Monthly Archives: April 2012

Emotional numbing, a symptom of PTSD, is often apparent and scary to a combat veteran’s homecoming.

Following is a striking quote from a new novel, Home Front, by Kristin Hannah.
“She sighed, too tired suddenly to do anything—to fight, to pretend, to feel.  This day had gone from bad to worse and there was no end in sight.   …but there was something else wrong; this numbness inside of her.  She wanted to do the whole reunion over and be a better mother this time.”

The above quote really got my attention!  I write about emotional numbness http://ptsd.about.com/od/glossary/g/numbing.htm in my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.  When an individual experiences the severe trauma of combat or in the case of my own toxic family culture, when loved ones are affected, normal feelings and emotions are often lost at least initially and sometimes for the long term.  The excitement of a soldier’s homecoming is often hard to surface immediately, and can show instantly to family members, who then become distanced and hurt by the behavior.  It is critical for the family as a whole to have patience and surround the returning warrior as spouse and parent with love; the deep human emotions of closeness and trust will return in time. 

I highly recommend reading Home Front by Kristen Hannah, who resides in the Pacific Northwest.  It is a powerful family story, including the challenges of deployment and has much healing value.  Home Front can be ordered using the Amazon.com link included to the right of this posting.  Of course, I am always happy to recommend my book as well…

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Charles R. Figley, Ph.D. Purdue Univeristy authored first clincial research for PTSD in 1978, “Stress Disorders among Vietnam Veterans.”

http://books.google.com/books/about/Stress_Disorders_Among_Vietnam_Veterans.html?id=DbmS9JmDoeAC

In the research of Dr. Figley we can see some of the very early manifestations of  PTSD from a quote by a machine gunner on a helicopter describing the process of adjustment in referring to an incident in which he contributed to the death of an innocent 12-year-old boy as their helicopter takes off.

When that happened, my first reaction…was…I would guess you would consider normal.  It would be horror, pain, and then I realized that I caught myself immediately and I said, “no, you can’t do that,” because you develop a shell while you are in the military… They take all the humanness out of you and you develop a crust that enables you to survive in Vietnam.  And if you let that protective shell down for even a second, it could mean…it’s the difference between you flipping out or managing to make it through.  And I caught myself tearing the shell down and I…and I… tightened up right away and started laughing and joking about it (Vietnam Veterans Against War, 1972)”

And, in another quote with the backdrop of venting the build up of tension during “mad-minutes,” a sort of sanctioned irrationality when everyone fired aimlessly at the surrounding jungle.

Everyone there seemed to have a pseudonym of some sort or another…maybe that was some way of escaping any guilt about their work.  It was my first contact with the dreamlike quality of the war.  Perhaps that is one of the factors contributing to our defeat there.  The war was unreal.  The SF (Special Forces) people took on assumed names.  The enemy became “dinks” and “slopes and “gooks.”  The plane that fired the mini-guns was called “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and areas designated for complete destruction were called “free fire zones.”  It was like go8ng through the looking glass and, after your tour was finished, you could step back through the mirror and leave the horror and the dread in another, unreal world.”

We all know by now, that none of this creating an “unreal world” stuff worked very well once the Vietnam combat veteran returned home to make a sharp right turn adjustment to a healthy, happy, and productive civilian life.  We can probably say that the above scenario and example of dehumanization occurs in wars in general, including experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is important to understand the backdrop of the reality of war and what our combat veterans experience before we can effectively understand and help them when they return home.  Ignorance is the public’s worst enemy in adequately stepping up to our community responsibilities when combat veterans return home.  We don’t know what to say or what to do.  My goal with this blog is to educate and advance the cause of awareness.  It is with education and awareness that we begin to help our warriors with the long journey of healing moral injury.

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

When a Child’s Parent has PTSD.


http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/pro_child_parent_ptsd.asp

The following quote is from the above National Center for PTSD site.   

“A parent’s PTSD symptoms can be directly linked to their child’s responses. Children can respond

in certain ways:

The “over-identified” child

might feel and behave just like their parent as a way of trying

to connect with the parent. Such a child might show many of the same symptoms as the
parent with PTSD.

