Video: Combat-injured veteran receives a gift of a lifetime

Earlier this month, a very special veteran received a very special gift. Be prepared to laugh and cry at the same time as you’ll watch his brain injury play out in real life.

In my next post I’ll share the story behind this story. For now just enjoy this very touching moment.


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Take a peek into our private life: Photos from our GQ article are now available online

Copyright Alex Masi – All Rights Reserved

Today I am going to share some photos from Dan’s interview (and subsequent article) with GQ Magazine. My thanks to Alex Masi for his incredible photography skills, and for capturing our daily life in a respectful way. He, along with Dirk Peitz, followed our family for a few days here in our home. We were one of a few veterans that they followed here in the USA for the story “War in the Mind”.

Here they are below, in slideshow format, from Alex Masi’s website. Be sure to scroll down further to see the video interview as well. I am providing the GQ Italy version and the regular footage for your review.

You can hover your mouse over each image to get the caption explaining the story behind each photo. Enjoy looking inside my fridge and seeing me fuss at the boys. Dan looks pretty darned handsome if you ask me, doesn’t he?

Honestly [in all seriousness] everyone’s story is worthy of your time. Please review them all. Because the slideshow starts the moment you open this page, you’ll have to scroll to the first photo to see the full slideshow. We are in photos 1-28.

War in the Mind – Life after the ‘Iraq War’ – USA

John Daniel Shannon, 48, is a former US Army Senior Sniper, living in Westcliffe, CO, USA, where he retired with his family after a serious brain injury inflicted by an insurgent sniper in Ramadi, Al Anbar Province, Iraq, on November 13th 2004.

Daniel fought during the Second Battle of Fallujah and was then moved to nearby Ramadi. He lost his left eye and has multiple health issues because of his injury: memory problems, balance problems, he can’t smell and taste well anymore, he suffers from PTSD, has troubles with large crowds and city surroundings. This is the reason why he and his family moved to a quiet location on the Rocky Mountains.

In 2007 Dan helped the Washington Post to uncover patients’ neglect at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center; he also testified before Congress. Torrey, 42, his wife, is a freelance writer and a contributor for the Huffington Post; she’s also campaigning to improve the situation of veterans’ families.


War in the Mind – Life after the ‘Iraq War’ – USA – Images by Alex Masi

In case you missed it, here is the US version of the raw video interview that was posted on the GQ Italy and GQ Germany sites:

War in the Mind from Alex Masi on Vimeo.


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Dr. Phil changes name of show but offers no apology

I really try to be optimistic, find the bright side of things, but I am having a really difficult time accepting this blog entry published today by Dr. Phil.

If you didn’t know, last week he aired an episode titled “From Heroes to Monsters?” and all hell broke loose in the military community. Just the title of the show alone was enough to cause outrage.

Aside from addressing the disgust of the military community over the name of the episode, I went further into detail on my blog and on Fox News Radio about the source of his information, Dr. Frank Lawlis, and outlined how the content and advice in his book was not only offensive, but borderline dangerous.

This is what Dr. Phil had to say, noting the episode is now titled “Heroes in Pain” because of the overwhelming response from the military community.

Some viewers expressed concern, and even disappointment, with the show’s original title, “Heroes to Monsters?” Our intent was to acknowledge the question so often cited in the media, not to make a statement, and to emphasize the severity of the pain and suffering our guests say they experience. In doing so, we unintentionally offended some of our viewers, and have therefore changed the title to more accurately reflect the show’s content.

I dare say we were more than concerned and more than disappointed.  We were PISSED.  Thanks for downplaying our reaction on your blog, Mr. Phil.

Some of us are still pissed.  Who?  Oh, well, you know…let’s start with people like ME who live this PTSD life every single day.

If you don’t know anything about me, you should at least know this:  it doesn’t take much to make me happy.  It takes a lot to piss me off.

So why am I still pissed?

Unfortunately, he chose not to apologize anywhere in his blog post, nor did he offer to explain himself on the very same platform he used to incorrectly portray our military with PTSD:  on national TV.

Changing the name of the show is a good start, but an apology would hold more weight in our minds, and doing it on TV would be the professional and responsible thing to do.

And, even more importantly, he’s still pimping out that awful book and proclaiming Dr. Lawlis as a top expert in the field of PTSD.  He went on to justify the show by saying:

And we brought in the best of the best to help shed light on treatments, including Dr. Frank Lawlis, one of the leading PTSD experts in the world. I encourage you to check out his book, The PTSD Breakthrough, and download — for free — his PTSD program, Retraining Your Thoughts, by clicking here.  (link removed by Torrey) Both provide valuable information to help you understand how the brain works, its anatomy and how it can be fixed after a traumatic event that leads to PTSD.

If he were such an expert, he’d know that PTSD can’t be ‘fixed’ – you can only learn to deal with it, cope with it and accept it. You can’t use gum before bedtime, blue light bulbs in your lamp, powerful mouthwashes, nor participate in acts like beating drums to find your ‘power song’ or even go on a vision quest (alone in the wilderness with nothing but water for 7 days until a symbol appears in your consciousness) to FIX post traumatic stress disorder.

And, oh, by the way Dr. Phil and Dr. Lawlis — combat veterans weren’t getting PTSD from just “a” traumatic event.  They got it from sustained and prolonged exposure to traumatic events.  They got it from just doing their jobs!  Maybe this article published today in the LA Times will explain how PTSD in combat veterans is considered much different than that of a civilian who encountered a traumatic event.  Even the Army (who is notorious for brushing PTSD under the rug) knows and admits to this.

The article states:

Traditional definitions of post-traumatic stress disorder may not fit in the case of a trained warrior, a new policy document states.

