(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.

(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.

(155) Not Another New Year: Exchanging Despair for a Goal

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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 year 2015 melts away as quickly as stolen unsalted butter melts on Miss Molly’s tongue. While for some, a new year rushes in with promise and new beginnings, for others, it stinks like dog breath and litter boxes.

After my father died when I was a young adult, anger tumbled into resentment as I watched people continue with their happy lives. Even birds singing and children laughing triggered heartache deeper than the San Andreas Fault.

Passing through this holiday season, Veterans reminded me of the loneliness and despair wrought by PTSD, TBI, and war-related illness. Often changing the subject in VA hospital waiting rooms to a brighter topic, I raised the question of New Year’s resolutions and the promise of a better year. Jaws tightened. Eyes rolled.

“Ain’t nothing good ‘bout another year,” one Veteran said.

Although I understood despair from my Father’s passing, I will never know the despair of a Veteran with disabilities from war.

My husband participated in a VA PTSD program for CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy). Veterans’ assignments required the setting of goals for their health and overall lifestyle. Goal setting required self-assessment, focus, and taking control over PTSD.

Serving in the military, our Veterans are no strangers to goal-setting, to-do lists, and achievement so using them to outrun despair lies within reach. For the caregiver, juggling family demands and managing a Veteran’s medical needs, goals can make the difference between having time to rest or a never-ending sink of dirty dishes.

Consider setting your New Year’s resolution with goals that will bring you closer to your ideal future. Make them SMART—Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time specific.

Is Your Goal SMART?

Let’s use Molly’s New Year’s Resolution as an example of a SMART goal:

No more eating the Christmas ham from the countertop.

  • Simple – It is a straightforward goal—even for a dog
  • Measurable – We know if she eats it or if she does not so we can measure success or failure
  • Attainable – Molly can achieve this goal because she knows it is wrong to eat from the counter even if her alpha human mom leaves it out; since she knows not to eat off restaurant floors, she can know she must avoid countertops
  • Realistic – Molly’s training includes rewarding her for good behaviors and redirecting her when she engages in unacceptable behavior like eatingMolly licking her lips from counters; her training makes this goal realistic
  • Time Specific – Christmas is a specific day and the ham sits on the countertop for a limited time

Good job, Miss Molly. This is the perfect New Year’s resolution. Have a piece of ham—oh, I forgot; there isn’t any left because you ate it all off the counter on Christmas!

Post your Comments:

Have you or your service dog made a New Year’s resolution? 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.

(148) Ten Dogs of December

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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)

We returned to the VA Clinic for William’s doctor’s appointment rescheduled because of the Planned Parenthood shooting. No visible signs remained of the torturous episode. VA employees served Veterans with kindness and efficiency, as they generally do at our clinic. One noticeable change, however, stood out with service dogs—they showed up everywhere.

We hypothesized why so many dogs accompanied their owners today. Was it nervousness about the shootings last week just a block away? Could apprehension of driving snowy and icy roads be the cause? Perhaps, the holidays served as the reason, as we know how difficult this special time of year can be for those dealing with extreme challenges and loneliness. Likely, all three reasons are responsible for canine day at the VA.

Usually, Molly steals the show with her size, gentleness, and beauty but we left her at home. Today, there were a lot of stars with loads of canines helping Veterans. Several skirmishes broke out between untrained therapy dogs while the service dogs remained professional and obedient. Nonetheless, the VA clinic appeared as the dog days of December. Here is the rundown of those in attendance (some of the names have been changed to avoid tattling on the naughty because Santa is a Molly Blog fan).

