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Saturday, December 6, 2014

'One Night,' Charles Fuller's Play Holds Truisms About PTSD That Relate to Fergurson and NYC

Corporal Horace Lloyd (Grantham Coleman) and Sargent Alicia G. (Rutina Wesley) in Charles Fuller’s One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre until December 15th, 2013. Photo courtesy of Broadway

I am revisiting the issue of PTSD as revealed in an important play which dealt with it on a powerful level in Charles Fuller's One Night. I am sorry to say that this magnificent production was forced to close early because of the lack of support for it. When I went to Paris earlier this year, a retired French official who worked as a liason for the arts in Louisiana discussed an interesting point about French playwrights and audiences. He said that they enjoyed plays with a message, plays that had powerful themes, plays that established advocacy. The French preferred not to watch frivolous entertainment and especially did not want to pay excessive prices for it. If Fuller's play had been produced in France, most probably it would have had a longer run. It never found its fans in New York and it should have because the protests now are indirectly related to returning vets, the culture of war, PTSD, racism and stresses which cause brutality instead of peace.

It is well known that are veterans are returning home, in record numbers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Though they may be physically whole and appear well on the outside, they may be emotionally and mentally ravaged by the killing zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. What happens even after they’ve received treatment and drug interventions? Will they ever be able to deal or heal? And do any of these Vets ever go onto our police forces in the nation?

The stresses of PTSD for returning Vets highlighted the basic theme of One Night, Charles Fuller’s searing and solidly crafted drama about the impact of the emotional wounds of war which continually upend our veterans’ abilities to live peaceful, regular lives outside war zones. Fuller’s powerful character portrayals of vets, Corporal Horace Lloyd (in a sterling performance by Grantham Coleman), and Sargent Alicia G. (a powerful, engaging and emotionally driven Rutina Wesley) riveted the audience, building complexity throughout the play to the stark conclusion. Fuller’s brilliant writing with each stroke and in each scene strengthened the basic premise and pounded out a theme of even greater relevance: women’s service in the military and their treatment by their fellow soldiers.

 Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of A Soldier’s Play, created immediate tension at the outset. Vets Horace and Alicia burst through the door of a seedy motel room without clothing or any belongings, save Horace’s manila envelop holding a few documents. We learn they’ve barely escaped from a fire in a shelter where they had been living. They were given this room to spend the night until they receive better accommodations. The motel keeper is a predatory type (a beautifully realized performance by Cortez Nance Jr.) whom, we note, is salivating at the presence of disheveled, discomposed Alicia.

We understand that they have landed in one of “those” motels and we understand that Horace is going to have to protect Alicia in this untenable situation from the leering Meny and any others. Alicia is vulnerable and emotionally debilitated; PTSD has backed her into a corner and she can barely make it to the next minute without cringing at the hallucinations of the Sandbox (jargon for the Iraq desert) with visits from an intrusive medic and others. Though Horace also suffers PTSD and has the shakes, he appears to be stronger and is in the lead. He controls their relationship. She is completely dependent upon him for her care, her understanding of their current reality, the situation they find themselves in, and how they are going to get through this one night in this menacing motel.

As they try to settle in and get some rest, the conflicts abound; we come to understand the depth of the trauma they’ve suffered and will continue to suffer, manifested by the content of the flashbacks, hallucinations and their anxiety. Aggression and the potential for violence flares up from their unconscious. The hellish incidents are triggered by seemingly mundane and benign factors. They try to deal; they are on meds. However, their, relationship, the nature of which remains opaque, does little to diffuse the tremulous, strained emotional impact they have on each other.

Through interruptions from Meny (who challenges their identity and purpose at the motel), phone calls from a friend of Horace’s, periodic hallucinations each suffers through, a visit from a bellicose sheriff, and incisive questions from the fire marshal, Horace and Alicia become more unhinged. Fuller’s suspenseful, illuminating writing has constructed a psychological relationship between the two vets which we know is headed toward a violent confrontation.
Cortez Nance Jr. (Meny), Sargent Alicia G. (Rutina Wesley), Corporal Horace Lloyd (Grantham Coleman), (left to right) in Charles Fuller’s One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre until December 15th. Photo by Bruce Glikas
 When both are forced to confront what happened to Alicia one night back at the forward operating Base Taylor, it is a revelation that one of them cannot endure. It is a revelation that frees the other. For the audience comes an illumination that shines through the darkness of the military’s complacent corruptions which victimize both men and women vets alike. This is an invisible, nascent corruption born of war, nurtured by wartime alienation and encouraged by a disaffected, closed bureaucracy. It is a corruption which breeds cultural disaffection for our vets. It fosters the notion to our vets that they are being thrown on the slag heap of a refuse pile, after their vitality and substance has been mined through and used up by the military.

The production shouted out these themes and many more through Clinton Turner Davis’ tight, logical direction. The clarity was welcome and we were completely present, on edge, watching to see Grantham Coleman and Rutina Wesley deliver the power of Horace’s and Alicia next unscrambling of emotions. What was a reckoning for the ensemble cast were the very real and believable performances, especially for the leads. Their underlying sense of danger, fear, and torment pitted against their hurt and helplessness brought the audience to a place of empathy. On this night the audience never lost sight of suffering humanity, especially at the conclusion.

This was a powerful production thanks to Davis’ direction and the performances of Grantham Coleman, Rutina Wesley, Cortez Nance Jr. with support by Matthew Montelongo (Army Major, State Trooper, Troop 1, Fire Marshall) and K.K. Moggie (Medic, Lieutenant, Troop 2 Captain/Doctor, Interviewer). It was an important production for its vital performances, its potent messages and its cultural currency.

One Night was presented by The Cherry Lane Theatre and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at the Cherry Lane Theatre under the direction of Angelina Fiordellisi. It was forced to close early.

This review first appeared on Blogcritics and can be read HERE. 


