(175) Reveille Roust: Our Wake-up Call

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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)

I admit that I am an insomniac. The rhythm of my internal clock works contrary to the bugle calls we hear from our local military base. I rise long before reveille and listen to taps hours before retiring. While productive for completing a caregiver’s task list, agitation accompanies my condition, sending my household into a tailspin. Even Miss Molly sleeps with her head buried under clothes in the closet to avoid my early-morning rousting and late-night vigils.

Honoring the American Flag and Our Warriors

soldier saluting flag

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Airman 1st Class Hrair H. Palyan explained that reveille, retreat, and taps all serve to show respect for the flag and honor Airman, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines from past to present.  Ellsworth Air Force Base website

I asked my Veteran the role reveille played in his military service. His response surprised me.

“Always too early. Get up or get hit upside the head. Another day. Same routine.”

As a young man fighting in the bush of Vietnam, I expected the sound of reveille twisted in his belly and sent shivers along his spine, knowing what dreaded tasks awaited his unit. Instead, he viewed it as routine. I suppose when living in a heightened state of awareness every minute of every day on the battlefield, the early-morning rousting presented nothing more than a marker that another day begins.

Caregiver’s Opportunity

magnified to do list

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Making to-do lists keeps me going forward as a caregiver. No matter the daily challenges, those lists keep me focused and productive. For a caregiver, reveille comes too early but it gives her (or him) a chance to have quiet and peace before the household rises. It offers an opportunity to pray, meditate, and prepare for what lies ahead. In these early hours, we gain the strength to serve our Veteran and other family members. It offers time to enjoy a cup of tea and scratch out the to-do list.

Perhaps, with reveille, whether by bugle call from a nearby base or an alarm clock, an exciting new task might be added to our to-do lists—a task that holds fun or excitement for us and/or our Veteran. This might include a walk in a park, going to a movie, putting together a puzzle, having lunch with a friend, or taking our Veteran and service dog to the local library or hospital to cheer others in need. While several of these ideas require advance planning, adding that planning to our to-do list today allows us to enjoy that exciting venture on another day after reveille calls.

Veterans’ Opportunity

My Veteran hates to-do lists but always manages to finishes those I make for him. While I do not envision him making them for himself, his contentment with his routine brings peace to my hectic days.

For Veterans viewing reveille as routine, perhaps shaking up the day with a new challenge could chase away the doldrums. Check out the VA website for a free class such as PTSD 101 or download the TBI or PTSD coach apps. The VA offers whiteboard discussions about benefits and medical conditions and video testimonials about coping with PTSD and TBI. If none of those options sound appealing, how about a trip to Petsmart with your service dog to find a treat for your loyal canine?

Miss Molly’s Reveille Reaction

While researching reveille, I found the music and played a few bars on my piano for Miss Molly. Even though I waited until noon to play for her, she whined, paced, and howled. I wasn’t sure if she was singing along until she bolted from the room. We found her in the closet with her paws over her ears. How unfortunate, indeed.

Post your Comments: 

How do you respond to reveille? 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.

(174) Old Friends: A VA Meet Up

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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)


Reunited One-Half Century Later 

Colorado Springs VA FacilityAnxiety filters throughout the waiting rooms, spanning three floors. Discomfort with another visit to the VA Clinic ripples across a sea of faces. Not an easy task, Veterans fought the stress of dealing with their war-related issues and showed up for another day of doctor appointments. Today, however, my Veteran and I witnessed a reunion, which caught the attention of every Veteran within earshot. Slumping shoulders ceased and every set of eyes focused in glee, as two Veterans embraced after 46 years.

While William waited for his doctor, he spoke with a Vietnam Veteran a few years his senior. Finding out they served near one another in Vietnam one year apart, they spoke of difficulties encountered when returning from war and the ensuing years. As they talked, a man approached softly, interrupting the hushed tones of William and the man he just met.

We marveled at what the two friends revealed over the next 30 minutes in their 46-year reunion. After having last seen each other when serving in Vietnam and then assigned to Germany in 1970, they lost touch. In the intervening years, man-come-softly reached out to the men he served with, finding several other Veterans in his city. In his investigation, he found one comrade-in-arms who lived just blocks from him for 18 years and never realized it until four years after the man died. That set him on an urgent mission to connect with other comrades in his town.