     1 Nipper, a Miniature Aussie (name means surfer or lifesaver), who helped a young female veteran and her son      2 Bouncer, a Black Lab, (named because his owner has TBI and yells at him but he keeps bouncing back, offering unconditional love)
     3 Mallard, a German Shepherd (name means army counselor), who navigated the crowded facility, siting with his Veteran in the corner of the lobby with their backs to the wall      4 Locks, a Golden Doodle, (named for her curly locks), served her aging Veteran, who looked a lot like her without his tongue hanging out
     5 Patriot, a multiple breed dog (named so because of his American flag scarf), who kept his nervous Veteran occupied by practicing his commands; Patriot was well trained and obedient but his master left him alone several times      6 Dogchowager, a Chow (named after a Dowager, as a Chinese breed); her owner defended use of the Chow as an unofficial service animal remarking, “She doesn’t bite too much.” No need for a “Do Not Pet” patch on her vest—if she had a vest
      7 Lillie, a long-haired dachshund, sporting an official service vest, whose Veteran we met a few months earlier and remembered us (presumed named for her sweetness)      8 Altman, a Saint Bernard, (German name, meaning ‘old wise man’); Altman appeared as old as his WWII Veteran and just as wise
     9 Rosemarie, a French Bull dog (name means bitter rose), whose owner said, “You can pet her but don’t scratch her cuz she sheds.”    10 Bertha, a Bernese Mountain Dog (named for her girth), kept everyone away from her Veteran with matted fur, surly disposition, and a fierce growl if you got too close

Not every owner appeared comfortable with the behavior of their service animal today. In every case, however, the service animal and for some, their pets, calmed them and wagged tails when looking at their Veteran. Whether naughty or nice, these ten dogs of December confirm that dogs are good medicine for the broken, lonely-hearted, and downtrodden Veteran.

Post your Comments:

When in public, does your service animal appear well-trained? 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.

(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.

(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.

(129) Reunited and Feeling Good: Veteran Recovers Stolen Service Dog

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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)

Reunion with her Service Dog

Afghanistan Marine Veteran, Alexandra Melnick, reunited with her service dog, Kai after nine months of separation. Kai, an 18-month old German Shepherd disappeared the day after Thanksgiving last year from his home in Vista, California. Ms. Melnick left her dog with a friend, who reported that the dog vanished after she checked on him earlier that day.

Alexandra and Kai’s Story 

Ms. Melnick trained Kai after her release from the military where she served in Afghanistan in motor transport for the Marine Corps. From an incident while deployed in the Helmand Province, Melnick suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and returned home with PTSD. She bought Kai as a 12-week old puppy, training him to wake her from nightmares and serving as a boundary spanner.

Undertaking a major effort to find Kai, Melnick posted a $5,000 reward and searched neighborhoods on foot. She also posted Kai’s information on the internet. So despondent in not finding Kai, she left her job and fell behind in school.

Eventually, her social media networking connected her with 10,000 dog lovers, including dog sleuth, Andrea Nicol. Finally, a clue over social media led them to a home in Aubrey, Texas, about one hour north of Dallas. Ms. Melnick reported to national news that the family in Texas refused to release Kai to her but called the dog by his name, which suggested they knew he was stolen. In fact, the family registered Kai as an emotional support animal with a website, which Ms. Melnick referred to as “fraudulent.”

After going to local law enforcement in Aubrey, Kai was taken into custody. The microchip Ms. Melnick had imbedded beneath Kai’s skin confirmed Kai belonged to her. The family claiming ownership of Kai failed to show up at the custody hearing so Kai was released back to Ms. Melnick—reunited after nine months. A police investigation into Kai’s theft is ongoing.

The U-Tube video of Kai and Alexandra’s reunion makes it clear that they belong together. Ms. Melnick said Kai suffered from flea infestation and other skin problems while away from her, which she is caring for. While they are rekindling their relationship, Kai requires retraining on various commands—not unexpected after nine months of separation.

Never Give Up—Never Leave a Comrade Behind

Many people told Alexandra Melnick to forget about Kai after he went missing, suggesting that finding him was improbable. She never gave up. Now, Veteran Alexandra Melnick and her service dog, Kai, are reunited and feeling good.

Post your Comments: 

What steps have you taken to protect your service dog or pet from theft or separation from you? 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.

(124) Nightmares and Invading Aliens: PTSD, Sleep, and ET

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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)


Sleep Disorders and Veterans 

Do you suffer from sleep deprivation, have nightmares, or sleep too much? These may be signs of PTSD if these symptoms do not go away over time or if they worsen, according to the National Center for PTSD. While sleep problems frequently occur after a traumatic event, for a Veteran with PTSD or TBI, these symptoms may not go away and can make living a normal life difficult. Seeking the help of a doctor is recommended.

