approaches in the program. Fortunato was driven to develop the program, from his frustration in seeing Soldiers with PTSD who had difficulty coping, being forced out of the military against their wishes. He pushed for the program and was able to gain approval for his prototype program. Fortunato was convinced that the traditional methods of treating PTSD weren’t long enough in duration, weren’t intense enough or comprehensive enough. So he set his sights on creating a program that would address all aspects of PTSD and treat the “whole soldier.” The Fort Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center opened last summer. The participants in the program, all volunteers, typically take about half the amount of medication that people in the more traditional mental-health programs take.

“That’s because we’re doing a bunch of other things,” Fortunato said.

One of the symptoms of PTSD that many Soldiers experience is hyper arousal. At the center in Fort Bliss, staff treat those symptoms with techniques such as medical massage and “Reiki” which is a Japanese stress-reduction technique. Accupuncture has also proven to be extremely effective, in treating the anxiety, panic and tension induced physical pain that many of the Soldiers experience.

According to Fortunato, there is a big physical component to the program as well. Soldier’s who participate in the program are required to walk at least 10,000 steps per day, which includes a 45 minute power walk. They are also involved in playing water polo three times per week, which forces them to interact with other people. Often, people suffering from PTSD would rather avoid interacting with other people, preferring instead to isolate themselves from family and friends.

“That’s another piece of PTSD. They want to socially isolate. They don’t like to interact with other people,” he said. “So we have them interact with the people they feel most comfortable with: other Soldiers with PTSD.”

The Soldiers are also involved in field trips throughout the program to places such as the mall and Walmart. Two places that they’d rather avoid, because those places are typically too big, too crowded and too noisy. They’re taught ways to regulate their stress level, so that they can handle the stress of the crowds and noise in those environments. Concentration and memory are other symptoms of PTSD that are addressed. Fortunato says that the programs mix of physical activity and calming techniques, appears to help with those areas. Soldiers also do yoga, tai chi, Quigong, which is a centuries old Chinese self-healing technique, as well as biofeedback.

“We have a meditation room that looks like it came out of a Zen monastery,” Fortunato said.

Though most people don’t think about it, PTSD also can cause damage to the “learning center” of a person’s brain. According to Fortunato, that’s due to the fact that the body’s stress hormone is elevated too high and for too long - quite common in combat troops.

“The good news is, the learning center is one of only two parts of the brain that can grow new cells,” he said.

To address this aspect of PTSD, participants are required to sit at a computer several times a day and work on mental exercises. This helps them to regain their cognitive functioning. With the goal of confronting and treating the “whole Soldier”, emotional and spiritual aspects are also addressed.

“Few Soldiers come back from war without images and events in their head,” Fortunato said. “Many ’suck it up and soldier on’ in the combat theater, because they have no choice. But when they return home, these issues can percolate to the surface as nightmares and other problems.”

To address these issues, the program uses “rehearsal therapy” to help them confront their most painful memories and experiences of combat. The Soldier tells that story, over and over again, until they’ve emptied it of it’s emotional punch. While they’ll never forget what happened, it doesn’t have to have the “grip on their guts” that it once did. Many Soldiers also find that combat has shaken their core spiritual beliefs and values as well. Chaplains work closely with them to address the spiritual aspect of their struggle with PTSD.

“We weren’t doing much to address this before,” Fortunato said, “But it’s critical to a Soldiers healing.”

The new prototype approach to treatment of PTSD seems to be successful so far. None of the techniques are new, they’ve just incorporated them all together, to treat the “whole Soldier.” 12 of the 37 Soldiers who initially volunteered for the program have now graduated and returned to their units. One of the recent graduates was a Soldier who was in a catatonic state last August and is now free of all signs of PTSD. According to Fortunato, only two of the 37 washed out of the program and were medically discharged from the Army.

Fortunato said that the program isn’t for everyone. He says thatthe program is a difficult one, with participants being required to participate in treatment 35 hours per week, which includes daily psychotherapy, daily group therapy and integrative medicine. Participants typically are busy from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Because of this, Fortunato said that the Soldiers have to be highly motivated to be able to take part in that much treatment each week. There isn’t a set timetable for completing the program, however Fortunato said that they’re seeing that 6 months appears to be the optimal time for most of the Soldiers who’ve participated.

