For Veterans, Recognizing and Treating Hearing Problems Can Enhance Lives

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Today’s solutions conveniently target noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus through digital technology.

By Brian Taylor, Signia Hearing Aids

The U.S. military is an authority on the study of hearing loss. The Department of Defense (DoD), for example, operates the Hearing Center of Excellence (HCE), in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to enhance operational performance and quality of life. The VA, for its part, runs the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research, a leader in the treatment of hearing issues, including tinnitus — that ringing in the ears that afflicts about one in 10 Americans but disproportionally affects veterans.

It stands to reason the DoD and VA are experts in the field because hearing loss and tinnitus are among the most common disabilities suffered by veterans. In fact, it’s VA policy that once a veteran is enrolled in VA health care, he or she is automatically eligible for diagnostic audiology. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America1, 2.7 million veterans receive treatment or disability compensation for hearing problems. It is in veterans’ best interest to avail themselves of these services because hearing loss, diagnosed early, is eminently and conveniently treatable through modern technology.

Awareness of Hearing Loss is the First Step
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates 26 million U.S. adults have suffered damage to their hearing from exposure to noise. In that context, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has in the past cited data indicating that veterans are 30 percent more likely than others to suffer severe hearing loss.

Most people who decide they need hearing aids are in their 60s and 70s, however about half of all military veterans—many of whom are at a higher risk of tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss — are below the age of 55. In other words, many Americans address the effects of hearing loss later in life, but veterans often grapple with symptoms, such as tinnitus, earlier.

Veterans have higher rates of tinnitus than the general public, in part because many were exposed to excessive noise — machinery, engine noise, artillery fire and more. Tinnitus isn’t the same as hearing loss, but studies have shown it can be a harbinger of things to come. And there are other symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss to be aware of, especially because younger veterans may not expect them to pose a problem.

Noise-induced hearing loss leads to difficulty discerning high-pitched sounds. When a veteran has problems hearing high frequencies, it impacts communication and their ability to understand voices. It may not be obvious there’s a problem, because hearing loss is often associated with a lack of volume, but noise-induced hearing loss can present secondary symptoms, such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

Then there’s the issue of “hidden” hearing loss, which the DoD, HCE and others have been studying. Put simply, people with hidden hearing loss experience some of the same symptoms as those with noise-induced hearing loss — they’re distracted in noisy settings or they mishear what people are telling them — but when they visit an audiologist, their hearing tests come out normal. We’re just beginning to understand hidden hearing loss, but we know about it because patients report their difficulties communicating and seek solutions to lead fuller lives.

Modern Technology Can Impact Hearing Positively
Such solutions exist today in the form of digital, network-enabled hearing aids. The words “hearing aid” may conjure up images of bulky devices worn by older individuals. But because it’s become clear many millions of people — across a spectrum of age and demographics — would benefit from new solutions, hearing aids have evolved tremendously.

For starters, today’s devices aren’t big, beige and bulky. Like other consumer electronics, hearing aids are smaller and sleeker, made possible by digitization. Some even resemble consumer earbuds and come in attractive colors.

Moreover, they include advanced capabilities. Traditional hearing aids focused primarily on amplifying sound; today’s hearing aids can also target specific frequencies and filter out background noise through real-time signal processing. And they’re easily rechargeable, which is not only convenient, but also ensures accessibility for veterans with limited dexterity.

Other features in select modern hearing aids include:
• “Own voice” processing, a feature that recognizes the wearer’s voice and processes it separately from other sounds, overcoming a common complaint of people with hearing aids who perceive distortion when they speak.
• Face mask mode, an especially important feature during the COVID-19 pandemic, that helps overcome muffled speech by people wearing masks and improves communication.
• Acoustic motion sensors, which sense movement and automatically adjust settings to delivering highly personalized hearing throughout the wearer’s day.