In fact, here’s the expert we really need to be listening to, as quoted in the LA Times article:

Charles Hoge of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, who for seven years oversaw the institute’s research on the psychological consequences of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the document reflected work already underway by a committee of the American Psychiatric Assn. to refine the standards for treating PTSD based on an abundance of new research.

While Dr. Lawlis was writing and making a profit from a self-proclaimed “science-based” book that had little to no real science in it, much less quote any actual research, Charles Hoge was on the front lines at Walter Reed working with the American Psychiatric Assn. and using an abundance of research we can rely on, all for the betterment of our military community.

I am not pleased.  And yes, I am still pissed.  Maybe my blog post today has shown you why.

Here’s my final assessment:

Dr. Phil is not going to get rid of Dr. Lawlis as his ‘expert adviser’ and replace him with someone more qualified — because there are sales to be made with multiple products, regardless of the potential harm it will have on the very people he claims to care so much about.

How easy would it have been for him to just apologize?  He spent way more time dancing around the apology, justifying his reasons, then closing the sale for the book than to say three simple words:  “I am sorry.”

This tells me he doesn’t think we are even worth those three simple words.

Dr. Phil is not going to apologize.  If he was, he would have done it already.


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Pro-Bono (ie, FREE) Legal Programs for Veterans – legal assistance for veterans master list

I have had to answer this question more than once, so I am going to provide my master list of free (ie, pro bono) legal services for veterans and other similar legal assistance programs for veterans.  If you know of a program that is not on this list, please feel free to email me or comment below so that I may add it to the list and give you credit for the submission!

Master List:  Attorneys and advocates by state

www.attorneys4veterans.com

Click the link above for a list of private attorneys proudly representing and assisting U.S. military veterans and dependents in achieving rightful VA benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit under the Veterans’ Judicial Review Act of 1988 and 2006.

____________________________________________

Lawyers Serving Warriors

http://www.lawyersservingwarriors.com/

Lawyers Serving Warriors ®, a project of NVLSP, provides free legal representation.

From their website:

The Lawyers Serving Warriors® program offers pro-bono legal help with disability issues to veterans from all eras. Our current pro bono initiative is to assist veterans with applications for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). In the past, the Lawyers Serving Warriors® program assisted veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan facing administrative separation, going through a medical evaluation board or physical evaluation board, or pursuing a claim with the VA for disability compensation.

Visit their website by clicking here:

www.lawyersservingwarriors.com

———————————————————————————————–

 

 

Stateside Legal  http://statesidelegal.org/

Stateside Legal | Legal help for military members, veterans and their families

Legal assistance for military connected individuals

From their website:

This website is for members of the military, veterans, their families and advocates. Our goal is to help you:

  • access benefits
  • find free legal help, and
  • better understand your legal issues

Many websites provide information for military households or veterans.  Here our goal is to index the best legal information available in one easy-to-use site. We have also added our own interactive forms, videos, and legal analysis.

___________________________________________________________________________________

National Veterans Legal Services Program – Veterans Benefits – Medical Health Disability Claims (NVLSP)

http://www.nvlsp.org/

About the program:

Legal information and assistance for veterans, survivors of veterans and veterans advocates who are seeking service-related VA benefits – primarily claims for disability compensation.

__________________________________________________________________

Jason Perry

My personal recommendation for anyone needing their rating appealed or needs counsel and representation for their MEB/PEB (basically, anything related to ratings) is Jason Perry. He is a former JAG Attorney who now runs the PEBforum.com website. Here is his contact page: http://www.peblawyer.com/attorney_profile.html. (Please note: Mr. Perry is not advertising as a pro-bono attorney. He is affordable, so if your case is not taken on a pro-bono basis you are still receiving excellent representation at a great value)

www.peblawyer.com

From his website:

I am a former active duty Judge Advocate who served as a Soldiers’ Counsel at the Texas Physical Evaluation Board. In that position, I represented more than 200 Soldiers at formal hearings with impressive results. In addition to representing Soldiers, I was responsible for training new attorneys assigned to the PEB. Prior to that assignment, I served as a Senior Trial Counsel and later as a military magistrate. After I left the Army, I decided to continue to practice in the area of military disability law. I also volunteer pro bono on veteran’s appeals cases.

_____________________________________________________________________

Legal Help for Veterans, PLLC

http://www.legalhelpforveterans.com/

From their website:

Legal Help for Veterans, PLLC is a law firm located in Michigan. We have a national practice representing veterans from across the country. This representation occurs at the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and regional offices. We have helped veterans collect over $10,000,000 in retro and future benefits.

____________________________________________________________________

The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program

http://www.vetsprobono.org

http://www.vetsprobono.net

From their website:

The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program (Pro Bono Program) was created in 1992, with a dual mission: to provide assistance to unrepresented veterans or their family members who have filed appeals at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Court); and to recruit and train attorneys in the then fledgling field of veterans’ law.

Each appellant who requests Pro Bono Program assistance receives a thorough review of his or her appeal. An appellant whose case is not accepted by the Program receives substantive legal advice about his or her case and an explanation as to why the Pro Bono Program cannot place the appeal with a volunteer attorney.

_________________________________________________________________

Public Counsel Law Center:  Center for Veterans’ Advancement

http://www.publiccounsel.org/practice_areas/center_for_veterans_advancement

From their website:

Public Counsel’s Center for Veterans Advancement (CVA), a national leader in veteran’s advocacy, provides direct representation, or representation through pro bono partners, to veterans and their families.  CVA provides legal representation at both the local and national levels, and coordinates its work with efforts underway to establish special “Veterans’ Courts” in Northern and Southern California designed to meet the unique needs of returning veterans.  CVA also manages legal clinics, including one of the largest pro bono advocacy programs in the United States.

