Alcohol and Traumatic Brain Injury: A Deceivingly Dangerous Combination

By Christine Leccese, MPH

Enduring Freedom

Photo by Cpl Michele Watson

When you work with veterans whose wounds involve their bodies, brains, and emotions, it can be hard to know where to start or what is causing the biggest challenge. The term “polytrauma” itself suggests that there is so much happening that providers and patients need to understand how the impact and treatment of one trauma affects another injury.

Katherine Hamilton, an RN TBI/polytrauma case manager at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, knows one thing that needs to be addressed quickly in polytrauma patients – alcohol use. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and while it is important for many people to assess their alcohol use, it is especially important for people who suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Hamilton explains that many of the patients at her facility have TBIs that range from mild to severe and most also have PTSD. She adds and that a high percentage of veterans who come in with a TBI also have a drinking history. “They either had a history of drinking before the injury or they are using alcohol as a medication, but the lack of understanding about how alcohol impacts the traumatic injured brain makes things much worse for them,” Hamilton explains.

She points out that for a short period of time, alcohol can alleviate some symptoms. For instance, it can help the insomniac to fall asleep, numb the emotional pain for someone who is socially isolating, and even help with pain. All that, however, is short lived. The problems that caused the person to seek relief are actually exacerbated by the alcohol.

Alcohol interrupts sleep and someone who is using it as a sleep aid finds his sleep problems “supersized,” Hamilton says. Like sleep, alcohol may sometimes numb pain, but it soon exaggerates and even enhances the pain. “The pain comes back with a vengeance,” she says.

Alcohol and the traumatized brain

Researchers know that the traumatized brain does not react well to alcohol. In the brain that has been traumatized, the brain cells are easily disregulated and fragile, which is why people with brain injuries need so much rest. When you add a sedative such as alcohol, it slows down brain activity, negatively affecting the brain’s natural healing processes, making sleep regulation difficult.

One man’s story

Hamilton tells the story of one Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and  returned with a TBI and PTSD. He suffered chronic pain from his injuries and dealt with life by chain smoking, drinking a lot of caffeinated drinks, riding a motorcycle, getting in arguments with family members and having relationships with women that were centered on drinking.

The patient would stop into Hamilton’s office to chat, and she was gentle in leading him to learn how his choices were barriers to his TBI rehabilitation. Hamilton said she knows lecturing veterans will not help, but she does find many responsive to science and research.  She explained that nicotine actually heightens pain by activating pain receptors, and that alcohol and caffeine were making his pain and memory symptoms worse.. Soon after her talk with him, she found out that he stopped smoking, quit drinking Red Bull, and sold his motorcycle. He stopped drinking, enrolled in nursing school and completely turned his life around.

Hamilton was thrilled that this patient turned his life around and also knew that his quitting alcohol played a significant role.  Of course, this patient dealt with bumps along the way, but eventually turned his life around. He is a great illustration of what quitting alcohol can do for someone suffering TBI or PTSD. For more information on alcohol and PTSD, click here.

Service members, veterans, and their families can always take a free and anonymous alcohol use self-assessment at www.DrinkingIQ.org.

 

 

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“You drink too much.” What to say – and what not to say – to address your friend or family members’ alcohol use.

The following post is based on an article by Lisa Frederiksen, titled, “What to Say to Someone With a Drinking Problem,” that first appeared on her blog, www.BreakingtheCycles.com, on February16, 2014.

Beer mugsFor those of us who have a close friend or family member with an undiagnosed drinking problem, you know the challenges of talking to someone about his or her drinking. People who rely on alcohol often become adept at deflecting comments about their drinking and have an excuse for everything. Perhaps you have tried before and heard excuses such as:

  • You drink, too. Why is it any different for me? What’s the big deal?
  • A couple of drinks a night isn’t a problem.
  • I only drink on the weekends.

