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July 9, 2014

Profiling Veterans with PTSD

Profiling Veterans with PTSD

After serving our country and defending the freedom of this nation, Veterans are faced with PTSD profiling. The stigma accompanying service-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a difficult obstacle for our Vets.  Inaccurate and demeaning images of veterans in the media are casting an undeserved shadow over our nation’s heroes.  Veterans need our utmost respect and care, instead of chastising them for injuries received while fighting our country’s battles.

Earlier this year Kevin Bowlus’ case was dismissed in Illinois after his testimony on being treated for PTSD.

“When she found out I was fighting for my stepson and was being seen at the PTSD clinic she dropped representation the day before a court hearing.”
-Kevin Bowles

Veterans often have their diagnosis used against them in court violating their rights.

Kevin, a Navy Veteran is fighting for custody of his son and his stepson due to an alleged unsafe environment caused by the children’s mother. Absent till now, the biological father of the child has come forward.  The child has been under Kevin’s primary care since he was eight from infancy, till now.

In May, Kevin decided to end his alleged abusive r In May, Kevin decided to end his alleged abusive relationship with his wife and the children’s biological mother.  Despite the marriage ending, he still wants to continue as primary caretaker for the children.  He filed for a protective order against the children’s mother and it's proving difficult for the courts to see beyond the stigma and misunderstanding of his diagnosis.  Not his actions, if it were for that he would have his children.

                                                Photo courtesy of- www.umkc.edu


“The police didn't believe I was a victim”
-Kevin says

After appearing before the judge, Kevin was awarded an order of protection.  When the police
attempted to serve her with the order of protection they discovered she took the children.  They found
her in Kentucky with the biological father.  The mother signed over her rights to the biological father 10 days after the order of protection. Kevin’s estranged wife was then severed the order of protection and Kevin was able to retrieve the children. Kevin adds, “Thankfully the police here blocked their attempt to recover my stepson citing the protection order.”

“I have been attempting like hell to get help for these kids from all avenues of government but here in Illinois stepparents have no rights.”
Kevin states

                                                                         Image courtesy of stopsoldiersuicide.org

Kevin is awaiting a hearing for the order of protection in Illinois on July 8, 2014.  Both children are in Kevin’s custody pending the results of the court appearance.  He expresses deep concern about the upcoming court date stating, “It is boiling down that I may have to let this child go with a person with a violent history, and no one willing to protect him.”

As of Friday, June 27th Kevin was still in search of an attorney to help with his upcoming case in Indiana. “I am still scrambling to find another one and with no funds that is kinda hard,” Kevin explained.  Thankfully a caring team at the Veterans’ PTSD Project and an anonymous donor has come together and to help cover the cost of Kevin’s legal fees. This act of kindness from fellow Veterans and the donor allows Kevin to have the proper legal representation in his pending case to secure the custody of his son and stepson.

We are still awaiting the outcome of Kevin’s Bowlus’ upcoming court appearance.  The fight for this Veteran’s children could potentially boil down to the stigma of his service-related injury overshadowing his ability to parent and care for his children.  As Americans we need to band together and follow the lead of the Veterans’ PTSD Project and anonymous donor and take a stand to help veterans in need.  It’s time to stop profiling veterans and start supporting America’s heroes.



Written by Rebecca Monahan
Blogger & USMC Wife     









June 9, 2014

Satisfied With My Best Effort (Syndrome of Survival)


This last Saturday I failed to finish my second attempt at a 100 mile race.

As I winded through the repeated switchbacks on the TARC 100 from mile twenty five to thirty I became increasingly aware that I was more and more disoriented. After three years of ultra running I had manage the first 85 degree day of the year as well as any central Maine resident could. Because of the heat I started cramping at ten miles, and I troubleshooted it with extra water, electrolyte pills and more calories than I could stand in the heat. I was strong physically but every time I ran I would heat up and cramp, but after I hit the marathon mark I started getting disoriented. Heat cramps were rapidly turning into heat exhaustion, but if I could only make it to the night I might have a chance...

