Archive for February 2011
Leaving your house, sleeping through the night, finding and/or holding down a job…for most of us, that’s part of everyday life, the nuts and bolts of a healthy existence. But what about those who struggle with these simplest of tasks?
Many of “those” are our veterans who are returning home from war. “We return from war but our minds do not,” explained Marine Veteran Evan John.
Mr. John wrote those exact words when he was asked why a dog may be able to help him. But it wasn’t just any canine, it was a specially-trained service dog.
Late last year, Brigadoon Youth and Service Dog Programs added a service dog initiative, called “Canines and Heroes for Independance” (CHI), to help veterans who suffer from the wounds of war, both visible and invisible. So many of our returning vets are dealing with PTSD and TBIs that cause them high levels of anxiety, nightmares, stress and pain. According to Brigadoon, 86 percent of veterans with service dogs found that the animals helped to reduce their symptoms:
Dogs trained to deal with PTS and TBI are taught to prevent strangers from coming too close. By positioning themselves in front of their partners, they prevent people from getting into their personal space. Dogs are often trained to “watch”; this takes the place of the soldier having to watch his back; a common urge that many combat veterans share.
These dogs also provide reality checks for visual and auditory hallucinations. A veteran recently reported that while spending a quiet evening at home, he suddenly felt a strange person standing close to him. He looked down at his Service Dog who was asleep at his feet and realized that no one could possibly be there without the dog reacting.
Brigadoon’s goal in this first year of their program is to raise enough money to match 10 veterans/service members with a highly-trained service dog of their own at no cost to them. To do so, they need your financial help.
Be sure to visit http://www.brigadoondogs.org/ to find out more about their programs as well as how you can help.
Given the United States’ poor fiscal status, when it comes to budget talks these days on Capitol Hill, the discussions almost always center on cuts. Yet in his 2012 budget proposal, President Obama called for an increase in federal spending to combat and treat PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI):
President Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget proposes $7.2 billion in funding to research and treat the invisible wounds of war: post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
The Veterans Affairs Department said it plans to spend $6 billion in 2012 to enhance its ability to provide the best possible specialized care for those with PTSD, TBI and other mental health needs.
This is a $765 million, or 14.6 percent, increase over VA’s entire proposed 2011 budget for mental health, which, in addition to PTSD and TBI treatment, covers substance abuse treatment, mental health care for the homeless and inpatient treatment.
VA officials said the 2012 PTSD/TBI budget also will support collaborative programs with the Defense Department, including outreach to veterans, as well as new but unspecified types of treatment. It promises to lay the groundwork for psychological treatment “for many years to come.”
The president’s budget, which covers everything from defense spending to housing reform, won’t be an easy sell in Washington. Republican lawmakers have already expressed a good deal of discontent with President Obama’s spending plan, hoping to see even deeper budget cuts than what the commander and chief laid out for next year.
While I agree that the U.S. is mired in debt, and that over the last couple of years the government has gone outside its traditional role helping to financially stabilize the country’s financial system, I think lawmakers need to fully recognize their duty to our veterans…and spending is certainly one sign of support.
If you Google “Blue Alert” the first results you’ll find will be the title of a jazz album, or a company called Code Blue that produces “mass notification systems.”
But there’s a buzz on Capitol Hill to have an official national alert put in place to notify everyone statewide that an officer has been harmed or killed in the line of duty. The plan is to call it a “Blue Alert”:
[Mississippi] Senator David Blount proposed what’s called a statewide “Blue Alert System.”
The Blue Alert would notify law enforcement in other jurisdictions that a felon is on the run after seriously injuring or killing another officer.
The Mississippi Center for Police Chiefs and Sheriffs held a press conference at the Capitol on Thursday notifying others of Senate Bill 2413.
However, the legislation does not propose using the alert system for a civilian.
Blount says eventually this system could reach this point.
“Many other states have done this with law enforcement. There’s now legislation in the United States Congress modeled after this to try to bring all states together,” Blount said. “And once we have a communication system in place, then we can look at expanding it to other crimes.”
The “Blue Alert System” is modeled after the Amber Alert System, which is used for children and seniors when they are missing.
So far the alert is only set up in a few states (Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Colorado and California).
What’s it going to take to get this to become a national model?
MilitaryMentalHealth.org is a site that I came across which offers “totally anonymous and voluntary self assessments.” The Department of Defense has partnered up with the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health® to create this online screening program:
The self-assessments are a series of questions that, when linked together, help create a picture of how an individual is feeling and whether they could benefit from talking to a health professional.
The primary goals of the program are to reduce stigma, raise awareness about mental health, and connect those in need to available resources. The self-assessments address depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol use and bipolar disorder. After an individual completes a self-assessment, s/he is provided with referral information including services provided through the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
While the screening won’t provide you with a diagnosis, it does review your situation and will inform you if your symptoms are consistent with certain mental health conditions.
–Click here to take the anonymous assessment-
For those who think they may want to take the assessment but are hesitant, remember that it’s completely anonymous, you’re not required — or even asked — to fill in any personal information. The screening doesn’t take long at all and the questions are simply stated and easy to understand.
At the conclusion of the assessment, MilitaryMentalHealth.org offers several related articles and videos, resources for further evaluation as well as other screening options.
I have to say, I get the sense that all too often after a major traumatic event or large-scale disaster, widespread aid and assistance never seems to stick around long enough.
That said, I was rather surprised this week when I heard a radio commercial telling the story of how BP paid for all the business one Louisiana fisherman lost during the oil spill. Sure, that was likely an older story, a less-than-typical story about the assistance that the oil company doled out to the individual victims. But what isn’t an older story, what is an example of how long-term aid is still being provided to the victims of the spill is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s ongoing and expanded assistance to the spill’s victims:
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in collaboration with the Ad Council today expanded efforts to continue to provide information, support and resources to individuals and families affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Emotional distress resulting from traumatic events can surface years after an incident occurs.
“While the immediate crisis is over, many Gulf Coast residents continue to need support as they work to rebuild their lives after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It is natural for some people to need help over time in dealing with the emotional trauma and distress experienced from such an event and associated losses,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D.
The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the early warning signs of serious emotional distress, and to provide access to free resources to those affected in the Gulf state region. The television PSA, featuring Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, and other PSAs aim to help those living in the Gulf states get the assistance they may need to treat and alleviate long term psychological distress.
“For many who live on the Gulf Coast, this disaster has affected us very deeply,” said Dr. Benjamin. “We want anyone who is feeling distressed to know that getting help can be as simple as making a phone call or sending a text message.”
How can an oil spill affect mental health?
Dr. J. Steven Picou, a sociology professor at the University of South Alabama and one of the foremost experts in mental health issues related to oil spills, is worried that, much like post-Valdez Alaska, cities like New Orleans will devolve into a “corrosive community.” In his 1996 study “The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Chronic Psychological Stress”, he describes Cordova, Alaska, the area most adversely affected by the Valdez, as a community marked by loss of social capital — meaning loss of trust, family, friendships, networks and the sense of belonging within the community. As Cordova’s sense of community “corroded,” there was a rise in domestic violence, self isolation and medicating and depression. He also noted that prolonged exposure to an oil spill will cause many to dwell on the horrifying realities of the disaster, eventually leading to more severe mental health conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.