(167) Mashed Potato News: For Veterans and Their Caregivers

 

Molly's new profile picture Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


A lot of news popped up recently about services for Veterans. Molly and I decided to mash it up just like mashed potatoes into a creamy mixture guaranteed to bowl, masher, and potatoestantalize even the most finicky palate. Let’s start with the potatoes, an American staple, and go from there.

Potatoes 

Given our mashed potato metaphor, here are the topics that deal with the most basic of services to our Veterans.

Action at the Phoenix Facility. The VA issued a notice of removal to three health care executives at the Phoenix medical facility for issues related to falsification of patient records to conceal long waiting times for treatment. While the personnel removal process is pending, all three were reassigned to non-patient care programs in the VA Phoenix facility rather than on paid administrative leave. A new director to the facility was named in late November 2015. The VA hired 700 full-time employees to increase services to Veterans in Phoenix. Two new facilities are to be added, including a designated dental facility. Click here to read about this news.

VA Serving Women Veterans.  On March 22, between 2-3 pm Eastern Time, the VA hosts a Facebook chat about services offered for female Veterans at #ExploreVAFacebook. The live chat is a co-effort of the VA and the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and can be arranged through the VFW Facebook page. Over 500,000 female Veterans already receive VA services. Click here to read the press release and find links for chat registration.

Combat Veterans given Top Priority for Phone Registration for Benefits. The VA now allows combat Veterans to register for medical benefits and VA services by telephone without a paper application, which can be a hassle. The same service will be available to all Veterans on July 5, 2016. The paper application still remains an option, as does the on-line enrollment. Which is the quickest? Reach out and touch—the telephone. Click here for more information or call the Health Eligibility Center Enrollment and Eligibility Division toll free at 1-855-488-8440.

Hepatitis C Treatment. The VA announced that it now funds care for all Veterans with Hepatitis C for fiscal year 2016 regardless of the stage of the patient’s liver disease. Treatment priority focuses on the patients in the worst condition. Funding is made possible this year due to lower costs of the antiviral medication. Over 60,000 Veterans have been cured with this treatment. The VA expects to spend over $1 billion this year on treatment.

Milk 

One cannot have mashed potatoes without the milk—another staple of life. Here are a few items to add to our dish.

PTSD Mobile Mood Coach. The National Center for PTSD offers a number of tools to help manage PTSD. It just announced the mobile app called “Mood Coach” for iOS and Android. Check out this link for the Mood Coach and other mobile coaches to help with needs such as smoking cessation and TBI.

Community Care Call Center. If you are a Veteran experiencing problems with private physician billing for services received through the VA Choice program, a new call center has opened to assist you toll free at 1-877-881-7618. The VA recently sunk millions into a new billing and payment system to expedite payments to vendors contracted with for outside services. These services offered through the VA Choice Program are intended to get the Veteran connected to the services they need more quickly than waiting for an appointment at VA facilities.

VA Crisis Hotline and General Technology Improvements. The VA announced improvements to the Crisis Call Hotline due to delays in meeting Veterans’ calls for help. Improvements included technology system fixes and hiring of additional staff to handle calls. The VA also issued 21 contracts totaling $22.3 billion to private vendors to provide technology improvements to VA systems, including information technology infrastructure, cyber security, and operations and network management. Yikes, that’s a lot of milk to add to our mashed potatoes. 

Butter 

butter dishThe final ingredient for our mash up is butter. Without butter, the quality of mashed potatoes just isn’t there. This applies to many of our Veterans, who depend upon their caregivers to ensure their quality of life.

Caregiver Peer Mentoring Program. The VA offers a caregiver support program for family caregivers of disabled Veterans. Recently, the VA announced the Caregiver Peer Support Mentoring Program. Here is how the VA describes the program. It was “. . . developed to strengthen relationships between Caregivers, to provide an opportunity for networking and to empower Caregivers to help one another. The Caregiver Peer Support Mentoring Program provides an opportunity for Caregivers to receive guidance and to share their experience, wisdom, skills and passion with other Caregivers.” The VA welcomes both mentors and those desiring to work with a mentor. You can find out more about the program at www.caregiver.va.gov or by calling toll free at 1-855-260-3274.

A Bit of Seasoning 

Mashed potatoes might taste bland without a bit of seasoning so here is one that sparks the taste buds.

PGA Hope Program. Earlier this month, the VA and the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) announced PGA Hope, which is a therapeutic program to aid in the rehabilitation process for disabled Veterans. The program links the Veteran with golf professionals, an introductory golf clinic, and specialized instruction to get the Veteran back into the community and onto the golf course. Visit www.pgareach.com for details or view the VA partnership announcement here.