Because of these common responses, it’s important to be able to express to the person exactly why you think his or her alcohol use is problematic. Try to be specific and clear with statements such as:

  • I don’t know if you are aware of what happens when you drink, but yesterday you ____.
  • I’ve been doing some internet searching trying to figure out if I should say anything about how you behave when you drink too much and found some great resources. I’d really like you to do the anonymous alcohol use self-assessment at DrinkingIQ.org. It specializes in addressing alcohol use among service members, veterans, and their families.
  • I think you have alcoholism – I say this so boldly because I’d never understood what alcoholism was before, but now I’ve been doing some research, and it appears you may have it. I’d really like you to take this anonymous assessment at www.DrinkingIQ.org.
  • I’ve finally found a name for what happens to me when you behave the way you do while drinking – it’s called secondhand drinking. I’m going to be learning more about this, but I wanted you to know that the way you act when you drink is causing real problems for me. I’m not sure what to do about it, but I also understand that my old ways of talking about this don’t work, either. 

It is also important to know what NOT to say, such as:

  • You’re a drunk!
  • Do you know how stupid you sounded last night?
  • Once again, you broke your promise.
  • If you loved me you’d stop.

While these are all things that are tempting to say and it is certainly understandable why someone would say them, they are shaming, and will more likely put the person on the defensive than doing anything constructive. You don’t want to upset the person or put them on the defensive before the conversation even starts. Tell him or her that you plan to do more research and will follow up – and set a time to talk. Also explain that you are doing this out of love.

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Warrior Hike Helps Veterans Find Healing Through Nature

By Alyson Browett, events coordinator with Warrior Hike

Warrior Hike walkway 5

Warrior Hiker Rob Carmel makes his way across the winding boardwalks over the wetlands of New York.

In 1948, World War II Army veteran Earl Shaffer started walking north from the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. Before leaving, he told a friend he was going to work out the sights, sounds, and losses of the war, essentially to “walk off the war.” Four months later, Shaffer became the first person to hike the entire length of the A.T. from Georgia to Maine.

Since 2001, more than 2.5 million veterans have returned home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in today’s age of modern transportation, military personnel can find themselves home within a few days of serving in a combat zone, leaving many no time to transition from their experiences. In addition, up to 20% of veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or other mental health diagnoses.

Helping Veterans

In 2012, after returning home from three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, former Marine Captain Sean Gobin hiked all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Under the name Warrior Hike, Gobin and his hiking partner stopped about every week in trail towns, visiting different veterans organizations to raise money for adaptive vehicles for wounded veterans. But something else happened: Sean recognized the therapeutic effects of long-distance hiking on himself.

Warrior Hike view (2)

Warrior Hiker Matt Donnelly takes in the view atop Rocky Bald in North Carolina.

After completing his hike (often referred to as the “thru-hike), Gobin created the Warrior Hike “Walk Off The War” Program, which is designed to support veterans transitioning from their military service by thru-hiking America’s National Scenic Trails. Warrior Hike has partnered with the federal and nonprofit organizations that manage the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail to create the “Walk Off The War” Program.

Healing Power Of Hiking

During a six-month, 2,000-plus mile journey along a National Scenic Trail, veterans have the opportunity to decompress from their military service and come to terms with their wartime experiences, while learning to use the outdoors as an alternative form of therapy. Hiking with the Warrior Hike “Walk Off The War” Program allows veterans to experience their journey and the transition process with the camaraderie of other veterans. Interaction with members of trail town veterans organizations and local communities facilitates the Warrior Hikers’ reintegration into society, restores their faith in humanity, and builds a network of life-long friendships and relationships.

Sharon “MamaGoose” Smith, who served as an Air Force medic, said after she completed her thru-hike of the A.T. in 2013 with Warrior Hike, “I have entered a whole new realm as I have been embraced by this hiking family. We would not have had this opportunity, none of us, to go out there and experience our life in nature and spend time with this hiking family, had it not been for the Warrior Hike program. Warrior Hike allowed us to go use nature as a vehicle for healing. I am very honored to have been a part of it. Warrior Hike made 14 people better. It was an amazing healing opportunity for us all.”

Warrior Hike banner 4

The 2013 Warrior Hikers participate in the Trails End Festival in Millinocket, Maine, after completing their hike.

