SIX THOUGHTS ON POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

Contributed by Duane France, Director of Veteran Services, Family Care Center

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Shell Shock. Battle Fatigue. Call it what you want, it’s that combination of psychological and behavioral reactions to exposure to traumatic events that people see in combat veterans. There is a lot of discussion, whether at the water cooler, kitchen table, social media, wherever, about what it is. Who has it. What can it mean for those who do have it, those who live with them, and those who work around them.

PTSDThere are a lot of misconceptions around PTSD, a lot of unknowns that cause people to jump to conclusions. While I’ve written about PTSD before, and often try to make a point that challenges that veterans experience in regard to their mental health goes far beyond PTSD, I thought that I would lay out some of my thoughts about the condition. Here are six quick thoughts that might help you understand what PTSD is, and how it impacts veterans.

Just Because a Veteran Has Been to Combat Doesn’t Mean They Have PTSD

One of the stereotypes that many in society have is that exposure to combat, or even just combat deployments, must mean that a veteran has PTSD. Witness the high-profile events over the last eighteen months in which military service members committed egregious criminal acts: the sniper-style shooting event in Dallas, the multiple homicides in Baton Rouge a week after that, or the Airport Shooting in Florida. In each of these cases, the veteran’s military experience, including deployment experience, was examined to determine if PTSD was the “cause” of their actions. Correlation is not causation, as any scientist will tell you, and the fact that a veteran deployed to a combat zone does not mean that they will automatically develop PTSD.

The fact is, there are a large number of individuals who deployed to a combat zone who never actually saw combat action. They were never shot at, they were threatened with rocket or mortar attacks, their lives were never really in danger from enemy activity. That does not mean that nothing bad ever happened when not in active combat; certainly accidents happen. I recall, as a young Soldier in Bosnia, walking from our living area to the motor pool. Everyone walked the same path; we had arrived in the winter, so the snow was trampled and worn. Guess what happened when the snow melted, however? All of the unexploded ordnance started to appear on the ground. I don’t want to make it sound dramatic and say that we had been walking through a minefield, but if the path had been ten feet to the right or left, someone would have gotten hurt or killed. The military is an inherently dangerous profession, so certainly mishaps and accidents can occur…but the individual who deployed to Kuwait in 2012 was not faced with the same danger as the group of men and women hanging off the side of a mountain in 2009. So, just because someone’s a “combat vet” doesn’t automatically mean they “have PTSD.”

PTSD Is Both a Natural AND Negative Reaction

PTSD is as much a neurological condition as it is a psycholgoical one. Studies have shown that repeated exposure to trauma results in physical areas of the brain, specifically the amygdala and the hippocampus, actually undergoing structural change. Activation of the amygdala and hippocampus combined with reduced activation and volume in the frontal lobe of the brain are indicative of veterans who display symptoms of PTSD. Therefore, the brain is adapting the way the brain should adapt to repeated traumatic exposure.  It is doing exactly what it should do when exposed to high levels of cortisol and adreneline and constant activation of these regions. Many who rail against the “D” in PTSD say, “why pathologize a natural reaction to combat?” That’s absolutely right…PTSD is precisely a natural reaction.

That doesn’t mean that it’s beneficial. There are hundreds of things that are natural reactions to our environment, and they’re still not beneficial. Allergic much? Anaphalactic shock occurs after a bee sting, it’s a reaction of one organism to a substance from another. Am I comparing PTSD to allergies? Of course not, but just because a reaction is typical for a small group of people doesn’t make it beneficial. This very natural reaction can be a debilitating condition…it’s both.

A Veteran Can Experience Challenges Even If They Don’t Have PTSD

To be clincially diagnosed with PTSD means that the individual must meet a certain set of critira. I have written about these criteria before, so you can check that out here. But not all veterans meet all the diagnostic criteria at the same time. Some veterans don’t experience nightmares or intrusive thoughts, but behaviorally isolate themselves. Or are extremely hypervigilant. At one point in their lives, or in one particular location, they can experience the mood symptoms but nothing else. Not only that, PTSD may not be the issue, but guilt or shame may be the issue. Or a lack of purpose and meaning in their lives, a substance abuse problem, relational difficulties, or any other of a number of challenges that many veterans…and many non-veterans…face.