The National Center for PTSD offers tips for coping with these symptoms and provides an on-line coaching program to help the Veteran cope; the on-line coaching program even comes with a Mobile App! While your doctor may prescribe sleep medications, they generally are limited to short-term use and often do not help when suffering from severe war trauma. As well, sleep medications may interfere with effective PTSD treatment.

How are PTSD and Sleep Problems Related? 

The VA offers five explanations of how PTSD and sleep problems are related. First, the VA explains that Veterans often stay on high alert after returning from war. The habit and necessity of being on guard prevents one from getting restful sleep after returning to civilian life. The slightest sound, light, or vibration may disrupt sleep. Second, negative thoughts disturb sleep, causing one to sense danger and evade sleep. Third, use of drugs or alcohol interferes with sleep often causing nightmares and/or flashbacks. Fourth, nightmares often follow traumatic events, as the person relives the trauma. Fifth, physical injury from war or other medical problems, resulting from PTSD such as stomach problems and chronic pain, interfere with sleep.

Tips to Help with Sleep 

The VA website recommends several actions:

  1. Change your sleeping area by using it for sleep only and not watching television or listening to the radio; keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Block out all light. Listen to soothing music, use a white noise machine, or wear earplugs to block out noise at night.
  2. Establish a routine for bedtime and walk-up at the same time each morning. For the bedtime routine, the VA recommends no stressful or energizing activities within two hours of bedtime. Create a relaxing routine by taking a warm shower or bath, listen to music, or drink decaf tea each evening before bed.
  3. Exercise and getting outside for sunshine help in restoring the body and reaching a regular routine.
  4. See a doctor if your sleep problems persist.

For more tips, see the VA webpage on “Sleep and PTSD.”

Invading Nightmares 

Although I never experienced a traumatic event, my insomnia began at the age of five with the first of many night terrors. Fifty-three years later, I still experience the night terrors but am finally sleeping more than four or five hours a night. No medication or home remedies work—it is something I live with.

For those Veterans with sleep disorders, the VA wants to help. You have suffered enough and there is help for PTSD and its symptoms. Do not be hesitant in asking for help. Chances are that if you are suffering from sleep problems, you are suffering with other symptoms of PTSD or TBI—most of which are treatable.

Invading Aliens 

Miss Molly and I experience nightmares about invading aliens. In her case, I assume she runs from aliens because of the way her legs move and the sounds she makes in her sleep. For me, aliens visited me in my nightmares long before the movie, ET, hit the big screen.

My husband loves watching alien invasion movies, most of which give me nightmares. After reading an article in the Stars and Stripes dated September 7, I know I am in for another nightmare. The article entitled, “Air Force gives ‘last best offer’ for land near Area 51 testing site,” talked about the Air Force trying to buy landlocked property surrounded by the Nevada bombing range site–often referred to as Area 51 (you know, where the alien spaceships park).

The property owner wants $10.5 million for its 400-acre mining property, which overlooks Groom Lake—the reputed location for highly secret military activity. Referring to the property as “one of many remote locations within the Nevada Test and Training Range,” the Air Force offered $5.2 million. It looks like the standoff heads to eminent domain court (sounds like a bad remake of Cowboys and Aliens). 

Sometimes I wish I did not have such a vivid imagination!

Post your Comments: 

Did you experience nightmares when returning from war? How did you gain control over your sleeping problems? Please reply below. 

Sources cited:

  • National Center for PTSD. “PTSD Monthly Update for August 2015,” as retrieved on August 31, 2015.
  • Ritter, Ken. “Air Force gives ‘last best final offer’ for land near Area 51 testing site,” in Stars and Stripes, September 7, 2015, as retrieved on September 8, 2015.
  • US Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD, “Sleep and PTSD,” as retrieved on September 8, 2015.

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.

(121) Give the Dog a Bone: Treating Veterans with Donations

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


Veterans and Military Service Organizations 

After reading Blog 119, “Loving our Veterans,” one of Molly’s most loyal readers asked about places to donate funds to help Veterans. Since Molly loves it when we give her a bone, I figured our readers might love to find ways to give our Veterans a special gift.