Miss Molly’s Mash-Up 

Mollys new buddyWhile mashing potatoes, I whipped up a low-fat beef DSCN1296stroganoff for William. Apparently, wafting smells from the beef attracted neighborhood pups. Molly enjoyed mashing it up with these tiny tikes.

 

Post your Comments: 

Do you have a favorite Veteran or caregiver program you would recommend to others? Please reply below. 

Photo credits belong to the Golly, Miss Molly Blog

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(166) Psychedelic High without Drugs: Dog Art

 Molly's new profile picture

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


Hallucinating PTSD Medications

Medication for the treatment of PTSD changes frequently with advances in understanding of how the brain works. When PTSD first received an official diagnoses with the revision of the DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), drugs that induced hallucinations topped the list of recommended treatments. Although the television comedy show, Laugh In, described a ‘high’ with swirling bursts of color, the hallucinations induced by PTSD treatment never offered such a lovely kaleidoscope of color. Instead, the hallucinations plopped the Veteran back into battle with warped additions such as crawling bugs, hungry giant ants, and distorted facial features with accompanying pain.

Today, psychiatrists possess a medicine cabinet of improved drugs that don’t send the Veteran back in time to the horrors of war nor make it difficult to distinguish between the present and a disfigured dream world. In fact, new psychiatric medications offer few side effects while short circuiting a rage cycle before even speaking a word or committing an act of aggression. Awesome, indeed.

Miss Molly’s Awesome New Friends

banner dog art

used with permission of www.pleasedrawmydog.com

Last week, Miss Molly and I met new friends in Latvia through a Twitter connection. Please Draw My Dog jumped off my computer screen into my crayon box with promises of a psychedelic high that uplifts and pampers the heart. The Molly Blog Team squealed with joy when we discovered the fanciful artwork the creative Please-Draw-My-Dog Team splashed across its website.

Together, Armands, Zile, and their dog, Olivia, offer drawings of many dog breeds that can be purchased as coloring book pages, prints, stationary, duvet covers, shower curtains, phone cases, throw pillows, and more! This great gift idea ranges in price from $13 for greeting cards to $110 for a duvet cover. How’s that for enterprising? Please Draw My Dog will even draw your dog on commission in the same format for you to color or already filled with colors so bright you will find yourself squinting. Commissioned drawings range in price from $45 for a letter-sized customized coloring page to $260 for an 11.69 x 16.53 inch vibrant color picture of your canine. If you enjoy the adult coloring experience, the website offers free coloring pages of a featured pup each month.

dog-drawing-saint-bernard

used with permission of www.pleasedrawmydog.com

Miss Molly is especially fond of the on-line collection of drawings of the standard dog breeds. While there are just a few breeds already drawn, Armands and Zile just added the Saint Bernard to the collection in honor of Miss Molly, which they gave permission for us to post in Molly’s Blog! In between their commissioned work, they are making progress on adding 143 more standard dog breeds to their collection, which you can access free of charge.

Why so Much Hype?

Our disabled Veterans don’t often receive good news and this is exceedingly positive even if you don’t want to buy. What a great way to brighten the day of a Veteran by coloring a picture of his or her service dog or special canine pet. With all that said, can you imagine how awesome it would be to wake up every morning to a psychedelic picture of Miss Molly or your favorite dog breed on your duvet or pillow?

High Paw

The Miss Molly Team raises a high paw to Armands, Zile, and Olivia of the Please Draw My Dog Team for their artwork that honors our canine companions in the most delightful way. (Miss Molly always wanted to see her name in lights but seeing her mug in color is even better.)

Post your Comments: 

What object would you like to see your dog’s face on? Please reply below. 

Photo credits: www.pleasedrawmydog.com for the dog art; other pictures pculbrethgraft

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(165) Extravert, Introvert, and Controvert: All Types of People and Dogs

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Myers Briggs Type Indicator 

Everyone has a psychological preference that makes up their personality. That preference definition dates back to Carl Jung (1875 to 1961), a psychiatrist influenced by Sigmund Freud. In a brilliant work, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, constructed a personality inventory test to help people know more about their personality and understand how it affects interaction with others.

The first of the preferences refers to how we build our energy and focus our attention by either turning inward or focusing outward. An introvert recharges their battery, spending time alone by reading or engaging in activities by themselves. An extravert recharges their battery by joining with others in parties or gatherings.