The reunion we witnessed began with an embrace and continued after each man’s doctor visit. The entire episode transformed a waiting room from anxiety to excited anticipated as the story of two men’s lives unraveled. Their initial eye contact flashed recognition from a faded memory. Then, a spark lit. No doubt existed in either man’s face that they had served together in a wicked war nearly one-half century earlier. They spoke without hesitation, sharing as though they woke this morning in the barracks together. Filled with smiles and a knowing nod, two long-lost buddies emerged from war nearly 50 years later in a seamless friendship and a shared purpose in life.

A Mother and Her Veteran Daughter

For me, the day’s highlights included meeting the mother of a female Veteran with her service dog. We talked about the therapeutic value of service animals and how it changed the Veteran’s life. An encouraging story, her daughter displays strength by reaching out for help. She added her voice and value to a unique dynamic that could only unveil itself in the waiting room of a VA Clinic—the place to go for a meet up.

Post your Comments: 

Have you experienced a meet-up at a VA clinic or facility that brightened your day? 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.

(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.

(145) There Goes the ‘Hood: Aliens for Thanksgiving

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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)

Wild turkey in Molly's yardFifty turkey girls pecked their way across Molly’s turf. Even the summer-born hens waddle with the weight they put on feasting on whatever it is that turkeys eat in front yards. Tasty in appearance, they run and fly awkwardly from rock to rock, avoiding Molly’s menacing lunge.

The fox disappeared last year, surfacing only occasionally to snag a dead mouse. Squirrels raided our wildsquirrel eating bird food bird feeder with Molly being the only watchdog to chase them from the feeder perched on a balcony pillar. Although out-of-her reach, her size intimidates the squirrels but not the magpies, which land on her back or head. The squirrel gains courage and bombards Molly with sunflower seeds.

Her pleasant spring-time paradise turns wild, as creatures prepare frantically for winter. Worst of all, alien critters invade Molly’s domain—the dreaded coyotes. These miserable, mangy creatures taunt her, hiding in the piles of scrub oak and pine needles. They run circles around her, measuring precisely how far she can go on her leash. It’s her neighborhood, after all. How fair is it that this wild life invasion unfolds just outside of her reach? 

Returning from Overseas 

I remember my shock in returning to my family home after months overseas in Southeast Asia. Even though I returned to a place I spent 20 years of my life, everything seemed foreign. Although not much had changed except that my mother exchanged my beloved piano for an organ, everything felt unfamiliar. Simple pleasures as the blooming peach trees appeared dull and lifeless. The roadway noise bothered me even though it had not before. My mattress swallowed me and my pillow left me gasping for air. I sought escape from this alien place with nowhere to flee.

Returning from War

“Not knowing when a sniper would strike, or where underfoot a booby trap or land mine was, made a continuous hypervigilant state necessary for survival. Hypervigilance. . .has proved destructive to relationships out of the war zone. It plagues the family relationship with suspicion, blame and anger.”

Brende and Parson, 134.

Reading about PTSD and what warriors face in war, I understand that what I experienced returning from life overseas is amplified for the warrior returning from battle—especially for those who had a high frequency of engaging the enemy or saw human carnage. For our returning warriors, they must not only deal with the strangeness of their once familiar surroundings but must also deal with battle wounds and the nightmares of what was experienced in the war zone. Everything must appear alien and even hostile. 

Thanksgiving as Family Time 

The love of a spouse, parent, or even children may seem fulfilling enough to those of us never having fought or served in the military. While the Veteran may be certain of our love, the Veteran’s life is forever changed from military service. The familiar becomes the unknown. Certainty is replaced with change. The comfort of home is plagued by nightmares and panic attacks.

As we gather together for this special day of Thanksgiving, we as caregivers and family members must remain thankful that our warrior is home with us. We must lean on the hope of better days for our Veteran because of the treatments available for PTSD, TBI, and other war-related disabilities. We can also claim hope in the love of our God under whom our nation was founded.

Offering open hearts with wide-open eyes, we must welcome our Veteran home. Setting aside our pain and fears, this Thanksgiving Day can be the day that we tell our Veteran, “Welcome home, my beloved.”

Post your Comments: 

Do you have a special Thanksgiving tradition to bring your family closer together? Please reply below. 

