(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.

(135) Part I – Gimme Back my Land: Veterans Fight to Regain Donated Land

Miss Molly profileGolly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

 

It took a lawsuit to reach an agreement with the VA to return land to homeless Veterans—land donated and deeded for their shelter. In 1888, a mining magnate and his wife deeded 400 acres in Los Angeles for the care of old soldiers. While the property served Veterans prior to the 1960s, it now “hosts wine tastings, a college baseball stadium, commercial laundry, a golf course and several other enterprises that have nothing to do with wounded warriors.” (McKay)

No veteran entered military service severely mentally disabled and homeless. We, as a people, owe our security and the preservation of our most cherished values to our military service members and our veterans, who serve our nation not for remuneration or glory, but out of fealty to honor, duty, and sacrifice.

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

Given shocking reports of how land once dedicated to housing Veterans ended up shutting Veterans out, Molly feels this story needs to be told. This is the first of several blogs that will share the story.

Bringing the Story to National Attention

A class action lawsuit was filed in 2011 by the ACLU and pro-bono attorneys entered on behalf of Veterans with various war-related disabilities. Each Veteran mentioned in the lawsuit lived in the Los Angeles area and fell into homelessness without long-term service or care for their disabilities. The VA settled the lawsuit earlier this year after four years in court, promising to return all land uses back to the Veterans. This requires that the VA work with Veteran organizations to prepare a Master Plan that outlines uses of the property and provides long-term shelter to Veterans with special emphasis on female Veterans, severely disabled, and other homeless Veterans. The settlement calls for the VA to phase out uses not consistent with the Master Plan, which do not serve Veterans.

Today, the property does consist of a health care facility with more than 1,000 beds. According to the lawsuit, those beds serve Veterans on a short-term basis—not offering permanent or long-term housing for Veterans. The land is “wedged between some of the nation’s wealthiest communities,” according to McKay. The boundaries are Bel-Air to the north, UCLA and Westwood to the east, and Brentwood to the west.

Reports indicate that the single largest group of homeless Veterans in the US call Los Angeles their home with over 20,000 living on the streets. This represents 11 percent of the total homeless Veteran population in the US. Over 100 buildings exist on the property today with most of them vacant and unusable due to lack of maintenance. With such a large homeless population in the area, news of abuse of the land hit center stage with the settlement of the lawsuit.

How Did the Veterans Lose the Land?

In Friday’s blog, Molly will share the story of how the Veterans lost use of the land. In future blogs, she wants to share the plans to return the land to homeless Veterans. We hope you will join Miss Molly as she brings this story to you. Just as no dog should be without a doghouse, no Veteran should be without a home!

Post your Comments:

Do you know of other stories where resources dedicated to Veterans were given away? 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 on September 22, 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.

(134) Wandering Without Purpose: Team Rubicon Offers Purpose

Miss Molly profileGolly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

The toughest thing about retirement is wandering about seeking purpose in life. While I had a plan from childhood of wanting to serve others, I focused on education and nailed my passion with a local government career. Entering retirement, however, I struggled with the loss of that career. Taking care of my Veteran and his service dog, Miss Molly, occupies much of my time but in those extra hours, I dabbled in a bit of everything not finding much satisfaction.

Considering the Veteran, I imagine that the loss of purpose once leaving service crushes the spirit even more than what I felt. A military life and service in battle takes every ounce of energy, strength, and commitment every day. For some, it takes even more by way of loss of appendages, emotional being, and inability to function from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), toxic exposures, and other assaults.

This week, I stumbled upon a speech delivered by VA Secretary McDonald. He addressed a group called Team Rubicon at its leadership conference of 200 volunteers. McDonald acknowledged the work of Team Rubicon, referring to Veterans as “the greatest asset of this nation.”

What is Team Rubicon? 

Team Rubicon is a nonprofit disaster relief organization that combines the skills and experiences of military Veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.