A Veteran Can Develop PTSD from a Single Event or Multiple Events

Complex trauma as a result of exposure over an extended period of time can result in PTSD that is much different than that of a single event. Any one of us can experience PTSD after a vehicle accident or a natural disaster. As a matter of fact, these are two of the most common conditions that non-veterans would experience when it comes to developing PTSD. Complex trauma, however, occurs when multiple traumatic events happen over a period of time, or even a lifetime. As I’ve mentioned before, the military is almost a refuge for many who had a traumatic childhood, when is then compounded after exposure to trauma as an adult.

PTSD can also occur after single instances of sexual assault, which is much different than that which results from accidents or natural disasters. This form of PTSD is much more personally and physically intrusive, and layers of guilt and shame. An aspect of Military Sexual Trauma (rape or assault while in the military) was made clear to me as I attended a conference in San Francisco: MST can almost be seen as incestuous. We talk about the “Band of Brothers” and the military family, how we become closer to those we serve with than we sometimes are with our own family. Often, the perpetrators of the assault in the military are those in a position of trust, either professionally or personally. So an MST survivor has not only the trauma of the assault, but also the betrayal of trust.

A Veteran can Develop PTSD Even If They’ve Never Been to Combat

I’ve worked with veterans who have developed PTSD, but have never deployed. The 82nd Airborne Division responded to Hurricane Katrina, and had to recover the remains of their countrymen. Just that level of devastation can have a traumatizing effect. I have known, of course, service members who have been raped, as discussed above. Any event that causes threat or actual death, dismemberment, or sexual violence is described as “traumatizing” when it comes to PTSD. Having a bad experience with a supervisor while you were in the miltiary? Not PTSD. It could certainly lead to helplessness, frustration, angry outbursts, depression, and a whole host of other mental health concerns, but not PTSD.

But, as I mentioned above, the military is a dangerous profession. Parachute accidents, howitzer misfires, training accidents, each of these are potentially traumatic and could cause someone who has served to develop PTSD, even if they haven’t deployed.

A Veteran can “Have” PTSD and Still be Functional and Productive

So perhaps a veteran has been exposed to multiple traumatic events and meets the clinical definition of PTSD. Does that mean that we should write them off entirely? Of course not. The condition can be managed to the point where the veteran may not feel the challenges for months, if not years. With treatment, the veteran can absolutely manage their PTSD symptoms to the point that they can be a functional and productive member of their community, their workplace, their family.

Understanding this condition is a key factor in reducing the gap in understanding between those who have served in the military, or love those who have, and those who have not served. What questions do you have about PTSD? What do you know about it, and how can we have a conversation that can help you understand more? Reach out, comment below, and join the conversation.

See original article on Head Space and Timing.

Acknowledging the Stigma of PTSD and 4 Tips for Seeking Help​

​Contributed by an anonymous Veteran and Licensed Professional Counselor, Colorado Springs.

Recently, I was asked to offer a perspective on PTSD since June is PTSD awareness month.

The first word that came to mind was “stigma.”  The name alone, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) holds some stigma within itself by use of the term “disorder.” As a mental health provider, I do my best to defeat the stigma of seeking mental health treatment and ​support by talking about mental health as often as possible​.

​Post-traumatic stress is actually an effect that sometimes develops after exposure to trauma. Some people have higher levels of resiliency and others may have coping skills that are not as effective in resolving exposure to trauma. It is important to realize that the effect of trauma can sometimes (not always) result in the future development of PTSD.

Trauma is exposure to imminent physical or emotional danger whether directly to a person, by witnessing trauma happen to another person, or by being told the details of a traumatic event that has happened to a loved-one.

​Another area of stigma associated with PTSD is that it is a life-long “disorder.” PTSD is treatable.

4 Tips for Seeking Help (for PTSD or other mental health needs)​

There is no shame in seeking help and in fact, it takes courage to reach out for support for PTSD or any other mental health needs. When a client seeks support, it is important to know that you have full control in how your treatment process goes.

  1. Finding a Therapist

Check with your insurance provider or the VA to find a list of therapists in your network. There are also lists of therapists who provide support for veterans in the community which can be found through Peak Military Care Network. Alternatively, if you’re willing/able to pay out of pocket this is also an option. Once you’ve got your list of therapists you wish to try, call and ask the therapists on your list if you can meet them or talk on the phone with them  for a consultation to see if you might be a good fit for working together on your treatment goals. Many therapist offer initial consultations at no-cost. This can be a helpful way to get to know the person a bit before you decide to proceed with treatment.

  1. View Therapy as a Collaboration

You and your therapist work together to select a suitable course of treatment. Identify treatment goals. Ask as many questions as you would like to ask to ensure you have a clear understanding about the therapy process with your chosen (or assigned) therapist. The other reason to ask questions is to make sure you feel comfortable with the person working along side you.