As an addendum, individuals who are in war, like individuals in law enforcement undergo tremendous stresses that are little known and that often are not adequately addressed. In Fergurson and in NYC (the Eric Garner chokehold incident), and in many other incidents across this nation (see Stolen Lives Project which enumerates the number of innocents killed at the hands of police nationally since 1990), police have reacted with excessive force. The horror is not only to the families and innocent victims who have been killed. The horror is how the police individually could have effected such bad judgment to kill in the first place. One of the reasons is most likely fear and stress, PTSD of the type and nature that Vets return home with.

Police are supposed to be "strong," "manly" types. At least that is an image that is conveyed to keep a culture "at bay" and afraid. The irony is that no one addresses the tremendous stresses that law enforcement is under. It reminds one of how Vets returning from WWII were supposed to "man up" and not talk about what they saw. How did many "man up?" They abused their wives, their children. They drank and they turned inward and became isolated. Only now we realize they suffered from PTSD. Patrick Stewart, thankfully came out about this in his own life and has worked tirelessly to help those Vets with PTSD and those families and particularly women who have to be sheltered away from an abusive husband or partner.

Police forces across the nation are incredibly stressed. I would maintain many suffer from PTSD. And it is this that has prompted them to kill many innocents in addition to wrong thinking, racist notions, the "US" vs. "THEM" MO, and their forgetting their true mission, that they are PEACE OFFICERS, whose focus should be to "KEEP AND MAINTAIN THE PEACE."  Instead, psychological and emotional pressures and group think in a police culture of "being manly and not caving to womanish emotion," has made once human individuals into brutes who shoot first then cover up their liabilities afterward.

This must stop. The innocents killed are martyred and become saints mourned by families. The police who "get away with killing" are in the horror of an emotional abyss of brutality for the rest of their lives, WHETHER THEY ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT. The PTSD which is supposed to remain hidden so they are not "sissies," goes left untreated and the possibility is that they may kill again.

Governments must acknowledge this great, silent destroyer that is a product of the stresses of being law enforcement. They must do this by instituting programs that deal with proper training, and psychological protocols to deal with on the job psychic damage. The protocols should be ones that heal officers and return them to human feeling and empathy. The "US" vs. "THEM" attitudes must be debunked for what they are, fear tactics to pump up the adrenalin which ultimately are damaging. We are all human. Police officers are sensitive, feeling people (regardless of the fear of appearing like sissies...they must acknowledge their emotions), above all peace officers. If these issues are not addressed, more of the same will occur. And the individuals in law enforcement above all will be internally impaired for their lives on this earth and perhaps forever.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ability Thinking! A Wake Up Call for the Abled/Disabled. (Which is Which?)

The competitive drive of a vibrant human spirit.

Many individuals with disabilities enjoy active productive lives and in many instances are more vital, determined and ambitious than their abled counterparts. There is no one more "crippled" than a soul that has been damaged for life and will never recover, regardless of the individual's "perfect physical mobility," amount of money, friends, and apparent privileges he or she may enjoy.

Suicide rates of physically "perfect" individuals exist and it is impossible to look back or even begin to fathom what happens in the hearts and minds of those who cannot get out from under themselves when to examine their backgrounds, we might assume that their complaints are miniscule by comparison to those "disabled" who have been given what the "abled" might deem a rough load to carry. It's all in the soul and the mind of the individual. And there for the grace of God go any of us... each his or her own.  You pick the saying you prefer. To misread the true nature of human existence with superficial assumptions that status, money and physical perfection belies soul pain and offsets mental ill health/psychosis should be beyond all of us by now.

That is why when one considers that the essential health of a nation is indicated by how politicians, elites and the powerful "abled" consider the equity of those who are "less abled," then one must conclude that our country is not only horrifically twisted, but is suffering from its own genocidal tendencies. I've come to this conclusion after viewing the government statistics on employment and the disability population. And upon reflection after undergoing familial experiences, I've also come to the conclusion that Congress and the Senate must expand the use of community-based services, demedicalize services and expand consumer directed service options for the disabled, including disabled seniors. Choice must be guaranteed for those whose disabilities require they need long term services. Even though under Obamacare there is a First Choice Option to place individuals in the community, because of lack of knowledge, or advocates to help an individual to find a suitable independent living arrangement, this may take years.

Nursing homes and assisted living centers are less costly if isolated from the community.
Frankly, it irks me to no end that a governing elite and paternalistic leadership refuses or is blind to recognizing what true "ability" is. Clue: it is not physical or material. Unless, we receive a wake up call, we will all suffer in the long run. And the "disability" community and the senior community, including a "young-thinking" AARP membership must really clamor and push hard about employment opportunities and an excellent affordable selection of independent living choices. They are the ones with the intelligence, attitude and determination to get things done, having already accomplished through organization and mobilization. Check out how ADAPT has strengthened the voice and power of the disability community.

First, politicians, leaders, employers must recognize and take into account current statistics on the disabled population. (Some have the vision like Senator Tom Harkin...many do not.) The disability community's numbers will continue to increase as permanently injured vets return home and as an aging population can only resist decreased mobility and modality loss for so long. Of course, that is not taking into account other types of injuries not incurred by war or aging that create disability conditions. The President's State of the Union message was a step in the right direction for the disability community. He must not backpedal on what has been promised.

Photo by Evan Schneider: UN 2012 Advancing Disabled Rts.

Employment Statistics

Statistics in 2012 for those 18-64 living in the community having disabilities show that 32.7% were employed. For the same age group living in the community who did not have disabilities, 73.6% were employed. For those without disabilities living in the community, 40.8% more were employed.  Percentages for those seniors (past 64)  still employed because they couldn't afford to retire were not given, nor were the seniors (past 64) with disabilities. Clearly, we cannot even make any assumptions or conclusions, except that most probably those seniors with disabilities will have a much, much lower employment percentage. These are numbers under the radar, as are those who are undocumented workers.