_________________________________________________________________

Veteran Justice Advocate Program (VJAP)

http://www.vjap.us

From their website:

Veteran Justice Advocate Program (VJAP) is a non-profit organization established in 2012 by a veteran wanting to make the future different for other veterans. VJAP’s mission is to help U.S. veterans and active service military personnel who find themselves in need of legal assistance. As any veteran will tell you, the civilian world is very different from the military experience, and some transition skills are needed to help ease the veteran from one environment to the other.

In addition to legal representation by attorneys experienced in defending veterans in criminal courts, you will work directly with another veteran who will act as a liaison between the court and Veterans Administration to facilitate proper adherence to orders, treatment, mentoring, and advocacy.

Representatives from Veteran Justice Advocate Program work with the court system as advocates for veterans, and act as a liaison between the court and the veteran. We also facilitate channels of treatment within the VA system in order to properly address the unique veteran issues of PTSD, long deployments, and other service-connected depression and anger. It is becoming more widely recognized that these issues, in many cases, lead to the criminal court system and, even worse, jail or prison time.

VJAP recognizes there is a huge gap in the court system between what our veterans need and what they are getting, and we are working to bridge that gap. We will work with you to help solve your problems by assigning you a mentor/advocate/veteran, in addition to the attorney who will handle your case, to properly advocate course of treatment and court-ordered sentencing with all the respect our fighting men and women deserve.

__________________________________________________________________

Legal Aid Services by State:

http://www.lawhelp.org/

__________________________________________________________________

Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry (CLAM)
Catholic Charities Veterans Advocacy Project.

(Another program, though specific to Missouri):

http://www.ccstl.org/services/veteran-services

_____________________________________________________________

National Association of Consumer Advocates:

(Not a pro-bono program, though each attorney may take  your case under consideration)

www.naca.net

(Please note, this is not specific to veterans, but a nationwide program for consumer advocacy issues, including military consumer issues.)

From their website:

The National Association of Consumer Advocates is a nationwide organization of more than 1,500 attorneys who represent and have represented hundreds of thousands of consumers victimized by fraudulent, abusive and predatory business practices.

____________________________________________________________________

List of JAG attorneys (Active Duty Only – Veterans are not qualified):

_________________________________________________________________________


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Regarding Dr. Phil’s “From Heroes to Monsters?” Episode. Here’s Why America is Outraged, or Should Be!

On Thursday April 19, CBS aired an episode on the widely-popular television show Dr. Phil about veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. In doing so, Dr. Phil and his network also unleashed the fury of the military PTSD community. Now the military community is demanding a personal and public apology from Dr. Phil McGraw.

Shortly after the show came on air, the Dr. Phil Facebook page was inundated with comments to protest the title and content of the show. Unfortunately, veterans are reporting that a majority of the veteran’s comments have already been deleted as a result of censorship.

The show covered the journey of three extreme cases of combat veterans with PTSD, a portrayal far from the typical symptoms seen in veterans who are given this type of diagnosis.

The episode was named “From Heroes to Monsters?” The reference of veterans being “monsters” raised a lot of concern.  It didn’t help matters when he continued with a reference to veterans with PTSD being “damaged goods.”

The show’s website states in the episode description:

“Dr. Phil delves into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it can destroy families, dismantle marriages and leave its victims reliving a nightmare.”

The outcry of the combat-veteran community was based mostly on the stigmatizing and insulting title of the episode, but extended into frustrations that the show did not cover ways to prevent PTSD from becoming so severe, the lack of any resources given to viewers who wished to seek their own diagnosis and treatment, nor any real-life advice on how to cope with PTSD.

I am going to give you a few examples of blog posts written by those within, or outside of, the wounded warrior community:

This is an excellent blog post titled “Monstrosity TV” by Debbie Stanley, the author the “Thoughts In Order” blog.  Debbie speaks about this subject as a mental health counselor and corporate psychologist.  Her grasp of veteran issues is exceptional, considering she is not directly impacted by TBI or PTSD and works in the civilian sector.  The links she provides in her post to outside sources are very valuable, but her words speak the honest truth in a way that everyone can fully understand.  Her comparison to polling a Kindergarten class really nailed it for me.

She writes, in part:

“This post is much simpler: You don’t have to be a licensed mental health professional, or any kind of professional–you don’t even have to be a grown-up–to know it’s harmful to call a person a monster or damaged goods.”

Here is another post worth reading, authored by Brittney Biddle, a wife of a wounded warrior.  Her post titled “From Heroes to Monsters, a Question not an Accusation” is seen on both her blogs, Biddle Buzz and Southern Girls Stand.  Note also, she is also part of the Family of a Vet network of volunteers and serves as their communications liaison.  She brings up great points in her blog post, even after taking a step back from the original shock over the title of the show.

She writes from experience with the following:

“The comment out of the whole show that disturbed me most was the one in which he stated that the service members returning from war are “damaged goods”. I don’t look at my husband as “damaged goods” and for anyone else to think that, refer to our veterans as that, or allow other people to believe that is purely upsetting. I would not want nor would I allow anyone in our lives that even thought for a moment that it would be okay to refer to my husband as “damaged goods”, because he isn’t. He enlisted in the army as an adult, a husband and father to two little girls. He left his family to fight for his country, for what he believed in, to keep those he loves and many others he has never met, safe. By enlisting, he proceeded to do one of the most selfless things a person can do. Him returning someone different, someone injured, someone with the daily battles and struggles of PTSD is NOT “damaged goods” by any means.”

