Military Families Serve Too, So Center Offers Help

Family therapy, couples therapy, individual therapy, even weight management groups are all services that have been available at the USF Psychological Services Center for decades. Now, the center’s director, who served 10 years in the U.S. Army, is reaching out to the veteran and military families offering help.

Photo courtesy of the USF Psychological Services Center.

Photo courtesy of the USF Psychological Services Center.

“We know that there are veterans, for whatever reason, are still hesitant about seeking services in the VA,” said Jack Darkes, director of the University of South Florida Psychological Services Center.

Veterans and active-duty personnel both worry that they could lose their security clearance or a possible promotion if it becomes known they’re seeking psychological help.

But because USF’s clinic does not take insurance, Darkes said, a client’s records are confidential.

“Being basically a private pay, our records are under the control of the individual who pays for them. There is no third party payer involved and therefore anything that would happen in our clinic is confidential within the limits of the law,” Darkes said.

The law says therapists must report child or elder abuse or if their client is a threat to themselves or someone else. Everything else is confidential.

Another attractive option at the USF clinic is the price. Fees are on a sliding scale. Continue reading

PTSD Poem, Art Exhibit Misses the Mark, Some Veterans Say

The reintegrattion brochure that inspirede the poem, Many Happy Returns.

Art for a cause is nothing new especially on college campuses and at the University of South Florida an adjunct professor is using her poetry, she said, to shine the spotlight on America’s responsibility to help combat veterans with post traumatic stress. But some veterans on campus believe her poem and accompanying art exhibit missed the mark and instead portrays them in a bad light.

The poem is titled Many Happy Returns by Melanie Graham who teaches composition and professional writing at USF. Graham called it a found poem because it combines written material from other sources into a poem. In this case, she merged language from a military brochure on reunification that one of her students had brought in for a project with news reports.

The poem begins:

A note to the returning service member and family:

If the return home was easy, there would be no need for this guide

But we know that is not always the case.

June 2002, the first veterans of the war in Afghanistan return to Fort Bragg, N.C.

However, knowing what to expect and preparing for it can make the process easier.

June 11,Sgt. First Class Rigoberto Nieves fatally shoots his wife Teresa and then himself in their bedroom.

A cork-board display, many with symbolic photos, is set up for each stanza of the poem Many Happy Returns.

She crafted the poem into an art installation making an individual cork-board for each stanza. At each board, you read the military brochure set-up and then the media account typewritten on onion skin paper.

“I choose onion skin because of rareness of the paper and it’s extremely fragile, you can almost see through it and like truth it’s very fragile,” Graham said.

Also symbolic are the many of the images with the displays: photos of a beekeeper, a steak and potato dinner, a family with their faces scratched out. Graham, whose father was a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, said she wrote the poem to focus on the observation that many military service members are coming home and not getting help with their symptoms of post traumatic stress.

“If you’re in America, we are at war. We don’t feel it,” Graham said. “We need to appreciate what’s going on and beside the fact of putting a yellow ribbon magnet on your car, beside the fact of saying to someone thank you for your service look at what the realities are that these people face.”

One of the more disturbing photos in the exhibit shows a generic family photo with the faces scratched out.

But some student veterans at USF who saw the exhibit drew different conclusions.

“One of the veterans said to me ‘I’m not going to come out and say I’ve got post traumatic stress if this is what they’re going to look at me and say oh you’re going to do this,’” said Larry Braue, director of the Office of Veteran Services at USF. “It (Graham’s art exhibit) paints an image that is not accurate of post traumatic stress.”

Braue said there are many different levels of post traumatic stress that are not reflected in the exhibit. He learned about Graham’s PTSD poem and display when one of his student veterans gave him a controversial postcard promoting the exhibit.

“Just the words that were on there,” Braue said. “And the graphic image of a veteran or somebody who appeared to be a veteran blowing his head off with a pistol.”