Bobbi Snethen in “Team Rubicon’s leadership conference prepares Veteran volunteers to respond to disasters”

In Snethen’s article on the VA website, credit is given to this organization for growing from eight volunteers six years ago to 8,000 Veterans today. Teams of Veterans, who volunteer, deploy throughout the world to help communities when disaster first strikes. Their efforts worldwide include 2010 disaster relief in Haiti, building a health clinic and training medical staff in Lake Tanganyika and other remote locations in Africa, earthquake relief in Turkey and Nepal, flood relief in Pakistan, and training of emergency and medical personnel on the Thailand/Burma border. On the domestic front, Team Rubicon lists nearly 100 relief efforts across the United States.

Training Program

On a final note, Team Rubicon’s website mentions the Clay Hunt Fellows Program, which is a 12-month leadership and training program that trains Veterans to succeed in the civilian workforce. The program not only contributes to the success of the Veteran but builds leadership capacity within the organization to help in expanding the reach of this organization throughout the world.

The Molly Disclaimer 

If Miss Molly could do more than bark, snore, eat, and love, she would tell me to let you know that we have no personal knowledge of Team Rubicon. Our knowledge is based solely on news articles, the website, and videos. Judging by what we have seen, she does offer the endorsement of a Bow WOW!

Post your Comments: 

Have you ever struggled with a loss of purpose? What did you do to find new purpose? 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.

(132) Orange Clash: The Veteran and Toxic Exposure

Miss Molly profile

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.

(116) Like Pulling Teeth: Dental Care for the Veteran and the Service Dog

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)


Teeth chew your food, become your smile, empty your wallet, betray your stress, and chatter when you are cold. Life with them can be miserable. Life without them is worse.

Although William sported a set of perfect teeth before Vietnam, he returned with 32 broken or decaying teeth. They had no disposable pre-pasted toothbrushes back then. Stopping in the bush to brush while in pursuit of the enemy never happened. Consequently, an entire generation of Veterans returned home in need of dental care.

While the VA serves the Veteran well in many areas, dental care leaves the Veteran all bark and no bite. Many Veterans leave the dental office one tooth less than their previous visit because getting an appointment takes a year or longer and too much damage occurs to save teeth.

In William’s case, it took one year to see a dentist for a cracked tooth. Just as his appointment time came, he received a call from the VA canceling the appointment. After another six months, he received another call canceling his next appointment. Finally, after another year passed, the dentist retired and the VA told William he needed to wait until the clinic hired a replacement. He received an appointment quickly and saw the new dentist, who marveled at how long it took to serve him in his condition. Because William’s tooth abscessed, the dentist needed to treat the infection first before removing the tooth so another appointment was scheduled two weeks later. The day before the appointment, the VA clinic called, telling him the new dentist left and it would be at least three months before they could get him in to see yet another dentist.

By this time, William took his bark to the phone and demanded help from the Denver VA, telling them about his experience, the delays, and the returning abscess. The next morning, the VA called and sent him to a private oral surgeon the same day. The young surgeon sedated him and completed the cleaning of the abscess, pulling of the tooth, and a bone graft within one hour. William arranged to pay out-of-pocket for the next stage of the work, which will keep his bridge intact—something the VA dentist said was hopeless. This will save two perfectly good teeth that the VA dentist needed to destroy to build a new bridge had that dentist stayed with the VA.

Now we seek dental insurance for William despite coverage by the VA with his 100 percent disability. While we first try to work through the VA, there are times when the VA fails. After all, working with the VA can be like pulling teeth.

Canine Periodontal Disease 

Miss Molly came to us with a cracked molar so our first doctor’s visit required anesthesia, an IV, and pulling of a tooth. With the medical insurance we purchased for her, she receives a free dental check-up and cleaning every six months with her “well-baby” medical appointment. Hoping to avoid canine periodontal disease, keeping her appointments rises to the urgent list.

The American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) offers a brief explanation of how poor dental hygiene for your dog can result in periodontal disease. Untreated, the disease may result in weakening bones; fractured jaw; sinus problems; and, complications to the liver, heart, and kidneys (see picture of canine periodontal disease at left–these are not Miss Molly’s teeth!). Any of these symptoms shorten the lives of our fury friends.

While the AVDC suggested bad breath is the only visible symptom of canine periodontal disease, an article by Russell Welfare, DVM stated more signs may be visible. These include discolored or teeth with tartar build-up, loose teeth, sensitive or painful mouth, drooling (except for the Saint Bernard, who drools all the time), dropping food, weight loss or loss of appetite, and/or red or swollen gums.

