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WATCH: Veteran Discusses His Experience with PTSD and Drinking

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PTSD and Drinking Can Send Life into a Tailspin

Drinking is a common activity that is usually ingrained in the military experience. But what happens when drinking is used as a self-medicating coping mechanism? Things can spiral out of control in a hurry.

Just listen to this Marine veteran’s experience with drinking.

When I drank, got drunk, you know, all the anxiety, depression, my purpose, the betrayal – all that, it went out the window …

For the next 3 years I was drunk probably – drunk or hung over 75 percent of the time. So when I went out I couldn’t just have one … and that caused problems.

For veterans struggling with PTSD, drinking might feel like a temporary solution to what you’re going through. Unfortunately, it isn’t a solution at all. If drinking has become a problem for you, and you’re ready to take control of your life, please check out some of the VA’s resources for getting the help you need.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month

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April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and this is an issue that is especially relevant to so many veterans. There are many reasons veterans in particular can often be prone to misusing alcohol.

One aspect that increases the likelihood of a veteran misusing alcohol is that they are often predisposed to it as a part of their military experience. In fact, did you know that medical expenses related to alcohol use by military personnel average nearly $425 million per year?1

Perhaps alcohol is used as a bonding tool or even a team-building exercise, or maybe for others, it’s seen as an escape route from handling a difficult experience. Either way, it’s something that most service members are familiar with before they even leave the military.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism demonstrates just how prevalent the alcohol culture is for military personnel:

Frequent heavy drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks on one or more occasions per week, occurs among a substantial proportion of U.S. military personnel and varies as a function of military demographic characteristics. In a large-scale survey, Bray and Hourani (2005) found that the prevalence of frequent heavy drinking in the military from 1980 through 2005 ranged from 15 to 20 percent.2

15 to 20 percent.

But what happens once somebody leaves the military? The difficulty of this transition is well documented, and it affects most veterans in some way or another. Veterans are thrust into a very different world as civilians, and must learn to adapt to a life that is very different from the one they have known during their service.

Veterans have to find a job based on a resume from military service that’s filled with terms civilians can’t comprehend, they’re forced to find an identity that isn’t based on rank or MOS, and for some, they have to come to terms with the mental effects of combat.

In fact, according to the NIAAA, combat and alcohol abuse have a very strong correlation.

In one population-based study of 88,235 veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Milliken and colleagues (2007) found that 12 to 15 percent of veterans endorsed problematic alcohol use in the 3 to 6 months following their return from combat. These data suggest that alcohol misuse occurs among a substantial number of veterans who are exposed to combat-related traumatic stress and highlight the importance of understanding the relationships between stressful military experiences (e.g., combat and military sexual trauma) and alcohol misuse.3

Not only that, but 60 to 80 percent of Vietnam veterans seeking treatment for PTSD have an alcohol use problem as well, according to the VA.

It doesn’t seem surprising then, that veterans often turn to a familiar substance that was ingrained in their military experience – alcohol.

Alcohol is often used to self-medicate, and to “numb” the painful thoughts and feelings associated with mental trauma. However, this is a double-edged sword, because while alcohol may limit one from having to relive the emotional pain of a traumatic experience, it also encourages avoidance. This avoidance doesn’t help solve the problem, it usually makes it worse.

 

This month, DVNF wants to help raise awareness of the effects alcohol has on veterans – not only veterans in transition, but also veterans with PTSD and homeless veterans who are especially prone to substance abuse.

Please help us spread the word this April. We want to make sure that the men and women who served in our defense are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to seek treatment. There’s no shame in getting help, and for those suffering from a substance abuse problem, treatment can ultimately save your life!

Please visit the VA’s Veterans Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program for more information on getting help.


Sources

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arcr344/401-407.htm

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/problems/ptsd-alcohol-use.asp

Shipment to Albany Helps Veterans Displaced by Fires

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As part of DVNF’s Health & Comfort program, we help stock various veterans’ shelters with clothing and supplies they need to support the veterans who visit seeking support.