My Ranger brain was on point, I was outside myself worrying about my weakening cognition. My limbic system in was kicking ass despite my cortex being massacred by the heat. I was both dizzy, less aware of my location on a map, as well as outside of myself and increasingly aware that failing to make it to the next aid station might be dangerous. In other situations I might have tried to take a more direct course towards support,  but I knew that I was not reliable enough to do my own navigation. I was paradoxically disoriented and present at the same time. In my miserable state I had enough composure to know that I could no longer trust myself to do anything but keep moving on the course. Despite being delirious at thirty miles they were able to drop my core temp, by spraying me with a hose, and after sitting for five minutes drinking all I could and being offered ice (which was only available for medical issues). I ran some more.

I had trained hard, and instantly picked up my pace passing several runners that transitioned better in the aid station. However, I drank my water bottles so fast that I was out of water more than a mile away from the next aid station. I kept saying to myself "when are the fifty miler runners going to pass me" but everyone was crippled by the same heat. This mile and a quarter took thirty minutes, and the dizziness returned. Dehydrated I tried to rally again, but I couldn't seem to cool down. When a medic cooled me down I nearly went into hypothermia, and was advised to call it a day. I obliged without regrets.

In  the days that have followed I have not been disappointed because, when you give your best effort and fail, there is nothing to be unsatisfied about. My Fitbit sensor recorded 4690 ft of elevation gain and 35 miles of running. My worst day was ten hours of running, and was still something to be proud of. Subsequently looking at the stats also made it apparent that I ran precisely according to my plans, based on my steps per minute. Typically I would have covered 42-5 miles and would have arrived at aids stations more rapidly.

I am not a fan of PTSD as an excuse, but taking diarrhetic medications for PTSD and mTBI has make heat especially hard for me to regulate my temperature in the summer.  I also have a history of heat injuries of high dosages of antibiotics in Ranger School for cellulitis, and the high heat of swamp patrol, made me pass out with heat exhaustion during a long movement in Florida. On my second ultra I had similar issues only to spend three days in the hospital with rhabdo. PTSD is also linked to inflammation that compounds heat regulation. This is not an excuse, it is something that makes me proud to have fought so hard for the thirty five miles I managed to complete rather than disappointed about the sixty five miles that never could have been on a day like that. This year it did not heat up until my rest period so there was no way to employ my more typical stadium run for heat management, though in the winter I trained inside with maximum gear to train for the June race. I hiked easy for ten miles in Acadia last Saturday and walked Darby during the hottest part of the day (there were streams and rivers for him) all week, but my acclimatization did not help at all.

Still to have the maturity to listen to my body, recognize a bad day and make a stronger attempt in the fall, or winter when it is more healthy. Being confident and aware of my limitations is as important never accepting those limitations as permanent immovable burdens. Letting my lesson be that I need to try in the winter and start with smaller distances in the summer is not giving up finishing a race on my worst days, rather for me it is learning my limits and moving forward.

Most importantly when I was on the edge of passing out with heat exhaustion my overly capable limbic system reminded me the ways that all the stigmatized "PTSD Symptoms" are so useful in times of real danger. PTSD or as I like to call it the Syndrome of Survival still works when your life is on the line. I wouldn't wish those moments on anyone so please learn my lesson, and let my miserable failed attempted at 100 miles remind you that PTSD ultimately kept us alive when we needed it too. All of that of our baggage comes from strengths and is still a resource during an actual crisis. You don't have to be as crazy as I am by running ultra distances to learn how to yield the fruits of trauma as well as the sorrow.

April 21, 2014

Iraq Did Not Create the Fort Hood Shooter

There is an increasingly troubling narrative that essentially argues that service in Iraq and Afghanistan explains the criminal behavior at Fort Hood. This is an over simplification of most veterans with PTSD who will never commit a crime, but moreover a profound misunderstanding of the nature of counterinsurgency in Iraq. By doctrine we were deescalators of violence not perpetuators and we most often recognized that our best weapons "did not shoot." Any Iraq or Afghanistan veteran will tell you, if you take a couple of minutes to talk to them from time to time, that most tense situations in combat were dangerous situations caused by unidentified enemies and US forces refrained engagement because of a lack of positive identification. Units that departed from this course committed crimes, and were the exception.