  1. Be Open and Honest for Best Results

​If you feel in your gut that there is something you want to discuss–share it. Your therapist is trained to hear you out without judging you or your thoughts/feelings.

  1. ​Evaluate your Progress

Throughout your therapy process you and your therapist may check-in to evaluate what is improving, what works, what didn’t work, etc. This is helpful because it gives you a more clearly defined idea of which areas of your life are being impacted by all your hard work in therapy. This is also a good time to adjust course if needed.

As a veteran–I hope for success for other veterans. Wishing veterans success in overcoming the stigma of PTSD and mental health needs in general so that veterans can get their needs met without shame. Wishing veterans success in finding a therapist who is a good fit for you so that you may reap the benefits of a positive therapeutic relationship. And finally, wishing veterans success in healing from PTSD and any other treatable mental health needs.

Post Trauma Growth

Contributed by Geoffrey P. Smith, Psy. D., Administrative Director of Inpatient Mental Health, Section Chief of Specialty Mental Health, Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Eastern Colorado Health Care System

The Department of Veterans Affairs is devoted not just to effective treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but to developing a greater societal understanding of the impact of trauma and promoting Post Trauma Growth.

Effective treatment is developed through rigorous scientific investigation and the National Center for PTSD (https://www.ptsd.va.gov/) is dedicated to research and education on trauma and PTSD. This body assists the VA in offering a number of so-called “Evidence-Based Practices” to Veterans including: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Stress Inoculation Training (SIT), and antidepressant medications.

Such a list of jargon and acronyms begs the question: What aspects of the human trauma response do these treatments target and how do they work? Understanding the impact of trauma and sending a message of hope that recovery can happen are key early starting points for Veterans beginning treatment. The effects of traumatic events have consistent reactions in people that occur in various constellations but the themes are quite constant:

Normal human responses to trauma:

  1. Vigilance and Arousal:  When people have been hurt threatened or have seen the un-seeable they naturally stay on watch for the next threat. This can look like difficulty sleeping, pervasive worry and anxiety, mistrust of others, difficulty sitting with their back to a door, and/or always watching the perimeter.
  2. Re-experiencing Symptoms:  Nightmares, flashbacks, and/or feeling like it is happening all over again especially when triggered by some reminder of the event
  3. Numbing and Avoidance:  People naturally avoid triggers, isolate from others, use substances, deny the problem, and a host of other strategies to try not to feel the intense consequences of trauma. The urge to avoid intense discomfort and deep frustration with living life this way can even lead some to contemplate suicide.
  4. Negative thinking:  When life feels so lousy and people have been struggling with lost jobs, lost relationships, inability to sleep or escape from nightmares and flashbacks, their minds naturally make negative conclusions about the future, themselves and others.

 

Although these themes are constant, every individual has a unique experience and constellation of which elements of the list above are most interfering with living a valued life. Sending the message of hope that recovery is possible and asking people to flesh out their own particular version of their trauma response can lead to making informed choices about which kind of treatment is best suited for them.

Trauma-informed care understands that all forms of trauma whether from combat, domestic violence, childhood abuse, car accidents, or natural disasters have in common that the impacted person had a loss of power and control. So, the best programs offer choices, hear voices, and provide information about what to expect. In this manner, the VA seeks to describe and offer options of types of trauma treatment and build upon their preferences, strengths, values, and existing resources/successes.

Evidence-based treatments for PTSD have common guiding principles that directly address the four normal human responses to trauma. Key examples include:

  1. Exposure with Response Prevention: This is a central feature of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Stress Inoculation Training (SIT). When people develop skills for tolerating distress, soothing themselves, and expressing uncomfortable feelings they are better able to engage in community activities, connect to family and friends, sustain gainful employment and pursue recreational and leisure activities. Engaging in a valued life in these ways helps people replace avoidance and numbing behaviors and promotes reasons for living which can be powerful new protective factors and social support preventing suicide
  2. Skills training for self-soothing and relaxation: The VA is actively promoting not just traditional methods for reducing arousal/vigilance like diaphragmatic breathing but also exploring a host of nontraditional and holistic strategies including trauma-informed yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practice. Through building community collaborations, the VA is also increasing referrals to organizations that provide nature walks, equine assisted psychotherapy, and other outdoor activities like white water rafting, skiing, and mountain biking
  3. Promoting Flexible Thinking: All of the types of psychotherapy offered through the VA assist people in noticing their thoughts and developing the skills for reframing the kinds of rigid harmful thinking that are not helpful for recovery. This portion of treatment targets those negative beliefs or “stuck points” that so often have Veterans convinced that they are no good or should have been the one who died or that the world is a terrible unsafe place.