In 2012, of the 7,142,749 individuals with independent living disabilities ages 18 to 64 years living in the community, 1,102,254 individuals were employed—an employment rate of 15.4 percent.
The employment rate for people with independent living disabilities was highest in Minnesota (27.7 percent) and lowest in Mississippi (10.1 percent).
What is Minnesota doing that we should look at?

AAPD website. Senator Tom Harkin and others via AAPD
 What the figures do not reveal are those with disabilities who might be ABLE TO WORK, if given the opportunity, but who cannot get out of nursing homes or other institutions because they need long term care and because they 1)lack resources-wheelchairs, vans outfitted for accessibility; 2)lack knowledge of how to negotiate the system to get free and live in the community; 3)lack a liaison or advocate to help them become free and help them with getting a job; 4) have mental depression and hopelessness to not even want to try 5) have the belief encouraged by the facility (that values money over the person's needs/desires) that they will be in the nursing home forever.

The current practice when resources are not available is to keep individuals (young and old) in nursing homes and institutions. If there are not enough resources to keep those independently living in the community after Spinal Cord Injury (SPI), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) accidents and other injuries that curtail possibilities for independent living...nursing homes are the current solution. Institutionalization is no real solution. More help is needed to free those from institutions, especially the young whose lives are ahead of them. Even the old (without dementia or Alzheimer's) who are shuffled to institutions for no other reason except someone wants to get rid of them should be allowed a choice.

Regarding both examples, a community setting and independent living arrangement is an option that must be continually created and encouraged. To NOT do so is a waste of intelligence and the preciousness of a human soul. In both instances it is disallowing an opportunity for each to give back and in the case of the young it is cutting off the possibility of their contributing their efforts (taxes, etc.) to the work force. It is also incredibly costly and in the long run will destroy the healthcare system while enriching the government's outsourced nursing home facilities and institutions (kind of like what it has been doing with the prison system).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Hot Wheelchair on the Long Island Railroad

A few weeks ago I took the LI railroad into New York. There was a young gentleman on the train platform waiting for the 6:01 pm. The polar vortex hadn't arrived yet, so there were no clouds flying in with snow dustings or blizzards. But it was still cold and the young man was bundled well with coat and cap. He scrunched into his wheelchair feeding warmth to its frame and taking it back as he hunched over his gaming or texting, or Tweeting, deep into it. What drew me to him were those wheels and that chair! OMG. It was hot, metallic-looking, one of those dark reddish colors. It was high powered with gadgets galore and whippet mobility. I knew he could lean back and do wheelies Vrummming on the straight and wide on a sunny, hot day. I was impressed! That chair was beautiful.

We both got on the train. I positioned myself near him in the car's jump seat as he zipped in, unassisted, ready to rock and roll and answer texts. I saw that's what he was doing. I had to grab his attention during this transfer. Better now than interrupt him when he was texting some honeys.

"Hey, really like your chair." Nodded my head and smiled. "It's cool. Looks like you can make some real speed with it."

My words produced a huge sparkling white grin. "Well, thank you. I manage pretty well with it."

I talked about my cousin who needed a wheelchair because of her arthritis but was too proud and  stubborn to have one. I told him if she saw his, she'd love it and maybe she'd feel better about herself having to use a wheelchair. 

My cousin popped the cork. He poured out some personal details. He hadn't always been in a wheelchair. He said his story was "something." He said it took him a long while to adapt to what happened. He said he was depressed and really down after the reality that he couldn't walk hit him. But then, "things changed."

"Faith really helps you get over those hellish times," I added, nodding my head, inside feeling a bit cautious. I didn't know if I was being lame talking to an atheist. But I ventured 'cause I've learned there are no atheists in wheelchairs. Like there are no atheists in war zone ditches under drone fire. And this applied to him at least on one count. Maybe two.

He assured me he had a lot of faith. That got him through the situation he had been in. I was sooo curious and I listened so intently my forehead must have been crinkled up with my eyes more rounded and larger than their usual smallish shape. I guess my eyes are like beacons signaling the talker. "Go on. I really wanna know what happened."

He said that he relied on God and always prayed. His faith and his family's prayers helped him get out of the grovel he had been in. 

The kid in me popped up and moved my tongue for a question that was personal and way over the line. Somehow I managed to shut up.

He had been in a nursing home for a long while, three years. He didn't go out. He didn't want to go out after a while. 'Cause it was like a prison. And you get institutionalized. There were a lot of guys in there with him who were really down. It was pretty awful. When things changed, he was able to leave and go home. And now he was going to school and playing wheelchair sports and tooling around visiting friends and taking the LIRR and talking to me.

I told him I was a journalist and writer. I wrote articles some about vets and I was concerned the government wasn't doing enough for them. I told him I did what I could to petition all sorts of causes and one of the companies I advocated/wrote for gave people with disabilities their lives back with adaptive vehicles. 

He said he used to drive, loved it, missed it. He was really interested in independence. Driving gave him that and he had renewed his license though he had been held captive in a nursing home. He said he'd love to get behind the wheel.
I told him what everyone knows, how SUVs and cars can be completely transformed for Quads or Paras or people like my cousin: whomever for whatever reason. Now you can match wheels with your wheelchairs. Today, folks can travel as far as they want to wherever. The technology is so advanced, people are only limited by their minds.

He said the guys he had left back in the nursing homes wouldn't go out...were depressed; some wanted to die, thought their lives were over. That's why he'd go back and talk to them, help out, encourage.

We exchanged information. And I told him something maybe I shouldn't have. I told him I'd like to interview him. Have him tell me his story. My readers would be interested to know.

The train had arrived at Penn Station. I shook his hand and we said goodbye. I watched as the conductor (they're called that on the LIRR) walked him off the train. He was taking him to an elevator.

Thinking back to my comment about the interview, I realize those are pretty tight words. Everyone's life is private. Sometimes, you need to just move on and not discuss things. I did learn later what happened.  He was out with friends. Some guys saw his jewelry and he was robbed. And he was shot. The bullet left him a C 4-5 Quad. 

