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Friday, May 6, 2016

My letter on getting service connected for PTSD.

I was on Facebook with a group for wives and found out the VA and Army, and other services are giving people "adjustment disorder" or"Unspecified trauma and stressor related disorder." WTF!! So I posted this and I am posting it here. These ignorant examiners are lower than whale shit. Write out in your won handwriting your stressors and symptoms and remember that a traumatic brain Injury is ALSO A TRAUMATIC STRESSOR!!
And don't be too proud to tell them your symptoms.

Dear Veteran,
I’m writing to give you encouragement about the struggle to get a VA rating for PTSD. I suggest writing out the claim in your own handwriting and taking it with you to the interview and giving it to the examiner. Tell him or her to attach to your claim. Keep a xerox copy. Do this every time you go for an interview and every time you
appeal, which you will probably have to do because if you have PTSD they will try to give you the lowest rating they can get away with. You need to be persistent and to supply them with concrete (written) evidence for your claim. You will also need to do this every two years when they review your case.
What you have to have:
A traumatic stressor: a-threat of death or bodily injury to yourself (ie. combat, friendly fire, being mortared or rocketed, wounded, captured, driving a truck on a mined road, flying in a helicopter that was shot at, jumping out of a helicopter into a hot LZ. I’m sure you have more than one. list them all);
b-threat of death or bodily injury to someone you are close to (if you had a buddy who was wounded or lost squad members, family member) c-sudden loss of home or community (squad wiped out, hooch or hospital mortared, evacuated due to wounds, etc.) or d-seeing anyone who has recently been killed or injured (being a
medic or nurse on a trauma ward, body bagging, seeing someone you didn’t know killed, seeing kids, women or other Americans or civilians who had been killed, or wounded, etc.). You probably have a large number of these. They want you to have felt fear, horror or helplessness at the time, so say that you did. You can probably
remember how you felt the fear, horror or helplessness the first time or so that you saw death and how later you got numb to it because that numbness is a symptom of PTSD. Write out at least one of these stressors (or as many as you remember if you can) and write that you felt one or more of those emotions. It doesn’t have to be detailed. The bald facts will do.
Then you have to have one reexperiencing symptom, but include all that you have: these include nightmares, not being able to stop thinking about the war, getting really upset at things that remind you of the war including anniversaries, as well as flashbacks where you might feel like you’re back there for a moment . Also if the
sound of a Huey going over gets your adrenaline going (or any other thing that reminds you of your particular war if it wasn’t Vietnam) causes physiological arousal, that’s a physiological reexperiencing symptom which you should list.
Next you need three numbing symptoms. They are:
a- efforts to avoid thought or feelings associated with the trauma (If you try not to think about the war or if you try not to feel love because you lost a beloved buddy, try never to feel guilt because you think you fucked up over there, try never to be happy because you were ambushed when you were feeling fine, those are all examples. So is trying never to get angry because you’re afraid of what you might do. So is staying drunk or drugged, but I would not bring that up unless they try to say that’s your problem):
b-efforts to avoid activities or situations associated with the trauma (never watch war movies, don’t hunt, don’t go to veterans day parades or associate with other vets, can’t stand authority figures because of the REMF’s or the lifers, etc);
c-inability to recall important aspects of the trauma (particular battles or periods of time that you can’t remember or whether those guys were killed or just wounded are all symptoms of PTSD. Use it as such);
d-markedly diminished interest in significant activities (what did you used to do that you don’t since your PTSD came on? Lots of guys with PTSD stay home watching TV which is this symptom. Others still get out but they’ve given up hunting, or going places where there are crowds or whatever).
e-feeling of detachment or estrangement from others (No one can understand what it’s like. I’m on the outside looking in at all these people who haven’t a clue. I don’t care about things or people the way I used to).
f- restricted range of affect (feelings) for example unable to have loving feelings (unable to cry when parent dies or kid dies, told
you have no feelings, can’t feel love for wife, etc).
g- sense of a foreshortened future: does not expect to have
a career, marriage, children, or a long life (may be still driving drunk or stoned, still jumping out of airplanes or taking other risks, afraid to commit to anyone or anything etc.). This all has to be written out too. Well it doesn’t have to be—I’m not trying to boss you around here— but examples of three of them will establish your
case and the more concrete examples the better to buttress your case.
The last set of symptoms, you need two of these, are “symptoms of increased arousal not present before the
trauma” which include
a-difficulty falling or staying asleep,
b-irritability or outbursts of anger,
c-difficulty concentrating
(Read a page and can’t remember it? Forget what your wife just told you or constantly hear “I told you that yesterday!” Feel dumb because you don’t follow a lot of conversations, etc, or just can’t focus because part of you is scanning for danger all the time?), d-hypervigilance (always looking for danger, worrying about
people getting hurt, still looking for tripwires and sitting with your back to the wall, avoiding crowds, etc),
e: exaggerated startle response (hit the dirt at the sound of a backfire, can’t be touched when asleep, etc).
You have to have had the symptoms for a month or more. Mention how they have affected your ability to get and retain employment, your social and your intimate relationships.
Beyond taking a description of your traumatic experiences in your war and your current symptons to the interview,
I also suggest taping the interview. Here in Gainesville, FL, the only time the VA Compensation examiner asks you about your experiences in the war or your symptoms is when you are recording the interview.
Otherwise he doesn’t ask and so he doesn’t report and you don’t get service connected. Remember they need this information spelled out to service connect you.
If you were given another psychiatric diagnosis before 1980 (or even later in most VA’s) you may need to point out to the examiner that during that period, there was no such diagnosis as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
available. The examiner may not be aware of this fact.
The compensation and pension (C&P) examiner is required to ask for a social history, stressor history, past and present symptoms both subjective and objective. This takes time. If the correct proceedure wasn’t followed (like it was a short exam or the examiner didn’t ask you specific questions about your social history, stressor history, past and present symptoms both subjective and objective), you can immediately in writing request another exam because that exam was" not adequate for compensation purposes." You don’t have to wait for them to make a decision and getback to you.
I hope this helps. Best of luck.
Thanks and Welcome Home!
Patience Mason, Editor, The Post-Traumatic Gazette
author of Recovering From the War