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

Source cited:

  • Brende, Joel Osler and Erwin Randolph Parson. Vietnam Veterans: The Road to Recovery. New York: Signet, 1985.

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.

(144) Unexpected Blessings: Molly Raids the Grandma Bag

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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)

Before taking William for oral surgery, I double checked to make sure my grandma bag hung out-of-reach of Molly, who stayed behind. The bag hung securely by the handles wrapped twice around the top of a high barstool. Having learned that Molly loves the taste of baby squeeze fruit and animal crackers, I took those items out of the bag in case she found a way to disengage the 12-pound bag.

When returning home, Molly nuzzled up to William and avoided eye contact with me—a sure sign of mischief. A trail of torn plastic bags and brownie crumbs told me all I needed to know—she figured out how to untangle the handles of my grandma bag and snag the bag without knocking over the rod-iron chair. She removed my forgotten snacks and chowed down.

Molly and William on sofaChecking the chocolate meter from Blog 5, I knew two Fiber One brownies would not harm her so I cleaned up the mess, as I mumbled “bad dog.” Molly had curled up with William while I tossed empty wrappers. Seeing the two together, it took only a moment to forget her naughtiness and acknowledge what a blessing she is as a service animal, who steadies William, consoles him when his PTSD flares, and loves him unconditionally.

Another Unexpected Blessing

William thanked me for caring for him and accompanying him to the oral surgeon’s office on one of the most blustery days we have experienced in Colorado. As it ended up, the trip to the surgeon landed me a blessing quite unexpected.

Because of the blizzard, several patients cancelled except for another tough guy and his wife. The tough guy was an 80-year old retired Army Colonel, who braved the storm to bring his wife in for surgery. It turned out that the Colonel and my husband served in Vietnam at the same time. Both fought in the worst battle during the Vietnam War—the TET Offensive in 1968.

I listened to the Colonel’s story, which made the pages of history spring into life in the waiting room. Tough guy trained at the Monterey Language Institute, becoming fluent in Vietnamese during the war. Serving on several missions, he led men into battle. As the war winded down, he was assigned to negotiate for the release of American and South Vietnamese Prisoners of War (POWs). I felt his misery of those times when his team failed in negotiations, being forced to leave many behind. I shared in his joy when his team succeeded in extracting hundreds. I cried when he spoke of the torture and pain he observed, touring Hotel Hanoi and other POW camps. He looked surprisingly younger than his age but as he spoke of his years in Vietnam, his eyes told the story of every soldier lost to war and how deeply he hurt for each one—the memories hanging on the edge of his heart.

After surgery, I introduced William to the retired Colonel. They spoke about their paths that crossed many times unaware to each. The comradery was instant. For me it was a connection of the heart to an ordinary man who did extraordinary things to bring our POWs home.

Marveling at his 57-year marriage that lasted through-out his multiple tours in war zones, I was awed that my husband’s surgery resulted in an unexpected blessing—one that I will long cherish.

Suffering Guaranteed, Blessings Assured

Life guarantees us suffering, hurt, and pain—an inescapable reality for human beings. Out of this condition, however, we are assured of blessings such as the ones I received on the day William had his surgery. As a woman of faith, I am learning that out of suffering comes growth, wisdom, and joy. Learning to endure the hard times enables one to focus on the precious gems that surface from the flames of refinement. Today, I received two gems—a reminder of Molly’s love and the journey into Vietnam with a Colonel who served to bring home our POWs.

Post your Comments:

Have you discovered a gem from your adversity? Please reply below.

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger

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

(141) A Veterans Day Special

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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)

Thank you to all who serve or served our great Nation, giving us freedom, liberty, and joy. The price you paid to bring us these privileges will not be forgotten nor unappreciated. As citizens of the United States of America, we honor you! 

Today’s Golly, Miss Molly Blog is a piece I wrote to my Veteran on Veterans Day ten years ago. It has never been shared with anyone other than William. He granted permission for me to share it with you today.

My Combat Veteran Hung on a Cross 

He was innocent, barefaced—like other boys. Saying goodbye to what was safe, he left for boot camp. Weeks later, he parachuted over Vietnam into the heart of war. While his life was spared, his guts were torn apart. He saw things no man should have seen. He committed authorized atrocities that would scar his life forever.