Whether man or beast, proper dental care is essential to overall health—now that is something to sink your teeth into.

Post your Comments: 

What do you do to keep your pet or service animal’s teeth in good condition? 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.

(97) Molly Takes a Road Trip

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)


 The Veteran’s Visit to the VA 

We left Molly at home earlier this week when William visited the VA clinic for dental work. It was not a day without service dogs, though, as we met several service animals and their Veterans. It gave me an opportunity to hand out Molly blog cards and talk with Veterans about their dogs.

I met a female Veteran, who is training her dog to help with her arthritis. Unusual amounts of rain in our area have taken it from dry to humid, causing flare-ups. This Veteran told me her dog also helps with her PTSD. She is scheduled to receive a fully-trained service dog from Freedom Service Dogs and is hoping the dogs will all get along.

Another Veteran from Afghanistan told me he trained his dog as a rescue.

“I saved him from death, as he bit his humane society handler. They didn’t want to give him to me because of the bite. He’s my best and only friend in the whole world.”

The Veteran shared with me that he has had his dog for nine years. The dog looked at his Veteran with a true love that only a dog can offer. The young man suffers from PTSD and TBI. He hopes his dog will teach a new service dog how to perform the same duties.

“It will be a sad day when he can no longer be my service dog. I can’t stand the thought.”

As it turned out, William’s dental hygienist swapped places with the hygienist of the Afghanistan Veteran, who took his dog that day. They made the swap because the hygienist of the Afghan Vet is allergic to dogs. Kudos to the VA staff for making the swap seamless to both Veterans. I am glad Molly stayed home that day even though her Veteran could have used a few hugs and licks during his appointment. William tells me Molly is too big to fit into the dental exam room.

“It was like pulling teeth to get her under the dental exam chair the last time I took her.”

The third dog we met served as an emotional support lap dog. While not a service dog, he accompanied his Korean War Veteran, enjoying each absent-minded stroke. Even an untrained pet can help calm its owner. Of course, emotional support dogs do not have public access rights under ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). The VA, however, does not seem to mind as long as they behave.

Molly’s Visit to the Buttes 

Molly’s road trip took her to Crested Butte, a ski resort town in southern Colorado. Dropping into town after descending Monarch Summit, William and I gasped with the beauty that spilled out in front of us. Snow-capped mountains, fields of purple, and shimmering aspens distinguish the landscape from any other we have seen. Even Molly appreciates the beauty, as she sniffs the air and tastes the wildflowers.

Hopefully, she will pose for a picture or two so we can share her adventures with you in a future post. Until then, she sends her postcard.

 

“To my Veterans and their Caregivers from the top of the world. I’m lake on mountain topdogified by the splendor of this place. Wish you were here and that you would bring me treats.” 

Post your Comments: 

What is your favorite place to visit with your pet? 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.

(96) PTSD Awareness: Getting Help for Your PTSD

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)


PTSD Awareness Month

In June, we celebrate PTSD awareness month. In 2010, Congress made this designation, adding June 27 as PTSD awareness day. The VA is seeking Congressional support to declare June as National PTSD awareness month in perpetuity rather than requiring a resolution each year.

According to the VA, “The purpose of PTSD Awareness Month is to encourage everyone to raise public awareness of PTSD and its effective treatments. We can all help those affected by PTSD.”

The VA offers a bundle of services for the Veteran, as well as the family caregiver. These services are neatly packaged at the VA website. Expect to be awed by the list of services. As well, the website allows you to sign a pledge to help spread PTSD awareness (under the Materials and Tips tab).

For health-related support for Veterans and their families, click on this link. Here you will find links to connect you with these health-related services:

  • Blind Rehabilitation
  • Caregivers/Caregiving
  • Chaplain
  • Community Living Centers
  • Compensated Work Therapy
  • Dental Care Benefits
  • Disease Prevention
  • Fisher House
  • Geriatrics and Extended Care
  • Homeless Services
  • Mental Health
  • MyHealtheVet
  • National Center for PTSD
  • Patient Centered Care
  • Prescriptions
  • Prosthetics and Sensory Aids
  • Readjustment Counseling (Vet Centers)
  • Rural Health
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Substance Abuse Programs
  • Telehealth
  • Veterans Crisis Line
  • Weight Management
  • Women Veterans Health Care

Whew! That is quite the list.