Today’s hearing aids can also specifically treat tinnitus. My company makes hearing aids that are available through the VA and incorporate a technology called notch therapy. With notch therapy, a hearing care professional identifies the pitch of a patient’s tinnitus and programs a frequency notch into their hearing aids to match that specific pitch, which can then suppress the tinnitus. Other therapies available in hearing aids introduce tones or other sounds that effectively distract the brain from the tinnitus itself.

Finally, in this age of smartphone apps and ubiquitous Internet connectivity, hearing aids can be programmed and adjusted online — an important feature for veterans whose nearest VA facility may be miles away.

The VA is a leader in teleaudiology, enabling remote access to its hearing aid services through veterans’ smartphones, tablets or PCs. Hearing aid makers supplement teleaudiology with features that allow hearing care professionals to conduct their fitting remotely.

Better Hearing, Better Lives
Today, more people suffering from hearing loss are embracing solutions that not only turn up the volume but conveniently and automatically improve their ability to communicate naturally. Because veterans are likely to have suffered tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss in the service of their country, they can rest easier in the knowledge that these solutions are available to them through the VA.
By recognizing the symptoms of hearing loss, seeking assistance and embracing the role of new technology, veterans can enjoy the path to enhanced human performance with clear hearing.

Brian Taylor, AuD, is the director of clinical content development for Signia. He is also the editor of Audiology Practices, a quarterly journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, editor-at-large for Hearing Health and Technology Matters and adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Taylor has authored several peer reviewed articles and textbooks and is a highly sought out lecturer. Brian has nearly 30 years of experience as both a clinician, business manager and university instructor. His most recent textbooks, “Audiology Practice Management” and the 3rd edition of “Selecting and Fitting Hearing Aids” were published in 2020.

Sources:
hearingloss.org/wp-content/uploads/HLAA_HearingLoss_Facts_Statistics.pdf?pdf=FactStats
cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6028a4.htm
statista.com/statistics/250267/us-veterans-by-age-and-gender/
pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28885938/

At the Intersection of Hearing and Mental Health

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man holding up and looking at zoomed in hearing aid piece

By Brian Taylor, Doctor of Audiology & Senior Director of Audiology, Signia

When people think of hearing loss, many think of being unable to hear. Period. That’s understandable. A literal loss of hearing — the onset of silence — can have dramatic ramifications for a person’s life.

But other forms of hearing loss, characterized by difficulty hearing, can have equal impact. And we’re learning, especially in the case of military veterans, that it can have a related effect on their mental health.

Two of the most prominent conditions affecting veterans are noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While prevalent in the general public, each is a uniquely common health problem for veterans based on the important jobs they’re asked to perform. Also common is tinnitus, that ringing in the ears that afflicts about 10 percent of Americans but disproportionally affects veterans. The combination of the three presents a possible long-term health concern that requires coordination among disparate specialties to handle effectively.

According to a recent study of injured military personnel, hearing loss and PTSD may be linked. The study’s authors found that “the odds of PTSD are approximately three times higher in individuals with postinjury bilateral hearing loss [hearing loss in both ears] when compared to personnel without hearing loss.” The reason, at least in part, is that hearing loss — even partial — can affect a veteran’s ability to listen and communicate, which decreases their quality of life and exacerbates mental health conditions, such as PTSD.

The Case for Coordination

As an audiologist, I’ve seen the mental health effects of hearing loss firsthand. Again, a person doesn’t have to experience total hearing loss to suffer. NIHL, in particular, affects communication because it impacts sound frequencies that are common in speech. NIHL makes hearing voices more challenging, especially in spaces where ambient sound competes to be heard. As a result, those affected strain to hear, which often leads to fatigue and difficulty concentrating, or they may withdraw from social situations, adversely affecting their mental health.

hearing aids shown inside a plastic caseIn the case of tinnitus, the study’s authors found that because it often co-occurs with NIHL, it may also be associated with higher rates of PTSD. In some cases, tinnitus may impact traumatic flashbacks. “Sounds triggering exacerbation of tinnitus similarly affected PTSD symptom severity,” they wrote.