Rob Carmel, who also hiked with the program in 2013 after retiring from the Army, said, “While in nature, I’ve realized that there is also good and bad, ups and downs, like our experience in the military, like the trail experience. Everything is not like a smooth flat surface. You learn to come to terms with the rocks and the roots; everything comes together. Warrior Hike gave us a focus – it kept us on a track and gave us a purpose. Upon summiting [Mt. Katahdin in Maine], no words can express the relief, the joy, the feeling of accomplishment, knowing that I did my best and was able to hike the whole trail.”

This year, researchers from Georgia Southern University will measure the benefits of the “Walk Off The War” Program to evaluate how a long-term wilderness experience affects the well-being of combat veterans. The goal of this research is to demonstrate that long-distance hiking can be used as an effective therapy to help veterans cope with PTSD.

Walking North

In 2014, Warrior Hike is supporting 26 combat veterans on thru-hikes of more than 2,000 miles. The A.T. Warrior Hike team of 14 veterans began its journey northward from Georgia on March 17. On April 12, two teams of six veterans will begin their journeys on the Continental Divide Trail from Hachita, NM, and the Pacific Crest Trail from Campo, CA. Warrior Hike Executive Director Sean Gobin said, “We are pleased to expand this opportunity through the help and support of our sponsor community, which includes a wide array of federal and local organizations, corporations, and individuals.”

In the future, Warrior Hike hopes to continue to expand the number of participating veterans and broaden its activities to include long-distance paddling and biking expeditions. To learn more about the program or to make a donation, visit http://www.WarriorHike.com.

Alyson Browett is a freelance editor and writer specializing in global health and development policy. As a volunteer, she serves as the Events Coordinator for Warrior Hike and the Appalachian Trail Ambassador for Front Royal/Warren County, Virginia. When not by the computer, Alyson can be found in the woods. 

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Resources Abound for Military Parents

children at waterfrontAs part of its efforts to encourage service members, veterans and military families coping with invisible wounds to reach out for available care and support, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury’s Real Warriors Campaign provides practical tools, tips and resources for members of the military community. This April, in honor of Month of the Military Child, the campaign will highlight tools and resources available for military families. Military transitions affect the entire family. Talking openly about the challenges and psychological health effects of deployments and reunions helps break down the barriers to care and encourages service members, veterans and their families to reach out for support.

The Real Warriors Campaign website features video profiles of service members, veterans and military families sharing their stories to let all warriors and families know that they are not alone in coping with psychological health concerns. Watch the Military Families video profile to see stories of how service members reintegrated following deployment and get tips on how they helped their children cope with the experience. Military families can also share stories and connect with each other through the campaign’s message boards designated for families. The campaign website also includes several articles that focus on the unique challenges faced by military families, including:

Additional materials available on the site include the “Seven Tools to Reinforce Military Family Resilience” brochure, which features tools and resources to promote military family resilience throughout all phases of deployment. This brochure and other campaign materials can be viewed, downloaded and requested directly from the campaign’s online shopping cart. The Real Warriors Campaign wants all of the members of the military community to know that reaching out is a sign of strength. Visit www.realwarriors.net for more information to help service members, veterans and military families cope with invisible wounds, as well as the common challenges of military life. To connect confidentially with a trained health resource consultant at the DCoE Outreach Center 24/7 call 866-966-1020, access the live chat feature or email resources@dcoeoutreach.org.

Military parents can take a comprehensive and free online course on parenting  in a military family to learn about several aspects of raising children including positive communication, dealing with difficult emotions and more.

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April is Alcohol Awareness Month

April is Alcohol Awareness Month imageApril is Alcohol Awareness Month and April 10 is National Alcohol Screening Day. Each year, military installations around the world recognize this by holding events that highlight the free, anonymous screenings offered at www.DrinkingIQ.org.

