Get the facts on PTSD


By Debbie Gregory.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be experienced by anyone after witnessing or enduring a traumatic event. While PTSD has recently become intertwined with the post-war experience of many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, anyone can suffer from it. In fact, nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population will experience some level of the disorder in their lifetime. Still, the general public continues to believe myths and misconceptions about the disorder as people both in and out of the military struggle to recover.

The most common misconceptions:

  1. PTSD is in your head, it’s something you make up. As previously stated, PTSD may occur after someone is involved or witnesses a traumatic experience. Symptoms may not surface for hours or years afterwards. Often, classic PTSD symptoms such as nightmares, hyper-vigilance, short-temper, social disconnect or the feeling of always being on-edge may be triggered by later events. The trigger could be the anniversary of the trauma, loud noises, or stressful situations. Those who suffer from PTSD view the world differently, because in order to process the pain, their brains function differently following the trauma.
  2. Weak people suffer from PTSD. There is no one type of personality prone to suffering from PTSD. Many recent military leaders and Medal of Honor recipients have publicly documented their struggles with PTSD to encourage others to seek help.
  3. Only wounded soldiers suffer from PTSD. Anyone who has suffered a traumatic or highly stressful event can suffer from PTSD. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, many of the civilian rescue crews who picked through the rubble to locate victim’s bodies suffered PTSD. They were never harmed, and may not have been present on the day of the attack, but the process of cleaning up was stressful and damaging enough to prompt the onset of PTSD.
  4. Why doesn’t everyone who has suffered a trauma experience PTSD? It takes more than a horrible event to cause an individual to suffer PTSD. Researchers have found that many things play a role in determining who will develop PTSD, including genetics, past history of other traumas and the degree or duration of their exposure to traumatic events. Not everyone will develop PTSD after a traumatic event. However, for those that do, the disorder is a very real and difficult struggle.

If you or someone you know is or might be suffering from PTSD, take action and ask for help. Every branch of the military has developed programs to help servicemembers work toward recovery.

Check for resources at the National Directory (NRD),the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as well as the Services’ wounded warrior programs: Navy Safe Harbor, Army Wounded Warrior (AW2), Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2), the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment (USMCWWR) and the USSOCOM Care Coalition.

Wounded Warrior Becomes Military Doctor


By Debbie Gregory.

Army Capt. Christian Labra’s first experience with the military’s combat medicine was up close and personal.

Labra graduated from a U.S. Military Academy before he deployed to Iraq. The Iraq invasion had begun a few months before he deployed with the 1st Armored Division soldiers.  Army Captain Christian Labra was ready to serve his country and shared closeness with fellow soldiers.

Then one fateful night, while on patrol with another soldier, his life was changed. A wall that he believed was concealing a cache of weapons came tumbling down. The collapsed wall broke both Labra’s legs and his pelvis.

He received immediate assistance from a combat medic, and then was rushed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Initially, his spirit was as broken as his body. But Labra was inspired by the care he received as a wounded warrior, inspiring him to become a military doctor.

Labra especially remembers his orthopedic doctor, Army Maj. John Friedland. Also a West Point graduate, Friedland treated Labra’s broken bones, and inspired him to turn the worst experience of his life into something positive. Labra took Army Maj. Friedland’s advice.

More than ten years after being wounded in Iraq, Army Capt. Christian Labra has completed medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He is about to graduate from a three-year residency at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia.

Many wounded warriors go on to do great things after they’ve recovered from their injuries. Some eventually compete in the Paralympic Games, while some manage to return to active duty. For Army Capt. Christian Labra, recovery meant helping other soldiers who are going through what he did. Labra has become a doctor in an effort to not only treat fellow wounded warriors, but also as a tribute to the skilled physicians and surgeons who helped him recover.

Ten years later, Labra has turned tragedy to triumph. He abandoned plans to pursue a law degree, and instead, headed to the world of medicine.

As of 2012, more than 50,000 troops have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to figures from the Department of Defense. Labra’s success story should serve as a clear indication that many of these wounded warriors can achieve impressive levels of success.

