Purple Star Veterans http://purplestarveterans.org Strengthening The Homecoming Safety Net Tue, 13 Jun 2017 15:55:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Veterans, PTSD and Substance Abuse http://purplestarveterans.org/2015/05/veterans-ptsd-and-substance-abuse/ Thu, 21 May 2015 22:23:32 +0000 http://purplestarveterans.org/?p=2572 Memorial Day is a good time to assess the condition of our returning military veterans, a group which is fraught with alarmingly high rates of PTSD, addiction and suicide. The rate of suicide among veterans is alarmingly higher than is found in the civilian population, and substance misuse is often involved in these tragedies. An underlying issue is PTSD, which is significantly higher among veterans than in the general population. Dr. Tom Horvath and Len Van Nostrand highlight the connection between PTSD and addiction and the critical role of treatment in healing our veterans….Dr. Richard Juman

As the month of May brings Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, becomes a natural topic of discussion. Within this important conversation is the intricate relationship between PTSD and substance use.

Our greatest understandings of traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress often come from those who’ve experienced the horrors and devastation of war, which can last long after combat ends. For many veterans, the impacts of war remain as if it were yesterday. Heartbreakingly, their mind continues to be a battlefield of devastating, torturous memories and they are tasked with the challenge of coping with PTSD.

Casualties of War: The Somatic, Neurological and Psychological Systems

Traumatic stress impacts all of our systems, including the somatic, neurological and psychological systems. When we have painful thoughts and memories, we activate the various chemical and messenger systems of the body and experience distress, tension, anxiety and depression, resulting in ongoing deregulated emotions. Despite repeated efforts to avoid the painful memories and associated emotions, our minds and bodies remember. For reasons we may be only vaguely aware of, unresolved major trauma can result in seemingly unbearable emotions and physical sensations, negative and self-critical beliefs, interpersonal isolation and defensiveness, hypervigilance, and a deep sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

As if the assault on the somatic, neurological and psychological systems wasn’t enough, the deregulation of these systems can diminish the capacity for meaningful connection to others, eliminating a critical component of healthy coping. When left alone and consumed by traumatic stress, our coping can take many different forms, but engaging in addictive behavior is one of the most common.

Disturbing the Connection to Others

Trauma, especially war trauma, often has a substantial effect on our relationships. We are born with an innate need to attach to and connect with others. Our survival depends on the maintenance of these bonds. However, when our sense of connection and self-efficacy is ruptured, we no longer enjoy the ability to trust others or ourselves. The result is an inner world of numbness, terror and rage. With these bonds disturbed, our whole being is shocked and in an ongoing state of disequilibrium. Relationships lose their ability to provide us with a sense of safety and trust, and the need for relief from overwhelming negative emotions can become enormous.

Both situational (specific circumstances) and cumulative (ongoing and/or persistent) trauma can result in an inability to participate effectively in relationships. We can appear to be in a relationship, but the ability to connect and find meaningful attachment and security may not exist.

Everyone experiences some distress throughout the day, whether small, intense or catastrophic. When we confide in friends or family and trust others to listen to us, our distress is reduced. This form of emotional support keeps us regulated and able to handle a variety of stressors throughout the day (or week, month, year, or even lifetime). On a much larger scale, the same process can also be applied to the major distress caused by war. However, the traumatic experience of war can break down our trust in the emotional process, cause us to believe that we are no longer worthy of being listened to, or simply cause us to lose our ability to trust people. In such a state, we may search for another outlet for our emotional pain. Under such circumstances, drugs and alcohol (or even sex and gambling) have a powerful appeal. If the need for relief is strong, substances are typically very effective at providing that relief. Substance misuse becomes the solution to our universal need for connection. Perhaps alcohol, drugs, and destructive addictive behaviors can provide the most rapid and predictable relief from emotional pain.

Bonding With Substances and the Vicious Circle

Under these conditions, classic substance dependence can develop. Gradually, the substances replace our ability to cope with stress and tension. Rather than the development of resilience over time, we increasingly rely on the substance. Coping diminishes and substance use increases until the solution (substance use) has become the problem.

As inner capacities atrophy, and we abandon personal goals and relationships, our focus turns to more and more substance use. It becomes the primary, and ultimately, the only method to overcome numbness, terror, and rage. The new problems created by the “solution” add another layer of pain, isolation and immobility. We find ourselves in a vicious circle, which may not be escaped until a crisis occurs.