Tinnitus is not hearing loss, but research has indicated it can be a sign of hearing loss to come. Therefore, like hearing loss, tinnitus requires early identification and treatment.

In fact, veterans and their healthcare providers need to be on the lookout early for all interrelated signs of NIHL, tinnitus and PTSD. Delay could have a serious impact on quality of life. There also should be fresh coordination between audiologists and mental health professionals. In short: veterans with bilateral hearing loss need to be monitored for PTSD.

Better Hearing in Noise

On the audiology side, technology now exists that can dramatically improve a veterans’ ability to hear and communicate in various settings, addressing one of the subtler effects of NIHL on mental health. Signia recently created a platform called Augmented Xperience that features hearing aids with two different microprocessors built in to handle speech and background noise separately. This kind of split processing in hearing aids makes it so NIHL sufferers can listen and communicate more effectively in all environments — quiet, noisy or normal.

Most of Signia’s hearing products also include innovative notch therapy technology for helping suppress tinnitus. Notch therapy identifies the wearer’s unique tinnitus frequency and creates a frequency notch in their hearing aids that ultimately offsets and silences the tinnitus.

Unfortunately, most primary healthcare professionals don’t automatically screen for hearing loss or tinnitus, and patients usually don’t recognize the problems until they’ve been examined. Fortunately for veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes the heightened risk of NIHL and tinnitus from military service and covers diagnostic audiology from the moment a veteran exits the service. Healthcare professionals and veterans themselves should expand from there and begin exploring the possible connections between a vet’s hearing loss and PTSD.

Dr. Brian Taylor headshot
Dr. Brian Taylor, Doctor of Audiology and Senior Director of Audiology for Signia.

We know hearing loss and PTSD are significant public health problems among military veterans. Although further research still needs to be done, there are indications that identifying and treating the former through hearing technology that enhances human performance can begin to address the latter. In all likelihood, a coordinated approach to hearing and mental health can boost veterans’ quality of life.

Brian Taylor is a Doctor of Audiology and Senior Director of Audiology for Signia. He is also the editor of Audiology Practices, a quarterly journal of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, editor-at-large for Hearing Health and Technology Matters and adjunct instructor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Taylor has authored several peer reviewed articles and textbooks and is a highly sought out lecturer. Brian has nearly 30 years of experience as both a clinician, business manager and university instructor. His most recent textbook, Relationship-Centered Consultation Skills for Audiologists, was published in July 2021.

Marine Corps veteran, amputee makes history at Boston Marathon

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A Marine Corps veteran and amputee, Keating started his run just after the professional runners and before the next pack of fast competitors.

By KSBY

When Peter Keating took off from the starting line at the Boston Marathon, it was the realization of a dream come true. But he never imagined just how unique his 26.2-mile trek would be.

He was among more than 15,000 runners who recently raced after the pandemic forced the event to move from April to October.

A Marine Corps veteran and amputee, Keating started his run just after the professional runners and before the next pack of fast competitors.

“I had six miles all to myself,” he said. “I would look forward, I would look backward, and there was no one but me on the road. It was like the race was meant for me.”

For the first time in the race’s 125-year history, the Boston Athletic Association included a division for para-athletes.

Keating, 31, ran an impressive time of 3:25:02, earning him third place in the division. He was awarded an engraved glass cup, a $500 check, and the Boston Marathon medal coveted by runners.

While the prize money is nice, the pride Keating feels is more important.

“Just to be recognized as an adaptive athlete who can never run as fast as a normal person, so to speak, still to be recognized for their efforts in their own division,” he said.

In 2017, Keating, stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, stopped to help another Marine involved in a car crash. Moments later, Keating would become a victim.

“That’s when another car came on and hit us straight on,” Keating said.

Keating suffered a severe injury to his left leg. After struggling with foot function for a year, he decided to amputate his leg below the knee in 2018.

Over the past three years, he has documented his inspiring progress through videos and his Instagram page.

One video shows him taking his first steps on his prosthetic leg. Others capture Keating brought to tears after finishing runs on his running blade.

“Today was a victory,” he said in one of those videos.

Keating wears a sweat sock and liner underneath his 10-pound running blade. To keep the socket from becoming too wet and loose, he changed the sweat sock three times during the Boston Marathon.

He estimates the changes cost him about seven minutes on his race time.

He said that’s an example of a struggle he faces as a para-athlete and points out that he’s not one to focus on a negative.

“I can run, and I can run just like anybody else,” he said.

Keating said his Boston accomplishment is also meaningful because of the bombings near the finish line during the 2013 race. The blasts killed three people, and 17 others lost limbs.

“It means even more to us because many lives were changed that day,” he said.

Keating said one of his next goals is to push for a para-athlete division for the marathon in the Olympics. If that happens, Keating believes he could earn a spot on the U.S. team.

Click here to read the full article on KSBY.

Disabled Veterans of America (DAV) Walk, Roll, Run and Ride 5K — Honor America’s Veterans

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DAV logo and images of veterans participating in events

DAV 5K is a walk, roll, run, and ride that thanks those who served and raises awareness of the issues our ill and injured veterans face every day.

Join us in keeping our promise to America’s veterans! There are two ways to participate, join us in-person November 6, 2021 in Cincinnati, or virtually November 6-11, 2021 from anywhere.

Click here for details and to get registered today.

About DAV
DAV is a nonprofit charity that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families, helping more than 1 million veterans in positive, life-changing ways each year. Annually, the organization provides more than 240,000 rides to veterans attending medical appointments and assists veterans with well over 160,000 benefit claims. In 2020, DAV helped veterans receive more than $23 billion in earned benefits. DAV’s services are offered at no cost to all generations of veterans, their families and survivors.

DAV is also a leader in connecting veterans with meaningful employment, hosting job fairs and providing resources to ensure they have the opportunity to participate in the American Dream their sacrifices have made possible.

With nearly 1,300 chapters and more than 1 million members across the country, DAV empowers our nation’s heroes and their families by helping to provide the resources they need and ensuring our nation keeps the promises made to them.

Resources for Veterans Struggling with Substance Use Addiction

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veteran seeking help from nurse for addiction

If you’re struggling with substance use problems, you’re not alone. Many veterans have problems with the use of alcohol, tobacco, street drugs, and prescription medicines.

We’re here to help.

Find out how to get support for substance use problems through VA.

What services does VA provide for veterans with substance use problems?

We provide many options for veterans seeking treatment for substance use problems ranging from unhealthy alcohol use to life-threatening addiction.

The services we offer you depend on your specific needs.

We offer proven medication options, like:

  • Medically managed detoxification to stop substance use safely, and services to get stable
  • Drug substitution therapies and newer medicines to reduce cravings (like methadone and buprenorphine for opiate addiction)
  • Nicotine replacement or other medicines for stopping tobacco use
  • We offer counseling and other therapy options, like:
  • Short-term outpatient counseling
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Self-help groups
  • Residential (live-in) care
  • Continuing care and relapse prevention (making sure you don’t slip back into the same substance use problems)
  • Special programs for veterans with specific concerns (like women veterans, returning combat veterans, and homeless veterans)
  •  
    We also offer treatment and support for health conditions that can be related to substance use problems, like:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Learn more about treatment programs for substance use problems
  • How do I access VA services for substance use problems?

    The VA health care program covers services to treat substance use problems. To access these services, first apply for VA health care. Once you’ve signed up and have a VA primary care provider, talk to them about your substance use. Your provider can help you get screened for substance use problems and related issues (like PTSD or depression)—and can offer treatment and support as needed.

    If you don’t have a VA primary care provider or have never been seen in a VA hospital or clinic:

    Call our general information hotline at 800-827-1000, or contact your local VA medical center. If you served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), or Operation New Dawn (OND), call your local VA medical center, and ask to speak to the OEF/OIF/OND coordinator.

    What if I don’t have VA health care benefits?

    You may still be able to get care:

    If you’ve served in a combat zone, get free private counseling, alcohol and drug assessment, and other support at one of our 300 community Vet Centers.

    If you’re homeless or at risk of becoming homeless:

    Visit our website to learn about VA programs for veterans who are homeless or contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838 for help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A trained VA counselor will offer information about VA homeless programs, health care, and other services in your area. The call is free and confidential (private).

    Call or visit your local VA Community Resource and Referral Center. Even if you don’t qualify for VA health care, our staff can help you find non-VA resources you may qualify for in your community.

    Where can I find more information and support?

    Go to our Make the Connection website at maketheconnection.net to hear stories from Veterans about their own experiences with overcoming drug and alcohol problems, and to get access to more resources and support. Visit our self-help resources guide to get links to books, web resources, and mobile applications that have been reviewed and recommended by VA experts.

    Visit the resources section of our VA website to find more trusted resources outside VA that can offer information and support.

    Download our Stay Quit Coach mobile app—designed to help veterans with PTSD quit smoking. We based this app on steps proven to work to help people quit smoking. It includes tools to control cravings and manage smoking triggers, messages to keep you going, medication reminders, and more.

    Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

    Helping Other Vets Get a Good Night’s Sleep

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    man lying down on pillow with breathing device attached to nose

    By Annie Nelson, Founder, American Soldier Network

    Throughout my life, I have been blessed to befriend some amazing men and women in military communities. They often do not just serve our nation while on active duty, but continue to do so long after they hang up their uniforms. Many of them strive to support their fellow veterans with their free time, some through their employers, and still others as entrepreneurs who create new businesses that serve our nation.

    I was fortunate to recently interview two of those veterans who are successful entrepreneurs – Scott Brauer a retired Navy SEAL, and Mark Holtzapple, PhD, a professor at Texas A&M. They have partnered up on a new business called NozeSealTM that addresses sleep apnea, a growing critical health concern for active-duty members, veterans, their families and friends.

    I sat down with Scott and Mark to ask them a few questions about their latest endeavor below:

    Annie Nelson: Scott, why is sleep apnea such a hot topic?

    Brauer: Annie, there are over 25 million Americans suffering from sleep apnea, and likely another 10 million undiagnosed. The situation has been getting worse, especially within the military. A recent study shows that since 2005, there is a 30-fold increase in active-duty military members diagnosed with sleep apnea. In general, sleep disorders originate from a wide range of common issues found in the veteran community, such as sleep deprivation, chronic stress, depression, anxiety, pain, tinnitus, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), toxic pollution, emotional trauma, substance abuse and even substance withdrawal.

    Nelson: What are the health impacts of sleep apnea?

    Brauer: Poor sleep leads to many negative health effects, such as obesity, depression, irritability, high blood pressure, diabetes, lower sex drive, suppressed immune function, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. New studies are emphasizing the negative effects of sleep apnea on the health of the heart and the brain. A recent study showed that patients with severe, untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) had a significant increase in the number of both fatal and non-fatal cardiac events. The risk factor was nearly 3 times higher than normal! A key intervention for patients with severe OSA is treatment with positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy for greater than 4 hours per night, which significantly reduces incidences of fatal or non-fatal cardiovascular events.