Another great example of the reaction shared by many comes from Kristle Helmuth.  Her unique perspective comes from multiple sides of the issue.  Kristle is a 26 year-old Army veteran, wife of a wounded warrior, and mother of two children. She is the author of Forget The Dog Not The Baby, a blog that shares her personal experiences regarding her husbands injuries in Iraq, and their journey through healing.  She wrote this piece for Military.com’s SpouseBUZZ titled Dr. Phil: PTSD Takes Us “From Heroes to Monsters”.

In this article she writes:

I am really pissed off that CBS and the entire team at Dr. Phil would allow such ignorance to be thrown around about the men and women protecting the very right that allows him to do so. I do not see how titling a show From Heroes to Monsters, could be of any help to anyone.

The last blog I’d like to share with you is authored by Nicole.  Aptly named “Marine Wife Unplugged” she writes about life after her husband was medically evacuated from combat.  Nicole is a huge advocate for military families who battle PTSD and TBI’s, having seen the inner workings of the pain, struggles, anger, fear — and all the symptoms that come with PTSD and TBI’s second-hand.  She believes she has a burden to teach younger women what a real woman looks like and, with God’s help and everything she learns, she longs to teach.

In her blog entry titled “From Heroes to Monsters????” she writes:

“Unjustifiable, Mr Phil. The PTSD community has exhausted itself in the last ten years trying to put civilians at ease and help veterans get jobs, and now… thanks to you, we’re ten steps backwards in that endeavor. Yeah, PTSD itself can be a HUGE burden and feel monstrous, but the people? Um… NO. They’re not monsters. Injured, but not monsters.”

I think you get the picture, right?

As a wife of a 100% PTSD rated combat veteran, I took exceptional offense to his ratings-driven method in which to profit off of those who are suffering with the symptoms and stigma of PTSD. I was also incredibly alarmed at the advice found with the only resource recommended for viewers seeking help with PTSD.

The show introduced Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairman of the Dr. Phil’s PTSD Advisory Board and author of The PTSD Breakthrough.  Normally I would link to the book itself to cite my source, but in this case I don’t dare direct anyone to it because it is just that bad.

In Dr. Lawlis’s book, he claims his PTSD treatment recommendations are “science-based.” There is a little bit of science in the book, but he doesn’t provide references, and most of what he writes is not supported by any peer-reviewed studies. Much of it is pure fantasy.

He states the obvious by pointing out that someone who suffers from PTSD needs plenty of sleep, fresh air, and a healthy, vitamin-enriched diet. However, the book continues into dangerous territory by recommending a combat veteran with PTSD go on a vision quest, much like American Indians used to do. Vision quests require spending 7 days alone with no intake but water until a symbol appears in your consciousness.  If that advice wasn’t dangerous enough, Dr. Lawlis also goes into advice bordering on the absurd.

In his book he claims the use of chewing gum and mouthwash are critical to the recovery process.

He says:

…the research on chewing gum to relieve stress is pretty impressive. The act of chewing gum pumps healing blood into the frontal lobe, where executive functions are controlled, and into your temporal lobe, where stressful emotions are found. There is clear evidence that stress is reduced by as much as 50 percent by chewing gum, and you may gain some IQ points while you’re at it.

Not seeing any of these studies cited in his book, I went looking for these studies myself. I did find some studies showing chewing gum reduces stress, like this one funded by a gum manufacturer, but I wouldn’t characterize the research as “clear evidence” or “50%” or “increasing the IQ” or as “pretty impressive.”

Now I am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to play one on TV like Dr. Phil does (Debbie Stanley linked in her blog to Dr. Paul G. Mattiuzzi (who is a licensed psychologist) who wrote a detailed blog post explaining why McGraw is able to do what he does on TV without a license) but I DO know enough to know that chewing gum also increases blood pressure, a greater health risk in the end.  And let’s compound the issue by noting some types of chewing gum contain artificial sweeteners, which also increases blood pressure.

I may know these things due to my love for research and fact-finding, but unfortunately people with cognitive disabilities due to PTSD or TBI probably won’t.

So much for expert advice, eh?

Here is another one of his “science based” recommendations:

…Another easy technique you can do is to use a powerful mouth rinse. If you have bacteria working in your gums, it can create bad results for the rest of your body. Anything you eat can be affected by this [sic] bacteria, and you don’t want any bad guys holding up the train to recovery.

Oh, yes…let’s just share one more example.  Here’s a doozy regarding light therapy for brain injuries.

He claims the path to a cure for brain injuries is as simple as plugging in a light bulb.

“All you have to do is go down to your friendly hardware store and buy a 25 or 40 watt blue light bulb and plug it into a lamp. Have your blue light in your room for about ten to fifteen minutes and you are tuning your brain for the day.”

He also recommends treatment for PTSD by having a colon cleanse, breathing through alternate nostrils, beating drums to find your “power song”, picking an animal to symbolize you and decide which color best represents you (among other Twilight Zone tactics.)

What thee fuck, people?  The man is a quack as far as I am concerned!

Veterans already have difficulty finding or accepting help due to their diagnosis and symptoms of PTSD. The stigma makes it even harder to get treatment, obtain affordable and stable housing, find employment or explore options for other community services. The label of “monster” just further complicates matters in a world of civilians who fear the pumped-up media image of people who suffer from war-related PTSD. Caregivers also have a tough time combating the stigma, especially when they are the ones who usually fight the hardest for their veteran’s care and benefits.

PTSD is a difficult condition to treat, and offering hope for recovery is actually a good thing. However, offering false hopes for untested treatments under the pretense that they are “science” is reprehensible. The heartbreaking thing is that suffering patients may delay getting professional help while they experiment with useless detoxification rituals, chewing gum, and pop psychology nonsense.