Though he hasn't gotten in touch with me, I always will remember JF. That day I met him was his birthday. I thought the interview might be a sort of present.  But upon reflection, I see it is the reverse. I think he is God's present to me and to the world.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

PTSD: THE WAR AT HOME. There is Help Being Offered at Omega Institute


PTSD can't be eradicated, but it can be mitigated. We are fighting a war in the U.S. If our soldiers come back with PTSD, then the citizens also are dealing with PTSD. It's as simple as that and Americans should no longer put their heads in the sand and pretend that they are not being impacted by the war abroad. It is here and we feel it as our soldiers and wounded warriors return home and attempt to deal.

For those with PTSD, sometimes it seems hopeless and worthless to even try to get to the next day. There is always hope and despite what it "seems," many people care. Do not believe those lies the mind sometimes screams out about aloneness and loneliness. If you reach out there is always help and you will find those who will listen. First, you have God. Second, you have yourself. If you don't believe in God, that's OK. You have a wonderful person, yourself. Third, there is a tremendous network of helpers. They are listed in my previous blog post about PTSD. 

One of the listings was the Omega Institute. Check out this press release about an upcoming conference that is going to make a difference in the lives of all who attend it. Hope you can make it or send someone there  to hear the speakers. If this conference doesn't fit into your schedule, check their website. They will have other offerings.

The following PRESS RELEASE is from Chrissa J. Pullicino, Public Relations Manager for Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Reaches Epidemic Levels Among Veterans

Omega Offers Alternative Treatment Options for Health-Care Professionals

RHINEBECK, NY – According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 percent of Iraqi War veterans, and 11 percent of those returning from the war in Afghanistan, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mental health issues among service members have reached a crisis level. The Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration have recognized the gravity of this epidemic and are now actively supporting mind-body modalities, from yoga to mindfulness practice, as a complement to traditional drug and talk therapies for veterans.

“The number of veterans suffering from PTSD is alarmingly high, and growing on a daily basis. Suicide, homelessness, drug use, and spousal abuse are just a few of the ways that PTSD affects veterans and their loved ones. For more than 20 years, Omega has provided programs to support the healing of veterans and affected family members,” said Carla Goldstein, chief external affairs officer. “Our Veterans, Trauma & Treatment conference helps provide new tools for treatment so more veterans can experience healing.”

Veterans, Trauma & Treatment is an unprecedented gathering of experts in resiliency, trauma, and the treatment of trauma for veterans using complementary and alternative medicine. Health-care professionals, psychologists, social workers, caregivers, and counselors working with veterans suffering with PTSD and their families are welcome.

The Veterans, Trauma & Treatment conference begins on Friday, October 18 at 8:00 p.m., with an opening keynote by Tracy Gaudet, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, followed by a keynote from Dr. Peter Levine, whose international best seller, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, has been translated into twenty-two languages. Throughout the weekend, conference participants will explore the best ways to use mind-body modalities to treat veterans who suffer with trauma.

In addition to hearing keynote talks from ten expert presenters, participants can choose from a variety of workshops, including mindfulness-based stress reduction, adaptive yoga for traumatically injured service members, the Social Resilience Model for healing communities with trauma, and attachment-based family interventions. Each workshop and keynote presentation has distinct learning objectives for the participants. The conference will end with a keynote address by Col. Richard R. Petri, MD, the chief of Physical Medicine and Integrative Health Services at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Omega welcomes anyone who seeks professional information on the mind-body modalities that the military is currently exploring. Continuing education credits are available.

For more details or to register, please visit or call 800.944.1001.

A limited number of media passes are available. Photography restrictions may apply. To apply for a media pass, visit

About Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
Founded in 1977, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is the nation's most trusted source for wellness and personal growth. As a nonprofit organization, Omega offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. Located on 200 acres in the beautiful Hudson Valley, Omega welcomes more than 23,000 people to its workshops, conferences, and retreats in Rhinebeck, New York, and at exceptional locations around the world.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

PTSD, The Ongoing War.

Courtesy of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Center for PTSD website
 When my friend's brother (I'll refer to him as Sam) returned from Iraq, he stayed in isolation in his room for some months, only leaving to meet infrequently with a few friends. He ate his meals in his room and watched TV and that was it. He rarely changed his clothes and he wore the same bandanna day in and day out. One day, his mom, my friend, said something about it. Sam, raged at her, screaming, "My buddy got blown up in front of me and it's his blood I'm wearing. Nobody washes this."

His mom said nothing more; she understood as did his siblings and his dad. He took off the bandanna when he was ready months later; it remained unwashed and blood soaked, hanging on a dresser mirror for over a year. Then he finally burned it on his own one night.

That first year back home, Sam was on the wrong medication, either too little or too much. The psychiatrist recommended to his parents by his family doctor did not completely understand PTSD. He didn't follow the best protocol for a returning vet. Sam was taking 10 meds with varying side effects that had to be counteracted by additional meds. It was a new situation for psychiatrists and their diagnosis at the time was spotty.  (It has since improved). He was physically ill and emotionally distraught, exacerbated all the more by those around him who could still smile and laugh and take pleasure in ridiculous things.

During that first year, Sam resisted counseling. His physical and mental condition worsened. He got into fights and during one of them, broke a bottle and threatened a group of young men in a parking lot. He was arrested and faced charges for fighting with a deadly weapon, though he was defending himself and the buddy who was with him. His family hired a lawyer and he pleaded guilty and paid fines and worked community service, his background figured in the sentence. Unable to  work, he found little purpose in his life, but unlike the soldier in the film, The Hurt Locker, he could never go back and serve in the military for another tour. He had seen enough.

