Welcome Back!

March 3, 2009 at 7:57 am | Posted in Blogging, Deployment, Military | Leave a comment

One of the links on my sidebar (Zolnierz) is to a now formerly deployed soldier!  I had originally titled this post “Welcome Home”, but as some of you may recall he is originally from Poland.  I’m not sure if he actually considers Hawaii to be home :)  Either way, he is with family again and that is a good think.  He linked to a youtube video of the deployment ceremony which you can see here.

Go by and leave a comment on the post Film z Powrotu.  He blogs in Polish, but is perfectly happy to receive comments in English.  At least that’s what he has told me after my attempts at commenting in Polish using an online translator!

Is Change Starting?

November 8, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Posted in Challenges, Deployment, Mental Health, Military | 3 Comments

No, this is not a political post even though I did use one of the “buzz words” from the recent campaign cycle.  This post is actually about attitudes toward mental health problems and treatment within the military.  I’ve written before about some of the policy changes made by the Department of Defense and new programs under development in an attempt to reduce the stigma of mental health care within the military.

I haven’t noticed much in the news about DOD efforts to reduce the stigma of mental health care in the months since those posts and had started to wonder if the efforts were real or if the statements were for show.  This morning I read an article about Army Major General David Blackledge who served two tours in Iraq commanding Civil Affairs Units and now works at the Pentagon.  As we’ve come to see in Iraq and Afghanistan, the demarcations between the front-line/ “at risk” troops and those in relative safety are much more ambiguous than in previous wars.  IEDs, rocket and mortar attacks are equal opportunity hazards.

Maj Gen Blackledge was treated for symptoms of posttraumatic stress following an incident during his first deployment when he was injured and his interpreter killed following a convoy ambush.  He was again injured during his second tour and experienced symptoms again.  While I haven’t located a biography online, I did find this announcement of his promotion from Colonel to Brigadier General in 2003, so it would appear that Maj General Blackledge has continued to advance in the ranks since receiving treatment for his symptoms.  This is particularly important given that one of the top five barriers to care identified by OIF/OEF veterans is “It could harm my career” (endorsed by 44% of the respondents to the RAND survey).

In the article I read today, Maj Gen Blackledge is quoted as saying:

“It’s part of our profession … nobody wants to admit that they’ve got a weakness in this area,” Blackledge said of mental health problems among troops returning from America’s two wars.

“I have dealt with it. I’m dealing with it now,” said Blackledge, who came home with post-traumatic stress. “We need to be able to talk about it.”

I’m glad to see that he is speaking out and that active duty servicemembers are being given examples of leaders who have sought help, continued to advance in their careers, and are comfortable “going public” with their story.  I do believe this needs to be expanded though- including both NCOs and officers from different branches of the service with different deployment experiences.  In my research for this post, I discovered that this article with Maj Gen Blackledge going public may be just the start of a new DOD initiative to reduce the stigma of mental health care.  It looks like it has taken this long for stories to start hitting the internet and airwaves because DOD has been working on establishing a comprehensive effort.  I found some interesting information about it online and will post about it in the next few days.

New Additions to the Blogroll

October 28, 2008 at 7:26 pm | Posted in Deployment, Interesting Reads, Military | 5 Comments

I wrote once before about one part of blogging I don’t like- orphaned blogs. Now I have been guilty of orphaning a blog or two in the past, but it was always after no more than a handful of posts and generally no readers other than spambots. A lot of the milblogs that I have come to enjoy reading have been orphaned. I tend to keep the links in my bookmarks for quite a while and go back checking for updates. I’m usually disappointed, but every once in a while I get lucky.

Recently, an orphaned recruiter milblog has come back to life. Station Commando had a blog (Recruiting Tirade) when he was a recruiter. Recruiters seem to have a pretty high blog orphan rate BTW. Anyway, SC is back and posting under the title Conversations in the Desert. From his first few posts it sounds like he’s been through a lot since the old blog, but has found his way through. Other than the goodbye post, his recruiting days are no longer in the archives. However, he is now serving in Afghanistan and is posting about his deployment.

I also have a new link up on the sidebar for Embrace the Suck by Mud Puppy (as far as I know he hasn’t orphaned blogs yet). Mud Puppy is about to head to Afghanistan and has been posting since mid-Summer. I know I had to have ended up at his blog from a link, but have no clue where it was. He’s got some pretty funny posts, just be forewarned that he definitely has an infantry-style sense of humor. I have to tell you that I am amused to no end by his nom de plume.

