He Had Everything to Live for, But...

Alcohol is so powerful that it can lead people down a lonely path to death. Our son-in-law had everything to live for, but chose that lonely path instead. So I've been asking myself why some people choose to snatch defeat from the very jaws of victory. And I'm sorry to say that I don't have a very good answer.

VA to State Regulators: Buzz Off

Former Army Capt. Charles Gatlin and his wife, Ariana Del Negro, have been battling the VA over what they believe to be an arbitrary change in his evaluation for traumatic brain injury. A state licensing board agreed with them two months ago and directed the state-licensed psychologist working for the VA to change his assessment. He did, but the VA refused his change.

PTSD: Post-Terror Soul Distress

At 14 years old, Jack van Vuuren strangled a Nazi soldier, then fled occupied Holland to join the Allied Forces during WWII. But he suffered from untreated PTSD all his adult life. Now his daughter, Karen van Vuuren, explores spiritual injuries post-combat in a new documentary film. She says that PTSD can't be healed without forgiveness and atonement.

State Imposes Its Standards on VA

Former Army Capt. Charles Gatlin has set a precedent with national implications for all vets. A state licensing board in Montana ruled that a psychologist working for the VA had to practice using state standards, not the VA's. It said the psychologist evaluating Gatlin for TBI was not qualified to do so and it directed the VA to have him reassessed by a neurologist.

Why Exercise Is Good Therapy

Two neurologists from Columbia University are finding that new cells in the brain's memory center are critical in helping people distinguish a newer innocuous event from a past traumatic one. Without those new neurons, there's a higher anxiety rate or post-traumatic stress disorder. But exercise helps generate greater production of new brain cells.

Therapy for PTSD in a Kayak

Veterans in North Carolina are finding whitewater kayaking is a fun and effective therapy for post-traumatic stress. Team River Runner was started in Washington, D.C., a decade ago to help disabled vets at the Walter Reed Medical Center, but it's now added about 40 chapters in many states with volunteers helping vets through the rapids of life.

One Vet's Recovery

I don't review books often, but "Souled Out" is an exception. It's the story of Mike Orban, a vet who came home to Wisconsin from Vietnam and discovered he no longer fit in. For decades he tried to present a facade to the world and self-medicate with alcohol, but he finally faced his inner demons ... and found peace.

VA Releases a Damning Report

The VA's acting inspector general has confirmed what most of us already knew: that more than 100,000 vets are waiting far too long for medical appointments or have fallen through the cracks without having seen a doctor. It also found that most facilities aren't reporting wait times correctly and that some schedulers have been instructed to lie about them.

Finally, an Honest Assessment by the VA

Public scandals generally follow predictable patterns with much noise, but little reform. This time, the new acting secretary of the VA promises swift and decisive action to improve the VA's treatment of injured veterans, and I'd like to suggest several major ways to hold him accountable for what generally are only empty words.

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.

Pages