Do you think you May Have PTSD?

If you think you might have PTSD but are not sure, the VA website offers an on-line diagnostic tool you can use to help you decide when it is time to get help. It also offers resources and a step-by-step guide to get help. The tool is also available to family members and friends of the Veteran.

As a spouse of a 100 percent disabled Veteran, I know that the burden for getting help rests with the Veteran. No one can do it for you. The VA makes it easy to reach out and get help—even if you are not certain you need it. You risk nothing by reaching out and you stand to gain everything by taking that step.

This month, resolve to get help or get a Veteran connected with these services.

Here are a few links to find out more about PTSD awareness month:

 Molly’s Brush with PTSD 

This week, Molly accompanied William to see his primary caregiver at the VA Hospital. His doctor fell in love with Molly. When I told her that Molly was experiencing a dog version of a panic attack in sympathy for William, she got down on the floor and got face-to-face with Molly. The doctor stroked her nose and talked sweetly to her. This served as good medicine for both Molly and William.

Molly with William in VA waiting roomWhile you are not supposed to allow others to pet a service animal while working, we found it impossible to hold back the tide of Veterans, who wanted to pet her. Giving in, Molly helped more than a dozen Veterans and one doctor that day in relieving their stress. We watched as smiles spread across the faces of those in the waiting rooms we visited.

Both Molly and William napped the rest of the day when we got home. Drained and exhausted, they both rested peacefully, knowing that they made a difference in the lives of those they touched. Who would have thought that a fluff ball and a disabled Veteran with PTSD could have such an impact!

Post your Comments: 

During the month of June, will you pledge to reach out to at least one Veteran and offer support, resources, or friendship? 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.

(89) Evidence-Based Treatment: Molly Fails the Test

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)


VA’s Evidence-Based Treatments

The VA sent one of its monthly PTSD updates, encouraging Veterans to seek evidence-based treatment for their PTSD symptoms. According to the VA definition of evidence-based treatment, Molly and service dogs do not qualify as a treatment for PTSD.

When the Molly blog began in July of last year, I shared the VA perspective that there is noStrange look by Molly empirical evidence that service dogs help Veterans with PTSD. In fact, the VA website stated that while studies are underway on the subject, there is concern that service dogs may actually hinder a Veterans progress with PTSD because the dog might do things for the Veteran that the Veteran should learn to do for him/herself.

Criteria of Evidence-Based Treatment Programs 

The VA encourages the Veteran to seek programs that meet the evidence-based treatment criteria. This includes a program supported by independent medical studies, documented evidence of success, and recommended by experts in the field. Examples of these programs include cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure therapy (PE).

Failure of CPT for My Veteran

VA medical experts indicate that these two programs give the Veteran the best chance of success for treatment of PTSD, meeting the criteria listed in the paragraph above. William participated in CPT in a residency VA program several years ago. For him, the program failed miserably, leaving him worse than before he entered the program. As well, the program material read like a primer for elementary school children.

For nearly two years after the CPT program, William fell deeper into depression until we found Molly, his service dog. Molly helped unwind what he learned from the CPT program. She helped his PTSD recovery leaps and bounds beyond CPT and other treatments tried by the VA.

VA’s Position on Service Dogs 

Over one year after the VA website challenged the benefits of service dogs, indicating studies are underway to measure their effectiveness, the website shared no updated information. In its last entry of March 4, 2014, the VA indicated that the studies assessing the benefits of service dogs will take years to complete. Until then, use of service dogs in the treatment of PTSD will be limited.

No Disputing the Benefits of Service Dogs

I am not a medical provider and my research and doctorate are in the field of public administration. Consequently, I cannot dispute the effectiveness or the rigor of CPT or PE as beneficial treatment for PTSD. What I can speak to are the benefits of service dogs for Veterans with PTSD—not from an evidence-based perspective but from dialogues with Veterans, who have service dogs. My husband and I talk regularly with these Veterans. I also hear from many Veterans through the Molly blog about their experiences with service dogs. In every case, the Veteran tells us that the dog is indispensable in helping him/her cope with PTSD and life.

