(176) Sunset: Call to Retreat

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)

For our troops no rest approaches at sunset when fighting the war against terrorism. For our Veterans, a state of hypervigilance remains with most with a readiness to take up arms to protect our nation at any call, declaring restsunset over the beach elusive. For the caregivers of our Veterans and family members left behind during military deployments, the full burden falls upon their shoulders to provide care on the home front, leaving no time for rest when the Sunset bugle calls.

Last week, the Molly Blog spoke of the Reveille bugle call, waking troops in a call to action. Today, the blog focuses on Sunset, the call to retreat for the day. The Sunset bugle call, or Retreat, serves as a call to rest and remember those who fought the battle before.

We think of loved ones near and far

And those who’ve fought the fight before

Keep safe your people, Lord

This night and for evermore.

Knowing When to Retreat: A Caregiver’s Perspective 

While this blogger knows nothing of battle and retreat, the importance of retreat as a strategy for survival remains clear. As a caregiver of a Veteran, we battle through the emotions boiling in our Veteran; we fight for our family; tackle mounds of laundry, dishes, and bills; and, fiercely defend our Veteran to ensure proper health care treatment.

Often the easiest path pushes us to do everything ourselves without regard for our own needs. Even the VA (Veterans Administration) understands the need for Retreat, offering a strong caregiver support program and network.

The VA launched the PTSD Family Coach app to help the family caregiver know when to retreat with advice on how to cope when living with or caring for a military member or Veteran with PTSD and/or TBI. It offers a knowledge base on PTSD; stress assessment; safety plan; links for resources; and, help when feeling isolated, angry, or experiencing insomnia. When loading the app, it invites the user to personalize stress intervention by loading favorite pictures and music. A long list of tools numbered 25 when loaded this morning. Topics range from mindful eating to soothing beach scenes with audio. Although the app only serves iOS users today, the VA works to bring it to the Android platform soon.

Veteran’s families can call Coaching Into Care:

1-888-823-7458

Don’t forget that the VA offers a similar app for our service members and Veterans, referred to as the PTSD Coach. The VA reports that the app resides on over 100,000 mobile devices in 74 countries. The National Center for PTSD developed this popular app and it is available for free by downloading to an iOS or Android device (the above web link includes a desktop version, as well).

Retreat is Not Weakness

While it may feel otherwise, no shame exists in retreat. As my Veteran said, “It’s better to retreat today and fight tomorrow.” This applies to our caregivers, as well as our military. Without retreating and refreshing, we as parents and spouses risk our families. Our warriors go to war to protect our country and our families, so why would one ignore the need to retreat when life overwhelms us? 

Molly’s Response to the Sunset Bugle Call 

Even Miss Molly and her Veteran know when to retreat and rest. Do they enjoy it?

Molly Enjoys Retreat

Oh, yeah!

Post your Comments: 

What do you do to help yourself and your family when you need to retreat? 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.

(172) Girls Don’t Like Bologna: Military Sexual Trauma

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)


Miss Molly Crashes Through Stereotypes

Even though I fought my way up the career ladder in a male-dominated profession, I find that I know nothing about the challenges women face in the military. In fact, Miss Molly reminded me of my errors in stereotyping females when she gulped down a chunk of bologna I dropped when making lunch for my Veteran (so much for girls not liking bologna).

Until now, I have avoided the subject due to my ignorance. Over the past few months, our VA clinic overflows with young female Veterans. Rarely, do these Veterans engage in dialogue, being guarded about their service and experiences. Evidence of despair and hurt ripple through their bodies and in sputters as they speak. Clearly, these Veterans experienced trauma similar to their male counterparts with one significant addition—the predominance of sexual trauma because of their gender. Of course, men also experience sexual trauma.

For this blog, we begin exploration of MST (Military Sexual Trauma) with the statistics.

The Facts about MST 

The VA reports that of the men and women screened at VA facilities for medical care, one in four women report a history of MST. One in 100 men report a history of MST. Because of the dominate number of men in the military, over 40 percent of MST cases reported to the VA are from male victims. The VA declared that MST leads to PTSD more often than other types of trauma.

On a national level, 293,000 victims are sexually assaulted every year. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) estimates that 68 percent of sexual assaults remain unreported; it is no wonder since 98 percent of rapists will never see jail or prison time for their crimes.