Alcohol problems do not just affect members of the military. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than half of all adult are regular drinkers. Each April, we at Military Pathways try to bring our readers new and helpful blog posts about alcohol and alcohol issues, especially as they relate to the military lifestyle. This month, we will look at:

  • How to talk to someone in your family about his or her alcohol problem
  • The health problems associated with heavy drinking
  • Women and alcohol
  • Where to get help for alcohol issues (branch specific)
  • What is AA and how can it help me?

Service members, veterans, and their families can log on to DrinkingIQ.org at anytime and take a free, anonymous alcohol use self-assessment.

 

 

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Are You Listening? How Caregivers Can Help Family Members With TBI

U.S. Army photo by Kim Wheeler, Fort Jackson Leader

U.S. Army photo by Kim Wheeler, Fort Jackson Leader

The following article is reposted from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) blog.

As a caregiver for a husband with traumatic brain injury (TBI), Rosemary Rawlins shares insights garnered from her own experiences along with insights from other caregivers and family members in her blog, “Learning by Accident,” on BrainLine. In this blog post, Rosemary reminds us that sometimes the most helpful thing we can do for our loved ones is to just listen to them.

Here’s one simple way that caregivers can help their family members with TBI: just listen.

Listening is an act of love, and it’s critical for caregivers. In the day-to-day rush, it’s easy to half-listen or not offer your full attention. But listening well allows you to better understand your loved one’s feelings, challenges and needs, which will help you handle problems and know when to offer encouragement. It’s a skill I always work on because I get distracted easily, and it’s difficult to listen well.

The people I love and admire most are great listeners. They give me time to speak, maintain eye contact (unless they’re on the phone, then they offer positive verbal cues), and respond appropriately to my concerns and ideas.

Did you ever call someone up to say, “Hi,” and find yourself listening to your friend for twenty minutes without a chance to get a word in? According to “The Devil’s Dictionary,” a bore is “a person who talks when you wish him to listen.” Enough said!

A person my daughter deeply admires once told her, “I never want to be the person who doesn’t hear you.” Feeling heard and understood is a deep human need. It’s the basis for our connection to one another. Thankfully, listening is a skill that can be improved with practice. Strive to:

  • Stay present
  • Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Body language and facial expressions say a lot. Sometimes silence says more than any words can convey
  • Minimize interruptions
  • Don’t always try to fix or solve, just receive and accept the message openly, without judgment

Last year, I read about a woman in a New York Times article who was in hospice care. She called her alma mater — a nursing school — to see if any students there wanted to learn about cancer or hospice by using her as a case study. The school thought it was a great way to give students hands-on experience with a patient. The article goes on to say:

At Ms. Keane’s urging, the students eventually stopped asking questions and practiced what she called “therapeutic communication” instead. “The way we’ve learned in school, and haven’t applied enough, is just saying, ‘I’m glad to be with you; you must be frustrated; you look uncomfortable,” Ms. Keane said. “And let the patient just talk and talk and talk, and see where they’re at.”

There’s great value in good company. Listening to words and observing gestures, facial expressions, and even silences from our loved ones may help us fill in the blanks, and provide information we may need to find the right treatments at the right times. And sometimes, the only treatment that’s needed is to feel heard and understood.

View Rosemary’s original blog post at brainline.org.

For questions on TBI or to be directed to resources in your area, contact the DCoE Outreach Center at 866-966-1020 orresources@dcoeoutreach.org.

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How can civilian schools better serve their military students?

By Andrea Carlile

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leonard Adams

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Leonard Adams

Of the approximately 1.1 million military children who attend public school, about 80% do so in non-military schools. In Indiana, we have a large population of Army National Guard members. This creates a unique opportunity and challenge for the schools and communities in which these Guard members and their families live. The Guard members deploy frequently, but there is no active duty Army base in the state.

I have attended many Joint Community Forces meetings in the state to help the civilian community support the brave men and women who live military and civilian lives, and have to toggle between the two. The meetings recently addressed how local schools can help military children. Many educators have no idea of the struggles these children face. A National Guard parent can be gone anywhere from 6 months to 18 months on a deployment. Furthermore, children of a parent with PTSD face additional challenges as the entire family dynamic is often dramatically altered.