Toward the end of that first year home, Sam met up with another returning vet who implored him to go to the V.A. for help. "They would understand," he said. It was a good thing. The V.A. doctor who examined Sam immediately took him off eight of the meds and told him his kidneys were in toxicity and if it wasn't stopped, he'd have to go on dialysis. Sam went into group, saw a therapist and joined other counseling sessions. Eventually after a few years, he was able to recover and find purpose in his life helping other returning vets. But the young, enthusiastic man who went off to preserve this country from terrorism vanished as if in a dream. He and his family will feel the impact of his time in Iraq for the rest their lives. But in this knowing, Sam is able to greatly help others who are returning to a culture that often doesn't understand and appears to be callous toward them in the extreme.

Oftentimes, the family suffers along with the veteran. Patrick Stewart in a poignant revelation discussed how his father, who fought during WWII, abused him and his mother. Years later Stewart was told by an expert in the field that his father was suffering from PTSD and because he was never treated, it never left him. In the 1940s, this severe physical and psychological condition was known by the benign euphemism as "shell shock," and vets were left to handle their condition on their own, as they "bucked up and were men." Because of Stewart's traumatized childhood in remembrance of his father he supports the non profit UK organization Combat Stress and for his mother, Refuge, a non profit organization which gives women and children a SAFE refuge from violent partners/ spouses.

As is suggested in Sam's story, when vets came back from the war in Iraq, they were dislocated and the culture and doctors outside the VA were widely clueless even inattentive about PTSD. As a result of celebrity media attention, films, unfavorable and alarming statistics, tragic events and many vets speaking out, there has been forward momentum in educating the public and the medical profession about the traumatic physical and psychological burdens vets face coming home. Currently, in the United States as in the UK, with the help of vocal veterans, family members and celebrities bringing funds and awareness, non profits and branches of the military have created initiatives and programs some of which are on the forefront of new strategies to help vets recover from PTSD. Some of the following initiatives and organizations you may have heard of. Others I introduce here are innovative approaches helping vets deal with PTSD, including one I recently became aware of this weekend.

Non Profit Organizations:
1. The Wounded Warrior Project
The WWP helps vets recovering from severe physical and emotional injuries. It has done much to inform and expose the maiming severity of PTSD as a soul and spirit injury for vets like Sam, some who may return without physical injuries. The Wounded Warrior Program has a number of programs.
Courtesy of the Wounded Warrior Project website
  • Combat Stress Recovery Program.  The "Combat Stress Recovery Program," helps returning warriors deal with mental health and cognitive needs. The beauty of the program is that it provides services at key stages during a warrior's readjustment process. The program approaches PTSD and combat/operational stress from the warrior's perspective. The "stigma" associated with mental health, access to care and challenges to interpersonal relationships is overcome by understanding the situation of war and combat that soldiers face in the field. 
  •  The "Restore Warriors" website offers immediate engagement and feedback online in the privacy of one's home. The site offers a brief self-assessment tool if warriors want to get in touch with where they are in their emotional present. An online help tool offers warriors proactive self-help exercises for each element related to the following: stress, relationships, loss, self-esteem, betrayal, shame and guilt, self-care. Professional help contacts are given on the site and a warrior is a click away from a Live Chat or phone call with another warrior. Videos of warriors are also given with their stories, impressions and struggles. They are feeling and heartfelt and tie warriors together as a band of brothers helping one another. 
  • Project Odyssey,  is a program which uses nature and the outdoors in a more holistic approach toward recovery. Project Odyssey offers outdoor, rehabilitative retreats that help vets foster connections with the peaceful beauty of natural surroundings. On these retreats vets are able to share activities and experiences with peers, the Odyssey staff and trained counselors. Outdoor, recreational activities include horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, a high ropes course, fishing, skeet shooting, sled hockey and skiing at retreats held in various locations around the country. Vets have the time and opportunity to develop inner strengths and renew their courage to continue recovering and healing from the long war. It has been found that the experiences gained from Project Odyssey allow vets to face the challenges related to combat stress by helping them improve their mental attitudes and outlook. The environment is one of inspiration and encouragement for them "to build new skills, connect with peers, and find support for combat stress among Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) staff and trained counselors."
Courtesy of Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. website

2. Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York is a nonprofit center for lifelong learning.  The Omega Institute, dedicated to awakening the best in the human spirit (since 1977) offers workshops, conferences, R&R retreats and online learning in addition to other programs on their 200-acre campus in the heart of the Hudson Valley. For more than 20 years Omega Institute has supported individuals, vets and family members dealing with PTSD.  This year they are offering a handful of workshops/conferences to address the various needs of military communities, families dealing with PTSD, and professionals working with active duty soldiers or veterans of any war.  In April, Omega Institute hosted a 5-day retreat for vets living with PTSD entitled, "The Costs of War, Violence & Denial" to learn meditation techniques for improved well-being.
Courtesy of Omega Institute Workshops website (Veterans, Trauma & Treatment)

Courtesy of Omega Institute Workshops website
 Mark your calendar for upcoming workshops/conferences being held in October. On October 18-20 Omega will be convening a weekend conference for Health-Care Professionals working with vets and their families:  "Veterans, Trauma & Treatment: Best Mind-Body Practices." The conference is providing information on the cutting-edge mind-body modalities that the military is investigating as a complement to traditional drug/talk programs. From October 20-25, a 5-day workshop is planned for yoga teachers servicing military communities, entitled "Teaching Yoga in Military Communities: Advanced Teaching Skills for Addressing Combat-Related Issues." Additionally, from October 20-25, Omega is offering "Healing from Military Trauma: A Retreat for Military Women and Women Veterans." Tiered pricing and scholarships are offered for many programs.