All that I know of war, I know from the nightmarish screams of my husband. Shattering the night, he yells, “send the tanks to the rear; we’ll move to the flank.” He shivers at my touch, as I whisper, “Honey, you’re safe. It’s okay now.”

My husband, William, is an ordinary war hero. He insists he is no hero at all. “I only did what was necessary to save my skin and my buddies. You just survive.” Like so many others, he fought for our freedom. Some came home from war and still live with the memories of the pain. Some did not come home at all.

Thirty years later, this war hero exploded my textbook understanding of Christ’s death and resurrection into a living masterpiece of meaning.

The canvas is painted with observations from eleven years of marriage. William was an innocent boy of eighteen (as innocent as a teenager can be) when he enlisted. He battled political demons on foreign soil for a cause he did not create. Wounded in war, he carries the scars today—thirty years after Vietnam. His sacrifices remain ignored, having been shunned by war protestors in the sixties and seventies. My husband cherishes me, loves me, and protects me. He would do anything for me. His love is as close to unconditional as I could ever feel from another human being.

The masterpiece takes shape as the observations spring into life, revealing the face of Jesus.

Christ was truly innocent. I Peter 2:22 NIV says, “He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.” It is tough enough to imagine innocent boys going into battle for their nation but imagine Christ being willing to go into battle for all of mankind, knowing that He would suffer and die. It wasn’t fair what He endured. He did no wrong. But, He did go and He went willingly.

Jesus suffered. Jesus knew that He had to endure the pain and suffering to save us. After 2,000 years, His scars are still fresh in the record and are ever present in our hearts. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed,” states I Peter 2:24 NIV.

My husband often talks about the humiliation he suffered when he returned from Vietnam, being jeered by war protestors. Although William fights back with a rebel’s attitude, Christ accepted His fate—even though fighting back would have been a natural reaction. “When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.” I Peter 2:23 NIV confirms that Christ knew His Father’s will. He did not protest nor did he have an attitude. In fact, His dying words were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34 KJV).”

My earthly husband lavishes his love upon me. He accepts me as I am. If this earthly man loves me so deeply, how much more does my Savior love me? To experience the deepest of human love is but a greeting card of joy compared to what the future will hold when we are reunited with the Lord God. Christ’s sacrifice allowed it all. I Peter 2:25 NIV concludes the passage, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Christ Jesus will protect us forever.

Today, on Veteran’s Day, I am watching my husband at this celebration of war veterans. His thinning gray hair blows in the ocean breeze. He taps his foot anxiously even though there is no music. He doesn’t notice the magnificent beauty of the Pacific, framing Catalina Island beyond the surf. Instead, he stares across the horizon into the distant memory of another country thirty years earlier. The twenty-one gun salute shatters the pensive moment. Remembering mortar fire, misery, and death, he weeps inside. His palms and face sweat in the cool air. The bagpipes play. We stand for taps. He weeps for those who died in battle. I weep for my husband.

As we walked home, he shook from the panic attack. Yet he held my arm, insisting that I walk on the inside of the curb. His watchful eye kept vigilance over me as a group of rowdy teenagers pushed by on the sidewalk. Always ready to defend and protect me.

While to the world this man may not be a hero, he is my hero. His love surpasses my understanding. His faithfulness to our marriage is beyond my comprehension. The pain he carries from his service in Vietnam is but a curiosity to me. Yet, I know that I am his bride. I am free because of his sacrifice. And, I know that I am loved.

What we know of Christ’s sacrifice, we are told in I Peter 2:22-25. We know that we are His bride. We are free because of His death on the cross. We know we are loved by God because He gave us His only begotten Son.

My war hero is alive today and I am blessed. I cherish every moment with him.

As Christians, our war hero is also alive today and we are blessed. He endured battles we will never experience because He shields us from them. Our war hero gave His life for all. Jesus Christ is the ultimate combat veteran. 

Veterans’ Day Prayer 

Thank you, God, for your Son

Who died on the cross

And made the ultimate sacrifice

So we might die to sin

And live to righteousness. 

As a nation, we weep today

For those who also sacrificed their lives for us.

We weep for those who do not know You

For those who do not yet know of the cross.

We stand before You as Your people.

 

We pray for the families of those lost in war

For those missing in action—not yet reunited with us.