How can the education system better serve our military children?

Awareness

Like many issues, awareness of a situation is an important first step. Many educators and school systems have no idea which children are living in military families. Sometimes, the only sign that a child is struggling is a behavior changed. I experienced this myself as my family has faced PTSD for four years. My daughter began acting out in the classroom as my husband and I dealt with the difficult diagnosis after his second deployment.

Fortunately, our daughter’s school was proactive, getting her in counseling at the school, educating the teacher about her situation, and working well with us as parents. She was allowed to journal throughout the day to express anger and confusion. She was given the opportunity to meet with the counselor at any time she needed. My daughter formed a strong bond with the counselor, and being with her became a safe place for her to discuss her struggles.

I know that not every military family is as fortunate as we were with our school. I wonder: Is there a way to make teachers aware of which students are in military families? And, how can we provide support for those struggling with separation or other military-related issues?

Can we educate the educators?

The greatest influence in a child’s education is often his or her teachers. Children spend the majority of their lives at school, and those schools often offer social support when a child is struggling with a situation at home. When a parent is deployed, their lives become much like those of active duty kids, but without the support of an active base and military culture. With this in mind, we need to educate teachers on the effects of deployment and PTSD on military children.

Teaching educators about the effect that military life, deployments and PTSD have on children would go a long way toward helping them understanding their students. Even providing teachers a basic understanding of military culture and the sacrifice required would help better reach these kids. Can we provide ongoing education for our teachers about these situations? The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) is working on improving education for military children, but there are individual steps parents in military families can take to help their child, too.

As a military parent, you can:

  1. Talk to your child(ren)’s teacher. Make a point to talk to your child’s teacher about your military status. If a parent is deploying or has recently deployed, it is valuable information for the teacher to know. He or she might be more apt to notice a behavior issue and bring it to your attention, thus allowing you to address a situation early. The teacher can also be sensitive about language and lessons the class related to the military.
  2. Talk to your child. If you live in an area in which people do not understand military life, let your child know. He or she might assume that others understand the military lifestyle, even if they do not.
  3. Access existing resources. The Military Child Education Coalition offers resources for parents, and this website for military parenting offers a comprehensive set of learning modules to help military parents navigate the world of child rearing.

Andrea Carlile is the spouse of a 12-year military veteran, received her Master’s from Indiana Wesleyan University, speaks to groups about PTSD, and is pursuing a career in Family and Marital Therapy.  The War That Came Home is her first novel, and she will be releasing her second novel “Transformation” this summer of 2014.

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Sleep: Nature’s Best Medicine

sleeing soldier

Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Peter Blair

By Charli Prather, MSW LCSW OSW-C

Anyone who is short on sleep knows how easy tasks can become difficult and emotional reserves otherwise OK become spent. Not only is sleep essential to your daily function and psychological health, it provides an opportunity for the body to repair and rejuvenate.  Major restorative functions such as tissue repair, muscle growth, and growth hormone release occur mostly during sleep.

Lack of sleep impacts us in ways we never would even guess. Have you ever experienced a sleepless night followed by a day when no matter what you ate you never felt full or satisfied? If so, then you have experienced the lack of stimulation of your gastrointestinal tract that sends the signal to your brain when you are full.

We know that sleep is vitally important, yet, most of us report not getting enough of it.

Some posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms can have a significant impact on a person’s sleep.  Research shows that people with PTSD experience more depression and have poor sleep quality. That is one of the many reasons why treating PTSD is so important.

There are different treatments for nightmares, including Imagery Rehearsal Therapy.  (IRT) has been effective in reducing PTSD-related nightmares for 18 months following treatment. It involves education on sleep, relaxation training, breathing retraining and homework assignments that involve recording sleep cycles, writing out nightmare themes, and choosing a recurring nightmare to write out in full  detail (sights, sounds, smells, tastes) including feelings and thoughts associated with the dream.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can also be effective for many sleep disorders.  Starting with sleep hygiene education, followed by relaxation therapies, and stimulus control, within 3 to 5 weeks, people can begin seeing a benefit from therapy.