Treating Trauma and Substance Abuse

For someone with trauma, recovery is twofold: we not only need to start on a new path, but we must also work at overcoming the original issues. We must re-establish a basic trust in others and ourselves. Because trauma typically involves a substantial reduction in the capacity to experience, tolerate and articulate our inner experiences, significant psychotherapeutic work may be needed. No matter how painful, the journey to rediscovering your worth, restoring healthy relationships, and recovering from substance misuse and the effects of trauma is full of hope and certainly worth the effort.

The Practical Recovery and Full Spectrum Recovery teams express sincere appreciation for our veterans and service members. We recognize the immense internal battles that will be fought long after the external ones have ended. The trauma is real and the war wages on within many of them. Undeniably, we owe a deep gratitude for the expansive lives we are able to lead because of their sacrifices.

If you or someone you know suffers from trauma and substance abuse, please don’t be afraid to reach out – there is help.

Len Van Nostrand, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, is the co-founder and owner of Full Spectrum Recovery and Counseling. He is trained in a variety of modalities, including TRE (Trauma/Tension Release Exercises), EMDR, hypnotherapy and Motivational Interviewing, and he has maintained a therapy and intervention practice for over fifteen years. He also facilitates weekly SMART recovery groups. 

A. Tom Horvath, PhD, ABPP, is the founder and president of Practical Recovery in San Diego, CA, a self-empowering addiction treatment system including sober living, outpatient services and two residential treatment facilities for alcohol and drug abuse. He is also the president of SMART Recovery, an international nonprofit offering free, self-empowering, science-based, mutual-help groups for addiction recovery. A past president of the Society of Addiction Psychology, he is the author of Sex, Drugs, Gambling & Chocolate: A Workbook for Overcoming Addictions. 


This article was originally posted on The Fix. Read the full article here.

What is needed and why are we relevant? http://purplestarveterans.org/2015/04/what-is-needed-and-why-are-we-relevant/ http://purplestarveterans.org/2015/04/what-is-needed-and-why-are-we-relevant/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 18:08:48 +0000 http://purplestarveterans.org/?p=2402 After my son Danny’s second tour in Afghanistan and his separation from the Army with 10th Mountain Division, we very quickly came to the realization that he had been severely underprepared for his transition from military life. We invested a great deal of time, energy and frustration with the fact that a process or a program should have been provided during pre-separation that would have prepared him for what he would experience. We began to envision forming an organization to address this problem and to put what we had learned from our own experiences into action for others. It was 2004 and there were an estimated 3,500 Veteran related non-profit organizations across the nation. At the time this seemed like a very large number. Fast forward to 2015, there are now over 45,000.

We began by asking ourselves a question that has continued to guide me to this day, “What is needed and why are we relevant?”

What is Needed?

First, what is not needed. In my opinion, not another well intending Veteran services organization replicating what hundreds of similar groups are doing. Not another redundant small non-profit competing for donors and attention in a very confusing landscape of choices. A landscape of players and organization that has become so confusing and so vast it is often referred to as a “Sea of goodwill”.

With Veterans dying from suicide at a rate of 18-22 per day, we need to get ahead of this problem as fast as possible. Prevention and early intervention, before Veterans spiral out of control seems to make the most common sense.

Don’t compete, collaborate. What is needed are more organizations acting as traffic controllers, identifying needs and directing people in need to organizations and resources to help Veterans and families solve their presenting problems and future challenges. There are a great number of directory/clearing house web destinations and we intend to direct people to them but what is also needed is a real person engaging another person in the problem solving process.  This is the first area of opportunity we are directing our attention toward. We decided to title our traffic controllers “Veteran Peer Advisors” to hopefully minimize the perception that we are somehow competing with existing and well established Veteran “Peer Mentoring” programs. Our role is to identify a need and to connect the person to a solution. In many cases, our role will be to introduce a Veteran in need to a Veteran Peer Mentor who will assist them long-term. In other cases, it will be to help them find an experienced Veteran with another organization to help them write a resume, find a job, prepare for college or to file a claim or an appeal with the VA. It is a form of triage that is designed to open up a conversation between two people and to establish trust and confidence. With each person, we start from start by doing our best to answer three simple questions: Who are you?, Where are you? and Where do you want to go from here? We have tools and resources to help us answer these questions uniquely for each person that have proven to be invaluable.