I began writing this blog by listing the organizations my husband and I support. The more I looked for organizations that support Veterans, the more I felt like a bone that got buried. Overwhelmed with the task, the VA came to the rescue with a 128-page PDF document that lists Veteran service organizations. Titled, “Veterans and Military Service Organizations,” it lists six-pages of organizations, ranging from the African American Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Association to the Wounded Warrior Project.

The document offers a one-page data sheet on each organization that includes contact names, email, and phone numbers. Although there is no program description or mission statement mentioned for any organization, the data sheet provides website information. This is a great way to learn about organizations that might interest you.

Miss Molly’s Pick of the Litter 

There are so many great causes and so many ways to support our Veterans. Molly narrows it down to her top five favorites (they are really William’s favorites but what William likes, Molly likes).

Disabled American Veterans (DAV)

PO Box 14301; Cincinnati, OH 45250-0301

This tax-exempt, non-profit organization empowers Veterans “to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity.” The DAV was established by Congress to advocate for Veterans with disabilities. The organization helps Veterans connect with the benefits available to them. As an advocate on Capitol Hill, the DAV focuses on legislative advocacy to support Veterans in transitioning into civilian life. DAV sends its donors postage-paid return envelopes for their donations, calendars, address labels, and notepads.

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)

801 Eighteenth Street;Washington, DC 

PVA is a tax-exempt, non-profit that helps America’s Veterans and their families “get back on their feet.” PVA offers therapy and support for wounded Veterans, adaptive sports, advocacy for health care, job training, career opportunities, caregiver support, and ongoing-going events to support Veterans. PVA accepts donations on-line or by mail. The PVA just announced its holiday card contest for Veterans who are artists—how cool is that?

Veterans Administration (VA)

The VA seeks donations for programs to help Veterans. You can make your donation on-line at the VA link above. You can designate your gift to a specific VA medical facility and/or by specific program. The VA states that 100 percent of donations go towards Veterans. The website lists 24 health care programs that you might consider donating to, including the National Center for PTSD. While the VA encourages donations on-line, each facility has a volunteer coordinator where you can send your checks or ask about your specific donation. Do not forget that the VA treasurers the donation of your volunteer time. 

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)

8719 Colesville Rd., Suite 100; Silver Spring, Maryland 20910

Of course, we love this organization because it supports Vietnam Veterans. William belonged to a VVA post after he returned from war. It offered activities and information to help him deal with post-war issues. The VVA’s founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” Its goal statement is, “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.” The organization has 650 local chapters in 48 states with 75,000 individual members.

Wounded Warriors (WW)

P.O. Box 758517; Topeka, Kansas 66675 

The WW mission statement is, “To honor and empower Wounded Warriors.” Services are provided for warriors injured or wounded co-incident to the military service on or after 911. WW has served 75,287 warriors and over 12,000 family members. WW does great work with those suffering from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), which is a tremendous service. I have seen the program in action and spoken with a number of program recipients. The WW Project makes a huge difference in the lives of wounded warriors. We often read of the program’s success stories. You can donate on-line or send a check to the address listed above.

Add One More Pup to the Litter 

Molly adds one more pup to the litter with the Warrior Connection (WC). The Executive Director reached out to Molly and to me through Molly’s blog. Exploring the program on-line gave us enough encouragement that we added the Warrior Connection to our list of donations. WC offers retreats to Veterans to help in dealing with post-war issues. Special retreats are also available for family caregivers. You can donate on-line or by sending a check to P.O. Box 762, Brattleboro, Vermont 05302.

Avoid the Dirty Dog 

As with any donation, be sure to check out the organization and do your due diligence to avoid scams. There are many worthy organizations but there are also the dirty dogs that you need to watch for. Do not hesitate to call the organization and ask them for testimonials or referrals to program benefactors to confirm that the organization truly helps Veterans.

Post your Comments: 

Do you have a favorite organization you give to that helps Veterans, Members of the Military, or their families? 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.