We pray for those veterans whose scars are buried deep

May they know that their sacrifice

Has given us the freedom to worship You.

 

Thank you, Lord, for this Country and your blessings.

Today as we celebrate our Veterans

May we honor them with Your love

May we cherish our precious gift of freedom.

May we rejoice in this day of liberty and remember

Jesus Christ is our ultimate combat veteran.

Post your Comments: 

Please share your tribute with a Veteran today. Please reply below, if you wish to share your tribute to Veterans. 

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.

(136) The Big Land Grab: How Veterans Lost Their Land (Part II of “Gimme Back my Land” Saga)

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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)

In Molly Blog 135, Molly began her storytelling of a donation to “old soldiers” by a mining magnate and his socialite wife in 1881. While the donated site today offers limited use to Veterans through the West Los Angeles Medical Center, 100 buildings on the property have fallen into disrepair and are unusable. Over the years, the VA leased portions of the land for special events such as wine tasting and filming and for uses as a college baseball stadium, commercial laundry, and a golf course.

Today’s blog continues the story with the tale of how the Veterans lost use of land gifted to them for housing in their old age. So, grab a bowl of doggy treats and join us as the saga continues.

One horrific consequence of war is that it exacts heavy and lifelong consequences on the young men and women who made lofty commitments on our behalf: many return with physically invisible wounds of mental illness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or brain traumas. For countless veterans, military service has rendered them unable to resume their civilian lives, sustain their family relationships, hold down jobs or continue their educations, or even to maintain a permanent residence.

Excerpt from Valentini vs. MacDonald class action lawsuit filed in the US District Court of Central California on August 12, 2011

 Years of Land Use

The de Baker land deed called for use of the land specifically for providing housing for Veterans with disabilities, including establishing and permanently maintaining a soldier’s home for Veterans disabled by war. For 80 years, the predecessor group to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) operated the Pacific Branch Soldier’s Home, which offered a permanent home for tens of thousands of disabled veterans. Through the non-profit’s efforts, disabled Veterans accessed medical and therapeutic services at the Home. The campus offered postal services, a 10,000-book library, Veteran vegetable gardens, recreation facilities, and other services for the disabled and severely disabled Veterans as well as permanent housing. (Valentini)

In the height of the era that wounded warriors started returning from Vietnam, the organization operating the Home stopped accepting new residents and ceased maintenance of the facilities. Structures dedicated to permanent housing were either used for other purposes or abandoned. All construction dollars went into expanding medical and short-term treatment facilities. This left severely disabled Veterans with brain injuries or mental disabilities with no place in the Los Angeles region to receive treatment, care, or long-term housing.

According to Fox News, “the VA emptied out the sprawling grounds known as the West Los Angeles Campus and began renting property out for all sorts of uses that had nothing to do with veteran care.” David Sapp of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California told Fox News, “Not only were the local VA officials not using the land to house homeless vets, but they were actually affirmatively misusing the property by entering into these private-use agreements that had nothing to do with healthcare, housing or otherwise serving veterans.” (McKay)

The 1960s and 1970s were not the first abuses of the donated property. Following the donation of the original acreage by Arcadia de Baker, other donations of land surrounding the original property swelled the total number of donated acres to 600 for the sole use of disabled Veterans. When development of Wilshire Boulevard and planning for the 405 Freeway and the Los Angeles Federal Building began, the property was divided and portions of the dedicated land were taken away for development, bringing the total acreage down to 388 acres.

Molly napping

Paw-sing for more of the Story

At this point, Molly paws her storytelling and tempts you to return for more of her tail.  On Tuesday, she shares other accounts of Veteran takeaways in Part III of the “Gimme Back my Land” Saga.

Post your Comments:

Does your community host facilities for Veterans on land donated by a private citizen or corporation? Please reply below.

Sources cited:

  • McKay, Hollie. “No more golf, wine-tasting: Prime LA land deeded for soldiers’ care to return to intended use,” in Fox News, retrieved on September 22, 2015.
  • Twair, Pat McDonnell. “This Space for Rent: Leasing Veterans’ Land in West L.A.,” in the VVA Veteran, January/February 2015.
  • Valentini v Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Amended Complaint and Injunctive, Declaratory, Mandamus, and Accounting Relief, Case No.: CV-11-04846 SJO (MRWx) filed on August 12, 2011; case filed with the United States District Court Central District of California, as retrieved on October 19, 2015, at http://www.publiccounsel.org/tools/assets/files/0577.pdf.