This is our progress report for now. We are a work in progress with a small group of bright people who are fast learners with a big vision. We haven’t screwed anything up beyond repair and have many years of building credibility and confidence with stakeholders from every sector of the Veteran community. With our tools and strategy now in place, it is time to further organize a base of trained Peer Advisors for both Veterans and for families that will help us solve problems, save lives and keep families together.

We can “hope” things get better but “hope” is not a strategy (look for this title of a blog post coming soon).

We have an executable plan to bring people and resources together to get ahead of the problem.

This is what is needed and why we are relevant.



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Welcome to Purple Star Veterans http://purplestarveterans.org/2015/04/welcome-to-purple-star-veterans/ Thu, 09 Apr 2015 17:12:03 +0000 http://purplestarveterans.org/?p=2396 It is my pleasure to welcome you to our new Purple Star Veterans site…


Here, you will find personal development tools designed to help you along the path of transition, whether you are facing a return from a combat deployment or the conclusion of your military career and return to civilian life. These include the Transition Map and Action Plan that can assist you in discovering where you are, where you want to be, and how you can get there.

Currently, our Veteran Lifeline area is set up to allow you to create connections to those you trust the most as you embark upon your journey so that you can share information with your support network in safety and privacy. Veteran Lifelines encompass a great method to negotiate the ways in which you’d like to be helped, to keep those you care about and who care about you in the loop, and to be a place of support whenever you need it.

Additionally, we are hard at work at implementing several new program areas that will be available in the future; to include dedicated Peer Advisors to assist you with our tools and in finding meaningful resources, plus a robust private online community.

Also in development is our Purple Star Families site, which will host content such as resources to include those relevant to grief and loss, tools, and a blog section.

Finally, in the future we will have the capacity to offer stipends for personal development and wellness trainings as well as access to mental health consulting for those in need.

Thank you for visiting our site, it is an honor to serve you.


Tess Banko PhotoTess Banko
Executive Director
Purple Star Veterans and Families






Suicide Prevention Resources http://purplestarveterans.org/2015/04/suicide-prevention-resources/ Sun, 05 Apr 2015 20:07:58 +0000 http://purplestarveterans.org/?p=2392 Prevention Resources

Vets Prevail– Build. Engage. Prevail.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline– Call them at 1-800-273-TALK(8255)

National Suicide Prevention Resource Center – Support, guidance, and resources

Veterans Crisis Line – call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or send a text message to 838255

VETCenter – Nationwide Network of Support Centers


National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder www.ncptsd.org and the National Military Families Association www.nmfa.org dedicated to active duty military families and many other national organizations now link and send thousands of visitors a month to the Veterans and Families Foundation website.

Wounded Warrior Project – An organization dedicated to the well being and adjustment of wounded warriors in America

Make the Connection – Shared Experiences and Support for Veterans

Video Resources

VA Suicide Prevention with Gary Sinise – Video
USMC Suicide Prevention with Gary Sinise – Video
Suicide Prevention PSA for Military Families – Video

Veteran Suicides Each Year Eclipses Total OEF/OIF U.S. Military Killed in Action Since 9/11 http://purplestarveterans.org/2015/04/veteran-suicides-each-year-eclipses-total-oefoif-u-s-military-killed-in-action-since-911/ Sun, 05 Apr 2015 19:51:18 +0000 http://purplestarveterans.org/?p=2385 Wake Up, America

We are about to cross a catastrophic milestone in our nation’s history…

and nobody knows it.

The latest U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) report from the DEFENSE CASUALTY ANALYSIS SYSTEM puts the number of U.S. military killed in action (KIA) while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan at 6,567 as of December 14, 2012.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans are not correlating the lives lost in The War On Terror with the catastrophic loss of life occurring when warriors come home. In the United States, every 80 minutes a U.S. Military Veteran who actually made it home alive from Afghanistan and Iraq dies from suicide. That’s 18 per day, 6,570 per year.

Skeptical of this statistic? Here’s a Policy Brief titled: Losing the Battle, The Challenge of Military Suicide from the  Center for a New American Security.

