VA Finds PTSD Linked to Heart Disease

Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center have found that vets suffering from PTSD have more than twice the risk of also having heart disease. There's no scientific explanation why this occurring, but hyperarousal (reliving past traumas and preparing for futures ones) wears the body down. So treating PTSD may well reduce the risk of heart disease.

Walking Off the War

A dozen vets are currently hiking the Appalachian Trail—a 1,285 mile trek from Georgia to Maine that takes from earliest spring to the chill days of fall. Away from other distractions, it's a time for them to process what they've been through in the company of others who've been there too. Warrior Hike offers an effective, natural therapy for combat vets.

Death of a Homeless Vet

My friend Mel died this morning at age 70. For about nine years, Mel lived in a tent underneath a bridge spanning the Missouri River that I could see from my office in the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune. He had been deployed to Germany in the early 1960s and came home to find he no longer fit in. Sadly, our country is filled with similar vets and similar stories

Vets' Courts: A Win-Win Situation

Col. Robert Stanley, commander of Malmstrom AFB, addresses one of the nation's newest veterans courts in Great Falls, Mont. There are now more than 130 such courts in communities around the nation that provide help for vets in trouble rather than simply punishing them. Statistics show the compassionate approach is effective.

Mourning the Dream of Fallujah

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Mike Zacchea (left) is among many veterans anguished that Iraq is falling back to the insurgents with little resistance from the Iraqi Army. That particularly troubles Zacchea, who trained the Iraqi Army and led its troops into battle at Fallujah.

Working with At-risk Kids

Ex-Marine Martin Chisholm opened his Academy of Self Defense in Stratford, Conn., to teach troubled teens martial arts skills, but also core values such as focus, respect, self-discipline, self-confidence, goal-setting and perseverance. Chisholm says that helping at-risk kids gives him a sense of purpose and self-worth.

Winning the Trust of a Warhorse

Bob Nevins founded the Saratoga Warhorse Foundation to help troubled vets recover from thei emotional wounds of combat. He found that bonding with a retired racehorse helped him regain his life and believe in himself again, and he's now sharing that therapy with former combat vets on his farm near Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Improper TBI diagnosis

A state licensing board for psychologists in Montana is weighing disciplinary action against the Veterans Administration staffer who slashed an Iraqi vet's TBI disability rating from 70 to 10 percent. This is an important case that sets forth the professional standards of care, and it bars psychologists from using perceived VA policy to justify substandard care.

TBI Hearing

Charles Gatlin, a former Army captain who was retired with a 70 percent disability rating by the Department of Defense due to traumatic brain injury (TBI), has challenged the VA, which dropped his TBI disability rating to 10 percent, but added another 30 percent disability due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). No decision yet by the Veterans Board of Appeals.

TBI Challenge II

At his hearing this week before the Board of Veteran Appeals in Washington, D.C., retired Army Capt. Charles Gatlin will argue that the VA is using inadequate tests administered by poorly trained personnel to reduce the number of Iraqi/Afghan vets diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. That's why he has become an advocate for change in the VA system.

TBI Challenge

Charles Gatlin, a 38-year-old Army captain retired on a disability, is challenging the VA over its diagnosis of his traumatic brain injury. Injured by a car bomb In Iraq in 2006, Gatlin was retired with a 70 percent disability due to TBI. But after a single screening test, the VA dropped Gatlin's TBI rating to 10 percent and added 30 percent for PTSD. He's appealing.

Qigong at the VA II

Sifu Chris Bouguyon, who is shown above teaching deep breathing exercises at a conference at UNLV, says he can't think of a case in which the soldier he was treating for PTSD didn't previously experience childhood trauma. In addition to Qigong, the oldest root of Chinese medicine, he advocates a post-combat boot camp to help soldiers deal with what they've been through.

Qigong at the VA

Veterans in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are learning to use the principles of Qigong, the grandaddy of Chinese medicine and martial arts, as part of the VA's new patient-centered care initiative. It teaches the vets how to balance their physical, mental and emotional aspects to live in harmony.

Power of Music

Retired Sgt. Leo Dunson, a student at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, is one of many vets who are confronting their combat memories by writing and singing about them. It's an effective form of therapy because music helps the brain process emotions. And David Carlson, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, is beginning to find his voice by composing songs from prison.

Vets Gambling: Part III

Vets are at least three times more likely than the general public to develop a gambling addiction, and the slot machines and video poker machines at service clubs abroad may have something to do with it. The Armed Forces netted about $85 million in 2012 from recreational gambling. Also contributing are the anger, shame and guilt many soldiers bring home from combat.