Help for MST 

Department of Defense Assistance 

DoD Safe Helpline 877-995-5247 via text or call for help 24/7

The DoD offers help to any individual, who experienced military sexual trauma, rape, or domestic violence. As well, free VA services wait for any Veteran, who experienced MST regardless of the individual’s disability rating. The DoD works with assault victims for not only their healing but to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Veterans Affairs Assistance 

VA Crisis Hotline at 1-800-827-1000 

The VA website for MST offers a list of programs and services, a fact sheet, articles about MST, and links to helpful resources. The site includes a PDF brochure of compensation and claims issues for MST. This document states that while the VA will not rate a disability based on MST experiences, it may rate a disability for issues related to MST, which include PTSD.

In addition to connecting with other resources, the VA employs a MST coordinator at every VA facility. You do not need to have a service-connected disability to use this resource and receive help. The VA stresses:

To receive these services, you do not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred. Eligibility for MST-related treatment is entirely separate from the disability claims process.

VA Website on MST

RAINN Assistance

National Sexual Assault Hotline operated by RAINN at 800-626-HOPE (4673)

RAINN offers assistance with a 24/7 hotline, resources, and links. It also advocates for the rights of assault victims and for use of DNA in apprehending and bringing perpetrators to justice.

Be Tough; Be Military Strong

During my tenure as an adjunct professor, I met several female Veterans struggling through unresolved issues. Several shared that they suffered from MST but refused help. One Veteran told me, “Marines don’t cry. We suck it up. We move on.” My heart broke as I watched her emotional health crumble with the stress of her civilian job and work on her graduate degree. She agreed to talk with my husband, as a fellow Veteran, who often drove me to campus. He offered to refer her to a mental health counselor at the VA and for us to meet her at the VA hospital but she declined. By the end of the semester, she shared that a female friend accompanied her to the VA to get help. For the first time during the semester, I saw flickers of hope in her eyes.

I never walked in the shoes of a Veteran. Everything I know comes from being married to a disabled combat Veteran for 22 years, talking and observing Veterans at VA facilities, or through my research. I believe the strength of character and resolve of my student mentioned above in seeking help makes her a model of courage. She recognized that to be able to fulfil the military mantra of being tough, putting it behind you, and moving on, she first had to ask for help.

Post your Comments 

What makes military service different for men than women? 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.

(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.

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

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)


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.

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

Miss Molly profile

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.

(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.

(153) Sweet and Sour Candy Canes: The Happy and Sad Sides of Christmas

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 Scarfs the Ham in Record Time

We stayed outside less than five minutes, saying goodbye to my son and his family after an early Christmas visit. Returning inside, Molly skulked away with her plumed tail dragging along the floor—a sure sign that she got into something. In less than five minutes, Molly managed to eat over one-half of the remaining ham that I left on the counter only long enough to say goodbye. She showed no interest in the ham earlier and had few food indiscretions in the past few months, ignoring even the candy canes that dangle from the tree. Consequently, it never crossed my mind that she would snatch the ham while we visited briefly outside.

Guess who is in the doghouse this Christmas? It is back to the doggie treadmill in January for Miss Molly.

The Candy Cane

Ham is a holiday staple for Americans, just as the candy cane fills every Christmas stocking. Candy canes come in every flavor from peppermint to chocolate. Stores even carry sour and gummy candy canes.

For Christians, the candy cane represents the stripes Christ bore on the cross from being whipped and tortured in the crucifixion. The red represents the blood He shed for our sins. The sweetness of the candy cane reminds us of the marvelous gift of salvation that is free to anyone who seeks forgiveness and asks Jesus into his/her life. Although that sweetness permeates our lives, it comes with the sour side, which is rejection by the human race of the most precious gift anyone could ever receive—eternal life.

For those with a secure salvation, Christmas comes with joy. For those without, the holidays may be a source of agitation and anguish. Even believers may find the holidays difficult—especially living with PTSD.

VA Offers Help and Hope 

The VA offers a list of warning signs that may tell us our Veteran is suffering in silence and may need help. The website suggests that it starts with signs of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or hopelessness. Twelve specific signs are mentioned to watch for. The VA also shortlists seven behaviors that red flag the contemplation of suicide.

The VA offers the Veteran a self-check quiz to help the Veteran learn whether stress and depression might be affecting them. Available on-line, the quiz takes about ten minutes and is voluntary, confidential, and free. The VA offers the quiz on the link near the bottom of the Crisis Hotline page.

The VA Crisis Hotline is available to help Veterans, friends of Veterans, and family members of Veterans.

The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

The Crisis Line has answered nearly 2 million calls and provided emergency services to over 53,000 Veterans since launched in 2007. It can help you, too, if you are depressed or suffering at the holidays and need help.

We love our Veterans and their families and want them safe.