Here’s my final thought on this issue, as written on my Facebook page:

He gets kudos for outlining the struggles, but I am furious he used the word “Monsters” to describe our nation’s heroes in order to gain ratings, thus adding more of a stigma to those with PTSD. As a clinician, he knows better. I just wish Dr. Phil would get his head out of his @$$ and not do more harm than good. :(

Clearly, the wounded warrior community deserves much more than what they received today through the two so-called Doctor Experts on the Dr. Phil Show.  And, as Phil McGraw said in his program, “Most people don’t get it.”  Well said, Mr. Phil.  You clearly don’t get it.

I responded to the show with my own video outlining my thoughts regarding the disservice this episode brings to the military community and to viewers across America, as seen here on YouTube.

Dr. Phil, you owe our American heroes an apology. We figured it’s the least you could do.

Do you agree or disagree with Dr. Phil’s title for the show?  Do you feel he should apologize to the public for his choice of words?  Do you want to tell CBS and Dr. Phil’s sponsors how you feel?  (You can find the contact list here)  If you do, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.  I’d love to see what you have to say!


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PenFed “Hero at Home” finalists have been announced!

Since I last wrote about the PenFed Hero at Home Contest where I wrote a letter to PenFed explaining how their contest was a catch-22 based on the award listed on their website, this is what has happened…and now I need your help! 

PenFed contacted me and thanked me for pointing out the error on their site.  It has been changed to show that both the caregiver AND veteran will receive an all-expense paid trip to DC for the gala and will also receive a $1500 gift card from American Express.  Now that their website has been updated, I took the time to nominate Sara Shaw via this video:

Today they announced the six finalists via their Facebook page and YouTube account.  They said:

The judging committee has selected six finalists for the PenFed Foundation’s Hero at Home Video Contest and featured them here on this playlist. Now you, the public, will decide on the winner. Show your support for your favorite contestant by clicking on the video and then the thumbs up icon below the video by noon EST on April 23, 2012. The winner will be officially announced by 6 p.m. on that same day.

Here is where I need your help!  I am thrilled to announce that my video nomination for Sara Shaw worked and she is now one of the finalists!  PLEASE click on the video LINKED BELOW and click the “THUMBS UP” button (seen under the video via YouTube) to vote for her! And, PLEASE SHARE and encourage others to do the same. There are wonderful candidates for this event, so go check all six videos out and cast your vote!

After I posted a link via my Facebook Page announcing Sara’s nomination, some really great comments came in that support why Sara is so deserving.  Here are just a couple I’d like to share:

Karen wrote:

She was the first person who ever reached out to me when Dean got hurt! I joined a couple of groups on facebook and she was interested in my story…then got me involved in a weekly, live, online support group…she never stopped caring about what we were going through and one day I can’t wait to meet her!

And Barbara wrote:

Sara did the same for me when I finally found out that wives groups existed for us!

And on YouTube, this comment was added too:

Sara was so good to me when I first discovered the world of Wounded Warrior Wives and Caregivers. (Of which I am both.) She befriended me, offered support, information, a shoulder to cry on, someone to share our triumphs with. Sara did all of this while being a Wounded Warrior Wife and Caregiver herself, as well as a mom to two young children. Sara is so deserving of this honor and I hope that you will vote for her!

Like I said in my video nomination, I could nominate hundreds of caregivers and they are all so very deserving, but Sara really stands out and I wanted to make sure she was recognized. We are just so thankful that Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation is recognizing caregivers…can’t wait to see who wins!

 


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PenFed Foundation “Hero at Home” Contest Recognizes Caregivers

I am sharing this contest with my fellow caregivers and encourage you to apply. I am also sharing the letter I wrote to the PenFed Foundation that explains how this award is a catch-22 for many caregivers.  I encourage everyone who may not be able to apply for the same reasons…to let them know why.  ;)

From their website:

About the Hero at Home Video Contest

The PenFed Foundation is holding a video contest to find a caregiver of a wounded veteran who will be honored as the “hero at home” at its Eighth Annual Night of Heroes Gala this May. And you, the public, will help choose the winner on YouTube.

We are honored to recognize the caregivers who sacrifice to care for our nation’s wounded.  We want to hear your story —told by you – through a video.  The winner will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., and receive the “Hero at Home” award at the PenFed Foundation’s Eighth Annual Night of Heroes Gala on May 24, 2012. This year’s gala will honor family and friends who have cared for or are currently caring for a wounded service member or veteran while they are recuperating from the hospital or after they have returned home.

You can APPLY HERE:

http://penfed.convio.net/site/PageNavigator/2012_Hero_at_Home_Contest_Page.html

Here is my letter:

Hello,

I wanted to applaud and thank you for your Hero at Home contest. I am recognized as a tier-3 caregiver by the VA and care for my husband on a fulltime basis due to injuries he sustained in combat. Caregivers have historically been dismissed and ignored for their roles. For that, I thank you for recognizing caregivers through your foundation.

I wanted to just say that there is a catch-22 that you may not have realized with your program that hopefully in future years you may put into consideration. The fact is, I learned about your program when someone wanted to nominate me. Unfortunately, I cannot consider applying for your award because I cannot leave my husband for any period of time (much like the majority of caregivers), and it appears the prize only allows for the caregiver to attend the award ceremony. That puts a significant limitation on the caregivers you are trying to recognize. I am sure you’ll find a very deserving caregiver, but that caregiver will likely have less burden than those of us who care for our veteran 24/7.

Had the program allowed my husband to attend at no additional cost and had my husband not been housebound like he is, it would have been a consideration.

This is not meant as criticism; rather, as feedback and sincere thanks for recognizing us for our role.

Hopefully this could be considered as one of our obstacles to overcome in future years.