Braue, a veteran himself, went to the exhibit at USF’s Centre Gallery worried there would be similar violent images. There are not. But he was troubled by Graham’s poem as were many of the student veterans who come through his office for services.

“Some of them were offended. Some of them were hurt,” Braue said. “They felt hurt that they were being portrayed in a light that was very negative. You know when you look at the stories of a sergeant who comes home and kills his family, that’s certainly not how many of our veterans want to be portrayed and while things like that have happened, that is not the norm.”

Many Happy Returns - a poem turned into an art exhibit that focuses on returning combat veterans who have committed domestic violence, murder and suicide.

Graham said she sought feedback from veterans in her family as she worked on the poem and the postcard is an illustration of her brother who was a Marine embassy guard. She added that she did not mean to offend or traumatize veterans, but she defended her use of only violent homecoming scenarios.

“It’s a necessary evil, so to speak, to raise these issues and I certainly didn’t mean for it to damage anyone,” Graham said. “I’m hoping to wake people off of their Facebook so they’ll realize this is reality for a lot of people and people who sacrifice on behalf of the country.”

Because of the sensitive topics covered by the poem - the USF Centre Gallery put up a cautionary "adult content" notice on the gallery door.

While Braue did not like parts of the exhibit, he said it did prompt much-needed discussion about post traumatic stress.

“While maybe it’s not the way we would have liked it to happen, but it has raised awareness and it helps our veterans to say what post traumatic stress really is – it gets them to speak out and tell the real  story of what post traumatic stress is,” Braue said. “And really raises awareness for our counselors to know that there are misconceptions about post traumatic stress.”

The exhibit, Many Happy Returns, is open through Friday at the USF Marshall Center, Centre Gallery, Tampa Campus.

Crisis Line for Service Members, Veterans, Family, Friends

My reporting and this blog have brought many military families and their friends – both active duty and veteran – into my life. I was contacted recently by one of those individuals in need of support – more support than what a friend can provide.

It made me realize – I need to mention more frequently – there is help for family and for friends of military members.

If you know and love a veteran, a veteran’s family member or friend – please note this number. Post it on your refrigerator door, in your mobile phone contact list or personal address book. You may not need it, but someday someone else might.

Another 24/7 resources is offered through The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). You can get information and find resources about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and psychological health.

The DCoE services are open to everyone – according to the website:

  • Service Members
  • Family and Friends
  • Military Leaders
  • Clinicians
  • Educators
  • Veterans
  • Support Personnel
  • Clergy
  • Researchers
  • Deployed Government Civilians

Information is provided for free by phone, email or online: 866-966-1020, e-mail at, or you can also go toDCoE Outreach Center Live Chat.

The 24th Homeless Veterans “Stand Down” Set This Week

The Veterans Village of San Diego Stand Down is designed to help homeless Veterans combat life on the streets. Photo courtesy of VVSD web site.

A San Diego VA program for homeless veterans, “Stand Down,” was featured Sunday evening on CBS 60 Minutes.

The annual event in 2010 attracted a record number of veterans looking for shelter, for help kicking an addiction or for a simple shower and hot meal.

The 2011 “National Stand Down” for homeless Veterans is July 15-17 in San Diego. “Leave No One Behind” is the military motto repeated at the Veterans Village of San Diego.

You can get more information on prevention programs, housing, employment and other services by calling the Homeless Veterans National Call Center at 877-424-3838.

If you are a veteran in need of talking to someone immediately, call the Veterans Crisis Line – 800-273-8255 – and press 1.

PTSD Affects Entire Families – Caring for the Caregivers

Photo courtesy of Resilience 101 for Military Families.

There’s a new support group for military spouses and significant others whose loved one is living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. National Public Radio’s program “On Point” took a closer look.

To listen the full hour program click HERE

The featured guests are:

Victoria Bruner, director of the military’s new pilot program –- the Spouses and Significant Others Support Group –- for the spouses of servicemen and women affected by PTSD.