In the book, Life Types, Hirsh and Kummerow offer a brief list of other defining characteristics that show the differences between the two preference types (Hirsh, 21):

  Extravert Introvert
External Internal
Outside thrust Inside pull
Blurt it out Keep it in
Breadth Depth
Work more with people and things Work more with idea and thoughts
Interaction Concentration
Action Reflection
Do-think-do Think-do-think

You might wonder where the controvert fits in. Admittedly, I made it up after several days of researching the need for connectedness in today’s world and how isolation can harm people. Controvert refers to an individual, who raises arguments against or voices opposition. When ignoring the need to be connected with others or when failing to recharge our energy, one becomes moody, detached, and negative.

As an introvert, I enjoy being by myself and enjoy solitary activities such as swimming, writing, painting, and sewing. My husband, more of an extravert, loved attending concerts, playing team sports, and parties. As we age and with his PTSD, we are becoming more isolated and disconnected, bordering controver-sion—a dangerous place to be. So, today, we went out for lunch. William wore his new ball cap that announced to the world he is a Vietnam Veteran (–just like an extravert). A recently retired Afghanistan/Iraq Veteran approached William to thank him for his service. Although the interaction was brief, it made my husband’s day and sent him home energized. For me, I stumbled through my Spanish to talk with the workers at Chipotle’s for lunch. Overjoyed that a customer attempted their language, they sent me home with a paper bag written in Spanish for me to read later that night—now I’m recharging and connected.

Why is this Useful? 

For years, I used the Myers Briggs test instrument with my grad students and employees. It helped people work together by showing them their strengths and weaknesses and how to communicate with the 16 different styles. While the original test boasts over 200 questions with a difficult scoring system, there are a number of simpler versions, including a free on-line version at https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test. There are a number of books that interpret the test results and share in easy-to-understand terms what they mean. The Hirsh and Kummerow book I referenced above covers how to live, learn, labor, lead, have fun, and love with your particular style. It also offers advice on how to relate to others with different styles in each of those categories.

This is an awesome resource that promises insightful self-help with humor and answers many questions about how to deal with difficult people in your life.

If you already know your style or have used the instrument before, then all you have to do is focus on connectivity and avoid the controversion complex.

Is there a Personality Test for Dogs? 

While I found several tests for canines, I did not find one to determine if Molly is an extravert, introvert, or controvert. Since she hasn’t bitten anyone, I can rule out the controvert. As for extravert or introvert, here is my contribution to the dog whisperer profession.

An Extraverted Dog

An Introverted Dog

Jumps in a pool with other dogs Scratches
Gives slobbering kisses to everyone Licks herself
Barking Whining
Sniffs indiscriminately Sniffs own body parts
Spends free time hanging out at dog parks Spends free time sleeping in the closet
Chases cars Sleeps in closet
Plays with a Frisbee Plays with a bone, sleeps in closet
Barks at bear, reconsiders, barks at bear Sizes up bear, barks, puts tail between legs and hides

Oh, yeah, she’s definitely an introvert. That explains why she asked me about yoga lessons

Notes:

There is no right or wrong personality profile. Each of the characteristics is descriptive and not intended to be judgmental.

To find a book that interprets and explains test results, go to amazon.com, select books, enter “myers briggs personality test.” You will see titles such as What Type Am I?, Gifts Differing, Please Understand Me, Essentials of Myers-Briggs. An informative website on the test instrument is: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/.

Post your Comments: 

Have you ever taken the Myers Briggs instrument? If you described your service dog or pet by one of the indicator types, what would it be? Please reply below.

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

Source cited:

  • Hirsh, Sandra and Jean Kummerow. LifeTypes. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1989.

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

(164) Greyhound Bus or Greyhound Dog–Which One Loves the Veteran?

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


The Foibles of Greyhound 

Earlier this month, the DOJ (Department of Justice) announced it entered into a consent decree with Greyhound Lines, Inc., the largest provider of intercity bus transportation services in the US to correct violations of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Acts). Apparently, the DOJ received complaints about the bus line that it denied access to individuals using wheelchairs and the disabled with service dogs.

The consent decree stated that Greyhound will make reforms, including adding wheelchair lifts, changing its policy to require assisting customers with disabilities, employee training, implementation of a system that allows those with disabilities to make reservations just like the general public, and making accommodations for those with disabilities when transferring to other bus lines on a continuous trip. Additionally, Greyhound will pay $75,000 in civil penalty to the US and compensate an open-ended number of passengers, who experienced disability discrimination during the three years prior to the consent decree. An additional sum of $300,000 will be paid to certain passengers identified by the DOJ, who were discriminated against because of their disability.

That’s a whole lot of love to go around to those with disabilities, who were discriminated against including Veterans!

Apparently, the DOJ feels the love, too, remarking, “Today’s agreement marks a major step toward fulfilling the promise of the ADA, and we applaud Greyhound for entering the consent decree.” 