Every time I see a comment or post with his blog name, I have flashbacks to a college zoology course. The course had a lab where we dissected a number of different creatures including….a mud puppy. The ones we dissected were basically like the salamanders you see in pet stores on steroids. My lab partner and I were doing fine until we had the mud puppy opened up and were trying to identify the reproductive system. When we compared the insides to our books we were kind of confused and had to call the TA over. Once she was at our station the TA confirmed our suspicions- our mud puppy was a hermaphrodite. Keep this story in mind when you read his posts and maybe you’ll understand a little better why the connection amuses me so much.

Treatment Options for Wounded Warriors

October 22, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Posted in Deployment, Disabilities, Military, Rehabilitation | 4 Comments

There is little doubt that traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and polytrauma are the signature injuries among veterans of OEF and OIF.  The nature of the injuries, the numbers of servicemembers experiencing them, and the lifetime impact of these injuries on the lives of individual servicemembers and their families have had a profound impact on rehabilitation systems of care, both within the VA and in the civilian sector.

DOD and the VA system have established new initiatives, including the development of the VAs polytrauma system of care and significant DOD funding for research with direct relevance to the treatment and rehabilitation of servicemembers with TBI and polytrauma.  In addition, the public profile and support  of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center , the Center for Deployment Psychology and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress are increasing.

Clearly DOD and the VA are taking steps to ramp-up the research and clinical care capabilities within their systems for these populations.  However, as anyone who has ever worked within or tried to work with large governmental organizations knows, change comes slowly.  In the meantime, there are countless numbers of returning servicemembers who need services now.  Many of them are being served well through the VA system, but it seems that not very many understand that there are additional treatment options. Continue Reading Treatment Options for Wounded Warriors…

Road 2 Recovery

August 28, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Posted in Disabilities, Military, Rehabilitation | Leave a comment

In my last post I wrote about receiving a surprise email today from Thunder 6 of 365 and a Wakeup. The email he sent was a solicitation of support for a charity ride. Thunder 6 is participating in the Road 2 Recovery charity bike ride in California. He will ride from a Veterans hospital in San Francisco to one in Los Angeles (September 28- October 4th) to raise money. Here is what he is raising the money for in his own words:

More then two years have passed since those fire bright days in Iraq, but several Soldiers I served alongside still struggle to recover from the physical and psychological wounds of our deployment. Within the last year the Veterans Administration (VA) has started to implement a new recreational therapy program to help my Soldiers, and others like them, begin to become whole again. The program utilizes cycling to help injured Soldiers regain a sense of normalcy and accomplishment during their recovery process. Cycling is a low impact activity that combines the health benefits of physical activity with the psychological benefits of being outdoors, and it has been shown to reduce depression and accompanying issues.

It would be impossible to overstate the value and impact of therapeutic recreation activities during the recovery process. It is a vital component of rehabilitation of physical injuries, both because of the opportunities rec therapy provides to learn and test new skills in a “real life” setting as well as the social and psychological benefits. Despite ADA, there are still many obstacles and challenges waiting outside the hospital doors for individuals with disabilities. Recreational therapy takes people in rehab out into the “real world” where they can learn through experience how to adapt to the new challenges they are facing and how to use the skills they have learned through OT and PT to improvise and overcome obstacles.

One injured soldier who has participated in both the Road 2 Recovery program at Walter Reed and the East Coast charity ride earlier this summer is Captain Ferris Butler. Captain Butler rode in the East Coast Road 2 Recovery charity ride approximately a year and a half after being injured in Iraq and only two moths after his 53rd surgery- the amputation of his left leg. You can read about him, the East Coast charity ride and Road 2 Recovery in USA Today and at Bicycling.com.

In the automatic signature added at the end of his email Thunder 6 has a link to his blog and the motto “Rangers Lead The Way”. That’s exactly what he is doing through his efforts to support this program. If you would like to help him achieve his objective, follow the directions here to sponsor his ridership.

“Orphaned” Milblogs

August 28, 2008 at 9:34 pm | Posted in Blogging, Deployment, Military | Leave a comment

I’ve been reading milblogs for long enough now to recognize that many of my “favorites” are going to have a short lifespan. A minimum of 1/3 of the milblogs bookmarked in my web browser are no longer regularly updated. It’s different than the blog orphaning I’ve been guilty of in the past, but I would imagine the reasons for orphaning vary from milblogger to milblogger.