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.

(132) Orange Clash: The Veteran and Toxic Exposure

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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 Clash

Having trouble deciding between blogging about the VA Agent Orange newsletter weDSCN2398 received this week or the story about the VA evicting thousands of Veterans in the 1970s from property dedicated to them in 1888, I glanced across the living room. I smiled at my Veteran, wearing his favorite outfit of an orange t-shirt, red shorts, and black compression socks. The clash of his orange shirt against the red shorts convinced me that the story to go with today is the Agent Orange newsletter.

What’s the News about Agent Orange?

“Agent Orange” refers to a blend of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed in the jungles of Vietnam and around the Korean demilitarized zone to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover. Herbicides were also used by the U.S. military to defoliate military facilities in the U.S. and in other countries as far back as the 1950s.

VA.gov website, “Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange”

Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during their military service may be eligible for VA benefits, including disability compensation for diseases that may have resulted from exposure. Benefits are also available for dependents and survivors. The VA streamlined the normal eligibility process for Agent Orange exposure, which is good news for Veterans.

The presumptive diseases for which Agent Orange is considered causing include the following (click here for descriptions of the diseases):

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Al Amyloidosis
  • Chronic B-Cell Leukemias
  • Chloracne or related disease
  • Hodgkin’s Disease
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Respiratory Cancers, including Lung Cancer
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas
  • Spina-bifida (except occulta) in a child born to an exposed Veteran

Agent Orange Eligibility

You may qualify for evaluation for Agent Orange exposure if you served in one of the following ways:

  1. Vietnam and Brown Water Veterans, which were those who served on the inland waterways of Vietnam via the Brown Water Navy and/or Mobile Riverine Force. This includes those who made brief visits ashore or who served on the inland waterways (Brown Water Veterans).
  2. Blue Water Veterans, who set foot in Vietnam for liberal leave or work detail or served aboard ships on Vietnam inland waterways between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. Serving on these ships does not qualify one for the presumptive diseases and one must show they were on shore to qualify.
  3. US Navy and Coast Guard Ships in Vietnam, which are named specifically at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/index.asp. This covers those ships that operated on Vietnam’s inland waterways, docked to shore or pier in Vietnam, or that delivered supplies or troops ashore.
  4. Korean Demilitarized Zone between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971 and who have a disease the VA recognizes as associated with Agent Orange exposure. In these cases, the VA presumes the Veteran has been exposed to herbicides.
  5. Thailand Military Bases for Vietnam-era Veterans, including the US Air Force and Army Veterans, who served on the perimeters of military bases in Thailand between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975.
  6. Herbicide Tests and Storage outside Vietnam, where the Department of Defense (DOD) indicated herbicides were tested and stored. The list of these locations is found at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/locations/tests-storage/index.asp.
  7. Although not listed in the Agent Orange newsletter, the VA website adds Air Force and Air Force Reserve members, who served between 1969 through 1986 and routinely operated, maintained, or served on C-123 aircraft, which were known to be used to spray an herbicide agent during the Vietnam era.

Any Veteran believed to be suffering from Agent Orange or other herbicide exposure not included in the above eligibility categories must prove they were exposed during their military service to be considered for the health exam and benefits.

Agent Orange Registry

The VA offers a no-cost Agent Orange Registry health exam to Veterans meeting one of the above categories. One need not be enrolled in the VA’s health care system to participate. To join the Registry and receive your exam, contact your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/coordinators.asp or work with your Veterans Service Officer on your claim, which may require special documentation. You can also contact the VA at 1-800-827-1000.

Want More Information on Agent Orange?

To subscribe to the Agent Orange newsletter or to view it online, visit www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/publications/index.asp. The nextoranges on tree newsletter update is planned for 2016.

Contact the VA today if you meet qualifications so Miss Molly can ask, “Orang’ you glad you did?”

Post your Comments:

Do you know someone who might qualify for the Agent Orange Registry? Please reply below.