If this trend continues there will be more Post 911 Veteran Suicides on the near horizon than are names on the Vietnam Wall (58,261), do the math.

Herein lies a big “Catch 22” that is a part of the homecoming dilemma Veterans and their families are faced with.


The Preparedness and Decompression Dilemma


When service members leave the military and become veterans they are no longer employees under the care of the Department of Defense. Upon separation from military service, all health care and mental health services transfer from the DOD to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). DOD out-processing ends and the VA in-processing begins.

Unfortunately, by the time Veterans who need help the most arrive home, for many, an opportunity to most effectively help them has already passed. And no one is speaking up about it with a strong enough call to action… Until now.

Because Veterans are trained to be self-reliant and to “complete the mission” at all cost, it is unacceptable for many who are “at risk” to ask for help or to receive assistance when offered. Historically, this has been a major barrier to receiving care and continues to be the case with present day Veterans.

Despite the best efforts of the military, the Veterans Administration and other providers, it is not enough (by themselves) to prevent thousands of veterans and their families from falling through the cracks of our society. To illustrate this point, you need only to pick up any newspaper, watch any news channel, or use any search engine to find an alarming volume of tragic statistics indicating our returning veterans and their families are in trouble.

Common sense is telling us that veterans who are reluctant to seek help can fall into a higher “at risk” group, especially if they suffer from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) from their wartime experiences. To compound the problem, self-medicating their symptoms with alcohol and drugs can lead to addictions, domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, incarceration and suicide.

There are many “Resiliency” and “Soldier Fitness” models being explored in different branches of the military but what is needed is a world class, “Best Practices” model with a long term commitment to trauma and brain research. A model that gets better and better with each passing year. To learn more about where brain research is heading for diagnosing the existence and severity of Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury, start following the former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Retired General Peter Chiarelli who is now the CEO of One Mind for Brain Research.

Battlefield Medicine would be a great example to model. Right now, if a person gets shot or blown up on the battlefield there is roughly a 90% chance they will make it home alive no matter how serious their injuries, due to the advancements in battlefield medicine.

What we need is this same level of commitment and research to discover how to help warriors decompress from the high operational tempo of war. A process that helps them recover from their traumatic injuries and experiences with more resilience. And as important as physical injuries, a program that helps them through the realities of grief, loss, depression, sleeplessness and the moment to moment triggers of Post Traumatic Stress. To learn more about this pick up a copy of “Once a Warrior Always a Warrior” by Dr. Charles Hoge.

Military training does a thorough job of conforming and compressing the hearts and minds of young adults entering the armed forces. One would think that given our nation’s history of war and of bringing warriors home, that a proven and equally effective decompression or de-commissioning process would exist for assimilating Veterans back into family, education, employment and civilian life. A process that preserves the leadership qualities and positive attributes of the military experience but also helps each individual to heal the invisible wounds of war. Unfortunately, this is not the case system wide.

What is needed is a national voice of not only Veterans but from their immediate and extended family members to make a public declaration that we are failing as the default homecoming safety net. Less than 1 ½ of 1% of the American public even serve in the military. We are not qualified to understand how to help our Veterans when they need it the most.

We need help.

If the greatest barrier to care for Veterans to receive the help they need is their own aversion or inability to ask for help, our focus should be single-mindedly on finding ways to remove this barrier.

Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer:

What if the easiest solution was to help Veterans before they become Veterans?

What if soon-to-be veterans didn’t have to raise their hand to ask for help? What if the solution was part of the separation process just like basic training is part of the on-boarding process?


Help Veterans, Before they Become Veterans

National Petition to The Office of the President


In an effort to get ahead of the problem, Purple Star Veterans and Families poses a solution to bring all of the stakeholders in homecoming to the table with a common goal: To save lives and to keep families together.

The problem with this strategy is that no one has ever done this before. But obviously, no one has figured out homecoming either.

If the existing programs for preparing soon-to-be Veterans for homecoming were succeeding, the epidemic of suicides would be declining, not at an all time high with no end in sight. At present all that our leaders can declare is “preventing Veteran suicide is our highest priority” but without a clear, actionable and unified strategy to include the civilian safety net, how can this be realistically accomplished?