Vets Gambling Part II

After fighting in Vietnam with incursions into Laos and Cambodia, Gordie Greco came home addicted to gambling and alcohol. Working in the Las Vegas casinos, he later added cocaine. Today he's living clean and sober, but his life-long addiction to gambling (including the stock market) was the hardest to beat. He estimates he gambled away at least one-quarter of his salary

Vets Vulnerable to Gambling Addictions

Researchers are finding that veterans are two to four times more likely to develop a gambling addiction, and that those seeking help for substance abuse or mental health issues are even more vulnerable. Although a congressional appropriations committee and the National Council on Problem Gambling have raised red flags, the VA is doing little to address the problem.

A Silent Hell II

Jim Hackbarth, another of the Milwaukee-area 'Nam vets, was so afraid of being judged that he kept his mouth shut for four decades about the horrors of war. But he was finally able to express himself through his poetry. And Michael Maurer found that it takes the courage of a warrior to finally ask for help.

A Silent Hell I

Mark Foreman is one of three Milwaukee-area vets who suffered in silence for decades after returning home from combat in Vietnam. After realizing that he had the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, Mark found the Veterans Administration little help. Instead, he focused on meditation and found relief in love and compassion.

Warriors & Quiet Waters

Montana has some of the world's best fly fishing, and a remarkable community program in Bozeman is sharing it with disabled combat vets. Warriors & Quiet Waters brings warriors to Bozeman, outfits them, teaches them how to cast and provides them with peace on the water. It's a wonderful demonstration of community love and support.

VA's Tough Standards for Traumatic Brain Injury

Since 2000, the Department of Defense has diagnosed five times more active-duty soldiers with traumatic brain injuries than the VA has diagnosed vets with TBI. Why? Did most of the vets suddenly get better? Actually, that is the VA's answer. It only awards a TBI diagnosis to vets who show ongoing symptoms of a brain injury.

Tail of a (Service) Dog

The VA does not subsidize service dogs for vets with psychiatric disorders, but Bill and Janet Austin have trained their own dog, JP. A former medic who remembers all too clearly the carnage of war, Austin relies on the 2-year-old Great Dane to help him socialize with his neighbors, watch his back and wake him from the nightmares that bring back past deployments.

Soaring Vets' Suicide Rates

Eighteen military veterans killed themselves every day in 2007, but that figure increased to 22 suicides a day in 2010, according to new VA estimates. The new information is based on information from 21 state health departments. Unfortunately, it doesn't include data from the rest, including states like California and Texas that have many veterans.

A Moral Injury

Timothy Kudo, a retired Marine Corps captain, recently wrote about the moral injury that occurs when a soldier kills people. He said he has been wrestling with why it's OK to kill in combat, but wrong to kill at home. Ultimately, he said, he's coming to believe that it's wrong to kill any time and that soldiers suffer moral injuries as a result.

Hope Glimmers

Previously, degenerative brain diseases could be diagnosed only after combat vets and NFL players were dead. But scientists now say they've been able to use PET scans to discover CTE symptoms among living patients. It's only a small study and much remains to be done, but it does offer a glimmer of hope.

Skyrocketing Military Suicides Part II

Despite a military anti-suicide initiative, more soldiers killed themselves last year than died in combat. We need to find better ways to identify and help troubled soldiers. Crisis response teams and embedded counselors, at home as well as on the front lines, might be effective ways to get our soldiers the emotional health care they need -- but are afraid to ask for.

Skyrocketing Military Suicides

More American soldiers killed themselves last year than were killed in combat, but the numbers are perplexing. Most died at home. Only 15 percent had ever been in combat, and only 8 percent had multiple deployments. More than half had no history of behavioral health disorders. So what's going on?

Out of the Swamp

About 25 homeless vets in Florida got a special Christmas present this year: shaves and haircuts, two nights lodging in a motel, gifts, banquets and fellowship. It was an emotional couple of days, after which the vets had to go back to their camps in the swamp. However, two civic groups will be working to help them with jobs and housing in the days to come.

Daunting Questions: Part III

Three new pharmaceuticals are being tested to see whether they can prevent a brain injury from progressing into a degenerative brain disease. With FDA approval, the first could be out next year. But there's a long history of failure. At least 30 drugs have been tested previously, and none have been approved.

Daunting Questions: Part II

Why can a concussion lead to degenerative brain disease? Here are four theories based on what researchers know so far.