Emerging promising practices in the treatment of trauma and stress include integration of Peer Support Specialists and Volunteers. A Peer Support staff member is a Veteran with the lived experience of recovery in mental health and or addictions problems who acts as a symbol of hope and provides disclosure of elements of their own journey of recovery to Veterans in care. Five years ago the VA rolled out a national endeavor to hire and train over 800 Peer Specialists who are now embedded in various mental health programs. The science can be potent but there is nothing quite as credible as  the testimony and encouragement from someone who has lived a similar experience.

Other recent innovations in Trauma treatment include using smart phone technology with applications such as PTSD Coach, PE Coach, CPT Coach, Breathe2Relax, Tactical Breather and Life Armor.

Reach out to your local VA medical center or community clinic and find out which kinds of trauma informed services they offer. VA healthcare system Mental Health resources vary by location but typically offer individual and group therapies by clinicians specially trained in these treatments.

Websites for more resources and information:

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/

https://maketheconnection.net/conditions/ptsd

 

Professional Fulfillment as a Military Spouse – The Challenge and Local Resources to Help

Contributed by Shannon Rauen, Membership & Capacity Builder, Center for Nonprofit Excellence and volunteer chair of the Military Spouse Career Committee.  

As a military spouse, you expect to encounter a number of recurring challenges.  Managing a household solo while your spouse deploys or goes TDY, packing and unpacking your household over and over again, or plunking yourself into a new community to rebuild a network once more.

Ask a career-minded military spouse about their last job search and I bet you’ll hear about how tough it is to find a position in a new community where you don’t know a soul, the pressure they felt to take the first job offered them for fear it would be the only offer they received, or perhaps how they are underpaid or underutilized at a job they did find.

If you are a military spouse, I’m not telling you anything new – odds are you know this well and have experienced one (or all) of these scenarios first-hand.  What is new is a growing focus and study on the issues of military spouse employment; the findings are alarming.  According to Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) Employing Military Spouses Series:

  • Military spouses experience unemployment at a rate significantly higher – estimated to be 3 times higher – than our civilian counterparts.
  • When we do find jobs, we are typically paid less for the work we do. IVMF’s study found that military spouses earn, on average, 38% less than their civilian peers.
  • Think an advanced degree is going to make up for that wage disparity? Think again – in spite of the impressive level education amongst military spouses – 25% of us have a bachelor’s degree and 10% an advanced degree – the more education you have the greater the wage gap between you and your civilian colleagues.

It would seem the odds are stacked against a milspouse seeking any sort of professional fulfillment, but have no fear.  As a three-time resident of this incredible city, I’ve found that Colorado Springs offers a multitude of programs, services, and connection points to help us find good jobs.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • In Gear Career, Colorado Springs chapter – a national effort by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, In Gear Career’s local chapters are soft landing places for career-minded military spouses. The COS chapter meets monthly to share tips, grow as professionals, network, and support one another.
  • Pikes Peak Workforce Center – a gem of a local resource offering trainings, resume workshops, online job searches, job fairs, and so much more.
  • Networking groups galore – check out Colorado Springs Young Professionals, Colorado Springs Rising Professionals, Girl Crush Social Club, and Peak Startup for events that will connect you with professionals working in the community.
  • Looking to start your own business? The Colorado Springs Chapter of SCORE provides free mentorship, expertise, and advice all free of charge.  They also offer affordable, relevant trainings in partnership with Pikes Peak Community College.
  • Mt. Carmel Center of Excellence – through collaborations with community partners, this nonprofit provides transition and wellness services for Veterans, Military and their Families. Their Peer Navigators program hosts regular networking events that are open to military spouses.
  • Employment Services on Your Military Installation – regardless of your Service Member’s branch, there are programs and resources on each of our many military installations in Colorado Springs. Reach out to Ft. Carson’s ACS or Airman and Family Readiness at Peterson, Shriever, or the Air Force Academy to connect with employment specialists who can assist in your job search.

The most important thing any job-hunting milspouse can do is show up.  Be more than another sheet of paper in a tall stack of resumes – network, network, network.