Please join the Miss Molly Team in bringing Christmas joy to our Veterans by caring enough to get them help when needed.

Post your Comments: 

What is the worst thing your pet has done during the Christmas holiday? 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.

(152) Untangle: Donate your Brain

 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 tangled herself around three trees and two bushes. The ten-foot lead I tethered her to disappeared beneath eight inches of snow. Still new to the command tangle, which in dog-speak means to untangle, Molly rolled her eyes at me and tugged against the tree. Standing on the porch in my slippers, I noticed she had at least five wraps in different directions. I ran inside for my snow boots, knowing I would have to lead her back around each obstacle.

By the time I got to Molly, she sat on the front porch free of the entanglement. Her tail wagged, as she looked up at me with a sparkling gaze. She freed herself without my intervention (that’s a good thing because there are a few piles of poop frozen beneath the snow that I would not be able to avoid if I had to lead her back around each obstacle.)

Dogs must be smart to be trained as a service animal. I know Molly is smart but until she mastered the tangle command, I did not realize just how smart. That got me wondering if someone somewhere ever designed an intelligence (IQ) test for canines. Sure enough. wikiHow offers free access to a dog intelligence test. I thought the test might be fun. Unfortunately, the test requires lots of human intelligence and patience—neither of which I possess. Sadly, I will never know just how smart she is. It is best that way, as I already live in a household with one genius IQ. Clearly, I would be out-numbered if I found Molly possessed one, too.

VA PTSD Brain Bank

Did you know that the VA Office of Research & Development operates a Brain Bank to study PTSD? The brain bank is referred to as the VA Biorepository Brain Bank (VABBB) National Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Bank. The bank stores human tissue, processes it, and, gives out specimens for scientific research on PTSD.

The VA made a significant investment in helping Veterans with PTSD by creating the brain bank and undertaking scientific investigations to understand the biologic changes that occur in the brain after exposure to a traumatic event(s). This is a long-term commitment for the VA, seeking to help Veterans in hope of finding more effective treatments and to prevent it from happening.

Give a Brain, Save a Life

The VA seeks donors to sign up for the brain bank. Of course, no brain or spinal tissue is collected while one is alive. The process starts with a commitment by a Veteran to participate in the data collection phase now by enrolling in the bank. Upon death, the Veteran’s brain and spinal tissue is collected and deposited in the bank for study. Any Veteran with PTSD living in the US can enroll in the bank. The VA also seeks Veterans without PTSD to enroll, as their brain tissue represents a control group for comparison data.

The donor process sounds simple with the VA making all arrangements to collect the tissue after death. Extraordinary efforts protect the donor from identification outside of the study. The spouse or closest family member is also involved in the enrollment process since that individual contacts the VA research office when the time is right.

“Your donation may help future efforts in PTSD research and treatment. However, your taking part in this study will not benefit you directly.” VABBB

I broached the subject with my Veteran spouse. Having been one of the first Guinea pigs in developing a case for PTSD, I thought his reaction might be instant rejection. He surprised me with a resounding, “Of course. After all, I won’t be needing my brain after I die. If it can help others after I’m gone, I’m all in.”

Enrollment Information

If you are interested in being a participant in the VA Biorepository Brain Bank or have questions, you can call the VA at (800)762-6609. The program brochure offers information on the program.

Dog Brain Bank

I never found information on a canine brain bank but I did learn that the dog’s brain is even smaller than that of the dolphin, pig, goat, cow, and horse. It is comparable in size to the alpaca brain and definitely bigger than the cat’s.

While the dog’s brain is much smaller than the human brain, canines offer unconditional love and a healthy skill set to support the Veteran when trained as a service animal. Intelligent or not, the dog still is and always will be man’s best friend.

Post your Comments:

Are you a registered organ donor in your state? 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.

(151) Darn that Stocking: Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

As a child, I watched my mother darn socks for the five of us kids. She used what looked like a chicken drumstick made of wood to mend quickly. Inserting it into the sock, she whipped stitches in a crisscross fashion, using the drumstick darner to prevent sewing her finger or the other side of the sock into the mend.

This week, I read a story about a stocking far too large to mend. Could it be a Christmas stocking perhaps, as a darner inside one of those would be useless? Actually, this sock is even grander than the traditional stocking that hangs by the fireplace. Although it technically qualifies as a Christmas stocking, this is one that St. Nicolas likely will not fill with toys or candy.