“As long as they are working hard, we are going to hang with them,” he said.

Fortunato feels that the cost of treating the Soldiers, between $14,000 and $20,000 is a bargain, compared to the cost to recruit and train a new Soldier and to provide lifelong disability payments and medical care to a Soldier who is discharged. He estimates that cost to be around $400,000. He’s convinced that the program is in the best interests of the Soldiers, and the Army as well.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the Restoration and Resilience Center at Fort Bliss. He was impressed and called the visit an ‘extraordinary experience.’

“They are doing some amazing things here in terms of helping Soldiers who want to remain Soldiers but who have been wounded with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Gates said. “It is a multi-month effort by a lot of caring people and they are showing some real success in restoring these Soldiers.”

Gates went on to say that he considered the center an example of the new approaches the military is taking to ensure Soldiers suffering from PTSD, receive the care they need. He said that he’s considering the idea of possibly replicating the Fort Bliss prototype to other military posts. I’m excited by this approach. It’s something that I’ve thought for a long time, would be a more effective way of helping our Troops deal with the effects of PTSD. I hope that the program continues to show success and their techniques and ideas can eventually be used at other military installations.


Inspiring Wounded Warriors To Excel

May 12, 2008

I’ve published stories here at A Soldier’s Mind in the past about the great things that have been accomplished by some of our Wounded Warriors. I’ve introduced you to two very special wounded veterans, both in this story and this one. Bob Kunkle and Joe Beimfohr have demonstrated time and time again, that with the desire to excel, even our Wounded Warriors can achieve whatever they set their mind to. Both of them were wounded in different wars, Bob in Viet Nam and Joe in Iraq. Both of them have overcome their injuries to lead full and productive lives and both of them have dedicated themselves to showing fellow wounded warriors, that being disabled, doesn’t mean they can’t protect themselves and it doesn’t mean that they can’t achieve their goals. I can’t say enough about the many lives that these two men have touched, especially the lives of other Wounded Warriors. They’re both inspirational and both have accomplished so much, despite the injuries they have fought to overcome.

When I wrote the first story about Joe and Bob and the self-defense method that they teach at Walter Reed, it didn’t dawn on me that I had met Joe before. After Joe stopped by to comment on the story, only then did I realize that I had met him before. When I lived in Maryland, myself and a friend visited numerous Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. We had stopped in Joe’s room to leave him a blanket and some other gifts and visit with him a bit. I was amazed at his positive , can do attitude, despite the fact that he was a double amputee. He told us about his goals and what he was going to accomplish in his life, and I’m happy to say that he’s accomplished exactly what he told us he was going to. Before I left that day, I got Joe’s email address, which is how I realized that I had had the pleasure of meeting this amazing young man.

Joe and Bob have started, what they call They’ve modified the techniques of Dan Zan Ryu Ju-Jitsu, as well as other forms of martial arts, into a system, designed to allow persons in a wheel chair or with other physical disabilities, to be able to defend themselves. For the past two years, Bob and Joe have been teaching these techniques to Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed and sharing their inspiring stories with the warriors they come into contact with. While Joe lives in the general area of Washington DC, Bob has quite a commute each time he visits Walter Reed, driving from Upstate New York. But distance and time away from his family and his job, don’t stop Bob from his dedication to reaching out to our Wounded Warriors to give them hope and inspiration and show them, from he and Joe’s firsthand experiences, that they CAN accomplish anything and their injuries don’t have to get in the way.

Bob and Joe have recently teamed up with a very gifted artist, Carol Culhane, who creates works of art in honor of our Heroes. Carol’s specialty is one of a kind ornaments. She creates these ornaments and presents them to the Heroes serving our country in our Armed Forces. Carol has created many such works of art and often provides her artwork to raise funds for various military organizations, as well as many other worthwhile charitable organizations. I could go on and on about Carol and her credentials, but if you visit her website, her art will tell you so much more. Carol currently is selling her ornaments to help ensure that Bob’s mission to continue to serve the Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed and other military hospitals can continue. All proceeds from the sale of Carol’s ornaments will go to help fund Bob’s continued service to our Wounded Warriors. Bob and Joe will soon be traveling to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, as well, to share their work with the Warriors being treated there. I’m looking forward to finally being able to meet Bob in person and once again meet up with Joe.