A great opportunity to do just that is quickly approaching.  May 16-18 will see the ultimate local job fair come back to the Springs.  MVEE boosts two full days of professional development – with a track designed specifically for military spouses – followed by a gigantic job fair.  Those who attend panels on the 16th and 17th have first crack at the job fair.  Registration is available and I would love to see you there!

Shannon Rauen is the Membership & Capacity Builder at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, which serves the diverse and growing nonprofit sector in the Pikes Peak Region, and serves at the volunteer chair of the Military Spouse Career Committee

 

Making Military Life Easier for Families in the Pikes Peak Region

Military families face many challenges, from frequent moves and deployments to the difficulty of putting down roots somewhere and really feeling like a part of the community. The mission of the Southeast & Armed Services YMCA is to make military lives easier, with primary focus on lower enlisted service members providing free or low-cost events and programs the reduce stresses of military life and promote resiliency.

The Colorado Springs Pikes Peak Region is one of only four cities in the country that serves four or more military bases (the others being Honolulu, San Diego and Norfolk), making the mission of Southeast & Armed Services YMCA even more vital for our community.

ASYMCA_Logo_for_pmcn
The Southeast & Armed Services YMCA provides various programs that supplement or compliment programs already in place on base installations.

One of the unique programs offered by Armed Services YMCA is Operation Kid Comfort. When military service member parents are deployed, eligible parents can request for a FREE quilt or pillow made by quilter volunteers. These quilt or pillows bring comfort to children that include pictures of their deployed parent, so they can help bring comfort close and help ease the stress of military life.

Operation Kid Comfort has created more than 1,300 pillows and blankets for the children of deployed soldiers since it was brought to the Pikes Peak Region in 2009. One of those smiling kids was Elena Mendez. She’s only 20 months old, but when she got her sunshine-yellow quilt, she picked out the pictures of her dad right away.

“This quilt is going to be dragged with us everywhere across the house,” her mom, Blair, laughed. “It will definitely help…we have pictures, and we FaceTime, but this quilt will be readily available, so now she can see her dad more.”

Blair said the quilt was especially important to her as a mom because she was afraid that Elena would forget her dad.

“All the technology, it helps, but programs like this give you ideas you’d never have, and this quilt gives us another way to have Dad around more,” she said. “We just so appreciate the people who put their time and effort into this to help us.”

Another family who recently picked up their quilts got two – one for five-year-old James and one for his year-old sister, Briella.

Their mom, Cecilia, said that she loved how the Southeast & Armed Services Y is always there to invite her family to events like the military family dinner, or breakfast with Santa, making sure her kids gets presents for Christmas.

“It’s nice to know there are helpful people out here,” she said. “I love the way they treat me at the Southeast & Armed Services Y. The moment I walked in, everyone was so welcoming, there were hugs…they were absolutely amazing.”

The quilts, she said, were extra special to her and her family. Her son James agreed.

“I love my quilt because it has all my favorite stuff I like…ninja turtles and my dad who I love,” he said.

When military parents are home, however, the Y recognizes the importance of providing events and programs that will help families grow closer and create memories that keep them strong when they have to be apart.

TFather-Daughterhe Military Father-Daughter Ball is one of those events. Military daughters are transformed into princesses (complete with their own crowns) and get their dads all to themselves for an evening. Both fathers and daughters create memories which will last a lifetime.

“The Military Father Daughter Ball was greatly appreciated by my family…a very positive event to show community support for our military children, who are the true unsung heroes of the Army story,” said one father.

The annual event includes carriage rides, caricatures, food, dancing, flowers, live princesses and more – all the ingredients needed to create a magical night for fathers and daughters.

Father-Daughter 2“They treated my princess like a real queen and they treated me with the utmost respect…it gives us a necessary break to take time to spend with our families and those who mean more to us than anything else,” said another dad.

Another parent said his daughter is still talking about the night she’ll ‘never, ever forget.’

“Time with my children is precious, and this night could not have been any more magical for both my daughter and me,” he said.

Other events the Y offers exclusively to military families include a father-son fishing trip, a Mother-Daughter Tea, weekend family camps, Breakfast with Santa, Veterans Appreciation Breakfasts and more.

Beyond this, the Southeast & Armed Services Y offers a variety of other services, from swim lessons and soccer to fitness classes and two-hour child watch for Y members. Military families and veterans receive a military discount on their memberships, so they don’t have to worry about cost – they can simply enjoy all the Y has to offer.

These programs, events and services are our way of saying thank you to the military families in our community. We are honored to serve you.