New Military Opportunities for Women


By Debbie Gregory.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, women have already been serving in the military. Although women have died in these wars, they were not allowed to serve in combat units.  The Pentagon is ready to integrate women into the special forces, such as the Army Rangers and the Navy SEALs.

As Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine and Special Forces commanders detail steps they will take, some commanders do not share the same comfort level with the Pentagon initiative. However, in January, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta formally lifted the official ban on women in combat.

There have been concerns by some commandants as to how women might handle the very taxing physical demands of combat, and how men might view female troops in the elite forces.

There is no concrete evidence to suggest that female troops are any more susceptible to combat stress than their male counterparts.

Female marines train the same way as male marines. They shoot, exercise, plan battles and conduct military maneuvers the same way as their male counterparts. Several studies by the Defense Department’s Advisory Committee on Women in the Services have found that gender integration in noncombat units has no effect on overall unit cohesion.

The first opportunity female soldiers will have to join the military’s elite combat units will be with the Navy, according to Pentagon plans outlining the transition. Navy officials will open up the service’s Riverine Forces to eligible female candidates beginning next month, the Pentagon plan states.

The Riverine Squadrons of the United States Navy are elements of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. The Navy’s Riverine force focuses on conducting Maritime Security Operations and Theater Security Cooperation in a riverine area of operations or other suitable area.

The first Riverine Combat Skills Course (RCS) class to include females graduated in October, 2012.

Four of the graduates began the five-week course alongside 56 males.

Women may begin training as Army Rangers by 2015, and the United States may have its first female Navy SEAL come 2016, according to plans announced by the Pentagon.

U.S. Special Operations Command is coordinating which commando jobs could be opened to women, what exceptions might be requested, and when the transition would take place.

Women make up about 14 percent of the 1.4 million active U.S. military personnel. Over 280,000 women have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan or neighboring nations in support of the wars. Women have earned their right to serve in combat units.

Google Recruiters Assist Veteran Job Seekers


By Debbie Gregory.

One of the most important things for veterans to remember as they apply for jobs: civilian recruiters don’t speak military. You may have the right skills, the perfect training and tons of experience. None of that matters if the company you are applying to doesn’t understand how your military job translates to the civilian sector.

Twenty veterans teamed up with Internet giant Google in a recent career development workshop. The purpose of the workshop was to learn how to market military experience to a civilian employer.

“You really want to help connect the dots for recruiters like me who do not know about the military,” said Swati Dostli, a recruiter for Google. His other tips for veterans: get rid of the military jargon, show how your experiences while serving match the skills companies are looking for, and use numbers to help quantify the translation for civilians.

Dostli told the participants that as they strip their resumes of military camouflage, some questions the veterans should ask themselves are: “What is my skill set, and how does it translate to some of the core competencies, such as innovation, communication, problem solving skills, and decision making?”

As part of the company’s annual week of community service, the recent workshop was one of 15 that the Google Veterans Network has hosted in 12 cities across the nation.

The Google employees, several of whom were former military themselves, helped the veterans polish their resumes. They also gave one-on-one coaching, interview tips and job search advice.

So what is the number one tip for veteran job seekers, from a former Navy SEAL now working at Google?

“Use numbers,” said Harry Wingo, who was a SEAL for 6 ½ years and now manages veterans programs out of Google’s D.C. office. “(Say) ‘I improved things this percent’ or ‘these are how many personnel I worked with,’ ‘this is the dollar value of some of the equipment that I used.’ That translates. Numbers are the language of business.”

VA helps battlefield medics earn certifications


By Debbie Gregory.

As a convoy medic in Iraq, Mathew Vance became adept at what he calls “civil war medicine”, or, “stop the bleeding.” He perfected his life-saving medical skills during his second deployment working on a trauma helicopter. When he returned home, jobs for medics, especially medical jobs for veterans, didn’t exist.

