where are the peacemakers?

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Warriors throughout world history were sent off to war with trumpets, drums, celebrations or religious ceremonies. And over those thousands of years, young men and women were victors or the vanquished. Celebrated as heroes, or corpses left behind in distant lands. Where there are records, including Chinese and Aztec tombs, ancient Akkadian tablets, Homeric Greek dramas, Roman histories, and Biblical scrolls, men and women went into battle blessed by the gods of one side or the other.

“The victims of PTSD often feel morally tainted by their experiences, unable to recover confidence in their own goodness, trapped in a sort of spiritual solitary confinement, looking back at the rest of the world from beyond the barrier of what happened. They find themselves unable to communicate their condition to those who remained at home, resenting civilians for their blind innocence. David Brooks

The Moral Injury, New York Times. Feb 17, 2015″ , via goodreads.com
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War has always been brutal. Long before “civilized” conduct of war, if there is such a thing, treatment of enemy prisoners, women and children was often slavery or death. Even in the Twenty-First Century, we learn of kidnapping, abuse, and sexual slavery still being committed throughout the world. How many victims were emotionally scarred? How many returning warriors over the millennia were affected by such brutality?

While histories do not record the struggles of the victims of war, and we cannot help the long ago dead, we know that, in America alone, some 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Alcohol and substance abuse, reckless behaviors, and firearms, all contribute to someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder killing themselves.

War demands sacrifice of the people. It gives only suffering in return. – Frederic Clemson Howe

https://sayingimages.com/war-quotes/

Where does the isolation begin? People do not know their neighbors, and do not develop real, vulnerable, honest friendships with one another. Governments which send young people to war, have only overwhelmed or emotionally-detached bureaucrats who quickly “treat” veterans and then move to the next sufferer. Communities develop a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) reflex to homelessness and addiction, and many expect veterans to simply ‘get over it’. Societies do not have a “moral” center anymore. Mass media incessantly blare stories of anger, outrage, frustration, violence, and political blame-gaming. Media sensationalizes suffering; bickering within communities has created more isolation. in such a state, people do not recognize a potential suicide victim’s quiet withdrawal – even within their own household.

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While everyone seems to have an opinion about the easy access to firearms in America, the easy access to prescription drugs, as well as methamphetamine, heroin, and the most misused though legal drug, alcohol, is no less a societal problem. When liquor store owners knowingly provide booze to alcoholics, on credit, because they know their customer receives State aid and will be paid – they knowingly contribute to that person’s death – or some innocent’s death or injury along the way. That is a problem society should address with equal outrage as to those with firearms.

A first step? Let us as people stop dividing ourselves into “us” and “them”. With that first step, we can then work on empathy. Personal responsibility. And action.

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. – Ernest Hemingway

https://sayingimages.com/war-quotes/

Ask the Chief

“veteran” is gender-neutral

Some of my closest shipmates, friends, and mentors are female Sailors, officer and enlisted. Many, like me, are no longer on Drilling Reserve nor on Active Duty. Some have retired after long and distinguished military careers. Some have continued to support fellow veterans with active engagement with organizations such as Honor Flight. Some I served with are successful attorneys, realtors, and teachers. Some are corporate executives, software engineers, and human resource managers. Relatives who formerly served in the Marine Corps and others beginning careers serving in submarines.

Many of my peers in the years since the Gulf War served in war zones. Thirty-seven thousand female military served in the Gulf War, where many served in roles that exposed them to Scud attack and IEDs. Five female soldiers were killed in enemy action and two were taken prisoner. Since then, nearly a thousand female military members have been injured (843) or killed by hostile action from the USS COLE bombing in Yemen, to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. [At the time of this writing, a female Chief Cryptologist, a linguist, was killed along with two other military members and one DOD civilian in a terrorist bombing in a Syrian town.] Women actually have been in combat, have come under fire, been injured and have been killed serving in the US military since the Revolutionary War. History documents that women disguised themselves as men in order to serve since the Revolution, in the Civil War, and until physical exams were instituted in the early 1900s. Nurses were recruited before the First World War.