For more information, please visit: www.ppymca.org/programs/military/events www.facebook.com/SoutheastArmedServicesYMCA

POC: Drew Aquino – Military Outreach Director: daquino@ppymca.org / 719.622.9622

Nestled Just Inside Gate 20 on Fort Carson Army Post

The excitement on a child’s face when they are told they are going to preschool is truly priceless. CPCD…giving children a head start, is a free preschool program creating excitement about school for young children. Our programs help foster and develop a love for learning early on, that prepares children for success in school. One parent will tell you she had her son in Head Start in Hawaii while her family was stationed there. When they were reassigned to live in Colorado, she searched online for Colorado Springs Head Start programs and CPCD popped up. To her surprise, CPCD enrolled prenatal women and children age birth to three in its Early Head Start program. The day she visited the enrollment office to apply for her son to be in the CPCD Head Start program catered to three to five year olds, she also applied to enroll her daughter in the Early Head Start program. Both children were enrolled into CPCD not long afterwards and settled into a routine that helped them adjust to the move. The mother will tell you her daughter flourished in the program and both children are developing strong social and emotional management skills. CPCD also helped this mother with the transition to Colorado. She’ll tell you the program educators and parents in the classroom helped to make their move and transition to Colorado a pleasant experience.

cpcdThis is just one example of CPCD helping a family in the Colorado Springs community. CPCD is able to support and help many other military families and offers classrooms on Fort Carson in a center near Gate 20. The center is a first of its kind in the State of Colorado and only the second nation-wide Head Start program on an Army post.  CPCD is at times described as a best kept secret because Fort Carson is a large post.  When families learn about CPCD, they are surprised about the services and wish they knew about CPCD sooner.

What sets CPCD apart from other preschool programs are the comprehensive services provided to the child and the support for the entire family. Our services include Health and Nutrition, where we provide dental screening in the classroom and incorporate healthy eating habits for children and their families. We offer transportation to those that qualify, behavioral health services, services to support children with special needs and family services. Every family in our program is paired with a family advocate who visits their families in their home to bring the knowledge of what the child is learning in the classroom to the home and also support the family with any goals they have. Parents and guardians are supported by many different workshops available to learn about topics like children that are picky eaters, financial literacy classes, cooking classes and classes discussing love and logic in relationships, just to name a few.

The family workshops offer a space for all parents to get to know each other, mingle and make parent friends. This is especially important for military parents or guardians while a spouse is deployed and the workshops provide extra support and help.

The support CPCD provides transcends the classroom. CPCD connects families with local resources and organizations to help meet any needs families may have. We also engage community support that brings community members into our world to volunteer and make a difference for our families. Volunteers helped to build the Fort Carson Learning Garden. The Learning Garden is a chance for children on post to learn and get their little hands dirty with planting and digging. It’s also an opportunity to learn about vegetables! The produce that is grown in the garden is available for families to take home and make healthy meals with. Volunteers helped make this happen and the support of the community is something we are always gracious for.

To learn more about CPCD…giving children a head start, please contact Tiyana Hardney Vela, Outreach Manager at Tiyana@cpcd.org or 719-884-1474. There are also opportunities to join CPCD’s Get on The Bus Tours, where you take a one-hour ride on a school bus that takes you through the neighborhoods of our children and families. Contact Zuleika Munoz, Development Officer at zmunoz@cpcd.org or 719-884-1409, if you are interested.

The Network of Care

network-of-careDo you have questions about employment, education, social services, physical and mental health, and other topics? Visit the Network of Care, our comprehensive resource and referral directory, library and assistive devices marketplace and the answers are a mouse-click away.

This website can help military service members, veterans and their families access resources from the community and act as a secure folder for your personal records.

Service Directory

pmcn-contactSearch your area’s comprehensive directory to find services for veterans; service members; family members; active-duty personnel; reservists, and more in the Network of Care’s service directory. Search a keyword or specific organization to learn about how they can assist you and how to contact them.
If you have any trouble navigating the directory, fill out the contact form and the Peak Military Care Network will contact you for personal assistance.

Personal Records Folder

Use the Personal Health Record (PHR) to organize and store important medical and healthcare-related information. Create folders for yourself, family members, or others you care for. The information placed here is stored on a secure, Verisign-encrypted server, the same type of security used in online banking. Unlike the medical files you may keep at home, your Network of Care PHR is available whenever and wherever you need it.