Thank you again,

Torrey Shannon
www.TorreyShannon.com

UPDATE:  PenFed contacted me and thanked me for pointing out the error on their site.  It has been changed to show that both the caregiver AND veteran will receive an all-expense paid trip to DC for the gala and will also receive a $1500 gift card from American Express.  Now that their website has been updated, I took the time to nominate Sara Shaw via this video, which was chosen as a finalist! 


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Do you know the one question you probably shouldn’t ask a combat veteran?

I am going to share a fairly controversial topic, not so much to create arguments but to help others see how a simple question can be inappropriate. My comments will follow below.

@Paul Rieckhoff, founder of @IAVA writes via Facebook:  “People always ask us how many people we killed over there. They never ask us how many people we saved.”

My response to this is:  think about what Paul said.

My husband spent 9.5 years in sniper operations, which is a VERY long time for that MOS. As a result, he saw a lot of action in a lot of countries, in some cases he was “never there” (if you catch my drift.) Because of this, many people unknowingly ask the most inappropriate question:

“So, how many people have you killed?”

He will never tell you, I promise you that. (And at that point I want to smack you for bringing up this horrible trigger for him.) It’s not cool to remind him of how many people he has killed in his career. Why not be appreciative of how many lives he saved instead?

There are books on the market that are centered around how many “kills” a service member performed. They quote numbers and take titles of “the deadliest sniper in history”. Carlos Hathcock comes to mind, as he was famous in Vietnam and provided cutting-edge tactics that are still used today.

He should be idolized, but does it have to be for how many kills he had?

There are many veterans out there who use these numbers for publicity purposes, for bragging rights, for fame. Really, in the heat of battle, you aren’t plucking anyone out and keeping tabs. You are just trying to stay alive and protect your men. I’d dare say many of those numbers are inflated. “Confirmed kills” aren’t something to brag about, either.

My husband hit a target at 3600 meters. That’s 2 1/4 miles away! This number is much longer than any documented “shot” made in Iraq that I have ever been able to research. The point I need to make is he didn’t go back to file paperwork to get bragging rights for that shot. He had a mission to complete, not paperwork to submit!

It’s one thing to brag about an awesome shot someone made, but it’s another thing to brag about (or ask about) kills.

My final thoughts:

Those who overtly brag about the number of kills they have were likely getting in the fray for all the wrong reasons. Their answer just fuels people to ask the question elsewhere, like it’s supposed to be part of a polite discussion.

It’s not.

Please don’t ask that question of any veteran. Instead, thank them for how many lives they likely saved.

Thank you. ♥

Question for my military community readers:  Have you dealt with this problem too?

Question for my civilian readers:  Did this question ever cross your mind or come out in conversation?  How did it go?


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Scholarships for Wounded Veterans and Their Families

It’s that time of year to apply for scholarships!

Here are a few scholarship options for disabled veterans or dependents of OEF/OIF veterans injured or killed in the line of duty:

 

1: FOLDS OF HONOR FOUNDATION:

http://www.foldsofhonor.org/scholarships

Eligibility

Eligible applicants must be the spouse or dependent of:

An active duty or reserve soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman killed or disabled in the line of duty.

An active duty or reserve soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman currently classified as a POW or MIA.

A veteran who died of any cause after being classified as having a service-connected disability.

A service member missing in action or captured by hostile forces in the line of duty.

A service member forcibly detained or interned by a foreign power in the line of duty.

A service member who received a Purple Heart Medal.

2. SPREADSHEET OF MANY PROGRAMS ACROSS THE NATION: http://bluestarfam.s3.amazonaws.com/42/38/0/830/bsfscholarshipsaugust2011_sheet1.pdf

Eligibility

Varies by program

3. FREE TUITION at Lipscomb University:

http://www.lipscomb.edu/campuslife/veterans

Eligibility

If you qualify for 100 percent of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (click here for percentages), Lipscomb University will match dollar-for-dollar the federal government aid provided through the Yellow Ribbon Program. This will allow you to earn any of the degrees in Lipscomb’s Yellow Ribbon Program tuition-free.

UPDATE!  (This next one was added thanks to Kristle Helmuth, the author of the blog “Forget the Dog, Not the Baby“:) )

4.  Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund:  http://www.fascholarship.com/qualifications/

Eligibility

Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund applicants must be one of the following:

  • The dependant son or daughter of a U.S. Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Guardsman or Marine who has become permanently disabled as a result of an operational mission or training accident.
  • The dependant son or daughter of a U.S. Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Guardsman or Marine who has been killed in action.
  • The dependant son or daughter of a U.S. Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Guardsman or Marine who has been classified as a Prisoner of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA).

All applicants must also meet the following eligibility requirements in order to qualify for a Freedom Alliance scholarship.

  • Currently in their senior year of high school, a high school graduate or a currently enrolled full time undergraduate student.
  • Under the age of 26 at the time of application.

 UPDATE AGAIN!

Found another option for scholarships that I need to share, as I found in the fine print it is NOT just for active-duty spouses and dependents but for anyone who has served 180+ days after 9-11. Please check it out and pass it along!

From @ThanksUSA via Twitter: Scholarships apps accepted from MilSpouses & Deps through 5/15 apply today at http://www.ThanksUSA.org/

From Barbara Armstrong, who shared even more resources (thanks!):

If you know of other programs available, I’d love to hear from you by sharing your own resource links in the comments section below!


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Torrey’s Top 10 Recommended Veteran Nonprofits

 

Over the years, I have come in contact with nonprofits who go above and beyond the call of duty to assist OEF/OIF (Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom) wounded veterans and their families in their road to recovery.  I have composed a list of my top 10 recommendations in no particular order. 

If you are an Iraq/Afghanistan veteran in need of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact them and tell them that I sent you.  If you have received assistance through these programs, please comment below and share your experiences with others.  Your feedback is appreciated!