Carol recently was able to accompany Bob on one of his latest trips to Walter Reed and sent me a few pictures that I’d like to share with our readers. She shared her thoughts and feelings after making that trip and how actually being able to visit the Wounded Warriors was humbling and awe-inspiring and made her realize just how important what Bob and Joe do at Walter Reed is.

“I just wanted to touch base with regarding the Walter Reed visit. Bob and I spent four days with the soldiers and I was able to hand out approximately 52 ornaments and stands. What an experience!!!

I would love to continue to help Bob in his endeavors. It is obvious the need is greater than he will ever be able to fulfill.

I felt so humbled around the wounded and the people who care for them, their families and staff. What a remarkable experience.”

Please take some time to visit Carol’s website, as well as the website for Able Warriors Self Defense, read about the great work that Bob, Joe and Carol are doing and purchase an ornament for your favorite Soldier, family member or Gold Star Family. Remember all the proceeds will be used to help Bob and Joe continue their mission of helping other Wounded Warriors. Like Carol, what Bob and Joe are doing, is something that I believe in with all of my heart and I want to do everything possible to ensure that they succeed in their endeavor to help their fellow Wounded Warriors.

Just Me Art, Inc.

VA Allocates Another $2 Million For PTSD Center

May 3, 2008

Care for our Soldiers and Veterans after deployments to warzones is something that I follow closely here at ASM. It’s something that I deal with daily in my job, and it’s something that the military and Department of Veterans Affairs is working hard on, to ensure that our Troops who return with injuries, visible or invisible, are receiving the best care possible. Due to advances in medical science, more and more Troops are surviving injuries, that even in the Viet Nam era, they might not. Along with the physical wounds, are often mental health concerns that need to be addressed as well.

After many months of news reports and subsequent congressional hearings showing that gaps continue in mental health care for Veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Friday that it will be allocating an additional $2 million to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One of the big roadblocks in treating our Troops who suffer from PTSD is overcoming the stigma that still remains surrounding a Soldier or Veteran seeking mental health help. Many of our Troops, still feel that if they ask for help, that their leaders will consider them weak, or they believe that if they ask for help, it will affect their careers, or even that they might not be able to obtain their security clearances. Many things are being done to combat those misconceptions, such as military leaders at all levels, stressing to their Troops, the importance of seeking counseling if necessary. The Department of Defense just announced as well, that if a Soldier seeks help with mental health issues, it won’t affect their ability to retain or obtain a security clearance. With the VA allocating more monies to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, this will hopefully open the door for more Veterans and Soldiers to obtain the help they desperately need.

According to Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who is the chairman of the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee, the additional funding came after a series of conversations between senators and the VA Secretary, Dr. James Peake.

“An increasing number of veterans are struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues, which increases th demands placed on the National Center to research new and more effective ways of treating this disorder,” Akaka said.

Over the past 5 years, the VA budget has been flat and currently staffing levels are lower than they were in 1999. Along with the Department of Defense’s announcement earlier in the week, which is designed to combat the stigma on mental health care, this will hopefully encourage more Soldiers and Veterans to seek help if they’re suffering from PTSD.

In his announcement on Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the government will no longer ask about PTSD during the security clearance process. According to Gates, one question in the process asks if a person has ever sought hel for mental health issues, is a hinderance to care.

“A year ago last February, the Army inspector general concluded that a number of Soldiers were not seeking help, in part because they felt that seeking mental health help would endanger their security clearance and perhaps their career,” Gates said during a briefing at Fort Bliss, Texas. “It is not clear, to people who answer that question, that they can answer no if they have sought help to deal with their combat stress, in general terms.”

While the military and VA health care systems aren’t perfect, our Government is dedicated to fixing the problems that exist and ensuring that our Troops and our Veterans receive the very best medical care available. No, the problems aren’t all fixed yet, but we are seeing tangible evidence that they are making strides in the right direction.

Army Times

New Grant Aims To Heal Wounded Soldiers

April 22, 2008

With the advances in medicine that have been made, many of our Soldiers who are wounded in battle, are surviving injuries, that during previous wars, they would not have survived. However, many of them are surviving with significant impairments from their injuries.