If you choose to, you can grant access to your PHR to others, such as a physician, lawyer, family member, trusted caregiver or friend. You decide what information to share, and for how long.

personal-health-records
This secured environment is also the gateway to other secure Network of Care (NOC) resources. To ensure your privacy, this is where articles and service links you collect on the NOC are stored. Personal messages are also viewed here, such as correspondence from a healthcare provider, email from a private NOC support group, or notices about bills you’re tracking through the Legislature.

To access these and other features, you need a Network of Care account. An email address is all that’s required. To set up your account, please click the “New User” tab above.

Community Calendar

PMCN regularly updates the community calendar on the Network of Care, so be sure to check it for community events! Job fairs, resource fairs and other resourceful events that are targeted for military service members, veterans and their families.

The First Step is Picking up the Phone

Sally is the mother of Michael, an Army Veteran who served in Iraq between 2006 and 2008.  Michael suffers from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress after being involved in explosions in Iraq and watching fellow Soldiers die on the battlefield.  Michael also lost a brother, who took his own life at age 14, so he experienced a great deal of trauma from an early age.  He was eventually medically retired from the Army and returned to his family in Michigan. He came back to Colorado Springs in 2015, but he still suffered from his invisible wounds, self-medicating, adding substance abuse to his challenges. He was arrested in 2016, facing felony charges stemming from his addiction.  Sally got a call from Michael from jail in May 2016. However, he bonded out of jail and she was not able to reach him.

Sally, living in Michigan, knew her son was in trouble and feared for his health and safety, and didn’t know how to get help for his legal challenges.  She didn’t want to lose another son.  Sally didn’t have any connections in Colorado Springs, but knew that her local television news anchor, Stephen Clark, WXYZ TV Detroit, did have a Colorado Springs connection. She reached out via Facebook message, not really expecting a quick or any response.  However, Stephen responded right away and reached out to his father, Major General Wes Clark (USAF, Retired), who serves on the Board of Directors of the Peak Military Care Network (PMCN).  Wes reached out to PMCN staff and a former PMCN Board member, Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey.  Sally’s one Facebook message opened up a network of local support that changed her and Michael’s course.  After reaching out to Stephen, people from Colorado Springs “reached out to me before I even had a chance to call anyone else.”  Within a very short period of time, PMCN reached out to CSPD and Leo Martinez, Lead Peer Mentor for the Veteran Trauma Court, and all (and others) connected with her to provide support and help her son.

The collaborative network of military and veteran support agencies that PMCN coordinates showed Sally that help was available for her son – and her. “Many people worked behind the scenes to help Michael,” she says.  While Michael was not accepted into the Veteran Trauma/Treatment Court program, many, many individuals advocated for him. And Michael helped himself – and his fellow veterans.

While in the veterans’ ward of the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center (CJC), Michael realized that he wasn’t alone and that he could help fellow veterans.  “Michael never gives up…he told me, ‘maybe I’m here for a reason.’”  Sally explains that Michael has helped transform the CJC, starting a peer support program, helping other veterans talk about their struggles with invisible wounds and the addictions that led many to the jail, facing DUIs and more serious charges.  This work in helping veterans has become a calling for Michael – he has found a new mission.  He felt so compelled to help not only those in the El Paso County CJC, but all veterans who are incarcerated.  With the help of CJC staff, Lead Peer Mentor Leo and fellow veterans, Michael, on the anniversary of his brother’s suicide, led veterans and CJC staff in the 22 Pushup Challenge to raise awareness and help end veteran suicides:

Pushuphttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFK2FRvtg6I

With this new mission and many military leaders and fellow Soldiers advocating for him in his legal case, in December 2016, Michael received probation. He has been sober since August of 2016 and is receiving services through the Colorado Springs VA Clinic for substance abuse and living in the Crawford House, a private, non-profit veterans’ residential treatment facility run by the Colorado Veterans Resource Coalition.  He told his mother that despite having opportunities to enter programs in other states, he felt compelled to stay in Colorado Springs, where his fellow veterans are, to help them as others helped him.  Michael and other veterans who have left the CJC continue to offer peer support, meeting at a local Denny’s and even working with the CJC to arrange for veterans in the jail to still be able to talk to veterans who have been released.  “He didn’t go through everything he went through for no reason,” says Sally. “He survived to be able to help others. Michael is so excited about staying involved and helping others.  Michael will be a drug addict all his life, but he has a mission now that he never did before.”  He is also seeking help for other needs, including his TBI, which he was never able to address while he was self-medicating. “He is excited about doing things in a positive way now.”