Col. Charles Engel, psychiatric epidemiologist and director of the Deployment Health Clinical Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Shamale Dancey, participant and peer facilitator in the Spouses and Significant Others Support Group program. Her husband, Army Specialist Marcus Dancey (temporarily retired), experienced PTSD after returning from Iraq.

Sheri Hall, participant in the Spouses and Significant Others Support Group program. Her husband, Army Major Jeff Hall, experienced PTSD after his second tour in Iraq.

With two major wars and more than eight years of fighting, the U.S. military is feeling the strain. Many servicemen and women have experienced severe combat stress, the effects of which can linger long after they’ve returned home.

The burden falls also on their spouses; post-traumatic stress disorder –– PTSD— affects entire families. One resource

Promising PTSD Research Will Soon Open to Veterans

USF Associate Professor Kevin Kip is the Executive Director of the USF College of Nursing Research Center which will soon be enrolling veterans for PTSD and TBI studies.

University of South Florida researchers briefed Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor Thursday afternoon on a wide range of scientific studies she helped to get funded through Congress. The USF College of Nursing receive $2.1 million to conduct five different studies aimed at helping combat veterans restore their lives.

One of the research projects Castor was updated on is called Accelerated Resolution Therapy or ART for short. It’s a therapy for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that uses one-on-one therapy and rapid eye movement to help replace disturbing images from the traumatic event.

Epidemiologist Dr. Kevin Kip is the principal investigator for the ART research and the other four studies at USF College of Nursing. He said another study of the Accelerated Resolution Therapy is already underway.

“We’re doing a study on civilians right now and we have treated a few veterans,” Kip said. “We’re getting pretty good results and so we’re anxious to apply it directly to veterans.”

Kip expects to start enrolling veterans in the ART study at the end of July. Enrollment for the civilian ART study is still open. For details on the civilian ART study you can call 813/974-9310.

The College of Nursing soon will start signing up veterans for two web-based therapies. One study is for veterans with PTSD who may want to remain anonymous and the other online research study is for veterans with mild Traumatic Brain Injury.

A fourth research study will look at the prevalence of PTSD in both active duty military and veterans. Current estimates are that 20 percent of combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan return with PTSD symptoms.

“We essentially want to either validate the current literature or turn it on its head and say well maybe it’s not as accurate as people think and maybe the problems are even worse than their presently reported,” Kip said.

Women veterans are the focus of the fifth research study. There will be a celebration for the women who have served scheduled Veterans Day, November 11, 2001 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. The female veterans will be celebrated and treated to things like free massages, but they’ll also be screened for physical and psychological effects of military service.

One-Stop Videos for Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans

I am not a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, so I can only listen to those who have been there and share what they find is helpful for transitioning home. Several such voices can be heard on videos at My Reboot Camp .  For instance in the video above, veterans talk about their struggles to get over “the hump” in returning to civilian life.

Returning veterans struggle with a sense of guilt when they leave the military because others have stayed. Many go through multiple tours and upon returning to civilian life find few are aware of their sacrifice.

The website gives individuals a chance to explore those and other feelings, but it also offers suggestions on how to move forward. Veterans, family and friends can self-navigate through the support page with topics ranging from finding your learning style to finding your education benefits. There also is a resources page. The My Reboot Camp website is funded by a grant from the Florida BRAIVE Fund and Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice.

I encourage you  to explore the videos, listen to the stories. Even if you do not know an Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran, as a citizen it is important to understand their experiences and sacrifices. “It’s a shock to kind of go back to your life … my life was a time warp … you stand there with your bags and say okay what do I do now?”

A Father Talks About the Loss of His Family

Beau and Calyx Schenecker, together.

All of Tampa Bay mourned with Col. Parker Schenecker at the loss of his family in January. Based at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, he was in the Middle East when it happened.