If you would like to provide support for these organizations, be assured that your tax-deductible donations will be put to good use.  You will see why I recommend each one in my notes below.  Donors need to use due diligence when choosing reputable nonprofits, as many programs are scamming you for your hard-earned dollars and/or not helping veterans as much as you may think.  If ever in doubt, visit www.guidestar.org to research any nonprofit you choose to support.

You do not need to donate money to support these programs!  You can visit their website to learn about volunteer opportunities.  It won’t take much on your part to make a world of difference for a wounded hero and his/her family.

NOTE TO PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE SUPPORTERS:  I also encourage you to do business with the sponsors of each of these organizations, as listed on each of their websites.  Your everyday purchases will further their support and not cost you anything extra.  In many cases, you may even find a discount or benefit, such as one example found via  the partnership of Spark Energy and Helping a Hero.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

Your recognition of each of these programs is greatly appreciated in more ways than one.  God bless you all…

Name of Organization: Type of Assistance provided: Website:
Challenge America Resource Directory/Resource Coordination http://challengeamerica.com/
Challenge Aspen Adaptive Sports http://www.challengeaspen.org/
Helping a Hero Adaptive Housing http://www.helpingahero.org/
Operation First Response Emergency Financial http://operationfirstresponse.org/
Operation Second Chance Emergency Financial http://operationsecondchance.org/
Impact a Hero Emotional and Financial http://impactahero.org/
Operation Recover Retreats and Resources http://oprecov.org/
Operation Homefront Emergency Financial http://www.operationhomefront.net/
Disabled Sports, USA Adaptive Sports http://dsusa.org/
Team River Runner Adaptive Sports http://teamriverrunner.org/

Torrey’s Notes and Disclosures:

Challenge America:  I have been serving on the Challenge America Leadership team since their inception in 2009 because I believe in this program, their mission and the people within it.  My family and I have also served as panelists for this program during Operation Yellow Ribbon at Lipscomb University.  I am not a paid spokesperson so I receive no direct benefit from your donations.  Their dedication to American veterans and their families are evident through programs such as Operation Yellow Ribbon, along with partnerships with DailyStrength.org and ShareCare.com.  Their resource directory will list resources only after they have been vetted, which is the first I’ve seen done on any resource directory.  They’ve got their priorities, and their hearts, in all the right places.  You can watch a video about their program, hosted by Charlie Daniels, Gretchen Wilson, Kix Brooks and Amy Grant by following this link:  http://www.hulu.com/watch/210237/challenge-america

Challenge Aspen:  I first came into contact with Challenge Aspen while my husband was a patient at Walter Reed in 2005.  Their Colorado-based program specializes in adaptive sports therapy and focuses on one’s abilities, not the disability.  They have programs for both male and female veterans and their families all year long.  They taught my husband that life was not over, it was just beginning!  They are the reason why we chose to move to Colorado:  to further my husband’s recovery.  We have participated in multiple programs, both winter and summer, and actively work with them to refer veterans in need so they, too, can benefit as much as we have from this program.  I am not paid by Challenge Aspen for the collaborative work I provide to help their program reach out to more veterans.  Organizations like Sopris Therapy Services in Carbondale, CO contribute their services during the Horses for Heroes program, our favorite session of the year!  You can read more about what Challenge Aspen has done for our family and others by reading this article:  A Healing Adventure, Aspen Style

Helping a Hero:  I first met Meredith Iler, the founder and Chairman of the Board of Helping a Hero, during Operation Yellow Ribbon in 2009.  When you Google Meredith, you’ll find a picture of Wonder Woman.  (I am not kidding!)  She and her dedicated board of directors receive no pay for their work, a testament of their dedication to their heroes and donors.  Since we’ve met, I’ve referred a veteran/family of six to her program to receive a home they desperately needed and help them integrate into a supportive community.  In doing so, Meredith identified our own family having unmet needs and immediately went to work in addressing them.  We attended the Helping a Hero Gala as honored guests and recipients of their program and spoke at Six Flags Great America during the Spark Energy Helping a Hero day on September 17, 2011.  We are honored that this program would give back to so many families in meaningful and tangible ways.

Operation First Response:  This was the very first program to reach out to Dan and our family when we were living at the Mologne House (hotel) at Walter Reed.  Five to a tiny hotel room with two double beds and no kitchenette, we were washing our clothes in the bathtub and eating two meals a day because we could not afford the basics.  Peggy Baker, an ANGEL in my mind, found me sobbing in the corner because I just couldn’t deal with the stress of our situation that particular day.  They are responsible for providing the money we needed to get our marriage license and remarry at the courthouse.  Later, in 2009, they helped us transition in our move to Colorado.  I have since referred many veterans to their program and they are always willing to help.  I owe them so many thanks!  They literally changed our future with one small gesture of support. 

Operation Second Chance:  This is another of the “first” programs that were formed early in the war and have been consistently delivering support for about seven years.  I met Cindy McGrew, the OSC founder, while she was toting bags and bags of canned goods, supplies and items to provide comfort through the Malogne House.  The contents of the bags weighed more than she did!  In 2005 her program chose our family to sponsor as “Secret Santa” to provide Christmas for our family.  We had no means of our own at that time, and they created memories for us that we will never forgot.  They have also helped us transition in our move to Colorado and have gladly helped dozens of veterans that I have referred to their program.  They are truly making a difference every day!

Impact a Hero:  My husband met Dick Lynch while we were at Walter Reed and spoke fondly of him as a mentor and source of emotional support.  Dick never forgot about Dan, even after he left Walter Reed and kept in touch with him.  It wasn’t until 2009 at Operation Yellow Ribbon that I finally got to meet Dick and give him a hug to say, “Thank you” in return.  His program helped our family transition in our move to Colorado and continues to help high-risk veterans that we’ve identified and referred to their program. 