The “rescuer” child

takes on the adult role to fill in for the parent with PTSD. The child

acts too grown-up for his or her age.

The “emotionally uninvolved child”

gets little emotional help. This results in problems at school, depression, anxiety (worry, fear), and relationship problems later in life.”

The PTSD paper written and published by the National Center for PTSD addresses an often not discussed secondary PTSD problem in a family where the parent shows severe symptoms from experience in combat or other traumatic events. My book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, describes my own family’s post WWII culture in the context of how we siblings behaved under the toxic home life conditions resulting from my father’s extended combat duty. Dad’s symptoms became worse in the ’50’s following a tour of additional combat duty during the Korean War. It is highly painful but healing at the same time to revisit the past in our family story. Kids take on PTSD like bad genes and often deal with the symptoms for a life time with or without treatment. My family deals with this so much better these days after learning and becoming more aware of Dad’s mental health challenges following two wars and over five years of combat duty beginning with the South China Sea just before WWII, surviving the Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor while serving on the USS West Virginia, the Asiatic Pacific Theater serving of the USS Belle Grove, and finally the USS Andromeda during the Korean War. This was far too much combat duty for one human being to endure. And think of it, 1000’s of combat veterans experienced the same kind of combat duty during my father’s “Greatest Generation” of warriors. Life after war for countless wartime veterans was a total experiment in coping with symptoms of anxiety and depression, including acting out with rage at home around spouses, children and loved ones. We really didn’t begin to learn a whole lot of PTSD until the post Vietnam era, and now are in a much better position to provide diagnosis and treatment. The key to healing is awareness, education, and discussion among ourselves as families and the community as a whole.   We must take responsibility and action as a community where our veterans return home to live a healthy, happy, and productive life after war. 

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Remembering the heroic service of Korean War combat veterans.

http://starhq.com/2012/04/24/william-cole-earned-medals-for-valor-during-tour-of-duty-in-korean-war/?wpmp_switcher=desktop

The following quote, photo and article from the above link was written by  , Elizabethton Star

“Although he only served in Korea with the U.S. Army in 1950 and 1951, veteran William Cole saw plenty of action during the period as the Korean War escalated.

Photo by Brandon Hicks – William Cole earned the medals on display in this case during his service with the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

His actions — including an heroic rescue attempt under enemy fire — during his time fighting in the Korean War earned him several commendations and medals. Cole has these medals, such as a Bronze Star and Purple Hearts, proudly on display in a wood and glass cabinet.”

I really don’t hear a whole lot about the Korean War and the sacrifice of combat veterans who are still very much with us, especially if they were just 17 when entering the service at that time in the early 1950’s.  What really shocked me is that my father, Vernon, after being diagnosed with severe “battle fatigue” following extended combat duty in WWII was sent away to the Korean War on the USS Andromeda http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Andromeda_(AKA-15) just a few years later.  “Andromeda provided logistics support for United Nations forces fighting the Korean War until returning to San Diego at the end of the year. After 10 months of duty on the west coast, the ship returned to the Orient and logistics support for the United Nations defense of South Korea.”  Dad was told that he would not have to go back to any war while still in the Navy.  He was away again for about 1 year supporting the troops in the Korean War even though his condition and symptoms of PTSD worsened according to his medical records and observations by family members.  I remember Dad coming home, as written in my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.  I was standing with my Mother, brothers, Jerry and Danny, and could see him waving from the ship when it was being secured to the dock.  The really tough times for Dad and our family were in the 50’s and vivid memories still persist.  We were all afraid and walked on egg shells most of the time.  It is sad for me to think of these times, and even more troubling to think that the US Navy sent my Dad and probably thousands of other WWII combat veterans back to war during the Korean conflict.  Dad’s symptoms were especially apparent with panic attacks and nightmares of shipboard duty.  He along with thousands of WWII veterans served their country with pride and honor in combat during WWII and should not have had to return to duty during the Korean conflict.

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Veterans Courts should be adopted and you can help!

