(169) Behind the Walls: The Corrosive Nature of PTSD

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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)


Home Flipping 

William loves watching home building shows—flipping, flopping, rehabbing, and fixing. Admittedly, there is something about watching homeowners demolish the ugly with sledgehammers and crowbars that is therapeutic. Of course, in the end, a butterfly emerges from the rubble and homeowners swoon with delight.

During the course of every renovation, the experts find problems—problems that elude visual inspection. Some problems undermine the foundation, others display rot and vermin, and occasionally some require spacesuits and decontamination. While homeowners know the risks of buying a fixer-upper, they express alarm when observing the flaws inside walls and beneath concrete foundations.

PTSD Lurks Behind Walls 

My Veterans stands tall at 6’4”. His once athletic life left a legacy of strength in his shoulders and gait. Discovering he is disabled, people comment, “He looks so normal.” In fact, a family member recently commented, “I never knew he suffered any effects of war. He looked so normal when he returned home.” PTSD is like that. Especially for warriors, who are taught to continue on regardless of personal injury. Don’t show weakness. Be strong. Exude confidence and strength. Put your trauma behind you.

For our warriors returning to civilian life, the military mantra reverberates throughout life even when torn apart inside. As their lives slowly unravel from their war experiences, they deny the symptoms of PTSD. Their hurt seeps deeper out of sight, boring into their core. Without treatment, the pain festers until rupture, as an aged water pipe that bursts without provocation. In a matter of time, the foundation crumbles with damaged relationships, dysfunctional habits, uncontrolled rage, and suicidal thoughts.

Demolishing Walls 

Just as experts help homeowners with their rehab projects, the VA employs experts to work with Veterans on managing PTSD. Effective treatments help Veterans reconstruct their lives after war trauma. In fact, the sooner the expert is invited in to help the Veteran after returning from war, the sooner reconstruction begins. With early help, the less damage PTSD wreaks on Veterans and their families.

I hear from many service members being discharged from duty that the military works proactively in assessing PTSD prior to release. This change in policy speaks boldly for a military that once denied the existence of PTSD and preached “put it behind you.” It gives the Veteran a chance at a normal life after war.

Behind the Walls of the VA 

Even the VA suffers with vermin and rotting foundations, as news stories reveal. Although, from the outside things appeared normal, the past three years of events suggest differently. The agency is riddled with allegations of corruption, wrong doing, incompetence, apathy, mismanagement, and inefficiency. Despite decades of self-promotion as a bulwark of excellence, the image crumbles with reality. Full-scale demolition of the VA began two years ago. With such a large bureaucracy, how long demolition and reconstruction will take remains guesswork.

It took a long time for the VA façade to crumble and for the agency to admit its failings publicly. With that admission, we can only hope that reconstruction will be sound and effective. The lives of our warriors and their families depend on it.

What’s Behind the Walls of Miss Molly’s Façade? 

DSCN2403Inside, outside, upside, and downside, this 125-pound buttercup is nothing but a fluffy fur ball.

Post your Comments: 

What three words would you use to describe your service animal or pet? 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 grandchildren.

(168) Honoring Vietnam Veterans–50 Years Later

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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)

March 29, 2016 represents the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. While usually a 50th anniversary commemorates wedded bliss and a long marriage, this anniversary is anything but blissful or a happy union. In fact, for many Vietnam Veterans, it represents the beginning of a life riddled with nightmares and memories of tragic endings.

Since William started wearing a hat announcing his service in Vietnam, strangers approach him in restaurants and other public places to thank him for his service. It took him nearly 50 years after the war to display his service openly due to the shame affixed to Veterans of this war. As well, it took 50 years before anyone thanked him for his service. From discussions with other Vietnam Veterans, they cited similar experiences.

50 anniversary of Vietnam

Nine thousand service organizations plan to join the VA and the Department of Defense for commemoration ceremonies on March 29 to honor the nine million men and women, who answered the call to duty, serving between November 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975. Three hundred and twenty-nine VA medical centers, regional benefit offices, and national cemeteries will host commemorative events on Tuesday, March 29. For more information, click here.

Miss Molly wears a Vietnam War hat

Miss Molly’s Tribute to Vietnam Veterans 

“Since I’m only five years old, I wasn’t around when you were called into service. Thank you for answering the call to duty, as I know it was a ruff experience. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE AND SACRIFICE. Welcome home.

Post your Comments: 

Will you join one of the ceremonies around the nation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War? 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.

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

 

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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.

(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”

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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) 

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

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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)

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.

 

(149) When Terror Reigns

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Within the past two months, two mass shootings rocked our community. Each episode left three dead and more than a dozen injured. Only days following the shooting at Planned Parenthood, the City of San Bernardino, California experienced a mass shooting that left another 14 dead in the reign of terror.

On the National Day of Prayer following 9-11, I was asked to offer a prayer for my community at a city-wide gathering in San Diego. I spent many hours in private prayer seeking wisdom, asking God for the words to say. Here is the passage He gave me to share:

“Keep sound wisdom and discretion, so they will be life to your shoulder and grace to your neck. Then you will walk safely in your way and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked with it comes. For the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.” Proverbs 3:21b-26

Be Not Afraid

Theodore RooseveltTerrorism wins when we fear living for fear of dying. President Theodore Roosevelt understood this well and faced his fears head on.

“There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, ranging from grizzly bears to “mean” horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” (Strock, 45) As Christians, God tells us that the only fear we need have is fear of God. Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” We need not be afraid.

Having conquered his fears, President Roosevelt continued on into the Presidency, serving the American people. In addition to approaching foreign policy under the Monroe Doctrine with “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far,” he is known for amassing national parkland—places of sanctuary for our country even to the present day.

As we honored the life of Police Officer, Garrett Swasey, who died in the line of duty in the attack on Friday, November 27, I am comforted by Roosevelt’s perspective on death.

“…inasmuch as we must die, and it is a mere matter of a very few years whether we die early or late, the vital thing is that our deaths should be such as to help others to live.” Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership (Strock, 50)

When Fear Overwhelms

There is no shortage of fearful things in our lives, which we must overcome. To survive in war, a warrior must overcome his/her fear of death. A family caregiver must overcome fear of the changes to their Veteran after returning from war or of how those changes might impact their children. Health care workers must overcome fear of losing a patient. A child must overcome fear of a bully. For some, they must overcome fear of going outside of their home.

When we become paralyzed by fear, we lose the battle and terror reigns. As individuals, we cannot allow this paralysis; we must be strong to protect our families. Our cities and counties must not give in to fear, lest we become prisoners within their walls. As a country, we must overcome fear of our enemies—both foreign and domestic. To do this, we must stand strong and united with boldness and courage. For just as Theodore Roosevelt overcame his fears, we, too, as the American people shall overcome our fears.

“But he who listens to me shall live securely, and shall be at ease from the dread of evil.” Proverbs 1:33

Miss Molly’s Greatest Fears

I can only hypothesize about Miss Molly’s greatest fears. From watching her behavior, here is her top fiveMolly licking her lips list of fears:

  1. Missing dinner
  2. Missing breakfast
  3. Magpies that taunt her
  4. Being left home alone without a rawhide bone
  5. Missing treat time

Post your Comments:

What did you do to overcome a fearful situation in your life? Please reply below.

Photo credits: 123rf.com (except for Molly pics); photo of President Roosevelt courtesy of Wikipedia

Source cited:

  • Strock, James M. Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership: Executive Lessons from the Bully Pulpit. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001

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.