Combining Smell, Sites and Sounds to Overcome PTSD

Smells from exotic spices to rotting, uncollected garbage will be used to help war veterans overcome symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Researchers at the University of Central Florida in Orlando are studying “exposure therapy.” And, they will use the smells associated with combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Coalition forces alongside Afghan commandos kick down a door during an air assault mission in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2009. Photo credit: Spc. Matthew Freire, Joint Combat Camera Afghanistan.

The “exposure” therapy uses virtual sites, sounds and real smells of traumatic events to help teach people to face their fears. Dr. Deborah Beidel, a UCF psychology professor, is leading the study that also includes researchers from the University of South Carolina.

Researchers have known for a long time that smell is tied to memories and the hope is that the smells of war will help veterans deal with their anxiety and other symptoms of PTSD. The smells coupled with video game simulations will be used to duplicate the war veterans traumatic experience.

The study is recruiting 120 veterans with PTSD who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The study will be conducted at two locations UCF and the Medical University of South Carolina. The first five weeks veterans will use the video simulations including smells. Then the groups will be split. Half will receive 12 weeks of group therapy aimed at solving social and emotional problems. The other half will receive the standard mental health treatment offered by the VA and clinics. The study is being funded by the U.S. Army. Treatment is free.

Veterans of any military branch, as well as National Guard and Reserve members, who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible. For more information on UCF’s portion of the study, go to http://anxietyclinic.cos.ucf.edu or call 407-823-1668.

A link to UCF article about the project is here.

A link to the full Orlando Sentinel article is here.

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Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day

My personal thanks to the website War on Terror News for remembering this day and for reminding us to recognize all Vietnam War veterans. Below is a part of the website entry as well as videos marking the significance of the sacrifices made by veterans from Vietnam War.

From War on Terror News

March 30 marks the anniversary of the day in 1973 that Congress ended combat and combat support unit operations in South Vietnam.  It is also recognized as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day”

Below you will find a few videos I found for my tribute to our Vietnam Veterans.

Thank you for your service.  Welcome Home!  God Bless You All.

It’s unimaginable to those who have never seen combat what extent humans can endure to help another – especially a battle buddy. The following video is a bit long, but worth watching as it chronicles the sacrifice of a Medal of Honor recipient Green Beret Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez known as Roy P or call sign (Tango Mike Mike).

Invisible Injuries Getting Second Look

Several years ago, a VA physician taught me about invisible injuries.” His experience started when he was teaching wounded warriors how to put on prosthetic devices to replace their missing limbs. But many had trouble remembering his instructions from one day to the next.

A closer look uncovered Traumatic Brain Injuries or TBI. The wounded warrior had no physical head wounds, but the impact of the explosive device that took their limbs also jarred their brains.

There are thousands of military members who survived an explosive device with no outward wounds. Their “invisible wounds” or brain injuries got little or no attention and were rarely considered a “wound” worthy of a Purple Heart.

A recent Air Force Times article, posted March 26, 2011, reports that attitudes may be changing. Below is a portion of that story, the full article can be read here.

Air Force Times

The services are engaged in a long overdue effort to clarify rules for the Purple Heart, one of the military’s most coveted medals.

All four branches are studying an Army-led push to declare that troops who suffer concussions as a result of combat actions are entitled to a Purple Heart.

That means, for example, that soldiers in a vehicle that hits a bomb buried in the road qualify if they suffer a concussion.

In theory, the rules already allow for that. But in practice, it’s clear that few such head injuries have earned wounded service members a Purple Heart…

…. This is not just about hanging a ribbon on troops. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli hopes that giving Purple Hearts for invisible injuries will help remove the stigma that often keeps troops from seeking the medical help they need to recover from concussions as well as post-traumatic stress — injuries that too often have been mistaken by commanders as signs of malingering or poor attitude.

If he’s right, perhaps these awards will result in something even more meaningful: helping to reduce the number of suicides, divorces and domestic violence incidents that plague troops coming home from the war zones.

A Sister, a Mom, a Family Prepares for Military Life

It’s hard to believe in just over a month my oldest son will graduate from The Citadel. The time, for me at least, has flown by. Looking through photos from his college career, I’m forced to believe the time really has gone by.