In some cases, it can be in the middle of an emergency. This was the case recently when we sent a shipment to Albany, NY to the Veterans Miracle Center. They keep a free “store” that veterans can visit to get common supplies they often struggle to afford.

DVNF’s shipment happened to come at a critical time. According to Barry Feinman, the organization’s administrator, January and February not only brought cold temperatures, but it also brought several fires in the region.

In one evening alone, seven veterans lost their homes and all their possessions.

Feinman explained how the shipment helped:

The day after the fire, the VMC was called upon to clothe the families and provide personal hygiene items for the Veterans and their families In all, we assisted 18 people from one fire. In addition to the blankets, through your donation to the VMC, we could provide each person with a crisis care package, warm socks, hats, gloves, and scarfs. Since the VMC does have coats in stock during the winter months our Veterans were all equipped to face the remainder of winter with everything they needed to stay warm.

DVNF supplied the VMC with a shipment valued at nearly $170,000. It contained Comfort Kits, blankets, jackets, other assorted clothing items as well as many first aid items.

“On behalf of all the Veterans, Active Duty Service Members and their families the VMC extends a sincere thank you to DVNF for the very generous donation.”

“Suit Up” Hiring Fair a Success for Veterans

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On Monday, March 13, DVNF, in conjunction with the Detroit VA and because of an incredible donation from Jos. A. Bank clothiers, was able to participate in a “Suit Up” event to get transitioning veterans ready to reenter the civilian workforce.

At the event, 110 Veterans were able to get a suit or other professional clothing, along with a $50 Visa gift card from DVNF to cover the cost of some of the alterations, that will prove useful as the attend this weekend’s military job fair at the Detroit VA.

This event followed the first “Suit Up” on February 25th. The first event had light attendance due to poor weather. In addition, they had to use an alternate location due to construction near the Detroit VA.

How this made a difference to veterans

Joe Sattler of Marine City was a Helicopter Pilot in the Army. He is confident that he’ll be able to transition into executive management after recovering from a hip injury he suffered while on active duty.

Kevin Smith of Detroit told us he hoped to have a good interview with Ford Motor Company at this Saturday’s job fair. He said he knows the suit we gave him should help impress the recruiter. Kevin is a Navy veteran.

Reza Tatum, a disabled Army veteran from Detroit, has been an auto mechanic. However, he’s now hoping to get into automotive design.

Phil Ackley, a Marine from Detroit, appreciated receiving the first suit he’s had in a long time. He said he’s excited for the chance to try and land a supervisory position in the medical maintenance industry.

Jim Miller from Leonard, MI was an Army Chaplain and is currently working in the medical field. Unfortunately, his job is 60 miles from his home. He’s hoping to find a new job a little closer to his home and family.

Introducing Our New Look

Welcome to DVNF’s new website!

In an effort to improve our image and our services to veterans, we felt it was time for a fresh new look. We were long overdue for a new website, and since we are turning 10 this year, this was a great time to pursue this endeavor.

I hope you’ll find a cleaner, more user-friendly website. We want veterans who are in search of information and resources to be able to access it effortlessly. We also want to tell our story to donors better, because we think it’s important for people to know about the struggles and the successes of those who have stood in our defense.

Our New Logo

Another change you probably noticed is our new logo. With this new look, we’re hoping to incorporate our feelings of pride in those who have served our nation, and also those who are still serving. But we also hope to demonstrate a more modern approach to our programs and our image.

As DVNF works to ensure that our veterans are cared for, we are working to build new programs, and expand our current services. We feel that this new appearance will help set a solid foundation for the present and the future of the foundation.

I want to thank you for all your support of DVNF and the veterans we work to help. I hope you’ll continue to follow our work, and hope you enjoy the new look!

Working towards a better future for our heroes,

 

 

 

 

Joseph VanFonda (USMC SgtMaj Ret.)
CEO
Disabled Veterans National Foundation

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Are You Sleeping?