This is an opportunity to help in your local community and make a huge difference!  Veterans Courts is a nationwide initiative, but requires community leaders and volunteers to help.  Please go to the below site and learn more about how you can help veterans in your community receive consideration for their honorable service in the military.  Become a veteran advocate in the courts!

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

http://www.nadcp.org/vets

Contact Us:
Policy/Partnerships/Training

Matt Stiner
571-384-1858
Media
Chris Deutsch
571-384-1857

Justice For Vets: The National Clearinghouse for Veterans Treatment Courts

Justice For Vets is the nation’s only Veterans Organization exclusively committed to ensuring that veterans involved in the criminal justice system have access to Veterans Treatment Courts and the benefits, services and treatment they have earned.
CNN Takes You Inside the Orange County Combat Veterans Treatment Court.  See video by clicking http://www.nadcp.org/nadcp-home/

DRUG COURTS SAVE MONEY and so do Veterans Courts…

FACT: Nationwide, for every $1 invested in Drug Court, taxpayerssave as much as $3.36 in avoided criminal justice costs alone.

FACT: When considering cost offsets such as savings from health-care, studies have shown benefits range up to $12 for every $1 spent.

FACT: Drug Courts produce cost savings up to $12,000 per client. These savings reflect reduced prison and jail costs and reduced arrests and trials.

FACT: In 2007, for every Federal dollar invested in Drug Court,
$9.00 was leverage in state funding.

DRUG COURTS REDUCE CRIMEFACT

: The most rigorous scientific studies have all concluded that Drug Courts significantly reduce crime as much as 35 percent more than other sentencing options.


FACT

: Nationwide, 75% of Drug Court graduates remain arrest-free
at least two years after leaving the program.


FACT
: Rigorous studies examining long-term outcomes of Drug Courts found that reductions in crime last for at least 3 years and can endure for over 14 years.

Drugs, Alcohol, and Soldiers… Is the mix making the PTSD problem worse, not better?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/why-are-we-drugging-our-soldiers.html?_r=2&emc=eta1

The following quote is from the above link and article written by RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN

Published: April 21, 2012 , New York Times

“Stimulants do much more than keep troops awake. They can also strengthen learning. By causing the direct release of norepinephrine — a close chemical relative of adrenaline — in the brain, stimulants facilitate memory formation. Not surprisingly, emotionally arousing experiences — both positive and negative — also cause a surge of norepinephrine, which helps to create vivid, long-lasting memories. That’s why we tend to remember events that stir our feelings and learn best when we are a little anxious.

Since PTSD is basically a pathological form of learning known as fear conditioning, stimulants could plausibly increase the risk of getting the disorder.”
I am the last person on earth to give advice on the use of prescription drugs!  But the red flags keep popping up, so to speak, on the problems connected with medications, especially when mixed with alcohol.  I have had my own terrible experiences with prescription drugs and would not wish it on my best friends or anybody for that matter.  Alcohol in particular, mixed with any kind of prescription stimulant or anti-depressant can cause side effects that are very dangerous.  All you have to do is read the information provided with the prescription medication on side effects, talk to your physician, or pharmacist and hear the same warnings.
I’m encouraged by the increased awareness discussed in the NY Times article and the research taking place to help us understand the consequences better.  The statistics show that far too many soldiers are getting medicated.  And all too often when on liberty from official duties alcohol plays a role.  I remember what happened to me until putting alcohol in my past.  My disposition worsened exponentially.  I write about this in my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story.  I stopped drinking almost 12 years ago, and haven’t had the terrible experiences of side effects since.  But still know that even changing anti-depressant medications requires physician supervision because of potential side effects even without alcohol.
Along with my own personal experience, and continued warnings and information on this subject is worrisome.  Please take care in using prescription drugs.  Please don’t mix with alcohol.  And please seek the advice of your physician and/or mental health professional while you make adjustments to taking medications of anykind.
Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

The Arms Forces.org addresses the invisible wounds of veterans.

http://www.thearmsforces.org/

Following is a quote from the above link.