Unusual Service Dogs 

William and I met a young Veteran at the VA with a pit bull for a service dog. The high-spirited animal behaved perfectly despite the dog’s high energy and desire to lick everyone nearby. The dog offered much more than help with the young man’s TBI. This service animal steadied his Veteran and assisted the Veteran in managing his PTSD. While a pit bull seemed an unlikely service dog, the Veteran assured me the dog aced his 18-month training period.

Although fooled by the high-performing pit bull, I expected the greyhound would not make the list of likely service animals. In doing a bit of research, I found an unusual pairing of the National Greyhound Foundation with the Inmate Prison Partnership that matches a prisoner with a retiring racing greyhound to train the dog as a service animal. The sponsoring website of the Purple Heart Greyhound Service Dogs features a number of well-trained greyhounds and shares the stories of Veterans and their greyhound service animals. The site states that greyhounds make excellent service animals for PTSD given their temperament and physical characteristics.

Viewing the faces of the Veterans and their service dogs, one clearly sees the love the greyhounds hold for their Veterans.

The Verdict 

To answer the question of which loves the Veteran, Greyhound Lines or the Greyhound service dog, Molly declares a clear winner as the Greyhound service dog.

Post your Comments:

Have you ever had problems taking public transportation with your service animal? Please reply below. 

Sources cited:

  • US Department of Justice Weekly Digest Bulletin dated February 14, 2016.
  • US v. Greyhound Lines, Inc. Consent Decree dated February 10, 2016, Civil Action No. 16-67-RGA.

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

 

(163) Cranium and Body Slams: Polytrauma System of Care

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


Dog Physics

Molly with headache

Got aspirin?

Molly careens around the banister, sliding into a bookcase. She shakes it off but loses traction and falls on her bottom still in motion. Bashing her side into a wall, she stops and jumps to her feet. In a forward motion, she leaps and retracts her paws. This time, her slide leaves her in victory at the front door without a collision. While she is thick-headed and tough-skulled, she’s learned to manage her slide to avoid further injury. In her case, she recovers from navigation errors and shakes them off.  Over the years, she has learned speed control, how to gage distance, and how to mitigate damage—all excellent lessons in physics for a dog.

People Physics

While fitted with a substantial cranium, the human brain cannot withstand the bashing, beating, and impacts that Molly does every time she takes flight across the wood floors. The human brain offers redundancy and amazing healing properties. The human head, however, cannot withstand repeated blows or the impact of even one IED (incendiary explosive device) without repercussion.

Throughout history, each war has extracted its unique toll from American warriors. For those fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) deprives the warrior of cognitive functions and causes severe headaches, hearing and loss of sight, sleep deprivation, and often debilitating balance that affects one’s ability to walk. Other impacts from these wars include the loss of limbs and post-war trauma such as PTSD. While any one impact is more than a warrior deserves, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans find themselves pushed beyond the limits that any body should endure.

Polytrauma Care

The word ‘polytrauma’ does not exist—at least it is not in the dictionary. That is how it was for the phrase ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ until warriors returned home with the condition and it was diagnosed decades later. The VA, however, created a Polytrauma System of Care (PSC) in 2005 and has screened over one million Veterans for the impacts of TBI and other war-related conditions.

“PSC provides comprehensive and coordinated rehabilitative care to Veterans with life-changing injuries, including TBI, limb loss, blindness, hearing loss and tinnitus, among others.” VA New Release on February 5, 2016

Our military has learned since Vietnam and provided in-theatre medical support to help those with life-threatening injuries until better care is available. Our warriors are surviving conditions that would have been terminal in previous conflicts. “Today they not only survive, they thrive, in large part due to PSC, a thoroughly Veteran-centric VA program,” stated the press release.

Over 110 VA facilities offer polytrauma care in the US, including five Polytrauma Rehab Centers that offer comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation. Additionally, 23 sites offer comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation along with 87 clinic teams. Collectively, these facilities and programs offer “interdisciplinary evaluation and treatment, development of a comprehensive plan of care, case management, patient and family education and training, psychosocial support, and use of advanced rehabilitation treatments and prosthetic technologies.”

Don’t Be a Knucklehead—Get Help

Please do not be like Molly and keep knocking your head around banisters, walls, and bookcases. Help is available and the VA is extending an invitation to the Veteran in need. To begin your recovery, you or a family member can contact the VA Crisis Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or go on-line to www.polytrauma.va.gov/.

Molly’s Brain

After Molly tangled with a kitchen chair, I sent her outside. Within minutes, I noticed feathers sticking out of her mouth. I made her cough up the bird she managed to catch. She’s progressed from knucklehead to bird brain.