Sunday, February 7, 2016

New book idea #1

I thought I would start posting stuff here about my ideas for a new book on PTSD, a sort of handbook where you can look up a symptom or a treatment and see what is known about it.
I just finished a book called After Action by Dan Sheehan. I highly recommend it and his second book, Continuing Actions. He was a Marine Cobra pilot in the invasion of Iraq, but for me the importance of the book is that he noticed he was affected, tried not to be, and eventually realized that if he did not deal with what he was trying not to feel, it would affect his kids. 
This is an insightful man! 
He was also much older than, for example, my husband who went into combat at 22, or the 18 year old grunts in most wars...
My favorite line in the book: "But I wasn't interested in being honest–I wanted to be fine."
I have never met a veteran who didn't want to be fine.
So this got me thinking about the use of fine as an acronym, which Bob claims I only like because it has the word fuck in it. (Probably true!)
The acronym: fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional, according to some AA people I know.
I go for fucked up. A lot of vets feel that war fucked them up even though they don't want to admit it.
Insecure works for me, too. Most vets are super aware of danger and may even read danger into many things.
Neurotic means nothing to me, so I would substitute numb for that, since being numb keeps you able to do your job in the midst of danger and chaos. Finally I think emotional is a good thing when you are not in combat, so I put egotistical in it's place.

So the page in my new book would read something like this:

I'm FINE.
Many people are actually happy, productive, relaxed and aware when they say they are fine.
Some people say they are fine to deflect attention from how they do feel because they were taught that this was the only acceptable answer. Anything else makes you a wuss, a whiner, a loser.
Reality is that most people who come back from war, or survive another trauma, are not fine, so if that might fit you, here are some questions to think about:
How or why might you be fucked up? Are you saying or thinking if you'd been through what I've been through, you'd be fucked up too? If you had my wife, husband, boss, kids, etc.
How are you insecure? Are you sleeping with a gun? Driving like a maniac? Not trusting anyone?
How are you numb? Do you have to be in danger to feel alive? Can you feel sad? Can you feel love?
How are you egotistical? Do you want everything your way? Is there flexibility in your relationships? Do you yell if things are not done 'right'?
Think about these questions and see if you are actually fine or not.

So that would be one page in the book, and I would like feedback on the idea. Please post it here on the blog.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Bob suggested I write up a set of Q & A for an advice column on PTSD and try and sell it to a newspaper or something. It is really what I love to do, but do I have the energy? It would be easy if someone else came up with the questions...
I have a blog at PatienceMason.blogspot.com http://www.patiencepress.com/pat…/PTSD_Help-For_Spouses.html and two other facebook pages, Patience H C Mason, Author and Recovering From the War.
Last Year in June (PTSD Month) I posted everyday here and cross posted to all of them. I think it helped some people.
I keep directing people on some of the groups I belong to to http://www.patiencepress.com/pat…/PTSD_Help-For_Spouses.html which also links to the stuff for kids, the Gazettes and various essays. I have written so much on this subject and few people know, but 