“The Arms Forces is a nonprofit organization that embraces the unique needs of veterans who have a traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. We develop and maintain a network of trained volunteer Life Navigation Coaches who give individual assistance to our wounded warriors who have the invisible wounds of war, at no cost to the veteran. We provide support to families and loved ones through our LEEF Support Experience. We bring about change in the stigma attached to such injuries by raising the consciousness of citizens as to what TBI and PTSD are and what they are not, through educational presentations, speeches and organizational culture.”

I am always thankful for learning of new resources and ideas to help veterans as in The Arms Forces, Embracing the military’s invisible wounds.  As a non-profit this organization works in partnership with all branches of the military to help veterans.  The mission statement: The Arms Forces provide education and programs that allow those who have served or who are now serving in the military who have a traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder find understanding, purpose and direction as they face “the other war” at home living with their invisible injury. They say, “we are the softer side, we hug people!”

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

My blog posting today is dedicated to my loving wife, Judy, on this day of our 28th wedding anniversary.  Without the love, friendship and support of Judy and her own work on my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, it would not have been possible to complete the story.  She worked tirelessly encouraging me and helping me stay focused, especially during some of the painful research.  At times writing this story was not pleasant.  The process of healing is a journey and one that requires revisiting painful and sometimes traumatic events of the past.  I am including Judy’s loving contribution to my book in the below excerpt.  Judy was the right person to write the Forward as an introduction to my book.  She worked on the draft for many weeks before showing it to me the first time.  I was overwhelmed with emotion reading it the first time.
Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story
Forward
In March, 2011, my husband and I traveled to Bucerias, Mexico.  Our first night there we met the woman in the room next to us while sitting outside on our patio.  As the woman said good bye, she casually mentioned her husband would be reliving another helicopter battle in Vietnam that evening and hoped we would not be disturbed.  I asked if he was okay and she said he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and relived the dream night after night.  We met her husband in the elevator the next day; he was a gentle, quiet man.  From outward appearances we would never have known he suffered from a mental health issue.  After our weekend we upgraded to a larger suite in an adjacent building and did not run into our neighbors again before their departure from the resort.

Steve had started documenting his father’s World War II history about two months prior to our trip.  He planned to request his father’s naval records when we returned from Mexico.  As luck would have it, about six days into our trip I became ill and dehydrated, and more or less completely missed two days of our Mexican adventure.  Being a devoted, caring husband, Steve stayed in the room with me while I recovered from a vicious bacterial infection.  While I slept, he worked on his “story” to record his family history for our children and grandchildren.  Having a clear head away from our daily grind, his “story” began evolving into something much larger. 

As I read this body of work I began to see the story as a case study from the perspective of a lay person.  Steve had shared some of his childhood memories with me, but as he embraced each of his siblings in telling their stories, I saw a much bigger picture unfolding.  Steve’s new awareness about his father’s “battle fatigue” condition of the past became the catalyst for a significant self-discovery journey.  My husband’s journey through dark moments of his past created an opportunity to lift an invisible veil that both of us had not really fully acknowledged.   The value of facing the truth has been powerful and healing.

Over the last 28 years that I’ve been with my husband I have felt he was misunderstood more than not.  It is clear to me now that misunderstandings are often not the fault of anyone, but the result of not having all the information and communication barriers.   Maybe I’m the exception, not the rule, in separating some of the behaviors from the man I fell in love with.  I am hopeful that those closest to him see a more complete picture of who he is, and his hopes and dreams for his loved ones.  Steve has a warm heart and a loving spirit; writing this story makes it even more apparent. 

Watching my anxious partner embrace a more peaceful and happy existence has been a positive journey for me as well.  I have a much greater understanding of what his life has been about during times of struggle.  I don’t believe much in coincidences.  My philosophy has always been that life experiences unfold as they were meant to be.  The timing of Steve’s writing journey is part of the greater plan.  He is able to embrace the truth, learn from this experience and share that with those he loves deeply.  His motivation has also been to help others who may have experienced family trauma, especially related to military service.   He wants to share his newfound peace and hopefully make a difference for the greater good.