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By Ana Yelen, Executive Director, Healing Warriors Program

A good night’s sleep is more elusive than we think. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services studies assert that sleep disorders affect between 50 – 70 million Americans, or about 20% of the population.

In the armed services, sleep issues are the de facto norm because of training, job schedules, and the need for a military force that is on-call and available at a moment’s notice. But the cost of long-term sleep deprivation is high and linked to depression, anxiety and worsening of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“More so than even the amputations and traumatic brain injuries that have come to define the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, insomnia is the hidden wound that America’s warriors are bringing home. It’s largely unnoticed, under-prevented and untreated.”1

At Fort Hood, Texas, Dr. Vincent Mysliwiec, reported that between 2000 and 2009 they found a 19-fold increase in cases of insomnia; that is an 1800% increase in insomnia in less than a decade. “If this was anything else, it’d be labeled an epidemic,” the Army’s top sleep specialist said at a Seattle sleep conference, according to Peter Green of Van Winkle’s (http://vanwinkles.com/for-our-returning-troops-post-traumatic-sleep-disorders-are-nhe-new-ptsd).

“… Restoring sleep cycles is key to alleviating many post war ailments, including post traumatic stress.  It’s also the single most important factor, say military sleep researchers, for treating the post traumatic stress disorders that plague America’s returning veterans, keeping them on meds and out of work and preventing them from enjoying a normal life.2

We see this regularly at the Healing Warriors Program (HWP) clinic. Exhaustion from lack of sleep leads to high blood pressure, depression and often accompanies a sense of hopelessness. We all know this. We have all probably lived this. When we are over tired, what might be standard stressors become overwhelming making us feel engulfed, unable to swim out from the whirlpool.

So what can we do about this? We have some suggestions.

CREATE A ROUTINE

Those who have been in the military train themselves to perform certain tasks with specific cues, a process that usually started in boot camp. Through repetition and drill, muscle memory eventually and automatically takes over. It’s a good thing too, as it may be life-saving. In the same way, though, we need to signal our minds and bodies to relax, rest, and sleep by establishing those cues and creating a routine.

For example:

  • Take a hot bath using a scented bath salt or soap that you really like (this will also engage the sense of smell as a cue)
  • Brush your teeth and create yourself a pattern
  • Fluff your pillow with intent
  • Brush down your sheets and blankets to smooth out
  • Breathe – use conscious breathing techniques like resetting your breath to remind your body that it’s time to stop and cleanse
  • Smell – spritz an essential oil on the pillow (lavender, chamomile, valerian, vanilla) that you will begin to associate with going to sleep and will become your cue
  • Calm your mind – try using a short meditation or prayer to focus and calm the mind
  • Use guided Imagery which uses verbal suggestions in order to relax

All of these help you create a nightly ritual for going to bed that signals your body that it is time to power down and get some sleep. Best of all, it is a good way to practice self care.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL

When was your last physical? Do you get any exercise at all? How about taking a walk right after dinner? Walking helps keep the digestive system moving and increases oxygenation to the body.  Exercise helps all bodily functions work better because it stimulates the production of enzymes and hormones that keep us running well.

Speaking of running, it is important to include some cardio into your weekly routine.  Running, calisthenics, bicycling and even sex, are important ways to get that blood circulating and feeding the entire system.

Exercise also has the added benefit of helping soften the side effects of some medications that slow down digestion and elimination.  When our bodies are sluggish about processing waste, it adds more workload for our major organs.

Do you get healthy meals regularly? Are you drinking alcohol or consuming a lot of sugar before bed? Having a heavy, carbohydrate meal right before bed makes the digestive system, and our major organs, work even harder.  Worst of all, they can trigger the central nervous system into a state of agitation and anxiety. Again, we want to power down, not rev the engine.

Make sure you deliberately take in more vegetables and fruit.  These provide critical fuel and cleansers for your body.  The protein helps feed the creation of new cells and the fiber acts as internal scrubbers.  Even the simple act of munching on an apple or a carrot sets a host of enzymes and digestive processes in motion that clean and tune up your internal engine.