Today I received an email from a milblogger whose blog has gone long enough without being updated that I had actually removed the bookmark from Firefox. It was from Thunder6, the author of 365 and a Wake-up (I’ll be posting something separate about the email he sent later). Two and a half years had passed since his “Welcome Home” post. I recognized his blog as one of my daily “must reads” that has been orphaned and hoped that the email meant he was back to blogging. While there is one newer post on his blog (from this past June), the opening statement makes me think he won’t be blogging on it anymore.

It has been a very, very long time since I have had the opportunity to write in this online journal. Truth be told I have had the opportunity – I just lacked the ability. Although I wanted to bring some kind of closure to this journal it has always been – and will always remain – a war journal. And when you aren’t immersed in the blowtorch reality of combat it can be a little difficult to write about the emotions those situations give birth to.

I hope that he was able to gain the closure he sought.

Not just for rich white men and the police anymore

August 27, 2008 at 1:06 am | Posted in Blogging, Disabilities, Military | Leave a comment

Sometimes no matter how hard I try to stay on track and follow the “main theme” of a discussion, a small point will grab my attention. I am frequently distracted by something shiny when reading blogs- especially the comments sections. I think that the “conversations” taking place in the comments sections are a large part of what makes reading blogs fun for many of us, particularly when a blog has a diverse group of readers who comment. Sometimes I find the path the comments lead me down as interesting (or even more interesting) than the main theme of the original post and have to restrain myself from posting an overly long and more than slightly off-topic comment in response. Luckily, now that I have this blog I can blog my response and link to the original post rather than cluttering up the comments section.

In a comment on a recent post over LT. Nixon’s blog, Caroline of the USO Girls said:

On the segway…I’ve only seen wealthy middle aged white men and police officers use them.

She also included a link to a funny YouTube video of Segway polo. It almost distracted me again!

Most people do associate the Segway with law enforcement, and for good reason. Law enforcement is one of the largest groups of Segway purchasers. I think a lot of people would be very surprised to learn of another very large group. Segways are very popular among individuals with disabilities, particularly people with disabilities resulting in increased fatigue and difficulty ambulating over large distances (e.g. people with multiple sclerosis, some individuals with amputations, etc.). I found this really great article about the use of the Segway as a mobility device in the archives of the Stanford Daily. It references a local Segway dealer who says that one third of his customers are individuals with disabilities, one third law enforcement/security, and the rest from the general public. What’s really interesting is that this is happening despite the fact that the Segway cannot be marketed specifically as a mobility aid for individuals with disabilities and isn’t considered a medical device.

Continue Reading Not just for rich white men and the police anymore…

New Link on the Blogroll

August 22, 2008 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Blogging, Military | 10 Comments

There is a new link on the blogroll.  Some of you have noticed that there has been a new commenter here the past few days.  Zolnierz is an American soldier currently deployed to Iraq.  He has a blog with some really great pictures.  The posts are pretty good too…at least the little of them I manage to understand.   He’s originally from Poland and blogs in Polish, so I’m not always entirely sure what he is writing about.    For example, these pictures from an Iraqi Bazaar give you a very different view on Iraqi life than what you can find on the news and in newspapers.  He some great shots from other places as well.

Random sign seen while traveling

August 4, 2008 at 9:37 pm | Posted in Military, Travel | 4 Comments

I was going to use this as a “Wordless Wednesday” post, but decided that probably wasn’t a good idea since the sign pretty much is all about the words.

We Need More Programs Like This

July 10, 2008 at 12:29 am | Posted in Mental Health, Military | Leave a comment

For many individuals being homeless is a “temporary” state, but for others it is more of a chronic condition. The United States Department of Health and Human Services- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration published the following statistics about the chronicity of being homeless:

  • Most, or about 80 percent, exit from homelessness within 2 or 3 weeks. They often have more personal, social, and economic resources to draw from than people who are homeless for longer periods of time.
  • About 10 percent are homeless for up to 2 months, with housing availability and affordability adding to the time they are homeless.
  • Another 10 percent are homeless on a chronic, protracted basis, for as long as 7 or 8 months in a 2-year period. Disabilities associated with mental illnesses and substance use are common. On any given night, this group of homeless persons can account for up to 50 percent of those seeking emergency shelter.

According to the same website, over 66% of homeless individuals report problems with substance use and/or mental health and while veterans are 13% of the overall population in our country, they comprise 23% of the homeless population. VA estimates indicate that 45% of homeless veterans have a mental illness and over 70% have substance use/abuse problems, with some experiencing both mental illness and comorbid substance abuse problems.

Continue Reading We Need More Programs Like This…

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