Vance, 30, spent five months looking for a health care job when he left active duty and moved to Newport News last year with his wife, who’s in the Air Force. Additionally, he submitted more than 50 applications His work as a combat medic gave him the training and the know-how. What he lacked was the official documents that allowed him to be hired in jobs for medics.

“The civilian sector – they don’t know what we are capable of,” he said.

A new Department of Veterans Affairs program hopes to close the gap between life experience and documented know-how for the scores of veterans returning home and in search of medical jobs for veterans.

The yearlong Intermediate Care Technician program recently opened with 45 positions in 15 VA emergency rooms across the country. Now, former medics and corpsmen can work in their fields, while they earn a professional license.

Vance said the program has not only helped him professionally, it has allowed him to better help the approx. 50 veterans who enter the hospital’s emergency ward every day. With 12 beds and four nurses on duty at a time, patients often complain about the slow pace of care, Vance said. Now that the medical technicians are available to handle some of the patient care, nurses can move on more quickly to the next bed.

“I have vets saying, ‘I can’t believe how fast you got me in here,’ ” Vance said.

Officials said the licenses, in conjunction with their battlefield experience, will give veterans a complete package when they apply for medical jobs for veterans.

Hiring reservists, veterans for border duties


By Debbie Gregory.

The Senate has devised a plan to recruit veterans, reservists and National Guard members to guard the nation’s borders.

The amendment to the immigration reform bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to work with the Department of Defense to recruit veterans and citizen soldiers to fill jobs in customs, border protection and immigration posts. The bill calls for $30 million to be spent adding up to 20,000 more agents on the Mexican border. The additional employees would bring the number of boots on the ground to about 40,000.

Officials are willing to sweeten the deal for reservists and veterans who sign on by offering student loan repayments, up to $80,000 for a three-year commitment, and signing bonuses. Additional money to cover relocation costs and retention bonuses could be offered as well.

The Senate is currently in its second week of debating the bill. Senators Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Mike Johanns, R-Neb., are cosponsors of the amendment to hire military members. Senator Pryor said America’s trained veterans are the best fit for the job.  “We need the best and the brightest to stand guard at our border, and I can think of no individuals better trained for this role than our military members and veterans. They’ve shown time and time again that they’re dedicated to serving our nation.”

Senator Johanns added that the military teaches a lot of skills, many of which could be used securing our borders. “This is a win-win amendment that encourages our current and former military service members to pursue jobs in border security, adding to the ranks of highly trained professionals dedicated to protecting our nation’s border.”

The bill also provides a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. Arizona politicians, however, are more concerned with the sealing of the border on which their state sits.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told reporters. “I’m glad they’ve finally decided to talk about the border surge that we’ve called out for since 2010, asking them to take control of our border, operational control. And I think this is a great step forward in regards to that.”

Fighting Sexual Assault in the Ranks


By Debbie Gregory.

In the wake of a loud public call to arms to investigate sexual assault claims in the military, the Air Force has named a female two-star general to the head of the office responsible for sexual assault prevention and response.

The office was previously staffed by Lt.Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, whose May arrest for sexual battery spurred heated public debate over the military’s willingness to take the matter seriously. The move to place a two-star general in his position brings a higher profile and more attention to the matter.

Air Force officials have appointed Maj.Gen. Margaret H. Woodward to run the reorganized office. She will report to the vice chief of the Air Force. The move won praise from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., who called Woodward a “breath of fresh air.”

Woodward began her Air Force career in 1983 after earning an aerospace engineering degree from Arizona State University. She has also earned master’s degrees in both aviation science and national security strategy. A command pilot with more than 3,800 flight hours, Woodward flew aerial refueling aircraft and commanded air operations in numerous U.S. military operations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As commander of 17th Air Force, based in Germany, she commanded the U.S. portion of the allied air campaign over Libya in 2011.

Her new duties are not Woodward’s first in handling sex abuse claims. She recently oversaw an investigation of the sexual abuse scandal at the Air Force’s training headquarters at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Officials said Woodward and her office would be given additional assets, including a larger staff, to tackle what is believed to be a military-wide problem.