Always remember to eat and drink moderately in the evenings, and try to be kind to yourself. When your body doesn’t have the opportunity to digest properly, the result is churning and discomfort with resulting gas.

And remember, it’s ok to go to bed feeling a little hungry, but if you have to have a nightly snack, try a mug of hot chocolate or some hot milk with cinnamon. Keep it light.

Making some simple changes with your activity levels and with nourishment will make a big difference in how you feel.  You’ll have better rest and sleep.

KEEP COOL

A service member once told me a story about sleeping in the walk-in refrigerator on base. As odd as it may sound, studies have shown that we sleep better when the temperature is lower. Always keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool.

If you’re having problems from different light sources, invest in black-out curtains for your bedroom. If you are having trouble sleeping because of a hot room, and you don’t have air conditioning, purchase a cooling gel pad for your mattress – good ones can be had from $30 to $100, and on up. If you do have air conditioning, try lowering the temperature at night 2-4 degrees.

Getting a good night’s sleep often hinges on our body’s memory. Use these suggestions, hit the reset button, and make valuable changes. If you live in the Colorado area, come down to a Healing Warriors Program clinic and participate in our 6-session sleep therapy series. You can restfully sleep again.

“…There is also a need for further research to evaluate the efficacy of innovative and promising treatment techniques that may fill treatment delivery gaps and be preferred by servicemembers, such as video teletherapy, therapies delivered through mobile technology, and CAM techniques  (e.g., meditation)….2

References

http://vanwinkles.com/for-our-returning-troops-post-traumatic-sleep-disorders-are-the-new-ptsd

2 Sleep in the Military: Promoting Healthy Sleep Among US Service Members, Wendy M. Troxel, Regina A. Shih,  Eric Pedersen, Lily Geyer, Michael P. Fisher, Beth Ann Griffin, Ann C. Haas,  Jeremy R. Kurz, Paul S. Steinberg  http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR739.html  pages             , 129

Other articles

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/co-occurring/sleep_problems_veterans_ptsd.asp

As Sleep Improves, So Does an Injured Brain http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/12/21/506452313/as-sleep-improves-so-does-an-injured-brain

How Soldiers Deal with Sleep Deprivation https://sleep.org/articles/how-soldiers-deal-with-sleep-deprivation/

An Epidemic of Sleeplessness, http://blog.healthjourneys.com/health-journeys-wellness-reports/an-epidemic-of-sleeplessness.html  f

Our Thoughts on the Ft. Lauderdale Tragedy

I heard the news Friday afternoon – a man opened fire in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, leaving several wounded and several killed.

When situations like this happen the first collective reaction is usually suspected terrorism. But once the media began to report more information about the suspect, my heart began to sink.

It was then reported he was a veteran who served a ten-month deployment to Iraq in 2011 with the Puerto Rico National Guard. According to the LA Times, he began to suffer from mental issues when he got back from Iraq. He willingly sought treatment but struggled to gain access to Puerto Rico’s apparently under-resourced VA hospital, so he moved to Alaska to seek better services.

Today, I don’t want to start pointing fingers at anyone as to how this happened. I want to express my deepest condolences to the victims and their family members of this horrible and frightening incident. Our hearts go out to you.

Right now, I think it is very important to recognize something we’ve mentioned in the past. Similar to the veteran who inexplicably shot and killed Chris Kyle, this type of situation is the exception, not the norm.

The false narrative of the troubled veteran cannot stigmatize others who need mental health treatment for issues associated with their service. It is rare for these extreme reactions to take place for veterans experiencing mental difficulty associated with combat.

And for veterans who are still suffering from psychological wounds, please don’t let this tragic incident deter you from seeking help. It can truly make a difference in your life and your overall wellbeing.

We express our sorrow for all those affected by this terrible shooting. Our hearts are with you.