Post your Comments: 

In what other ways are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan different from previous wars? Please reply below. 

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

Source cited:

  • Veterans Affairs (US Department of Veteran Affairs). “VA’s Polytrauma System of Care Marks One Million TBI Screenings.” VA News Release on February 5, 2016.

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(162) Running Backwards: Part V of “Gimme Me Back My Land”

 Molly's new profile picture

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver) 

A Quick Re-Run 

Miss Molly promised an update on the land grab talked about in Blogs 135, 136, 137, and 138. The land grab referred to stolen portions of 600 acres in Los Angeles, California, donated as early as 1881 for the sole use of homeless Veterans and those with serious disabilities from war. Some of the land was grabbed for the 405 Freeway and the Los Angeles Federal Building. In the past 40 years, the remaining property left for Veterans was whittled down with leases entered into by the VA that excluded Veterans, leaving only the property used for Veterans with the Greater Los Angeles VA Medical Center (GLA). Given the location of the land in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the US (Bel-Air to the north, UCLA and Westwood to the east, and Brentwood to the west), others snatched entitlements to the Veteran’s property through long-term leases that not only failed to serve Veterans but barred their entry.

Over 11 percent of the total homeless Veteran population in the US purportedly lives on the streets of Los Angeles, which accounts for approximately 20,000 homeless Veterans. The donated property with over 100 outbuildings once housed “old soldiers” and those Veterans with special medical needs. Today, most of those buildings litter the remaining acreage since falling into disrepair and abandoned.

In a lawsuit brought against the VA on behalf of Veterans needing housing, a four-year battle resulted in void of nine leases and direction to the VA to return uses to the Veterans. The process began with a new Master Plan for 388 acres, which is all that remains of the 600.

These leases were voided by the US District Court for being illegal under the conditions for donation to Veterans:

  • Brentwood School
  • Sodexho Marriott Laundry Services
  • UCLA Regents (Baseball Stadium)
  • 20th Century Fox TV
  • Veterans Park Conservancy
  • Westside Breakers Soccer Club
  • Westside Services Parking
  • TCM Farmer’s Market
  • Filming Agreement

Running in Place 

As a caregiver for my Veteran husband, I found that running in place is the best way to get exercise. I do this while I cook, clean, read, and spend time with him. He laughs because “It’s a lot of running without going anywhere.” Miss Molly is okay with it because I can scratch her ears while running in place and making dinner.

For those of us outside the land grab issue, preparing an 888-page Preliminary Draft of the Final Master Plan for use of land dedicated for Veterans since 1881 might seem a lot like running in place and going nowhere. The VA even hastened their pace by expediting the deadline for public comment on the document to 60 days.

Apparently, others run in place just as fast, as the VA received 1,732 comments to the draft Final Master Plan and now work on responding to every comment on the plan. It should be noted that 730 comments had nothing to do with the plan but must still be responded to by the VA. The VA categorized the comments with 397 comments made on the Land Use Agreements and 341 comments made on Veteran Access, as the two most popular categories. Other categories receiving more than 100 comments each covered Clinical, Connectivity, Housing/Campus Restoration, Parking, Transparency and Accountability, and General Support.

No timeline was offered about how long the response phase of the Draft Master Plan will take. Legislation is pending to help fund projects within the Final Master Plan and to permanently secure title to the land for Veterans.

Running While Facing Backwards 

Positive outcomes from the Master Plan process are bound to occur. The VA promises the following:

  • “The update plan now includes a proposal for the Transit Authority to have a station stop on the campus that will have passenger portals with access to the medical section of the campus . . . .”
  • “The services must be strength-based, holistic, and aimed at helping the Veteran and the Veteran’s family beyond the traditional medical models.”
  • “The Draft Master Plan focuses on making the campus a destination for all Veterans.”
  • “The area that is currently designated as the Veteran’s parking lot servicing Brentwood Village, can be utilized by Veteran-owned businesses and still provide parking to the neighboring community. Central to this concept of public access is that it is Veteran-owned and Veteran controlled and the public is welcome to share it by invitation.”
  • “While working to achieve this vision for the campus, VA will evaluate existing and future land use agreements to ensure they are ‘Veteran focused’. . . .Going forward, VA’s efforts to revitalize the campus will only include ‘Veteran focused’ agreements, or agreements that result in additional healthcare, benefits, services, or resources being provided directly to Veterans and/or their families on the GLA campus.”

All along this is what was required by the original land donations so you can understand why the title of this section is, “Running While Facing Backwards.”