Caron United reveals the world's largest Christmas stockingChildren of Fallen Patriots Foundation teamed up last year with Caron United to construct a 1,600 pound knitted and crocheted Christmas stocking constructed of 1,260 blankets made by 830 donors. The stocking covers 7,663 square feet with a width of 74.5 feet and a length of 139 feet. Confirmed officially by Guinness, the stocking won the World Record as the world’s largest Christmas stocking. While the stocking itself is cool enough, the project benefits the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. Every skein of yarn sold during the past year earned 15 cents of donation from Caron United to this organization that serves military families, who lost a father or mother in service to our country.

Caron United raised $100,000 for the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation!

Take a peek at the stocking and view how Guinness measured the stocking for the record book.

How will one ever find a wooden chicken leg big enough to darn this darn stocking?

About the Organization

The focus of Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation is to provide college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who lost a parent in the line of duty. The organization’s goal is to bridge the gap in educational expenses to ensure that no child of a fallen patriot pays anything out-of-pocket for college or needs to take out a loan for secondary education.

The governing board pays for all of the organization’s administrative expenses so that 100 percent of donations go to funding the children’s education, according to the website. All donations are tax deductible.

If you or someone you know is the family of a fallen patriot in need of college funding, you can find enrollment information on the organization’s website.

Miss Molly Advisory

As with any non-profit organization, please do your due diligence before donating, as we have noMolly entangled in yarn personal experience with the organization other than news of this amazing project. Miss Molly tried knitting a stocking square to donate but she never could get the woof of it. It’s bad enough having to untangle a Saint Bernard from her leash in the snow—could you image having to untangle her from a ball of yarn?

Post your Comments:

What is your favorite non-profit? Please reply below.

Photo credits: Christmas stocking courtesy of Yarnspirations Blog at http://blog.yarnspirations.com/the-worlds-biggest-knitcrochet-stocking/ as retrieved on December 14, 2015; pculbrethgraft for Molly pics

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.

(146) Bedraggled: Care for the Family Caregiver

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Melting snow puddles beneath our pine-laden front yard. Molly does not like being dirty but her magnetic white fur and plumed tail drag in a trail of mud and pine needles. I am teaching her to render each paw so I can dab up the mud before coming inside. No matter how much I clean her, she remains bedraggled.

I use the word bedraggled too much lately. It is not just Molly’s condition that I refer to—it is mine, as well. Feeling dragged through the mud, I plop on the couch believing I cannot do one more thing. It strikes me that doing one more thing describes family caregivers every day. Our duties never end–meal preparations, laundry, doctor appointments for your spouse or child, making beds, cleaning, bills, and the list goes on. Add to that the holiday season tasks and you have one very bedraggled caregiver.

This holiday season, take time for yourself and maybe take a day or two off to do something fun or relaxing for just you. There are plenty of resources available to the family caregiver of a Veteran that you can take advantage of.

Start by visiting http://www.caregiver.va.gov/, the Department of Veterans Affairs website for family caregiver support. The VA offers a free six-week on-line course for family caregivers. Telephone support is available to the caregiver for a Veteran by calling 1 (855) 260-3274. Other services include access to a caregiver coordinator, toolkit of ideas and forms to care for your Veteran, networking, seminars, and special caregiver events. The VA offers special assistance for family caregivers of Post-911 disabled Veterans.

Callout_Caregiver-Support-Line

VA sponsored respite care gives you up to 30 days a year of in-home care for your Veteran spouse or child, who requires full-time care, giving you time away to rest. Also available are Adult Day Health Care, Home-Based Primary Care, Skilled Home Care, Homemaker and Home Health Aide, and Home Tele-Health Care.

You are not Alone

The Family Caregiver Alliance estimated that there are over 52 million family caregivers in America with one out of five caring for a family member 40 hours a week or more. Forty-eight percent of caregivers report receiving supplemental care for their spouse or child, including transportation, home-delivered meals, and respite care. This means we are not alone in our caring for a disabled Veteran.

Reach out to one of the many resources available to family caregivers today. Consider getting help such as:

  • On-line grocery shopping and home delivery often available from Walmart or your local grocery store
  • Pre-cooked meals for delivery
  • Respite care for a few days off
  • Tele-health to reduce trips to the VA Hospital
  • Special tools to manage your Veteran’s medication, doctor’s appointments, and overall health information
  • Caregiver seminar or retreat
  • A listening ear by calling the VA Caregiver support line at 1 (855) 260-3274.

Just like a major fast-food chain states, “You deserve a break today.”

Dump the bedraggled and become the bedazzled

by getting help and rest this holiday season with family caregiver resources!

Post your Comments:

How do you find time to take care of yourself while caring for your Veteran? Please reply below.

Source 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.