Courtesy of the Guardians of Rescue website

 3. The Paws of War is a holistic program that provides treatment for the whole person through an intangible relationship with another being. This therapy dog program has been developed by the New York-based group Guardians of Rescue. GoR rescues dogs that either are strays or dogs that have to be left behind by deployed soldiers. The group then trains the dogs to become "buddies" for soldiers returning from the war zone with PTSD. Therapy dogs have been shown to help those with combat stress. The dogs provide comfort, unconditional affection and love. They offer a more potent connection than the isolating human interactions from those in a peacetime culture that little understands warfare and military society,  as has been indicated by vets' increased suicide rates and violent events, some enacted by vets who were attempting to deal with PTSD.
How the program works is the dogs received from shelters are evaluated prior to training to make sure they qualify. Each dog is carefully matched up with their vet/owner and follow up help and training is provided by GoR as well as free transportation and delivery. GoR gives a 100% guarantee with their buddies and will take a dog back if things don't work out. All Paws of War PTSD dogs are certified service dogs. Their certification qualifies them to travel in all public venues (including airlines, taxis, restaurants, etc.) with their military veteran owner as protected through the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Because Guardians of Rescue relies solely on public donations, there is no cost to the veteran.
Courtesy of the Guardians of Rescue website
These rescued dogs rescue their owners by helping restore their connections to civilian life through their love, support and enthusiasm. Vets find their relationship with their dog and caring for their dog makes it easier to get out of the hell of depression, sleeplessness and even pain from disabling physical injuries. Guardian volunteer U.S. Army Corporal John Walis, recovering from PTSD after serving in Afghanistan attests to the healing power of these therapy dogs in his testimony on the Paws of War website.
Courtesy of the Warrior Writers website
 4. Warrior Writers  is a national non-profit to promote recovery from PTSD and other issues military personnel have faced through their writing. Warrior Writers creates a culture that articulates veterans’ experiences. It provides a creative community for artistic expression. Most importantly this organization bears witness of the lived experiences of warriors. Click for Brochure
Courtesy of the Warrior Writers website
 This weekend I had the good fortune to attend "Smashing the Stigma: Female Veterans Take the Stage," which was a one night performance as part of the Women Center Stage Festival at The Culture Project in NYC. Five veterans, members of Warrior Writers from various branches of the military, presented their incredible work, expressing the truth of their experiences: their pain, their struggles, their scars, their triumphs. Five women told their individual stories about war, trauma, rape and motherhood. Most discussed how they are coping with PTSD. The women, Jenny Pacanowski, Susanne Rossignol, Nicole Goodwin, Jennifer Cole and Marie Delus shared personal moments. They revealed how their writings in workshops and in the community of Warrior Writers have enabled them to move forward in their lives, make sense of their journeys and embrace the hardships and the healing, never forgetting the loss, the sacrifice and the selves they left behind in the military and the war they continue to face at home.

Courtesy of the Culture Project /Women's Center Stage Festival website
 It was obvious to me from this performance that the program, Warrior Writers, connects a community of male and female warriors which has reached deep within to a soulful humanity. In the talk back after the performances Sunday night, no one in the audience wanted to leave. Their writings had touched  us in a way that the hollow writings of civilians could never do. It resonated and struck deep into common feelings of life battles along our human travels. Though we may not understand the terrors of combat, we as civilians can empathize with the loneliness, fear and brokenness of the human condition. The recovery they've achieved is ongoing and through their writings they are giving voice to that which has been unspeakable.
 US Military's Innovative Initiatives to Help With PTSD

Because of the mediocre success rate of giving active soldiers meds to cope or sending vets home with bottles of pills and a few therapy sessions to "cure" PTSD, the military, the VA and others have had to rethink such strategies. There are no quick and dirty answers, no facile cures. Many have come to believe that PTSD can be mitigated but never cured. To be effective and deep, the restoration must be gradual, the therapeutic process affirming, empathetic and uplifting. This takes time. There will be set backs. There must be a strong emotional component delivered by like minded individuals who have experienced trauma and who perhaps are farther along in the process to guide, offer a hand when needed and know when to back off when the anger comes until it breaks into the underlying sorrow and eventual reaching out for solace.

Soldiers in active duty who face PTSD need tools to help them regroup emotionally, de-compress and handle high levels of stress more effectively. Holistic and wellness practitioners who employ techniques like yoga, meditation, healing touch, craniosacral therapy, healthy, clean food and cleanses, guided spiritual principles even music therapy,  suggest that these techniques can enhance and restore the broken mind-body connections and return soldiers and vets to a state of increased well being. The military has come to realize the truth of this and has embraced holistic approaches to encourage recovery for active soldiers and for veterans.

1. The Warrior Resilence Center in Fort Bliss, Texas is the Army's premiere PTS treatment facility. It uses alternative medical practices and holistic approaches which have been found to be more effective based on objective data that the Warrior Resilence Center keeps and monitors. There are 14 similar facilities across the Army, including resilience centers in the war zone like The Freedom Restoration Center at Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

However, each program differs because of available local resources and counselors' insights into what appears to be most helpful based upon the individual participants.  The program is four weeks. Soldiers in the program remain assigned to their current units. However, their duty station for four weeks is the Warrior Resilience Center, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The goal is to expose them to a little bit of everything so that, at the end of the four week period, they can help come up with an after-care program.  After  participants have tried all of the alternative treatments, they select which ones they prefer, which ones appear to work best as tools they can rely on to treat the symptoms of PTS and move forward.

The staff of 13 clinical social workers, psychologists, reiki master teachers, licensed massage therapists, an acupuncturist, and a yoga, tai chi and qigong instructor work together as a team to help the Soldiers. In addition to the various alternative treatments which participants select as the most effective, they also receive intensive therapy sessions. They have individual therapy twice a week and group therapy four times a week. According to social workers it is common to hear families praise the program and hear soldiers say the program saved their lives. The tools help soldiers return to their careers in the military where they are able to assist other soldiers. It is hoped that using these new techniques will also aid them in preserving their well being so they will continue the practices and better adapt to civilian life after their military service has ended.

Military Websites - The Department of Veterans Affairs

Meanwhile, until soldiers and veterans acknowledge that they are injured emotionally and psychologically, there are online sites which can bring soldiers toward the journey of realization.

1.Make the Connection is a personalized site helping vets and family connect with other vets and family going through similar experiences. They are able to share experiences and discover others' stories as well as share their own concerning a range of life issues from the loss of a family member to homelessness, addiction, employment and financial issues and relationship problems to name a few. Throughout the site, there are links to PTSD categories which direct the vets or family for help.