TIPS FOR SLEEP: 

  • Restrict time in bed to consolidate and deepen sleep.
  • Stay within 30 minutes of your routine, 7 days a week.
  • Keep your cell phone away from your head and across the room.
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine 4 to 6 hour prior to bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom at below 70 degrees, with white noise, a fan, or earplugs.
  • Avoid digital clocks, televisions, computers, etc. in the bedroom.  Bedrooms are for intimacy and sleep.
  • Purchase blue light bulbs for at least one lamp so that when you wake up so that you aren’t stimulated.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Perfect bedtime snacks: glass of warm milk or herbal tea, cheese or a piece of whole grain toast w/a smear of nut butter.
  • Reduce liquids 2 hours prior to bed to avoid frequent bathroom trips.
  • Turn off television and computers 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Build your perfect sleep environment by purchasing the best bedding you can afford and eliminating “over-decorating” of your sleeping area.  In other words, keep it simple.

Belenky G. Wesensten J.J., Thorne DR, et al. Patterns of performance degradation and restoration during sleep restriction and subsequent recovery: a sleep dose-response study. J Sleep Res 2003: 12:1-13.

Perlis, M et al. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia: A session by session guide. 2008 Springer Press.

Morin, C. Insomnia: A Clinician’s Guide to Assessment and Treatment. 2003. Springer Press

Charli Prather  is a  licensed clinical social worker and a board-certified oncology social worker. In addition, she specializes in deployment psychology and grief and loss.  She’s a TRICARE / Value Options provider and travels the U.S. as a contracted Therapist & Warriors at Ease™ Yoga and Meditation Teacher for the Wounded Warrior Project through Courage Beyond and the Give an Hour organizations.  

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Treating the Generational Wounds of War

By Rebecca G. Townsend, SrLPE, LPC, NCC

Photo by Army Sgt. Daniel Nelson

Photo by Army Sgt. Daniel Nelson

I am blessed and honored to live and work in a military community, and to have the opportunity to care for our nation’s Warriors and their loved ones as a professional mental health provider.

While most of my clients are affiliated with the military, I have some who are not…or perhaps, think they are not. However, when you live in a community with 30,000 active duty Soldiers, and the city with the second largest population of Veterans in the United States, everyone is impacted by war and deployments, and will be for generations. That community can play a big role in helping the families of Warriors.

A few years ago, I had a client who was a professional in her late 50’s with depression symptoms.  Through multiple sessions, we unpacked her emotional baggage.  We found she had a lot of hurt anger for her father – emotions she had successfully tucked away for decades.

During a tough session, she shared a painful memory. Her mother had gone to church and her father, who she said was emotionally distant, was left to care for the 8 children.  On this particular day, her father had all the children line up, arm’s length apart, facing the wall to stand in silence for hours until it was bedtime.  He did not speak to them again until he ordered them to bed.

I mentioned that her description reminded me of something from a book I’d recently read about a WWII Soldier who was a prisoner of war in the Pacific.  The guards at POW camps would contain and control large numbers of prisoners with those types of tactics.

My client’s eyes became large and filled with tears.  “My dad was a WWII veteran and was a guard at a holding camp for enemy prisoners…he never spoke of the war and I never thought of it.”

She was living the residual effects of WWII in 2011. Clearly, the impacts of war are generational.

The children of war Veterans will live with wounds initially endured by their parents.  Injuries may have frozen the emotional livelihood of their mother and/or father, preventing them from being as engaged as children need their caregivers to be.

Therefore, children, just as adults, seek to fulfill the emotional emptiness which originated from a call to duty, a call to serve our nation and to protect her freedoms.

That emotional emptiness may be quickly congested with drugs or alcohol.  Teenagers may seek to satisfy their innate need for attention with promiscuity, cutting behaviors, or anger. Younger children may withdraw and develop fears and anxiety, crippling their ability to socialize and enjoy age-appropriate activities.

How do we stop this ripple effect?