I really think my non-professional take on PTSD is way more helpful than the way professionals look at it as a random collection of symptoms with no rhyme or reason. 
I see it as survivor skills built into your brain which are rapidly/instantly activated by war or abuse and which play out in a logical order, hyperalertness and rapid adaptation leading to numbing and then avoidance, ending up with re-experiencing symptoms like nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, anniversary reactions to incidents you may or may not remember, one of the commonest causes for a resurgence of PTSD symptoms.
The other common cause for a resurgence is a new stressor which, having been to war, may not seem like it ought to bother you, but suddenly you are keyed up, angry etc.
I'd be glad for suggestions or inspiration.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

To my Congressman about marijuana

When Bob got back from Vietnam
 anyone who had problems was treated badly at the local VA where they were rude and dismissive. The diagnosis of PTSD did not exist. There was no treatment except valium, and he was told to take all he wanted since it was the new wonder drug. He also drank heavily. The students at UF introduced him to pot.
Bob survived BECAUSE he had these three drugs to use. Not because he got help at the VA. Not because I helped him. Because drinking, smoking pot and taking lots of valium just kept him down to WIRED. He could not sleep. Sleeping pills kept him awake. He was irritable and angry a lot, numb a lot, but whatever he was, the pot HELPED.
It helped him and it helped me because it calmed him down.
I think it should be available to every veteran.

What I wrote Ted Yoho, a supposedly pro-vet Congressman in Florida:
'I happen to live with a vet who has PTSD and who has suffered a lot as a result. I have written a book called Recovering From The War and have a website on recovering from PTSD, which involves different things for different people. http://www.patiencepress.com/patien…/PTSD_Help-Gazettes.html
I believe that with so many veterans killing themselves or hurting their families with outbursts of anger etc, they should be provided with something which will help them NOW, not after weeks of therapy, if they can even be seen in the VA or find a therapist who understands. Medications may help, but if they have bad side effects, most vets won't take them and won't say they are not. They give up. Pot just makes them feel better and it should be available. For years after Vietnam, it was the only thing that helped my husband and I was glad he had it.
I know you won't agree, but I wanted to let you know that you could have helped our veterans and you didn't. 

It is not an ideal solution, but it is something that has helped many. "

I wrote this when I signed a letter to Representative Yoho about the fact that VA doctors can't even talk to vets about pot, thanks to a recent vote. The letter came through the Drug Policy Alliance
http://www.drugpolicy.org/

Friday, April 3, 2015

I love this poster. Wish IAVA knew that my website (patiencepress.com) exists with a lot of help on it.
It is normal to be affected by what you live through!
Different people need different things to get better.
There is no pill for PTSD and no therapy that works for everyone (no matter how "evidence based").
The symptoms of PTSD all start in the primitive parts of the brain as brain based survival skills: attention to threat leads to hypervigilance; rapid adaptation to what's happening leads to numbing and then avoidance to stay numb (including alcoholism, drugs, and other addictive behaviors); and the brain's better safe than sorry system, which does not speak English and can't tell time (except when anniversaries roll around) tries to keep you aware that the universe is a dangerous place with intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, and anniversary reactions.
NORMAL, people! Not weak! Not weird! We are made to survive if possible.
Having PTSD is evidence that you have been through traumatic events and also evidence of strength, courage, speed, luck, etc, and survival! I am glad you lived through it and made it home.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Do you still think of Vietnam by Kerry "Doc" Pardue,

This is a beautiful essay!

 

Do you still think of Vietnam?