Not Running at All Molly licking her chops by the treadmill

I am not fast enough to run with Molly and William struggles with balance issues. Where does that leave Molly’s exercise program? –Not running at all. We tried the treadmill but had to tease her with treats. She has since learned to keep pace with the treadmill by standing on the side and snagging treats as they wiz by. 

Post your Comments: 

If you could design the perfect campus for homeless Veterans, what would it include and where would it be located? Please reply below.

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

Source cited:

  • VA (Department of Veteran Affairs). “West Los Angeles VA Medical Center; Draft Master Plan; FR Doc No: 2016-01940 posted February 2, 2016.

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(161) In the Hot Zone: VA Working to Restore Trust

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

VA Under Siege 

The hot zone not only applies to Middle Eastern locales where American warriors are under fire but to Washington DC where the VA faces heavy fire from politicians, demanding accountability for system-wide failures. In December, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson verbally fought back when US Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas and Representative Jeff Mill of Florida referred to the VA as a corrupt agency with chronic indifference.

Breakthrough Priorities 

Meanwhile, VA Secretary Robert McDonald faced the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on his 12 priorities for 2016. Here is what he committed to accomplishing in what the VA refers to as “12 Breakthrough Priorities”—but don’t get too hopeful yet, as several of his initiatives require Congress to pass specific laws in order to achieve the priority. (To read McDonald’s remarks, click here.)

  1. Improve the Veteran Experience – established a Chief Veteran Experience Officer to focus on customer service, setting standards, and meeting best practices
  2. Increase Access to Health Care – ensure enrolled Veterans receive same day care when needed
  3. Improve Community Care – via Veterans Choice Program with the Veteran authorized to receive care outside of the VA under certain conditions with vendors to be paid within 30 days; subject to successful legislation
  4. Deliver a Unified Veteran Experience – improve web access to VA information for Veterans and their families
  5. Modernize Contact Centers – improve the emergency care hotline with better referrals
  6. Improve the Compensation and Pension Exam Process – measure and improve Veteran’s experience with this process
  7. Develop a Simplified Process – create a modified appeals process and decrease backlog; subject to successful legislation
  8. Continue Progress in Reducing Veteran Homelessness – assist 100,000 more homeless Veterans and family members
  9. Improve Employee Experience – provide better training and add customer service standards to employee performance plans
  10. Staff Critical Positions – address critical staffing shortages by filling positions more quickly
  11. Transform Office of Information and Technology – the VA hired a world-class IT director to address problems with the VA IT system to improve compliance with congressionally mandated interoperability requirements
  12. Transform Supply Chain – improve Medical-Surgical supply and purchasing system to increase responsiveness and reduce costs

In addition to those items already mentioned, Secretary McDonald asked the Committee and Congress for support on the following:

  • Consolidation of Care in the Community
  • Flexible Budget Authority
  • Support for the Purchased Health Care Streamlining and Modernization Act
  • Supporting the FY2017 Budget being submitted this week
  • Special legislation for VA’s West Los Angeles Campus

Speaking of the VA’s West Los Angeles Campus, stay tuned for an update next week on the VA’s plan to restore the West Los Angeles land donated for homeless Veterans back to the Veterans. Not much to tell yet, but you’ll be interested to hear about the one thousand comments the VA received in response to the Draft Master Plan (and I promise I won’t list them).

Molly and Penny’s Breakthrough Priority

If you have been a Molly blog reader for long, you know that Penny has a problem leaving food on the counter and Molly has a problem with eating it. Penny pledged many times not to do it again. Molly promised only to eat when hungry or when treats are left on the counter like the Thanksgiving ham, unsalted butter, and bacon.

Renewing her priority in 2016, Penny vowed to help her husband’s chubby pup by keeping edibles put away. Less than one month into her breakthrough priority, she rushed out the door for just a moment, returning the bacon and the butter to the refrigerator. Oops, she left a dozen eggs on the counter, which Molly found during the minute Penny stepped outside. Molly delicately removed one raw egg and cracked it open on the bedroom carpet. She ate the contents and left the egg shell cracked in half on the floor, giving away her violation.

Molly broke through the egg shell with ease, leaving it mostly intact. Can you see why I called this my breakthrough priority? (If I had stayed away longer, she may have broken through the full dozen–then it would be my “12 breakthrough priorities.”) Let’s hope that VA Secretary McDonald has a better track record at achieving his breakthrough priorities than Molly and her human mom.

Post your Comments: 

Do you think Secretary McDonald identified the most significant VA problems in his list of Breakthrough Priorities for 2016? If not, what is missing? Please reply below. 