Sally wants other family members to know that there is help and not to be ashamed to ask for that help. “Your spouse, son, daughter, family member served our country and there is help out there. The first step is picking up the phone and asking, ‘where do I go for help?’ You don’t have to know what to say or what to ask. Just picking up the phone, you will be amazed at the network of people out there every day and hooking you up with help.  The support is life-saving, especially as a parent – you feel like you’re alone. You may feel like you are in a dark tunnel and may be intimidated to make that first call, but if you ask for help, there are so many people to help; they guide you, they give you strength.” Sally also recommends hanging on to that phone number and the resources you collect.  You may need help later or others may ask you how to find help. “There is someone out there that has your story – you are not alone.  Now other moms reach out to me, and I want to tell them, ‘feel no shame; saving one life is worth it.’ And making sure that people know the help is available – that is what will save someone – knowledge!”

Veteran in Charge: The Independence Center

IC LogoMany Veterans are faced with challenges from declining health, disability, rising costs of care and increasing limitations to living independently within their homes and communities. The great news for Veterans residing in Elbert, El Paso, Park, and Teller Counties is the resource available to them:  the Veteran in Charge (VIC) program. VIC is a partnership between The Independence Center (IC) and th e Veterans Administration. VIC is a veteran-directed home & community based services program that allows Veterans the flexibility to direct services they need to remain independent and thrive in their communities. VIC engages Veterans of all ages.

Over the past year, VIC has successfully enrolled 42 veterans into the program. The impact is that Veterans are remaining in their homes and staying out of skilled nursing facilities. They are reengaging with their communities through a wide range of activities. They are purchasing necessary equipment for home modifications in support of independence and safety. Veterans and their families are pleased to have the resources and supports to live life on their terms. For more information, call 719-471-8181, and ask for VIC.

The Independence Center is a local nonprofit organization that provides traditional and self-directed home health care, independent living, and advocacy services for people with disabilities which range from peer support, skills classes, and employment assistance to individual and systems advocacy. The IC’s mission is to work with people with disabilities, their families, and the community to create independence so all may thrive.

A Day in the Life of a Senior Visiting the Area Agency on Aging

MARK, STATIONED AT FORT CARSON, COMES INTO THE AREA AGENCY ON AGING with concerns about his mother, Brenda, who has just relocated to Colorado to be nearer to Mark and his family.  Brenda, 78, has been under a great deal of stress, associated with her recent move to a new community.  Mark isn’t able to manage all of Brenda’s needs and finds that he needs some support himself, as he tries to learn about resources in the community for his mother and himself.

ppacg-logo-90hMark and Brenda are directed by friends to talk to the team at the Area Agency on Aging, whose focus is serving seniors and their family members.  Brenda and Mark start with the PPACG Family Caregiver Support Center, where the case manager meets with them one-on-one for over an hour, listening to them both share their concerns and asking follow-up questions that will allow him to make the best  referrals possible.  The case manager recommends that Mark attend one of the classes for caregivers offered by the center. This class will help Mark better help Brenda, and therefore relieve some of the stress of being a caregiver for a family member.

As part of the conversation, it becomes clear that Brenda needs some extra help at home but has limited income.  She may qualify for assistance through Medicaid.  A center case manager from the PPACG Information & Assistance Center joins the conversation and agrees to meet with Brenda at a later date, to help her with completing a Medicaid application.  The case manager tell Brenda and Mark that if they are ever interested in local assisted living residences, they can talk to the PPACG Ombudsman team and learn about what is available in the community.  The case manager also provides Brenda with a Yellow Book, which has over 800 agency and business listings that serve seniors.  To Mark, the case manager recommends the on-line resource of www.pikespeak.co.networkofcare.org/aging.

Brenda also needs to see a doctor and receive new prescriptions for the insulin she takes daily to treat her diabetes.  She has Medicare and needs to find a doctor that will accept Medicare as payment for her appointments.  A counselor from the PPACG Senior Insurance Assistance office is invited to join the conversation.  She is able to provide Mark and Brenda with a list of doctors in the Pikes Peak region who accept Medicare.  The PPACG Senior Insurance Assistance counselor also helps Brenda choose a new Medicare prescription plan, one that provides good overage for the medications that she takes to treat her diabetes and has the least out of pocket cost to her.

Brenda and Mark leave the PPACG Area Agency on Aging feeling well-informed and supported.  They feel as if they have just joined a team, and that everyone is working together to help them to help themselves.

Editor’s note: Article submitted by Gretchen Bricker of Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging.  She may be reached at 719-471-2096, x 143