The Pentagon estimated in a recent report that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel.

The House of Representatives approved a defense policy bill this month that takes away the power of military commanders to overturn convictions in rape and assault cases. The legislation would also require anyone in uniform found guilty of a sex-related crime receive a punishment that includes, at minimum, a dismissal from military service or a dishonorable discharge. The bill also requires the Department of Defense to train at least one sexual assault nurse for each Army brigade and for equivalent-sized units in the other branches. The bill was passed by a vote of 315 to 108.

Vice President Meets With Fallen Warriors’ Children


By Debbie Gregory.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS ) was founded in 1994. TAPS is a 24/7 resource for anyone who has suffered the loss of a military loved one. TAPS provides immediate and long-term emotional help, hope, and healing to all who are grieving the death of a loved one.

Bonnie Carroll is the founder and president of TAPS.  Bonnie lost her husband in 1992. She channeled her grief into a support organization that provides hope and comfort to the surviving families of servicemembers.

TAPS provides support for both adult survivors and their children. Their “Good Grief Camps” lets children bond with their peers who have also lost a military parent.  Each camper is paired with a mentor from the military. The Good Grief Camp is a place where children can share their experiences and grief.

Vice President Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, visited with children attending a Good Grief Camp at Palomar Mountain, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, California. Their son, Beau Biden, was deployed to Iraq as a member of the National Guard.

Vice President Biden told the children that it is important to share feelings with someone who has experienced a similar loss.  The Good Grief Camps offer this camaraderie, as well as a supportive atmosphere to participate in activities that teach coping skills and establish and identify support systems.  Children and teens meet others their own age to share that they are not alone in the grief of their loved one.

Since 1995, TAPS has welcomed all who are grieving the loss of a loved one. TAPS provides a full weekend of events for adults and children alike.

Carroll says, “Families who come to TAPS gain coping skills. They learn they’re not alone in their grief. They meet other families who truly understand what they’re going through, and they’re going to be there for them. It’s a family. This is America’s family for all those who have served and sacrificed.”

Pending Disability Claims Over 2 years Given Top Priority


By Debbie Gregory.

Some of our disabled veterans have been waiting for a year or longer to receive disability compensation. The Department of Veterans Affairs is pressing claims raters to step up decision-making, starting with the oldest claims in their inventory. These provisional decisions will allow Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more expeditiously.  Eligible Veterans will have one full year of benefits after the provisional rating, before the VA renders any final decision.

The Department of Veterans Administration has a backlog of 65,000 claims that go back as far as two years. The oldest pending claims are being handled first.  The Department of Veterans Affairs is requiring the use of overtime for claims processors at its 56 regional offices, part of a “surge” aimed at eliminating the disability claims backlog.

In recent months, the VA has adopted a series of measures in response to sharp criticism over the number of claims pending from veterans seeking disability compensation. The number of pending claims this year has been reduced by more than two-thirds, many of which have been pending for over 125 days.

The VA continues to prioritize disability claims for homeless veterans, those experiencing extreme financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans filing fully developed claims, which officials said is the quickest way for veterans to receive a decision on their compensation claim.

Claims for wounded warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately, and on a priority basis with the Defense Department through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. Wounded warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in an average of 61 days following their separation from service.

There are a number of programs in place that assist Veterans in making the most of their benefits, helping them successfully transition to life after injury.  It is important to access the Veteran’s individual needs, and ensure that the Veteran and his family have the information and access to government benefits, as well as the community resources necessary for successful transition to life after injury.

Man’s Best Friend is Looking for You


If you are dynamic and engaging, and looking to adopt a dog, there’s a new television series that is looking for you! Perhaps you are a Veteran who needs a service dog, or just desire the companionship of a dog to complete your family. Or perhaps you have a special needs child who could benefit from having a new best friend. If you think you are a good match to share your home and a whole lot of love with a four-legged addition to your family, email us at [email protected]. Dogs will be rescued from local shelters and fully trained by a renowned dog trainer before being placed. Grooming, vet services and food will be provided for one year.