Chelle and Nelson in Charleston, September 2007.

Our daughter, Chelle, is the measuring stick. She was a little girl in 3rd grade when Nelson started his knob year (freshman).  She is now a young lady in 6th grade and about 12 inches taller. The photos tell the story best. During the 2007-08 school year she always brought a treasured stuffed animal on our visits to The Citadel. Now she brings a book.

My oldest son and my youngest child have shared a very special bond since she was a baby and he was the protective 10-year-old brother. For a recent language arts assignment, Chelle was asked to write about the person she admires most and use the lyrics for a song.  She wrote about her oldest brother and composed a song for him since she couldn’t find one to sum up her admiration. As she sang it for me this morning, a tear came to her eye. I had a lump in my throat as well.

Last night, I attended a production of Theater of War presented at Emory University. The production is making it’s way around the country. Through the ancient readings of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes the audience hears how the warrior and his/her family can be affected by war both physically and psychologically. The production is supported by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the USO.

Chelle,Nelson and Dorie on Corps Day Weekend, March 2011. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Listening to my daughter sing of her admiration for her brother this morning after attending the performance of Theater of War last night it struck me that we stand in a long line of military families. For thousands of years, families have sent their loved ones of to do battle, never sure if they will see their son or daughter again. We will enter that ancient tradition once our oldest goes through his officer training.

My 12-year-old daughter tears up during prayer time in her youth group at church just thinking about her older brother joining the Army. I listen to the stories of my fellow Citadel Ya Ya’s as they tell of the jumping in happy anticipation every time the phone rings in the hope that it is their child calling from over seas.

For the past 10 years I have studied traumatic stress and it’s affect on people exposed to trauma. My last year at Columbia Theological Seminary, I developed a model of chaplaincy for journalists of all faiths or none at all who cover traumatic events. This work has offered me the opportunity to meet leaders in the field of traumatic stress studies like Dr. Frank Ochberg, Dr. Jonathan Shay, and Dr. Steven Southwick, as well as individuals who have a traumatic stress diagnosis. During this time, I have had the honor and privilege to have attended conferences hosted by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and the Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy.

Family photo, November 2010. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I now serve on the board of the nonprofit, Care For The Troops, an organization that teaches civilian therapists about military culture so we will all be more sensitive to the needs of members of the military and their families.

My studies in the area of traumatic stress began years before my son decided the military is the career for him.  I’ve lectured to faith-based communities and journalism programs about traumatic stress.  I have come to realize that sometimes as a mom, you can know too much.

My son has received an excellent education and training at The Citadel and in the Army ROTC program there.  I know he is as prepared as anyone can be to enter the U.S. Army.  I also know it will still be tough.

Graduation is a month away.  My son will report for officer training June 8.  After that who knows.

I do know I can draw on the strength of my friends and fellow military moms to get us through, just as generations of families before us have done.

Previous entries by Dorie Griggs:

The Making of a Military Mom

Mom Readies for Son’s Military College

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

How The Citadel “Ya-Yas” Came to Be

Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

The Citadel Trained Me as Well as My Son

The Citadel: BVA’s and  Summerall Guards

The Citadel: Recognition Day and Ring Weekend

Care Packages for Cadets: The Citadel Heroes Project

The Citadel Bond Renews Parents’ Long Time Friendships

The Citadel: Unofficial Tips for Families of Incoming Knobs

The Citadel: Saying Good-Bye, But Always Connected

Paying Tribute to a Soldier’s Best Friend

A friend on Facebook posted a Youtube video that caught my attention. It was a tribute to military trained dogs. A quick search and you can find scores of such videos. Here are a few I thought worth sharing.

The Citadel: Saying Good-Bye, But Always Connected

I really thought I’d be more emotional this past weekend. It was Corps Day Weekend.  The weekend when The Citadel celebrates it’s founding. During this weekend the Summerall Guards change to the new class of cadets and the Citadel Family Association holds its final meeting of the academic year.

The Citadel Family Association area representatives representing: Georgia, Florida, California, Massachusetts and New York. Photo by Stanley Leary.