While my approach to understanding the benefits of service dogs does not meet the rigor ofMolly and William on couch scientific study, it provides a basis to suggest that the VA needs to do the work to study the effectiveness of service dogs in the treatment of PTSD–and do it now.

Too many Veterans are losing out on life because the evidence-based treatments either are not working or are not enough to help. It is time to embrace the service animal and build the case for the service dog in treating PTSD.

Post your Comments: 

Have you or your spouse had success with using a service animal to help manage the symptoms of PTSD? 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.

(86) The “D” in PTSD: Depression ‘Sux’

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)


The letter d in PTSD, of course, stands for disorder and not depression. Depression fits, however, because the symptom looms over and dwells within every victim of trauma. While I would say depression sucks, my husband suggested “sux” is more presentable for sensitive eyes, viewing the Molly blog.

I do not believe there is any condition that sucks the life out of you faster than depression. It moves in slowly and pulls you into one ice crevice after another (as the ice crevice that froze Captain America for 60 years). Before you know it, its icy fingers trap you, leaving no strength for escape.

Molly expresses sensitivity to William’s moods and alerts both of us to his succumbing to depression. When MollyMolly helping William summons me, William denies he feels depressed but Molly knows better. She will either jump on his lap or insist on staying close by him. Sometimes she will put her face into his until she gets a response. Usually the response is unpleasant. She stirs the wrath of her Veteran but does not care that he is angry. She only cares that he snaps out of it. After an hour or two, he thaws out and escapes from the icy monster of depression.

Recently, after suffering multiple assaults on his body from falling off a ladder and other calamities, he fell into deep depression when he found out the neighbor’s house sold. The vacant house had been on the market for five years after construction. The news it finally sold left him feeling happy for the builder but sad that we were not successful selling our home last year. He expressed feelings of being trapped. Those feelings stirred up a lifetime of betrayal. Topped off with an episode of Magnum PI that showed prisoners of the Vietnam War being tortured, it made for a huge panic attack followed by a depression spell that lasted days.

When my husband hurts, I hurt. Molly does, too, although she tends to shake it off and continue doing what she does best—loving my husband. For me, depression whisks me into the frozen abyss. Fortunately, my only trigger is his feelings of helplessness and despair. I usually seek an activity such as sewing, jogging, or painting to thaw me out. It is easier for me because I do not have PTSD nor do I have the memories and scars of war.

I asked my husband how Molly best can help him.

“Just being here with me. She helps me cope.”

With his most recent bout of depression, Molly and I tried everything to help. Nothing worked. After several days, he asked me to pray with him. He prayed for God to soften his heart and not to allow his heart to harden. Just a few hours later, he told me the depression thawed and God restored the peace inside. Our household returned to normal.

Depression kills if left unchecked. The estimate of suicides in US Veterans exceeds the number of deaths from war.

There are approximately 25 million veterans in the United States, and 5 million veterans who receive care within VHA. Based on CDC data indicating suicide rates in men between the ages of 20 and 65 approximating 20 per 100,000 persons per year . . . . VHA mental health officials estimate 1,000 suicides per year among veterans receiving care within VHA and as many as 5,000 per year among all living veterans. (VA Office of Inspector General, p.1) 

If you are a Veteran, who suffers from depression, get help by calling the VA Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-8255 press 1) and consider getting a service dog. Do not delay, as depression suxs and will take everything from you if you let it. If you are a family caregiver, who suffers from depression, do not let time pass without getting help. For those caregivers covered by ChampVA (1-800-733-8387), the Magellan Health Care (1-800-424-4018) offers counseling services to help you. Most health care plans also offer mental health counseling.

Victory for Molly

I wanted to report that Molly lost 14 pounds over the past month on her special prescriptionThinner Molly dog food. The veterinarian gave Molly a hug when she weighed in. She suggested that the weight loss will likely extend her life by two years. We cannot see the difference because her fur exploded in every direction this winter. Weigh to go, Miss Molly (pun intended).

Post your Comments:

What helps you snap-out of a bout of sadness or depression? Please reply below. 

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

Source cited:

  • VA Office of Inspector General, Healthcare Inspection Implementing VHA’s Mental Health Strategic Plan Initiatives for Suicide Prevention; http://www.va.gov/oig/54/reports/VAOIG-06-03706-126.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.