2. The Veterans Affairs National Center on PTSD offers public and professional information about PTSD. On the "For Public" section, soldiers stories are presented. There are category links "just for women," self-assessment, self-help, treatment, therapies, PTSD communities, types of trauma, common problems, etc. The site also informs about current research initiatives on PTSD. For the"Professional" section one finds links like Co-occurring problems and treating specific groups to name a few. Links to assessment are in both the public and professional sections.

It's Never Too Late For Citizens to Become Involved

This year The Veterans Affairs designated June 2013 as PTSD awareness month. The month has passed but the statistics about vets with PTSD, TBI (traumatic brain injury) and their suicide rates continue (In 2011 200,000 soldiers returned with PTSD the numbers have increased since then.) The programs listed here and many others in individual states help. But such programs aid only those vets who seek treatment. According to the same statistics, 50% of the vets who return after deployment never seek help though they have PTSD. More must be done to assist warriors mitigate PTSD.

Courtesy of Policy Mic website
What have some individuals done? James Gandolfini was a proponent for supporting vets with PTSD and he remained on the front lines speaking out and raising money. Using his notoriety and connections, he drew attention to the vets' culture clash after returning home by producing two documentaries. In Alive Day: Home from Iraq (2007) Gandolfini personally interviewed 10 survivors of the Iraq War on the challenges they faced returning to civilian life. In 2010 he produced another documentary called Wartorn 1861-2010 (It won a Prism Award for Best Documentary) which focused on vets with PTSD from the Civil War to the present.

What can we do? We must expand our awareness and sensitivity toward returning vets and deployed soldiers. We must support all veterans, encourage them, be prayerful and hopeful. We can also petition our representatives ensuring that if any programs are to be cut, the last ones to be cut should be those supporting vets, their families and those still deployed in the Middle East. No family member upon welcoming their returning loved one home after agonizing months fearing for their safety should have to experience their suicide or other terrible event because their loved one's PTSD was left untreated.

Until then though the wars may end and the troops return home, their fight goes on. Keep them in remembrance and donate when you can to the Wounded Warrior Project and these other non profits.

Theirs is a cause worth supporting.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Don't Drink the Water! Gasland and Gasland II (On Demand) Warn How Fracking Can Destroy a Water Supply.

 Woody Allan's brilliant comedy remake Don't Drink the Water  (1994) based on his stage play of the same title (1966) about a family's mad cap experiences seeking refuge and escape from the American Embassy in Russia during the cold war is aptly named. In 1966 when Allan wrote the play, Americans traveling to non European countries weren't guaranteed safe drinking water and most likely would become sick, so they were warned off the tap unless they were in a 5 star hotel.

That was then. Now, the words "don't drink the water" send chills up the spines of many of us especially after Dick Cheney's tenure at Halliburton, his Vice-Presidency and the cozy relationships that corporations enjoy with our political leaders thanks to the Citizens United court case. We have seen and heard about egregious pollution scandals based on true to life stories, in Wooburn, Mass. (film,  A Civil Action) and the PG & E lawsuit in California in the film Erin Brokovitch. In both instances companies contaminated drinking water from the wells that serviced families making it into a hazard that killed. The polluting companies settled to make the suits go away, never admitting their chemicals in the water brought sickness and death.  Publicity from these cases and many others have smartened some of us up to drink bottled water, have reverse osmosis filters, distill our own water or have water companies deliver shipments to our homes. It has come to this; "don't drink the water" is a cruel joke for the US. We have devolved into a developing nation, thanks to corporations whose greed is transforming clear, clean drinking water into an unsafe, toxic liquid detrius, unless, of course, we speak out and prevent them, while "clean water supplies last!"

This unfortunate situation is occurring despite such acts as the Safe Water Drinking Act and the Clean Water Act.  The water supply for many Americans has been and is being compromised. Because of corporate power leveraged by millions of dollars, the EPA is powerless or dilatory in bringing the polluters to task. This was before the groundbreaking documentary Gasland by Josh Fox. After the documentary's release at Sundance and nomination for awards, many became aware of the term "fracking" made famous by the film. Now they generally know that if a company is fracking an area, there is a good chance that the groundwater may become contaminated by the chemicals used in the process because of migration. We may need natural gas, but must we sacrifice our water for it?
HBO website, Gasland II, debuting on July 8m 2013 (9:00-11:00 pm, (ET/PT)
Gasland II is showing on HBO July 8th, 9:00-11:15 ET/PT
Matthew Sanchez editor of Gasland and Gasland II with Director Josh Fox speaking at a reception and screening at HBO.

Pete Seeger singing "To Everything There is a Season" cupping his hands to hear the audience participate. At the 2013 Clearwater Festival, which Seeger and friends founded in 1969 to clean up the Hudson River. The festival has expanded its activism to close Indian River and ban fracking in NY.

Last week on June 25th the director of Gasland was at the HBO theater in NYC with friends, family and supporters to celebrate the screening of Gasland II, the dynamic and chilling sequel to his Academy Award nominated documentary Gasland, which explained the horrific impact of hydraulic fracturing-the process used to extract natural gas from shale. The documentary Gasland II debuted on HBO, MONDAY, July 8th. It is currently being shown ON DEMAND and is free for HBO subscribers.
Debra Winger (back to camera) Aidan Quinn, Josh Fox sharing a light moment.

 Debra Winger in discussion with Cindy Adams from the New York Post. Debra Winger was a consultant and creative adviser on Gasland II, as noted by Fox when he introduced Winger and she joined others onstage during the talk back after the screening. Winger also worked on Gasland with Fox. She smiled and responded to a question about her input that, at times, she "has been known to produce, direct and write." Clearly, her environmental stance is well known and she has been an invaluable collaborator on the documentaries. In the Q and A, Winger's experience came to the fore when she affirmed that the mainstream media is not going to publicize or cover the detrimental impact of fracking.