It normally doesn’t take much for a tear to come to my eye.  Given this weekend of good-byes, I really thought I’d need a whole box of tissues. It didn’t turn out that way. Friday afternoon, I attended the Citadel Family Association meeting. I’ve served as the Cadet Recruitment and Retention Coordinator this past year and this meeting is when I introduced the new coordinators.

Seeing so many parents whom I now call friends out weighed my grief over leaving this chapter of my life. I had a great time seeing; and in some cases meeting face-to-face for the first time, parents I’d worked with via Facebook and email the past year or so. It was so much fun seeing everyone that I didn’t dwell on the fact that I may not see them again.  With Facebook and email, I know I’ll continue to be connected and in touch via cyber space.

Shamus Gillen of The Citadel Admissions office presents Dorie Griggs with a Recognition Award for her volunteer service. Photo by Stanley Leary.

Friday night was also a celebration. We went to dinner with two other families and their cadets.  My son is a 2011 Summerall Guard from Bravo Company.  Their sons were incoming 2012 Summerall Guards, also from Bravo Company. This dinner wasn’t about good-byes but rather celebrating the achievements of our sons.

Saturday morning was the real test.  It was the time I came the closest to shedding a tear. In a very formal ceremony on the parade field the 2011 Summerall Guards passed their rifles to the 2012 Summerall Guards.

Cadet Nelson Lalli (second from left) and the 2011 Summerall Guards prepare to pass their rifles to the 2012 Summerall Guards. Photo by Stanley Leary.

My son would pass his rifle to his good friend.  As the time approached for the exchange I could feel the emotion and the tears begin to well up. Seeing the beaming parents of the 2012 Bond Volunteers as they marched on to the field to become the 2012 Summerall Guards kept me from dwelling on the sadness of an ending.

Good friends, 2011 Summerall Guards, Matt Spysinski, Nelson Lalli, James Harrell before the rifle exchange. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I refocused on the thrill of seeing the 2012 Summerall Guards perform the Citadel series for the very first time in front of an audience. Last year I was so happy for, and proud of our 2011 Summerall Guard I was smiling not crying.  It was a fun day that began with the rifle exchange and continued when we joined the other 2011 families at a luncheon and had the opportunity to purchase our “Summerall Guard Parent” t-shirt.

Saturday evening was time for more celebration, and probably the reason I did not become as emotional as I thought I would over this last Corps Day as the mom of a cadet. We spent the evening with several friends who are parents of graduates of The Citadel. I was the only one there with a cadet still in school. 

The 2011 Citadel Ya Ya’s reunion, plus friends. Photo by Stanley Leary.

These wonderful folks, part of the Citadel Ya Ya’s, traveled great distances so we could all have time to visit and catch up. Through this group, I’ve learned that just because your son or daughter graduates you don’t have to say good-bye to the wonderful friends you’ve made.

In a way, it must be how the cadets feel.  They may be separated by military service, job transfers, etc., but they share the common experience and bond that no one will ever break. Our cadets wear the Ring, and we share in their triumph and dear friends we have made over these last four years and the heartstrings that will always keep us connected.

War Veterans “Welcome Home” Event at Tampa’s USF

It’s the Tampa Bay area’s Fourth Annual “Welcome Home America’s Heroes” celebration for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars offering entertainment, giveaways and helpful health and benefits information.

U.S. Soldiers assigned to Bravo Company, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment, patrol through the streets of Abu Ghraib, Iraq, May 7, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kani Ronningen/Released)

Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital is hosting the celebration for Florida’s active-duty military members and veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The VA estimates that more than 10,000 veterans from the area have served in the Global War on Terror. They and their family members are invited to the event that also includes free health screenings, information on employment and veterans’ benefits. It’s part of an outreach campaign to assure Florida’s returning veterans are aware of and receive the services and health care they’ve earned.

The event is scheduled at the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida, MLK Plaza, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Military members also will have the oppportunity to meet with representatives from the VA, state and community organizations such as the University of South Florida Veterans’ Association, VetSuccess and the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs officals.

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