It was recently announced, that several different academic and industry researchers will be working together towards finding a way to use advances in medicine, including stem cells, growth factors, tissue and biomaterial to help the bodies of the wounded warriors restore or replace damaged tissue, organs and bone.

Formed by the US Army, the Institute of Tegenerative Medicine will devote time and monetary grants into developing products and therapies to help repair traumatic injuries that are being suffered by Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Dartmouth are working as part of a consortium which is led by Rutgers University and the Cleveland Clinic. Another group, headed by Wake Forest University and the University of Pittsburg will be working on these issues as well. The group led by Massachusetts General will use clinicians and researchers from it’s Center for Military Biomaterials Research and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Another group in the Houston area, formed with Rice University and University of Texas Houston will increase the work they have been doing on growing bone tissue for facial injuries. The initiative is a huge undertaking, involving a very young science, stem cell research.

“The initiative will work to develop techniques that help make our Soldiers whole again,” Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker said at its announcement at the Pentagon on Thursday. “It will use the Soldiers’ own stem cells to repair nerve damage, regrow muscles and tendons, repair bone wounds, help them heal without scarring … and help in the cranial reconstruction of severe head injuries.”

While I know that there’s been a lot of controversy over the use of stem cells, that has mainly been in the usage of stem cells from a fetus. This however, is different, since they will be using the Soldiers’ own stem cells. This could prove to be very promising for our Troops, who are wounded in battle. I’m really looking forward to watching as this develops and to hear the results. This could be a major breakthrough in dealing with the types of injuries that we’ve seen coming from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Houston Chronical

White Coat Notes

VA Payments Differ From State To State

April 14, 2008

One would think that when a Military Member retires from the military or becomes disabled, that the payment they receive would be the same, regardless of what state they lived in. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Veterans in Ohio, ranked second-to-last in the amount of compensation that they receive for disabilities. Because of this, federal lawmakers are looking into why disabled veterans in other states receive, in some cases, thousand of dollars more.

In Ohio, more than 85,000 veterans receive disability payments and on average, their compensation is less than their peers in other states, according to a 2006 Veterans Affairs survey. Indiana is the only state, where veterans earned less than those in Ohio.

“The veterans living in Ohio sacrificed as much as veterans living elsewhere,” said Representative Zack Space, a Dover Democrat. “There is no reason that a veteran here should receive less than veterans in other states.”

Representative Space is pushing for the VA to have a national standard for payments to disabled veterans. For example, veterans in Ohio earn as much as $4,800 less than those in New Mexico. Veterans in Oklahoma, receive $4,185 more than those in Ohio and those in West Virginia earn $3,857 more. Space and other lawmakers on the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, are looking into this disparity. One reason for the difference, is that each state’s veterans system sets its own standards for disability compensations. The differences can range from what one states considers “partial disability” which might be considered “total disability” in another. The very same veteran, might be considered as a more serious case, from one state to another and thus eligible for a greater payment.

“There should be a standard rate for all veterans across the US,” said Frank Anderson, a veteran from East Cleveland.

Representative Space has introduced a bill, which would instruct the VA to oversee the system and evaluate how each state rates disabilities. Some veterans are skeptical though, as to whether such legislation could solve the problem.

“Every one of us is different,” said Richard Healy, a 61 year old who helps other disabled veterans file their forms. “If a doctor, for instance, says a veteran is minimally disabled for post traumatic stress disorder, what does “minimally” mean” Interpretation is a big factor.”

Some feel that the VA lacks meaningful training for those who make the decisions on the amount of disability that a veteran may have. According to VA spokesman, Steven Westerfeld, the VA is starting to train their workers who are tasked with deciding each veteran’s level of disability. As well, Mr. Westerfeld says that the VA is considering the consolidation of the grading system.

This is a problem that definitely need to be fixed. Our veterans, regardless of the state they reside in, should be compensated the same for their injuries. Each state should have the same rating system in place and follow the exact same guidelines. Training is a must, for those who are making those decisions. I look at it this way … our veterans have given a portion of their lives to serve our country and they should, each and every one of them, be shown the respect, by compensating them in the same manner. That’s the least they deserve.

Army Times

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