Beginning in 1979, women graduated from the military academies. In 1994, female midshipmen augmented the male crew of a Spruance-class destroyer, the USS PETERSON, several summers while I was aboard. Since 9/11 I have known females serving year tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, providing intelligence, communications, logistics, and medical support. However, beginning in 1993, women began serving as combat pilots and flying sorties over Iraq. In 2013, Defense Secretary Panetta lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles. The impact of female veterans serving in increasing numbers and in more front-line occupations will increase the need for physical and mental health services, more VA female providers as well as gender-specific services. One statistic indicated that the number of female service members has quadrupled in the forty years since 1973. By the end of the first decade of the new Millennium, female veterans grew to 10 percent of the veteran population.

But the bureaucracy is slow to react. As recently as 2016, veterans seeking care at VA facilities reported being mistaken for caregivers, spouses, or questioned their veteran status. Additionally, in contrast with employer-provided health plans, the VFW survey reports respondents found the VA required co-pays for preventative-care prescriptions including contraceptives.

veterans helping veterans

In a recent program, “Returning the Favor”, Mike Rowe whom many may recognize from “Dirty Jobs” fame, featured a male Iraq War veteran who runs a gym in Austin Texas, and through Make a Vet Sweat helps fellow veterans overcome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through exercise. It was in the course of the show, one of the female veterans served discussed her career-ending injury resulting in her own PTSD. Since the Gulf War time, I have known that female servicemembers have been in combat, risking death and injury, from hostile fire, IEDs, and terrorist attacks just as their male servicemembers have. The availability of creative therapies for working through mental health issues helps each sufferer, whether it is animals, exercise, or outreach. And may help many veterans avoid prescription drug addictions.

veteran suicide has no gender

According to statistics compiled by the Veterans Administration, of veterans who attempt suicide, the numbers of female veterans were increasing from 14 per 100,000 in 2001 to 17 per 100,000 population by 2014. This may be due the increasing number of female service members since 2001. Studies report that suicide rate decreased between 2001 and 2014 for female veterans receiving mental health services. While in the overall population, male suicide is three times greater than female, men more often use firearms while females tend to poison or overdose. In a VA fact sheet published in August 2017, female veterans who reported military sexual trauma or harassment were more likely to commit suicide than other female veterans. And overall, female veterans are more likely to commit suicide than civilian women.

marriage and divorce

Compared to civilian women, female veterans were more likely to be married while in the service, and at younger ages than their counterparts. Thirty percent of female military members were likely to be married between ages of 17 and 24, while eight percent of civilian women were. And the same veteran age group was more likely to be divorced compared to civilian women. In 2015, a study found that female veterans of all ages were more likely to be divorced than civilians, but civilians were more likely to have been divorced more than once.

healthcare and homelessness

The VFW has considerable resources and political clout engaged in support of female veterans. They commissioned a survey, from December 2015 to January 2016, with 2000 validated Active Duty, Reservist, retiree and vet respondents, on issues and challenges for women veterans. The survey found that the Veterans Administration needs to hire female healthcare providers to treat female veterans unique concerns. Lacking the personnel, the majority of the female veterans reported they were not given an option to request the gender of their VA healthcare provider.

The survey also sought information on female veteran homelessness. Four percent (72) of the respondents reported being homeless, and of these, 46 percent reported living in another person’s home (‘couch surfing’). Seventy percent of the homeless veterans had children; a third of them reported having children impacted their ability to receive care at a VA facility.

education and employment

Since the end of the Second World War, female veterans, who made up less than 9 percent of all veterans, like their civilian counterparts, who had worked in the defense industries during the war, were less likely than male veterans to use the GI Bill, or did not pursue college education due to social pressure (women in the home instead of the workplace). Studies in 2015 on the educational level and employment of female veterans indicates that they obtain a Bachelors or higher degree later in life than civilian women, are more likely to work in management, professional and technical occupations (49 versus 41 percent), and more work for local, state or federal agencies than their civilian counterparts. Twenty-nine percent of veterans work in sales or office occupations compared to thirty percent of non-veteran women. [statistics from: report, National Center for Veteran Analysis and Statistics, February, 2017, see va.gov/vetdata]

veteran groups

To inform veterans of their benefits, aid them with specific needs affecting them, provide networking for employment and business opportunities, and lobby on their behalf with lawmakers, service-providers, and the public, there are several organizations. One of the largest organizations specifically focused on women veterans is the Women’s Veteran Alliance. This national organization holds regional employment workshops, networking ‘mix and mingles’, conferences, and opportunities for businesses looking to hire veterans. See their link for female veteran “allies” (referrals and local organizations) More information is available on their Facebook page.