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

About the blogger

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

(122) From Foxtail to No Bail: The Battle Cry of the VVA

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Molly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


When growing up in Southern California, the foxtail weed could take down even the toughest animal, including horses, dogs, coyotes, cows, goats, and cats. When the animal tries pulling the foxtail out of its fur, the weed winds its way into the animal’s nose or ear or burrows under the skin. Often, the foxtail requires surgery to remove lest it fester and wreak havoc on its host.

While the analogy may not be the best to use, I felt as if a foxtail lodged in my brain when I wrote Tuesday’s blog, “Give the Dog a Bone.” This blog listed Miss Molly’s top Veteran organizations to support financially. What haunted me through the week was the founding statement for the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), which reads: “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” I found its goal statement just as provocative: “To promote and support the full range of issues important to Vietnam veterans, to create a new identity for this generation of veterans, and to change public perception of Vietnam veterans.”

Of course, I did not require surgery to remove this metaphorical foxtail, but these statements bugged me until I finally surrendered and asked my husband to help me understand. It struck me that for such sentiments to find their way into the founding statements of an important organization must have meant that a great deal of suffering led to their formation.

Scorn for the Vietnam Veteran 

The Vietnam Veteran “was treated with intense scorn, disgust, and hatred by a nation that refused to look at itself honestly….Worse, veterans of other wars told him that he fought in the only war that America lost….Even worse, he was told by some that he didn’t even have the honor of having fought in a war….

Brende and Parson in Vietnam Veterans: The Road to Recovery

Brende and Parson continued their description of the treatment Vietnam Veterans experienced upon returning home. “Many Vietnam veterans’ fathers who had served in earlier wars often refused to discuss Vietnam with them. Or if Vietnam was discussed, the war and its soldiers were spoken of as losers and in a disparaging way.” (Brende and Parson, 73, 80)

In short, Vietnam Veterans were abandoned by the generation of warriors who went before them. Many of those who abandoned our Veterans were fathers of the men who fought in Vietnam—Veterans from World War II.

Legitimacy of the Vietnam Veterans of America 

Congress established the VVA in Public Law 99-318 in 1986. With its founding principle to make sure no generation of Veteran again would experience the abandonment the Vietnam Veterans experienced, it follows that our government leaders recognized the injustice leveled against this generation of Veteran. Additionally, the VVA was charged with creating a new identity for the Vietnam Veteran and changing public perception. Again, our government leaders acknowledged that the media and social attacks on our Veterans were not only unjustified but caused by the betrayal of our own country of those called to serve.

What this Means for Our Military Today 

This week, I accompanied my husband to several VA doctor appointments. In one of the waiting rooms my husband struck up a conversation with several Veterans. He and a Vietnam Veteran shared their stories. A young Afghanistan Veteran, suffering from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD, opened up to William once they were alone. He shared that his assignment included forward operations like my husband’s. They experienced much of the same trauma from their war service. The young Veteran drank every word of encouragement William offered. While the Veteran started his discussion with watery eyes, he showed signs of hope and optimism as he left for his appointment.

I asked William what changed the man’s outlook during the conversation.

“—Because I was in combat and he needed to know that in order to open up. Only a Veteran who’s been there can help another Veteran. Even though their combat experience is different, combat is still combat.”

The healing that began today for this young Veteran tells me that the goal of the VVA to make sure no generation of Veteran is ever abandoned again is being fulfilled. Because William and other Vietnam Veterans took the time to engage this young man, he learned he is not alone and that his road to recovery is shared by tens of thousands of Vietnam Veterans willing to help.

Only the Vietnam Veteran 

No matter how much I blog, how much education the psychiatric staff possesses, or how well-intentioned our families are, no one can ease the healing process like another Veteran—especially a Veteran, who had to overcome the ignorance and hostility of a Nation that once abandoned its warriors.

For every Vietnam Veteran who meets the next generation of Veteran, know that you represent a lifeline for the young Veteran. You offer the experience no one other than a Veteran can to help him or her overcome the distress and trauma of war. Please do not bail out on this new generation of Veteran, as you are the only generation of Veterans, who can reach them.

Post your Comments: 

As a Vietnam Veteran, what advice might you give a warrior just returning home from service in a combat zone? Please reply below. 

Source cited:

  • Brende, Joel Osler and Erwin Randolph Parson. Vietnam Veterans: the Road to Recovery. New York: New American Library, 1985.

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.