Sources cited:

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

(160) Zap Me, Baby: Healing the VA

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Sitting in the VA waiting room, the chime alerted me to a message from Robert McDonald, Secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs. Mr. McDonald wrote “On the Need to Reform the Veterans’ Appeals Process.” He referred to the existing compensation appeals process as “cumbersome and clunky.”

“VA will need legislation and resourcing to put in place a simplified appeals process that enables the Department to resolve the majority of our appeals in a reasonable timeframe for Veterans.”

Robert A. McDonald

McDonald was appointed to his VA role in July 2014 with the charge to reform a system that is reported as failing Veterans. In his email blast, he reported that the VA reduced its disability claims backlog from 611,000 in March 2013 to an existing backlog of 82,000. Going paperless, his media release indicated the VA eliminated 5,000 tons of paper per year. Admittedly, 440,000 Veterans currently sit on the appeals list with an average wait of three years through the Veterans Benefits Administration and an average of five years for appeals that reach the Board of Veterans Appeals.

One cannot blame Mr. McDonald for the turmoil within the VA, as he came to his role recently. He focuses on major reform of the VA with a history of success in reforming Procter and Gamble, a corporation of 120,000 employees. In fact, the VA boasts of 314,000 employees, according to the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank. Certainly, this is an unwieldy organization just by its size, regulations, and decentralization.

Holistic Healing of Equines and Canines 

After my husband’s VA appointment, we ate Chinese while I caught an article in Petacular that led with the story of a therapy horse needing treatment for trauma when his rider suffered a seizure and fell from the horse. Yes, it was the horse that needed intervention.

“Basically we needed to help the horse release the trauma he experienced, without making him relive it.”

Dawn Cox

The story explained that Ms. Cox is a practitioner for Healing Touch for Animals. The program emerged from the Healing Touch program originally created for humans. Healing Touch focuses on the energy field surrounding the patient, which is disrupted with injury or trauma. Practitioners use the energy field to stimulate healthy cells in the body to promote self-healing. Animals do well with the therapy because, “they tend to be more receptive to energy-medicine because of their instinctual nature,” said Ms. Cox.

But Can it Work for the VA? 

Molly rushed to William, as we returned home with two boxes of leftover Chinese food. Molly and I pondered the notion of holistic healing and the predicament Secretary McDonald finds himself in with reforming the VA. There is no denying that holistic healing has helped equines and her fellow canines overcome their trauma. The process even sounds similar to the VA’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for PTSD patients.

As I munch on an eggroll and Molly drools over a piece of chicken hanging from the doggie bag, we wonder if holistic healing can be used to heal the VA. Instead of calling it CBT or Healing Touch, why not call it the VA Vac—suck it up and start from scratch.

Excuse my Satire 

I hear many horrible stories from Veterans about their care at the hands of the VA. Today, however, I overheard an elderly Veteran tell his wife how much the VA has improved over the years. Having been the spouse of a Veteran for over 20 years, I agree. There are many positive aspects to the VA, including amazing doctors, caring nurse practitioners, and helpful receptionists and schedulers. In fact, our new VA clinic is located atop a beautiful hillside that carries one away in the sweeping views of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains—a view well deserved by our warriors. Health care workers show sincerity and commitment for my husband’s care.

If Secretary McDonald could bottle this model, he could hold success in his hands. Molly agrees—except for the hands part because she doesn’t have any and that makes life ruff for her.

Post your Comments: 

If you could reform one thing in the VA, what would it be? Please reply below. 

Sources cited:

  • Edwards, Chris. “Number of VA Employees,” as retrieved at http://www.cato.org/blog/number-va-employees on January 27, 2016.
  • Massey, Leslie. “A Special Touch: Holistic approach to helping animals heal through energyin Petacular, Winter 2015/16.
  • VA US Department of Veterans Affairs. “Statement from VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald On the Need to Reform the Veterans’ Appeals Process,” dated January 27, 2016.

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

(159) Robodog: The Ultimate Service Animal

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Molly and I are late in coming to the party. We missed BigDog, the 240-pound military service dog that is as high tech as the Apple iphone. Apparently, she made her world début in the early 2000s as a work-in-progress by Boston Dynamics whiz kids. 

BigDog is a four-legged robot that can maneuver rough terrain, run for hours at a time, carry its own fuel and equipment, and even roll over. Once thought to be a dog that could provide vital assistance to the US military, this robotic dog returns to scrap metal. As it turns out, she is so noisy that she makes it difficult for troops to sneak up on the enemy.

Despite the military’s plan to tank the dog, likely BigDog will remain the pet project of Boston Dynamics because of its promise. As it turns out, BigDog is touted as being the most advanced rough-terrain robot on the planet. She runs 4 mph; climbs slopes up to 35 degrees; walks through mud, water, and on hillsides; comes with shock absorbers; and can carry a payload of 340 pounds.