by Kerry “Doc” Pardue
A couple of years ago someone asked me if I still thought about Vietnam. I nearly laughed in their face. How do you stop thinking about it? Every day for the past forty years, I wake up with it- I go to bed with it. This was my response:
“Yeah, I think about it. I can’t stop thinking about it. I never will. But, . I’ve also learned to live with it. I’m comfortable with the memories. I’ve learned to stop trying to forget and learned to embrace it. It just doesn’t scare me anymore.”
A lot of my “brothers” haven’t been so lucky. For them the memories are too painful, their sense of loss too great. My sister told me of a friend she has whose husband was in the Nam. She asks this guy when he was there.
Here’s what he said, “Just last night.” It took my sister a while to figure out what he was talking about. Just Last Night. Yeah, I was in the Nam. When? Just last night, before I went to sleep, on my way to work this morning, and over my lunch hour. Yeah, I was there
The Wall
My sister says I’m not the same brother who went to Vietnam. My wife says I won’t let people get close to me, not even her.They are probably both right. Ask a vet about making friends in Nam. It was risky. Why? Because we were in the business of death, and death was with us all the time. It wasn’t the death of, “If I die before I wake.” This was the real thing. The kind boys scream for their mothers. The kind that lingers in your mind and becomes more real each time you cheat it. You don’t want to make a lot of friends when the possibility of dying is that real, that close. When you do, friends become a liability.
A guy named Bob Flanigan was my friend. Bob Flanigan is dead. I put him in a body bag one sunny day, April 29, 1969. We’d been talking, only a few minutes before he was shot, about what we were going to do when we got back to the world. Now, this was a guy who had come in country the same time as me. A guy who was loveable and generous. He had blue eyes and sandy blond hair.
When he talked, it was with a soft drawl. I loved this guy like the brother I never had. But, I screwed up. I got too close to him. I broke one of the unwritten rules of war. DON”T GET CLOSE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO DIE. You hear vets use the term “buddy” when they refer to a guy they spent the war with. “Me and this buddy of mine.”
Friend sounds too intimate, doesn’t it? “Friend” calls up images of being close. If he’s a friend, then you are going to be hurt if he dies, and war hurts enough without adding to the pain. Get close; get hurt. It’s as simple as that. In war you learn to keep people at that distance my wife talks about. You become good at it, that forty years after the war, you still do it without thinking. You won’t allow yourself to be vulnerable again.
My wife knows two people who can get into the soft spots inside me-my daughters. I know it bothers her that they can do this.It’s not that I don’t love my wife. I do. She’s put up with a lot from me.She’ll tell you that when she signed for better or worse, she had no idea there was going to be so much of the latter. But with my daughters it’s different. My girls are mine. They’ll always be my kids. Not marriage, not distance, not even death can change that.They are something on this earth that can never be taken away from me. I belong to them. Nothing can change that. I can have an ex-wife; but my girls can never have an ex-father. There’s the differance. I can still see the faces, though they all seem to have the same eyes. When I think of us, I always see a line of “dirty grunts”sitting on a paddy dike. We’re caught in the first gray silver between darkness and light. That first moment when we know we’ve survived another night, and the business of staying alive for one more day is about to begin. There was so much hope in that brief space of time. It’s what we used to pray for. “One more day, God. One more day.”
And I can hear our conversations as if they’d only just been spoken I still hear the way we sounded. The hard cynical jokes, our morbid senses of humor. We were scared to death of dying, and tried our best not to show it.
I recall the smells, too. Like the way cordite hangs on the air after a fire-fight. Or the pungent odor of rice paddy mud. So different from the black dirt of Iowa. The mud of Nam smells ancient, somehow. Like it’s always been there. And I’ll never forget the way blood smells, sticky and drying on my hands. I spent a long night that way once. The memory isn’t going anywhere.
I remember how the night jungle appears almost dreamlike as pilot of a Cessna buzzez overhead, dropping parachute flares until morning. That artificial sun would flicker and make shadows run through the jungle. It was worse than not being able to see what was out there sometimes. I remember once looking at the man next to me as a flare floated overhead. The shadows around his eyes were so deep that it looked like his eyes were gone. I reached over and touched him on the arm; without looking at me he touched my hand. “I know man. I know.” That’s what he said. It was a human moment. Two guys a long way from home and scared to death.
God, I loved those guys. I hurt every time one of them died. We all did. Despite our posturing. Despite our desire to stay disconnected, we couldn’t help ourselves. I know why Tim O’ Brien writes his stories. I know what gives Bruce Weigle the words to create poems so honest I cry at their horrible beauty. It’s love. Love for those guys we shared the experience with.
We did our jobs like good soldiers, and we tried our best not to become as hard as our surroundings.You want to know what is frightening. It’s a nineteen-year-old-boy who’s had a sip of that power over life and death that war gives you. It’s a boy who, despite all the things he’s been taught,knows that he likes it. It’s a nineteen-year-old who’s just lost a friend, and is angry and scared and, determined that, “some*@#*s gonna pay”.To this day, the thought of that boy can wake me from a sound sleep and leave me staring at the ceiling.
As I write this, I have a picture in front of me. It’s of two young men. On their laps are tablets. One is smoking a cigarette. Both stare without expression at the camera. They’re writing letters. Staying in touch with places they rather be. Places and people they hope to see again. The picture shares space in a frame with one of my wife.. She doesn’t mind. She knows she’s been included in special company. She knows I’ll always love those guys who shared that part of my life, a part she never can. And she understands how I feel about the ones I know are out there yet. The ones who still answer the question, “When were you in Vietnam?”
“Hey, man. I was there just last night.”
~Kerry “Doc” Pardue

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Holiday stuff from the Post-Traumatic Gazette


For anyone who is having a hard time at this time of year, here are all my holiday articles:
http://www.patiencepress.com/doc…/V3N4PTSDand%20Holidays.pdf
http://www.patiencepress.com/documents/V4N4Normal.pdf
http://www.patiencepress.com/docume…/V6N4Holidays%20Hurt.pdf
and on on New Years Resolutions which is not the headline article
http://www.patiencepress.com/do…/V5N4%2828%29%20Physical.pdf