 Aidan Quinn, Debra Winger, Arliss Howard, Steve Jordan, Former Congressman Maurice Hinchey and family, were a few of the guests and advocates who joined Josh Fox to spur on the democratic process about fracking issues. Fox referred to some of the guests as his special friends. These are the living witnesses to the horrors of the fracking experience. These are the ones whose water hoses breathe fire, whose homes are worthless and who were the innocents who trusted the Gas and Oil companies' lies that having wells near their houses/land would not be harmful to their kids, their animals, their property, themselves. These are the ones who do not dare drink or cook with their tap water, but have to have it trucked in at a cost either they or we must pay, the import of which Gasland II makes globally clear.

The film which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to begrudgingly positive reviews has been screened in small towns nationwide. Fox and supporters decided to take it on a grassroots tour ahead of the HBO showing on July 8th. These were special screenings that began in Normal, Illinois. Why there? The Illinois legislature supported the Gas and Oil Industry, and Fox determined that the film would serve as a flashpoint revealing the unresponsiveness of the legislators to the will of the people who want a ban on fracking. When in conversation with Fox over the "unsuccessfulness" of the protest in Illinois, he countered that the populist support to ban fracking had grown. When the politicians had voted in support of the companies, the crowds at the hearing chanted, "Shame, shame, shame!"  Clearly, the legislators were subservient not to their voters, but to the companies whose money and power influenced the acceptance of fracking in the state.
According to Fox, the  anti-fracking advocates of Illinois are becoming legion, exacerbated by the truculent, recalcitrant legislators. Thus, the tour launch in Normal was a symbolic move and an uplifting one. Josh Fox appears to be ready for any and all pyrotechnics the corporate mighty and their media may be intending to send his way when Gasland II debuts.

One can understand how this gentle, unassuming spirit has created a mountain of controversy. With his signature banjo playing of "America the Beautiful" to close out the film credits and a relaxed Q & A afterward, Fox is an everyman.  His wry humor and insightful, prescient viewpoint in the first film is powered up in the second for good reason. Thirty-two countries globally are fracking. Nationally 34 states have thousands of wells.

John Fenton and son, Jeremiah Gee, The Switzers
(left to right) Josh Fox, John Fenton and son, Jeremiah Gee, Victoria Switzer, Jimmy Switzer
I also had the opportunity to speak with cast members John Fenton and Victoria Switzer. John is the Founder of Artists Against Fracking, from Pavillion, Wyoming. He is a tall, imposing man who is on a mission, and who speaks with power and eloquence about his experiences. I asked him how he got to know Josh Fox. John Fenton said that Fox visited the area and then asked if he could stay with him. They became friends as Fox covered the story and Fenton shared his home and his heart. Fenton made it a point to affirm how important it is to speak out about fracking and what it does to the environment and the lives of those who lease their land to the companies, or who are unfortunate to be living near fracking wells. Fenton said he will not be silenced. It is his obligation to speak out and to share what is going on. During the Q and A, he spoke out and received applause, his words resonating with the audience. Clearly, he has become a spokesperson in the campaign to ban fracking.
Former Congressman Maurice Hinchey, John Fenton speaking out.

Victoria Switzer is also an eloquent and heartfelt spokeswoman. She had words of praise for New Yorkers and cautioned me that we must never accept fracking in the state. She said once "they are in, they put in well after well. It isn't just one." She also referred to the companies as sending their "fiery darts" and we must reject them. The ironic comment was not lost on me. Certainly, the flames are iconic of the results of fracking on well water. The flames also reference potential gas explosions that can and have occurred as methane leaks and migrates. Methane migration and leakage has turned homes near wells into ticking time bombs. Some houses have become filled with so much methane, inspectors have told occupants to get out. (Methane, a dense, heavy greenhouse gas is produced during the extraction process. Folks, just say "clean natural gas." NOT! It is worse on the environment than CO2 emissions.)

Victoria Switzer mentioned that the companies didn't let on that the impact would be what it is. They implied that the water would be OK and that the drilling wouldn't have the negative impact that it has had (water contamination). The companies minimized the results of fracking, In other words, they committed a kind of fraud, perhaps, but of course, this is a slippery slope and subject to interpretation. The impression I received is if the companies had said to the Switzers and others some of the research that has been done on well cement failures and migration, the folks never would have allowed them access to their property.

Fox has highlighted Fenton, Switzer and others who have suffered the oppression of the Gas and Oil industry. His view is reasoned and clear: as citizens of this country, shouldn't we have access to clean, clear, non chemical water? This question is compelling and it crosses political lines and drives to the heart of human survival. We need clean water. Corporations are depriving us of this right. But is anyone listening? Where is our EPA in all of this?
Sherie Nevins (of HBO) Aidan Quinn, Josh Fox

The film's perspective has been enough to marshal the Gas and Oil Industry into heavy PR warfare against Fox, anti-fracking non profit groups, and those on the front lines like John Fenton and Victoria Switzer. However, despite their tactics, Fenton and others are standing up to companies by speaking out, by silently protesting, by litigating, by refusing to sell their homes and sign non-disclosure agreements. They are doing what they can and are pushing back BECAUSE, UNLIKE THE CORPORATIONS, they have nothing to lose. What they valued, their homes, property and their health has been taken from them and they had little to say about it because they committed the crime of not asking the right questions, not that the companies would have given them the right answers. In fact, they were misled and/or duped. It's the "F" word.

That is one of the most vital aspects of their story, the story that Fox is hammering out so that we will understand it in all of its ugliness and abuse and then be motivated to do something: first, ban all fracking. Second, advocate for renewable, sustainable energy. Fox will continue to take Gasland II on the road with Q and As and talk backs. With supporters and all present at the HBO reception, he is looking forward to its debut on HBO with anticipation and excitement.

Gasland Part II debuts on HBO Monday, July 8, 2013 (9-11:15 pm ET/PT)