I’ve often thought about the couple next door in Mexico during these last months.  Steve’s extensive research on PTSD has given me an informed perspective I did not have previously.  My hope is that our short time neighbors in Mexico and other war veterans are able to reach a peaceful existence within their own families, and break the cycle of intergenerational PTSD.  Although there are many take-aways in Part 3 of this book for all to consider, perhaps the greatest is knowing that none of us is alone in our life’s journey.  Unconditional love exists for each of us from a higher power or, if we’re fortunate enough, from earthly family and friends as well.  In love lies our strength.

Judy Young Sparks
Depoe Bay, Oregon
September, 2011

First popular guide on PTSD affecting Vietnam veterans published in 1980 by Disabled American Veterans…

http://www.abebooks.com/Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorders-Vietnam-Veteran/6251986024/bd

I was loaned a special and treasured book by a close friend and former Vietnam combat veteran during our recent visit back home in Leavenworth, Washington.  The book referenced in the above link was considered the “PTSD Bible” for Vietnam combat veterans of that era.  The instructional guide, published by the Disabled American Veterans in 1980, edited by Tom Williams, helps to understand the symptoms of PTSD when the subject was just beginning to get attention following the end of the Vietnam War.  The dots connect in a powerful way to this day.  All the most recent research rings a bell loudly in this book, describing the affects of war on soldiers, loved ones, and families.  The difference then is best stated by quoting the following from a young Vietnam veteran in the beginning of the book.

Soldier

I was that which others did not want to be,
I went where others feared to go, and what others failed to do,
I asked nothing from those who gave nothing, and reluctantly accepted the thought of eternal loneliness…should I fail.
I have seen the face of terror; felt the stinging cold of fear; and enjoyed the sweet taste of a moments love.
I have cried, pained and hoped…but most of all, I have lived times when others would say were best forgotten.
At least someday I will be able to say I was proud of what I was…a soldier.
…George L. Skypeck

If Mr. Skypeck had the opportunity on this day would he say, “I was proud to be a soldier?”

When the book was published it was dedicated to 700,000 wartime disabled veterans.  These are the men and women of my generation and from previous wars who served.  As a US Navy veteran from the Vietnam era, I feel guilty and ashamed that my brothers in arms were treated poorly for a long time, and for some, their entire life following the war.  It is close to me in my family with the death of my dear cousin Mike who was wounded and disabled in Vietnam.  Mike was mostly forgotten and lived a challenging life, estranged from his family.  I think of Mike when we played together as kids in San Bernardino, California.  He was a sweet kid and fun along with his entire family.  Some of the best times from my childhood were spent with Mike, his brothers and sisters, including Aunt Jewell and Uncle Wally.  Mike is gone and forgotten, but should be remembered and honored.  I hope we have an opportunity to do so sometime in the future.  I know his family is planning a memorial service at some point.  I want to remember my cousin Mike and honor his honorable service and sacrifice for our country.

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

“High Ground” is a very moving documentary…

http://sarasota.festivalgenius.com/2012/films/highground0_michaelbrown_sarasota2012

“HIGH GROUND is a portrayal a group of injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as they undertake an expedition to climb the 20,000 foot Himalayan giant Mount Lobuche. As the soldiers grow together as a team, their injuries and PTSD become another challenge to overcome. Leading the way is blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer and a group of guides who first climbed Mt. Everest ten years earlier. With nearly every military branch represented, the eleven veterans and their guides set out on an emotional journey in an attempt to heal their wounds, both physical and mental.”

I have learned from my own experience of healing from severe trauma and in observing others, including combat veterans, that life after war is best served by teaming up with obsessively motivated high achievers with hyper vigilance and hyper arousal behaviors.  When you connect with these like minded men and women, you can accomplish anything you set out to do.  There is no goal you can’t attain, no mountain high enough you can’t climb.  Nothing can get in your way; absolutely nothing can stop you from climbing to the top of the world in whatever endeavor you take on.  Team up with people you can trust with your life and who always have your back and it is virtually a win, win, win.

This new film, High Ground, proves the power of positive thinking once again.  The team of heroes start out with big challenges to overcome and still get it done.  This is an amazing story and one that will make a difference in your life and others you know.  Please view the trailer and see the entire film.

Steve Sparks
Author
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story