(83) Just us Girls: The Plight of the Female Veteran

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)


 Molly and the Female Veteran 

In all of our visits to VA medical facilities, my Veteran and I have only met a few female Veterans. Female Veterans generally sit by themselves and stay quiet while waiting for services. Engaging them in conversation, they are respectful, polite, and thoughtful but rarely initiate eye contact or dialogue.

“Don’t underestimate them,” William said. “There is a lot going on inside of them from war. Sometimes I think women suffer from war more than men Molly's big, brown eyesdo. You should write about them.”

Miss Molly agrees. After all, she is a female, too. She likes being near and around women. In waiting rooms, she will face a female Veteran with those big brown eyes. If a dog could smile, I know she does. She often makes her way out of the waiting room, nuzzling by a female Veteran.

Unique Stressors

The National Center for PTSD wrote about the traumatic stress in female Veterans. The Center cited that women make up 11 percent of Veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq military operations. In fact, women are the fastest growing group of Veterans. Twenty percent of female Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and 27 percent from Vietnam have been diagnosed with PTSD. The site lists four main stressors that women face in military service. These include: (1) combat missions, (2) military sexual trauma (MST), (3) feeling alone, and (4) worry about family.

Combat Missions: Women often are not trained for combat missions but find themselves under hostile fire, returning fire, and witnessing the horrors of war firsthand. My husband shared that female medical staff in Vietnam often found themselves in the midst of battle and exposed to trauma just as combat Veterans.

Like many men in the war, the nurse was ill-prepared to survive physically or mentally in a guerrilla war, but she did, at great costs though. The price of being in the war was the same for men: irritability, deep fears, anxieties, anger, and for some, despair.  (Brende and Parson, 155)

Military Sexual Trauma: Many years ago, a female Marine Veteran struggled as one of my graduate students. Her release from the Marines came only months before she began her study. She started the program with excitement and brilliance. Over the next few weeks, she displayed signs of trauma. We talked often after class about her experience in the military. I asked her to talk with my husband, who accompanied me to class frequently. She shared openly with him about MST she suffered. He helped her connect with VA services. She had to overcome not only PTSD and MST but also the stigma of asking for help.

“Marines are strong. We don’t ask for help,” she told me one day.

In the few conversations I have had with other female Veterans, their stories are similar.

Feeling Alone: Often warriors are split off from their comrades and sent to various assignments. The isolation, according to the Center for PTSD, intensifies for women, who are a small population of their assigned units. They often find themselves in a non-supportive environment, which makes coping difficult.

Observing female Veterans in waiting rooms, confirms that those feelings of being alone continue after war. My husband tells me that Vietnam Veterans do not seek help because no one understands their plight unless they fought in war themselves. I imagine this feeling compounds for women because there are so few Veterans, who fought in their war and understand the female’s perspective.

Worry About Family: With year-long deployments often with little notice, being separated from their children creates guilt, heartache, and concern about their children’s welfare. Once returning home, it is reported that many women find it difficult to return to being mom. The Center cites that women often have more conflicts with their children after returning.

VA Assistance 

The VA offers special care for female Veterans. The VA added special services for women, including clinical initiatives, research agendas, and programs just for women. Every VA Hospital in the country now employs a Women Veterans Program Manager. The VA runs the Women Veterans Health Program and the Center for Women Veterans.

The National Center for PTSD suggests that a strong social network is key to helping women heal from war trauma. Offering a caring, listening ear may help begin the healing process just as it did when my former student shared her story with my husband—a fellow Veteran.

Who Can Help?

While I have a heart for all Veterans, I cannot give that support needed by female Veterans because I never served in the military. Many of our readers have served and can help if so inclined. Perhaps the next time you are in a VA waiting room, you might engage a female Veteran and listen to her story.

Molly does this every chance she can. We find that bringing her to William’s trips to the VA helps in reaching out. A rub on her head or a scratch behind her ears does more for the Veteran than a boatload of medication. 

Post your Comments: 

Do you know of other unique stressors women face in a postwar environment? Please comment below. 

Photo credits: pculbrethgraft

Sources cited:

About the blogger 

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