Since 1970, the National Veterans Foundation, its founder “Shad” Meshad, a Vietnam veteran, has been meeting the needs of veterans with mental health counseling, with three hundred offices across the country. Staffed by veterans of all periods – Vietnam, Cold War, Iraq and Afghanistan, they provide counseling and referral. All of these are located away from VA hospitals. (The reputation of VA hospitals in the last couple decades particularly among Vietnam veterans has suffered negative exposure, “new management” and political promises to fix internal problems). NVF’s counseling programs particularly with Post Traumatic Stress, according to their information webpage, were called upon after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York after September 11, 2001.

States each have their own Department of Veteran Affairs. In California, CALVET has a resource page for female veterans, from housing assistance, advocacy to employment and health. CALVET also provides resources for groups and agencies to provide support to the veteran.

The Veterans Administration has a directory of female-veteran service organizations here

FB make a vet sweat

Family Support: Dealing with Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, PTSD

“Before you can break out of prison, you must realize you are locked up.”  – www.healthyplace.com

Everyone is affected by a terminal condition called “life”.   In every family, there are emotional or physical Illnesses that affect one member – the sufferer – yet also affect others – spouses or partners, parents, children, or siblings.   To a lesser degree, friends, co-workers, or neighbors may also be affected.   Disease and genetic disorders like  Lyme disease, asthma, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy or cancer are chronic conditions and are lifelong disabilities physically but emotional disorders, many linked to genetic predispositions, traumatic physical events or lifestyle choices can can radically change the family dynamics no less permanently.

In most cases, there is no preparation. no schooling or a “recommended reading list” in one’s formative years, for family members when a loved one has a mental illness like anorexia, depression, bipolar or anxiety disorders like agoraphobia.  These can also accompany or be elevated by an addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, or other substances.  A casual relationship may not reveal the extent of a sufferer’s condition.   But in a long-term relationship, marriage or one with frequent connection or intimacy, between spouses, or parents and children,  clues early in a person’s life may exist.  Of course, everyone experiences an illness, accident, depression or difficult circumstances that are temporary.  It takes long-term observation to note patterns that may indicate unhealthy behavior.

When a participant (an active observer, or even a co-dependent personality type) is not a professionally-trained counselor, experience, level of empathy and often spiritual foundation are the only tools available.  Behavior that later manifests in addiction,  mania and depression mood swings,  obsessive-compulsive activity, hyperactivity, sleeplessness or its opposite, and emotional disconnection may be subtle at first or have sudden onset.   With PTSD,  post-traumatic stress disorder, a life event such as death of child, a combat experience, a severe accident, sexual assault or abuse can severely damage a formerly healthy individual and ripple emotionally through a family. Triggering events may be a tone of voice, a certain time, a season, a smell, sounds or a characteristic that one person displays.   For someone in a relationship with another who experienced a traumatic event -even years in the past – “walking on eggshells” becomes normal.  Often in hindsight to a failed relationship, injury or death of the sufferer, particularly when a victim was unwilling or unable to seek help, guilt may emotionally affect those in the victim’s circle for years.   Yet PTSD is not a terminal condition, but requires compassion, professional treatment, cooperation, and ongoing engagement on the part of the sufferer and her close personal relationships.

For many, when it is a close family member, in late adolescence or early adulthood, it is a natural response to think the behavior  including addiction, is just a “phase” he or she is “going through”.   From the outside looking in,  the addict, when rational and sober, seems to be functioning individual – but it is a ruse.   Some are able to hold a job for a time.  They may frequently change jobs due to work stress or the addiction’s toll on a person’s performance.  It is a natural self-defense mechanism or social response for people not to ‘get involved’,  or to overlook indicators, but these are not compassionate responses of family and close friends.   However, an addict can also mask his or her  problems by being outgoing but shallow, and very reserved (personal details) to coworkers, family members or others in his or her circle of acquaintances.  One sort of behavior that may be due to embarrassment,  or pride is a need  to appear to be “holding it together”.   Limited engagement,  that is,  keeping visits short with family and family friends at holidays or other gatherings.

When the sufferer is an adult, who arguably is not a “danger to themselves or others”, there is little one can do more than to suggest, advise, or urge the sufferer to seek professional help.  The longer the addiction continues, the more the addict does damage to themselves physically and emotionally.   Hospitalization and treatment of the symptoms may give the addict an opportunity to be sober for a short time.