His 16-year-old daughter Calyx and 13-year-old son, Beau, were shot to death by his wife. He is now divorcing Julie who remains in custody awaiting trial for murder. According to the new article, she has been living with mental illness, depression, for much of her life.

Schenecker attended memorial services in Florida and Texas and met with his children’s friends and close family, but he did not talk publicly about his personal tragedy. That is until now.

Schenecker granted an interview to People magazine about the family tragedy. You can read that story online here.

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 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.

Yoga Helps Many Living with PTSD

Contributor Cheyenne Forsythe (CF) shares his “Facebook conversation” with a high school buddy (NF) who knew nothing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Their exchange started after Cheyenne posted a comment about this article: How Transcendental Meditation May Alleviate PTSD by Jerry Chautin.

Cheyenne Forsythe participated in the Ride 2 Recovery from Tampa to Jacksonville. He finds physical exercise helps him handle symptoms of PTSD.

NF: What’s PTSD? Forgive my ignorance…

CF: We’re doing a better job of getting the word out. It’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Rape victims, combat veterans, and anyone else who’s ever experienced anything where they thought their lives were in danger, are all highly susceptible to suffering from this disorder. Signs of it include a hyper-aroused flight or fight response, flash backs, trouble sleeping, irritability, substance abuse, isolating, homicidal or suicidal ideations, and/or depression that lasts for more than a month and negatively impacts an individual’s daily life.

It leads to a lot of acting out if not treated aggressively. Soldiers from these wars are coming back with it by the thousands. We’ve seen the effects on military families for the last five or six years. We’re talking homicides, suicides, domestic violence, substance abuse, and a whole host of other self destructive behaviors.

What we’ve found with yoga; it gives the individual back a sense of humanity that combat strips away. The destructive behaviors of combat find a way to slip into normal life and individuals living with PTSD can find themselves divorced, alone, in jail, unemployed, or even homeless.

Most of the homeless veterans on the street started out with simple PTSD that should have been treated. I get a lot of thanks from Vietnam veterans who see what we’re doing to make sure this generation of soldiers do not go through what they experienced. That’s the goal. We’re going to make sure we take better care of those that look after us.

Yoga has been accepted as legitimate treatment by the VA. So, we’re telling anyone who will listen to get to a yoga class, or one of my favorites, acupuncture.

I’ve learned first hand exactly how the two mesh. Acupuncture forces the body to stay still and breath, otherwise those needles get uncomfortable. You learn how to be still; learn to trust someone putting needles in you; learn to take time out to just be. Trust is a major issue with veterans. We’ve seen human beings at their worst, so it’s understandable, but it can be managed.

Yoga is a follow-up to acupuncture, allowing you to become comfortable with your humanity, once you’ve calmed down. The hyper-aroused state is intense and can last a whole day causing havoc in an individual’s life. If you aren’t aware of your condition, this can lead to panic attacks, which have put me in a fetal position on the floor on more than one occasion.

Later on, with more yoga, you get to explore your own renewed, refreshed, almost reborn, mind, body, and spirit. For veterans, this can be a matter of life and death. Dwelling on the horrors of war can put someone in a very unhealthy state of mind. We’re close to a “cure” here if there were such a thing.

Spread the word.

NF: Wow, great info. Thanks, Cheyenne.

Contributor Cheyenne Forsythe is a University of South Florida student and a 6-year Army veteran who served with the 85th Medical Detachment. He was on one of the first Combat Stress Control Teams sent to Iraq’s frontlines in 2003 to help soldiers with combat stress symptoms while still “in country.” After surviving two IED attacks, Cheyenne now lives with PTSD as well.  Speaking out on veterans’ issues has become his self-ascribed mission because as he puts it: “It’s just the right thing to do.”  His other contributions include:

Learning to Take a Break

Serving on a Combat Stress Control Team

Dissipating My PTSD: Working on Large Crowds

%d bloggers like this: