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

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Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


Home Flipping 

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

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

PTSD Lurks Behind Walls 

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

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

Demolishing Walls 

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

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

Behind the Walls of the VA 

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

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

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

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

Post your Comments: 

What three words would you use to describe your service animal or pet? Please reply below. 

About the blogger 

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

(166) Psychedelic High without Drugs: Dog Art

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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)


Hallucinating PTSD Medications

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

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

Miss Molly’s Awesome New Friends

banner dog art

used with permission of www.pleasedrawmydog.com

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

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

dog-drawing-saint-bernard

used with permission of www.pleasedrawmydog.com

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

Why so Much Hype?

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

High Paw

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

Post your Comments: 

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

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

About the blogger 

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

(114) Part II – The Dog’s on the Trail: Findings of an Important PTSD Study

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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 Tuesday’s Molly Blog, we discussed the newly-released findings of the NVVLS (National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study), which revealed that PTSD symptoms worsened in a majority of combat Veterans over the 25-year period of the study. The study findings stated that 40 percent of Vietnam Veterans with PTSD experience major depressive disorder more than 40 years after the war.

As promised, this blog focuses on a few additional study findings. Following a trail of crumbs left in the study, the blog also looks at what the study did not say with alarming statistics that bite you on the nose.

An Easy Trail to Follow 

For Veterans, living with the nightmares of war, the study results may be self-evident. For those of us just learning about PTSD with little exposure to war, the trail to these conclusions are hidden beneath the jungle canopy, having never been considered. The easiest way to clear the trail requires a machete and flashlight. Cutting through the statistics and research language, here lays the summary:

    1. The prevalence of PTSD symptoms over time for war-zone Veterans is higher than for non-war-zone military and civilians. The astonishing part of this finding is that a study combined this data into one statistic, which leaves the impression that war-zone trauma PTSD is lower than it is by diluting the data with other study participants not exposed to combat. Although the study properly separated the data by each category of participant when reporting the data, such a finding can be manipulated easily to report lower incidence of PTSD than exists in combat Veterans.
    2. Multiple studies, including a ten-year study of Vietnam Veterans reported a gradual decline in PTSD rates and “diminished effects of exposure levels on PTSD symptoms during a ten-year follow up.” These findings clearly contrasted with a 20-year study of World War II Veterans, which reported intensification of PTSD symptoms over time. The NVVLS sets the record straight by showing that PTSD does not go away but worsens over time for combat Veterans.
    3. This study (NVVLS) is the only statistically valid, longitudinal study on the effects of PTSD in Vietnam Veterans and, therefore, boasts of authenticity and reliability. Its findings become highly relevant and beneficial to Veterans, who suffer from PTSD because it underscores the need for on-going treatment and support of our Veterans both current and future.
    4. Since 1980 with DSM-III R when PTSD became an official disorder until the DSM-V was published in 2013, the threshold of symptoms required for diagnosis was raised, making the diagnosis of PTSD more difficult to reach. If the same criteria had been used, it likely would reveal a greater decline of Veterans’ mental health over the 25-year period. This is not the fault of the study; however, it does raise concern that less Veterans receive help for PTSD symptoms today because fewer are included in the diagnosis due to the higher threshold of proof.
    5. Alcohol and substance abuse declined over time in Vietnam Veterans with PTSD. In fact, the alcohol abuse percentage for war-zone Veterans is lower than alcohol abuse in those without PTSD. (Way to go Vietnam Veterans!) 

Where the Trail Runs Cold 

The study offers astonishing insights for the layperson but where it stops cold, left me stuck in the jungle without a guide—morbidity. Of the 2,348 Veterans, who participated in the original NVVRS, 428 died by 2012—the year the longitudinal study began. Eighty-one additional Veterans died between the time of the first mailing and the launching of Phase 1 of the longitudinal study. Following Phase II of the study, 40 more Veterans died before the third phase. This represents a death rate of 23.38 percent of Vietnam Veterans, who died during the 24-year period from completion of the NVVRS in 1988 to the beginning of the NVVLS in 2012.

The study scope did not cover causes of death; consequently, we remain clueless about the deaths. We do know, however, that more Vietnam Veterans died by suicide after the war than died in the war.

And the Winner Is . . . 

Not wanting to leave our readers stranded in the jungle, Molly brings us back to the present with her newest candidate for the Golden Paw Award. She gives a High Paw to Dr. Marmar, his research team, and the New York University Cohen Veterans Center for this exemplary study, which demonstrates the need for greater access to mental health services and support for our Veterans. Miss Molly proudly issues Dr. Marmar the Molly Dog Tag Certificate. Well done, Dr. Marmar and team.

Post your Comments: 

Did any of the study findings surprise you? Please reply below. 

Source cited:

  • Marmar, Charles R., et al. “Course of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder 40 Years After the Vietnam War: Findings From the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study.” JAMA Psychiatry, 2015; 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.0803

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.

(94) VA to Study the Benefits of Service Dogs

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)


In a post earlier this year, I reported that the VA PTSD website suggested there is no empirical evidence that service dogs benefit Veterans with PTSD. In doing additional research this week, I read an article posted January 31 by the Stars and Stripes, announcing that the VA initiated a second study of the benefits of service dogs for disabled Veterans. The VA abandoned the first study in 2011 because of dog bites and health and training concerns for dogs.

“Doctors from the Department of Veterans Affairs say that the benefits of service dogs working with the physically disabled are well-documented. However, there is no scientific literature that supports the theory that they are equally beneficial to those with mental scars.” Stars and Stripes, 1-31-15 

More than $10 million has been designated for the study to address the question: Can service dogs improve activity and quality of life in Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress? This version of the study will be tightly controlled in hopes of producing scientifically-valid data. It will focus on 220 Veterans in Atlanta, Georgia; Iowa City, Iowa; and, Portland, Oregon. Specifically, the study will compare the benefits of service dogs with the benefits of emotional support dogs for Veterans with PTSD.

The results of the study could open the way to more Veterans qualifying for and receiving service dogs in the future. How far into the future? The VA indicated in its interview with the Stars and Stripes that the study will publish its results sometime in 2018 or 2019.

What are Molly’s Thoughts About the Study? 

Commenting that ten million dollars can buy lots of dog bones, Molly expressed relief that the VA is undertaking the comprehensive study. She told William, “Service dogs are lifesavers to Veterans with PTSD and it is time to prove it, dog gone it!”

Post your Comments: 

What is the greatest benefit you receive from your service dog? 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.