Videos of the project through its development are available here and across the internet. Why wouldn’t they be? This project is freaky scientific like something out of Star Wars.

In the original planning paper, the BigDog team said the robotic dog will “travel in cities and in our homes, doing chores and providing care where steps, stairways and household clutter limit the utility of wheeled vehicles.” Sounds like a service dog!

Miss Molly considered going to the Canine Critter Union to complain about BigDog but decided not to pursue the matter when the military cancelled the project earlier this month. Molly’s letter of appeal to the Union to decertify BigDog as a service dog contained the following:

“BigDog doesn’t have a tail or even ears. Sure she can carry a big payload but I can, too—in a keg around my neck. She’s received millions of taxpayers’ dollars in training and still can’t fetch a stick. You can’t tell which is her front end and which is her back. She is extraordinarily ugly without any fur and she buzzes instead of barks. She cannot predict a seizure, a panic attack, or wake her owner from a nightmare. She pollutes the air and is even more costly to feed than a Saint Bernard. Overall, I think BigDog belongs in a logo on a sweatshirt rather than on a poster as a war hero.”

Miss Molly on her backMiss Molly has been roughed up over this news story. She has calmed down and is back to her big loveable self. I think her criticism has merit, however, as I can’t imagine Robodog crawling into bed at night with my Veteran.

Post your Comments: 

Do you think a robotic dog could ever replace your service dog? Please reply below. 

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

Sources cited:

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.

 

(158) A Goodie Bag for Veterans–Mashing Up the Best

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Just like a puppy, today’s Molly Blog is all over the place. Miss Molly mashes up various topics to share with you the latest information to help Veterans. We will cover the top ten VA services for Veterans, hear about improvements in VA services, and learn about an outstanding business nominated for the Golden Paw Award.

VA’s Top Ten for 2016 

Welcoming in the New Year, the VA’s official blog offers the ten top services for Veterans. Topping the list is a guide to VA Health Benefits with an explanation of available health care services. The link covers everything from audiology to organ transplants.

Next on the list is a map of the 300 Vet Centers throughout the US that offer services to Veterans, who served in combat zones. The centers provide counseling, outreach, and referral services.

Number three on the list is a guide for Veterans and their families of the mental health services available in the VA health care system.

Helping a homeless Veteran find a home stars as No. 4 on the list with inspiring stories shared by Veterans with PTSD weighing in as No. 5.

The VA focuses on services and health care for women. These services are covered in No. 6 with the redesign of comprehensive primary care for women. These services will become even more important as women fill combat positions previously closed to them.

No. 7 on the list for 2016 reminds Veterans that they can monitor their health reports, communicate with their health care team, or request prescription refills through MyHealtheVet on-line services.

No. 8 features stop smoking and binge eating programs offered through the VA’s National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

No. 9 expresses the advantages of the Veterans Crisis Line available 24/7 365 days a year at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) or text to 838255.

Finally, the list wraps up with a PDF file of links to help Veterans. You can clip and save the list through the VA’s blog or by clicking here. 

What are the Service Improvements for Veterans? 

  1. The VA is proposing expanded disability benefits eligibility for Veterans exposed to contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
  2. The Housing and Urban Development Department and the VA awarded $5.9 million to 26 tribes for permanent homes for Native American Veterans, who are without homes or at risk for homelessness. The program is designed to help 500 Native Americans.
  3. The VA modified the eligibility requirements to participate in the Veterans Choice Program, which helps expedite services to eligible Veterans unable to receive services within 30 days or live far from a VA facility. The new regulations streamline eligibility. For more information, you can call the Choice Program at 866-606-8198 or visit www.va.gov/opa/choiceact.
  4. The VA opened the Cape Canaveral National Cemetery this week and has plans for more cemeteries so that every Veteran meeting eligibility has a convenient, affordable burial option. For eligibility and other information, click here.

Golden Paw Nomination 

Miss Molly sends a bark out to Destry and Lillie for their nomination of Gunther Toody’s in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for exceptional service to a Veteran and his service animal. Gunther Toody’s not only makes accommodations to this Veteran and his service dog but the restaurant offers water and treats to Lillie, occasionally sending home this top dog with a soup bone.

High Paw to Gunther Toody’s and our thanks to Veteran Destry Loolf for making this nomination to the Molly blog!

If you would like to place a nomination for the Golden Paw Award, please fill out the following form and send it Miss Molly’s way.

Post your Comments:

What VA service(s) would you include in your top ten list? Please reply below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.