Operation Recover:  This is a newer organization that is doing great things by providing resources and retreats to veterans and their families.  Wendy Walker, a hero in my book and the founder of Operation Recover, has a dedication unmatched by anyone I know.  Her understanding of TBI and PTSD is very in-depth, and her program works tirelessly to reach out to high-risk cases with extremely positive outcomes.  I highly recommend anyone to this program!

Operation Homefront:  Operation Homefront is a large organization that serves the entire nation.  They are responsible for placing a homeless family that I referred into transitional housing and have helped us in our transition to Colorado.  With chapters in every state, their assistance is only a phone call or email away.

Disabled Sports, USA:  This is the parent organization for many adaptive sports programs, founded long before the war began.  They provide opportunities through their program and for smaller programs to offer adaptive sports therapy on many levels.  Thanks to this program, either directly or indirectly, they have given Dan and our family the chance to “live” again through activities such as water skiing, whitewater paddling, snow skiing and many other forms of therapy.  I highly recommend sports therapy to anyone with a disability.  This program makes it possible.

Team River Runner:  Joe Mornini is, in our opinion, a saint.  A school teacher by trade, he formed Team River Runner at the first influx of combat wounded coming in to Walter Reed.  Dan was one of the first Team River Runner paddlers to join the program and now 7 years later we are all one large family!  Dan has since started his Class 3 water rescue certification and their program now spans the nation in VA centers everywhere.

Please note that there are WAY more than ten nonprofits that I recommend, so not seeing a nonprofit on this list does not constitute a lack of endorsement from me.  You can look at my sidebar for additional mentions of nonprofits that are doing great things for veterans.  Examples include www.veteranaid.org, www.avbi.org, and resource sites such as www.vawatchdogtoday.comIf ever in doubt, feel free to comment below to ask about my experiences (both good and bad) with other organizations!


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Most Americans Want to Support Troops, They Just Don’t Know How

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post on 9/27/11 @01:07 PM ET

Torrey Shannon

Advocate, Writer/Blogger, Speaker, wife of a Wounded Warrior

Most Americans Want to Support Troops, They Just Don’t Know How

 Posted: 9/27/11 01:07 PM ET

Earlier this month during a media interview, I was asked the question “Are Americans supportive of our troops?” My answer was two-fold: Yes, and no.

After 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, our troops are coming home from war to a difficult economy, staggering foreclosure rates (many of which were illegal), threats of cuts to the military and to veteran benefits and high levels of unemployment.

Veterans and military members are in a crisis now more than ever before.

I explained in this interview that there is a huge disconnect between our military and the American public, which is quite palpable to those of us within the military community. I have noted through each passing year people have detached themselves from the war, opting to watch the latest media coverage highlighting celebrity temper tantrums, red-carpet attire or the latest royal wedding. I believe we are using reality TV to escape from the realities of what is going on in our very own communities. Even the media outlets have pulled away from covering the news about this war.

At the same time, I also explained that a decade of war also means more people have been directly affected in some way or another and cannot escape their need for support. More and more Americans are related to, or know, someone who has been injured in life-altering ways. Many thousands more are directly affected by combat casualties and the ever-increasing suicide rate.

Less than 1% of our American population is serving in the military. The other 99% of Americans must — and need — to do their part. A yellow ribbon bumper sticker just won’t cut it anymore.

This economy has restricted the frequency or amount of donations given to veteran nonprofits by the general public. This adds to the dilemma.

I believe Americans want to help, they just don’t know how … or simply believe they can’t.

As the wife and full-time caretaker of a severely-injured veteran, I take note of those who truly support our troops. I know which programs are serving veterans effectively. I also know which ones are not. There have been times where we were exploited by a self-purported nonprofit after finding my husband’s picture on their website. Brazenly, they were requesting donations for our family. We did not solicit their help to begin with. Whatever donations were given, we never saw a dime. I wasn’t worried about whether we’d get the money; rather, I was worried that people had given in good faith to a scam and would never know what happened to their money.

Americans must have due diligence when it comes to sharing their hard-earned money with nonprofits, fictional or real. Most people don’t even realize there are many options to support our troops without having to give blindly.

In fact, I happen to know there is a way to give and receive at the same time.

Last month, my husband and I were honored at the Helping a Hero Gala in Houston, Texas. We were accompanied by Laura Bush who presented us and 20 other families with a “Welcome Home” key. This was a gesture that meant the world to us in many ways. When my husband was injured, there were no parades. We had no home to go to.

Our struggles didn’t end when we left the hospital. They had only just begun. Seven years after my husband’s injury, we are finally getting to a point where we can pick up the pieces and “get on with our life” once again.

We are incredibly thankful for the support of programs like HelpingaHero.org. Had it not been for their program, we would not be where we are today. Here is a great video to learn more about this year’s gala and the HelpingaHero.org program:

I want Americans to know how to support our troops.

This brings me to my point that there are ways you can give and receive if you truly want to help.

Earlier this year, Spark Energy partnered with HelpingaHero.org to launch the Power for Heroes plan. When you sign up for the Power for Heroes plan, Spark Energy will donate a portion of your electric bill to Helping a Hero. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy a special low rate while helping fund critical services for wounded veterans.

Having been on the receiving end of this type of support, this is a program that makes sense for every American who wants to support our troops.

I hope the next time I am asked, “Are Americans supportive of our troops?” I can reply with a resounding YES.

For more information or to sign up for the Power for Heroes plan, go to sparkenergy.com/TROOPS or call 877-547-7275 and ask for the Power for Heroes plan.

For more information about HelpingaHero.org, visit their website at www.helpingahero.org.

Follow Torrey Shannon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TorreyLisa

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