The most tense moment for me occurred in just this way, and I have been hesitant to publicly discuss the night of my worst concussion because the situation got heated and there was some understandable personal tensions going on, though only momentary, and that I may seem like I am criticizing other people. That is not the case, I am going to describe an awful situation when everyone had the right intentions, and calmer heads prevailed. This will emphasize my roll because of the limits of my own memory, but I will assure that just as many or more times other soldiers, non commissioned officers of superiors played similar roles. You might assume the situation to be exceptional, but I think that day gets to the marrow of the US Army's, at company level, propensity to deescalate violence rather than perpetuate it in Iraq. The argument that we are more violent is a profound misunderstanding of what we did in Iraq, and more often we chose non violence. Anyone using our war as an excuse is exploiting a popular idea base on very little material evidence.

My worst of moment of Iraq was after a suicide bombing, but the second worse occurred after and IED blew up and convoy of Bradley's while my platoon was set in over-watch to prevent just such an attack. I have not now, nor will I ever feel like a greater failure, than watching a piece of dirt that I had personally been observing for six hours with multiple soldiers pulling rotations blow up right in front of me. In the moment I could not even see it. The force of the blast was faster than my brain's ability to process the image and I was thrown down a stairwell by over pressure. I fell face down and I came to face up, as if it were glitch in the matrix. It could not have been a second but I lost some consciousness. I was dizzy, very confused, but a Lieutenant with eyes on IED. The platoon of Bradley's was from another battalion passing through our area so they had no idea that Americans were occupying our building and mechanized and airborne units use different night optics. Concussed or not we could all die if we did not immediately mark our position in every way possible. Their fire discipline saved our lives, but we we would be tested the same way very quickly.

Local Iraqi Army or Policemen ran to to occupy a road block to the north of the attack, but their winter cloths made them hard to identify. Balaclavas and no helmets made friendly force identification nearly impossible, and created very tense moment with a few of my soldiers fearing an insurgent attack. Simultaneously on my radio, my company commander was very unhappy that bomb blew up right in may face. Why wouldn't he be. I certainly was not happy about it and to this day I second guess myself about that night. So while dealing with dizziness, disorientation and terrible situation I was simultaneously getting my ass chewed and preventing soldiers who wanted to fire on what they thought was a very legitimate threat to our security. These soldier were woken from sleep by bomb less that 50 meters away, so anger was par for the course, but the enemy did not usually sit in the middle of the street and gaggle up like Iraq soldiers so I wanted to take the time for confirmation. Everyone was angry from the lowest private to the battalion commander and tempers were hotter than they should have been on the radio, mine included. Not hotter than human beings woken up by a bomb at 4 AM though. However, despite all of anger and frustration everyone's actions were exemplary. My soldiers wanted to fire, but headed orders, I kept command and control until my platoon sergeant got on top of things and until a my commander was on the ground. After they were on top of it I actually put microphone up because I was getting really loopy and having trouble grasping the basic geographic layout.

People say that no one trains you for days like that, but the truth is I was trained precisely for days like that. My service in Iraq was more often events when I was attacked and had no clear enemy to engage so I waited for better opportunity rather than risking the lives of innocent people. So I cannot by any stretch of the imagination understand how Iraq, and the war I fought could be a source of anything, but level headed others centered decision making under the most adverse, frustrating and enraging situations. Frankly I am sick and tired of being compared to criminals because I have PTSD from all the days that I made the emotionally draining, but the ultimately least violent decisions only to be characterized as some non thinking killer with no human agency or power over my situation in Iraq and its aftermath. I was then and I am now, like the vast majority of other veterans, making the best of a far from ideal situation, and I am beyond frustrated that every-time another mass murder happens all people with mental illnesses are lumped together with an incredible minority of violent criminals. Especially in the wake of war of occupation and counterinsurgency that stressed nonviolent outcomes whenever they could be attained.

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