Treating the problem – the addiction – without a sustained, professional program to treat the emotions or physical underpinnings, is a temporary measure.   In the meantime,  the family and close friends have to endure their own emotional pain to partner in their loved one’s recovery.   For some,  replacing the destructive addiction with a positive one particularly through physical activity can be successful when partnered with professional counseling.  It may well be a lifelong activity. A new ‘normal’.

For those who are willing to consider a spiritual component to ongoing wellness,  study of the Bible offers examples of successful lives though suffering from illness, depression or anxieties.  The Bible offers hope in illustrations of several figures who suffered from depression.  King David is lauded as one of the most devout leaders in the Old Testament, but his Psalms are full of outpouring his anxieties, fears, troubles, and anger to God.

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God  – Psalm 42:11

Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament is another.  In 1 Kings 19:4

while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush,(A) sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life;(B) I am no better than my ancestors.”

the passage illustrates his depression.  Job also battled depression.  Examples:  Job 3: 26

26 I have no peace,(A) no quietness;
    I have no rest,(B) but only turmoil

and Job 10: 1:

“I loathe my very life;(A)
    therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
    and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.

While these figures went on to have great impact in the Bible and to adherents for thousands of years, there is no indication that they were freed from the emotional and physical ailments that people still endure today.

One of those who has been successful in ongoing recovery from anorexia, BeautyBeyondBones, offers her personal experience and resources that are instructive for eating disorders and other communities who are seeking support with emotional and physical disorders.

In the following article, there are some good tips for families dealing with the various demons affecting their loved ones.   But it is only a starting point.

Family Support: Dealing with Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, PTSD

dog days at work

It's a Dog's Life

One of the best examples of community is how we give of our time, and of our money to the less fortunate.  While most recognize that members of our own species needs aid,  love and compassion, there are others that we can help.  I was introduced to a few examples of this today.   Sometimes, it is noteworthy to recognize those who help rescue canines in need.

Labs and More,  San Diego

Several times a year, at the main campus in Carlsbad, my company hosts expos for charitable organizations in San Diego – supporting a children’s hospital, or fighting cancer,  or health and wellness,  or disaster preparedness.  Or like today,  when a few San Diego animal rescue groups came with their furry ambassadors to raise awareness in the community.   The volunteers who organize and man these outreach programs wear their hearts on their sleeve.  These all-volunteer groups raise funds to support…

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Patton can’t wallop away “fatigue”

An article I read online about veterans who are suing the military to upgrade their discharges, indicates an ignored mitigating factor was their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It was a stigma for soldiers in many conflicts to suffer ‘combat fatigue’ and the military did not have any mental health programs to help their suffering.  World War II’s most infamous case of a leader who abused soldiers suffering what we know today as PTSD, was General Patton.

I do know what it is like to live with someone who suffered with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Thirty years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman whom I came to learn was not schizophrenic but rather suffering from PTSD.  In the course of dealing with her middle of the night terror attacks, suspicious looks, angry stares, horrible accusations and anorexia,  I was not trained, nor was I sufficiently mature enough, emotionally, to help.   At the time I was in the Navy, stationed at an installation outside Washington, D.C.   Over a period of several weeks everything came into the light.   My job performance started to suffer badly.  I was exhausted;  one Monday,  I failed to go to work at all.   And then,  banging on my door, my supervisor, a Chief Petty Officer in whom I confided my struggles,  had come to check on us.

Instead of being brought before NJP – nonjudicial punishment,  my supervisor verbally reprimanded me, and took charge- giving me direction about how I should lead my household.   In the late 1980s,  mental health, counseling – family or marital, and the host of ills that military members succumb to in combat  was still in its infancy.  And if PTSD was hardly recognized in the civilian population, how much less so for our veterans.   I found resources for us to attend counseling.  I would love to say that everything turned around and became goodness and light.  It did not.  Less than ten years later, I learned that she had succumbed to her health problems.   For those suffering mental health issues,  it is always continuing steps in recovery.  But the sufferer has to be as engaged in getting healthy as those around him or her remain committed to helping.  It is time for the military – and the VA – to make every effort to alleviate the mental health issues that were aggravated or incurred as a result of military service.   It is only right to help warriors with tools and understanding who are suffering.