Two main initiatives of the national petition:

  1. The immediate and long-term creation of comprehensive homecoming preparedness and decompression training for all separating military prior to and following homecoming with special care for Combat and Combat related job specialties.
  2. The creation of nationally standardized and readily available homecoming preparedness resources to better prepare families for welcoming their Veterans home.

To bring attention to these important solutions, if you have not already done so, please go to purplestarfamilies.org to read and sign the petition and please leave a comment about why you are signing.

Our Goal: 1 Million Signatures

To paraphrase Seth Godin, Author of “Tribes”:

“If our circumstances demand change, and change requires leadership, then our circumstances demand leadership”

Lets get homecoming right this time!

A Suicide Prevention Solution Hiding in Plain Sight http://purplestarveterans.org/2014/02/a-suicide-prevention-solution-hiding-in-plain-sight/ Wed, 19 Feb 2014 21:39:21 +0000 http://purple.harvestingwisdom.com/?p=104 If you were duck hunting, when do you load your guns…When you see the ducks?

Of course not.

By the time Homecoming Veterans who need the help the most end up on the doorsteps of their families, for many, it’s already too late.

The solution: Help Veterans before they become Veterans. Help them better prepare for homecoming during the critical months prior to separation from military service and during the dangerous months after they arrive home.

The Decompression Dilemma

The entire military and VA heath systems are operating with a major disconnect for Veterans and their families. A “Catch 22″ exists for Veterans who are suffering the most from PTSD and other Combat related mental health issues. It is a major contributing factor to not only Veteran suicide but it explains some of the underlying reason why Veterans and their families are spiraling out of control and falling between the cracks of our society. The “Catch 22″: Warriors are trained to accomplish their mission or to die trying. Adapt, improvise and overcome is the ethos that is galvanized into their being. This Spartan code has been trained into young men and women of every nation since before Homer wrote the Iliad. Remember the old saying? “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Here’s the problem with this “when the going gets tough” mentality. Warriors who need help the most are unwilling or incapable of asking for it. The catch 22, All VA mental health services are voluntary and the only way to get help after separating from the military is to ask for it. Even worse, there are real and perceived “barriers to care” that are additional roadblocks to getting the care they need:

  • Self reliance at all cost
  • Fear of being stigmatized by their peers or superiors as being weak.
  • Fear of having documentation of psychological counseling in their medical records that could prevent future promotions or civilian employment.
  • A strong reluctance to talk about their problems with counselors, especially if they are non-Veteran counselors.

Anything we can do as a society to lower the stigma or barriers to care of asking for help, should be embraced, developed and deployed.

Just like one cannot become a Marine, soldier, airman or sailor until graduation from boot camp or basic training, military personnel deserve the same level of training to help them prepare for their transition back to family, education, employment and community. In the months prior to separating from military service there is an opportunity to do much more to help service men and women, especially if they have served in combat or combat related job specialties.

In addition to the career and benefits briefings within the existing transition programs, we can do better. An opportunity exists to provide real prevention and early intervention resources to help soon to be Veterans with the emotional and psychological challenges they may be experiencing after war and deployment. The availability of these programs needs to be system wide and embedded into the out-processing experience. Warriors who will not raise their hand for help no matter how bad it gets can receive the tools they need for self-care without being singled out from their peer group for asking for assistance.

If programs were automatic and system wide, service men and women would soon realize they are not alone in their suffering and that predictable phases of homecoming can be anticipated and prepared for in advance. The military does an incredibly effective job compressing the hearts and minds of young recruits to go to war. There must be an equally balanced approach to preparing them for success in life after military experiences. We must create resources that preserve the leadership skills and investment made in each person while allowing the human being to effectively process their wartime experiences in healthy and constructive ways.

The United States was born from innovation and progressive thinking. With the advances in battlefield medicine, over 90% of injured military in combat make it home alive. We need only apply the same ingenuity, resources and dedication to homecoming and trauma/brain research to create measurable results quickly.

The other half of the equation: Nationally standardized and readily available preparedness training and resources for families before they welcome their Veterans home. Lots of effective programs are developing around the country but these good ideas and practices are not reaching the rural areas and families who are failing. Less than on half of one percent of family members serve in the military and we are ill prepared to help our homecoming Veterans when they need it most.

Here’s a novel idea, lets put our voice together and change the way we do homecoming.