  • We must encourage stories to be told…giving safe places for Warriors and their loved ones to be heard, to be encouraged to speak their truths, helps unburden them.
  • Children and teens need a space to draw their stories, play out their emotions, and share music that exposes their soul’s wounds.
  • The space provided may not be in a counselor’s office, it could be at a kitchen table, in a support group, or around a camp fire.
  • The key to loosening the shackles binding us to our pain is pure, uninterrupted attention and focus from another being.

While there is a need, at times even an urgency, for professional help, there is an obligation that we, as a community, have to our Warriors and their loved ones.  That obligation is our time, our companionship, our gratitude.

This is the ripple effect of healing.

Rebecca Townsend is a Senior Licensed Psychological Examiner and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Rebecca is a listed TN Supreme Court Rule 31 Family Mediator. She has been working in the field of mental health for over 15 years. Her professional and personal experiences with children, families and couples has led her to complete professional trainings in working with stepfamily development, couples communication, and parenting. Rebecca also has extensive training and experience in working with military service members and their families. She was in the first class of graduates to receive a Post-Masters Certificate in Military and Veteran Behavioral Health through the Department of Defense’s Center for Deployment Psychology.

She recently founded Stand in Their Boots.

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Military Parenting Website Assists Communication

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

BDU parents with child

Air Force Staff Sgt. Sabrina Siegele and her husband, Air Force Senior Airman Matt Siegele, enjoy time after work with their daughter, Stephanie, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The Siegeles say they like the age-appropriate scenarios of the new MilitaryParenting.org website.

Service members who deploy or are otherwise separated from their families due to mission needs now have an online resource allowing them to hone their parenting skills as they reconnect with their children.

Pam Murphy, the Defense Department’s lead psychologist for the website, said the launch of Military Parenting offers unprecedented, comprehensive and free computer-based training from a service member’s perspective on parenting and building strong relationships with their children.

A clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in community and private practice, Murphy said the Integrated Mental Health Strategy Program is a collaborative initiative between the Veterans Affairs Department and DOD.

“We initially did an environmental scan of everything within the DOD as well as commercially available, and one of the areas that seemed to be at a deficit was a comprehensive parenting program that looks at the basics,” Murphy said.

She noted that while a plethora of parenting information exists online, it was difficult to identify a free, private “military-centric” program.

“This is one of the first of its kind,” Murphy said. The interactive site, she explained, develops and reinforces parenting skills to help families reconnect through in-depth technology solutions that appeal to younger parents.

“Many of the parents in the service member population are generally younger,” she said. “Prominent age groups of their children are typically 5 or below.”

Murphy added that the site goes beyond the job and hits home in terms of affecting family relationships, building resilience and helping service members to be happy with their lives within the military.

She also noted that service members’ personalized accounts interwoven into the site make the situations and solutions relatable.

“We included videos of real service personnel … to talk about their real-life experiences with parenting, reintegrating and making those everyday decisions,” Murphy said.

The website consolidates and simplifies information that was previously accessible across multiple resources, said Air Force Senior Airman Matthew Siegele, a protocol specialist, and his wife, Air Force Staff Sgt. Sabrina Siegele, noncommissioned officer in charge of knowledge operations, both of whom work at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

“We’ve been through so many parenting classes, counseling and therapy, and a lot of the resources and advice is mirrored on this site,” Sabrina said. “This website is excellent — it’s a one-stop shop instead of jumping around to multiple appointments.”

During family separations, Murphy said, applications such as Skype and Facetime can help in keeping families connected, but the military parenting website provides ideas for technology-based activities that can help in reuniting parents and children after a deployment. “A lot of times, kids don’t know what to talk about with their parents when they are on the phone or on the computer with them,” she said.

Murphy said the website can help military parents to reconnect with their children.

“Parents can benefit from this site, and I believe they want their kids to grow up to be happy, healthy, fully functioning adults,” she said. “Here, they’ll find strategies and ideas to [get] even better in terms of helping kids to grow, mature and blossom.”

 This post originally appeared on the blog of the U.S. Department of Defense.

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