    Nelson: What are the challenges with PAP therapy?

    women holding up attached large breathing device
    The old way to sleep. Photo: Igor Kraguljac, DP Cinematographer & Photographer

    Brauer: Frankly, it can be a nightmare for many. The most frequently reported reason for discontinuing PAP therapy are side effects – leaks, discomfort and pain, facial marks and rashes, hair damage, anxiety and claustrophobia – which are experienced by approximately two-thirds of PAP users. By far, the most common complaint is leaks. Patients attempt to correct leaks by over-tightening the straps holding the mask in place, leading to the other side effects previously mentioned. Additionally, the PAP device compensates for leaks with higher air flow rates, which reduces nasal humidity contributing to nasal irritation, dryness and congestion. Leaking masks can cause eye irritation, infections and even swallowing air from increased PAP air pressures. All of these difficulties lead nearly half of those prescribed to use a PAP device to not comply with their doctor’s therapy, often quitting entirely.

    Nelson: How can we improve PAP compliance?

    Brauer: Results improve significantly by fitting masks properly and modifying a patient’s usual sleep position to reduce leaks. Minimalist masks – like a nasal mask or nasal pillow – can reduce air leakage and diminish claustrophobia. To improve comfort, seals and quietness, manufacturers continue to develop innovations for PAP masks and comfort accessories that minimize contact. Some of these innovative solutions include new nasal pillows, cushions, liners, wraps and accessories that eliminate headgear.

    Nelson: Mark, what led you to invent NozeSeal?

    Holtzapple: On my honeymoon, my wife informed me that I gasp for air in my sleep. Like most spouses, being woken nightly by snoring and gasping does not contribute to a happy marriage. After some prompting from my wife, I took a sleep study. Finally, after some struggles getting a proper diagnosis for sleep apnea, I received a PAP of my own. I quickly learned just how uncomfortable they are. On my second night, frustrated by excessive leaks, I threw my mask against the wall and shattered it!

    Fortunately, on the third night, my respiratory therapist gave me a nasal pillow to try. It leaked, but in a manageable way. I invented a way to hold the nasal pillow in place during the night using an adhesive that stuck it to my nose, keeping it in place all night! After many refinements and filing some global patents for our highly engineered, yet simple and elegant solution, the NozeSealTM adhesive strip was born! Since last fall, Scott and I have assembled a terrific team to scale up our business for the many patients who suffer from sleep apnea.

    Nelson: What has been your greatest accomplishment thus far?

    Holtzapple: Nearly every week, our NozeSeal team gets a new 5-star review like this one:

    “I have suffered with uncomfortable CPAP masks for years and have had my sleep destroyed. NozeSeal is the best product on the market. No strap marks or bruises on my nose, no painful magnet attachments, no hair loss from head gear friction and no constant adjustments to eliminate mask air leakage. I can finally sleep in comfort and turn over as often as I need to with ease. I am so happy!!!!”

    These heart-felt messages truly inspire us to do our best every day to make a difference in patients struggling with sleep apnea!

    Nelson: What can folks expect from NozeSealTM?

    Holtzapple: The NozeSealTM adhesive strip is easy-to-use, inexpensive and compatible with any commercially available nasal pillow. We are blessed to deliver on our motto: “No Leaks, No Straps, Just a Great Night’s Sleep.” Please try one of our trial packs!

    Just a few months ago, I learned of a young USMC veteran, married with a wife and young children. One day he was at the Houston Astro’s baseball game and the very next morning, he never woke up. He had passed away from sleep apnea. This is a silent killer, one to be taken seriously. Men and women alike should not brush it off. I’m thankful we have people like Mark and Scott who are striving to make this condition easier to live and sleep with. To learn more, visit NozeSeal.com.

     

     

    Getting Help for Combat Stress

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    Young depressed military man talking about emotional problems with psychotherapist at doctor's office

    Learning to recognize the signs of combat stress in yourself, another service member or a family member who has returned from a war zone can help you call on the right resources to begin the healing process.

    Combat stress and stress injuries

    Combat stress is the natural response of the body and brain to the stressors of combat, traumatic experiences and the wear and tear of extended and demanding operations. Although there are many causes and signs of combat stress, certain key symptoms are common in most cases:

    • Problems sleeping
    • Uncharacteristic irritability or angry outbursts
    • Unusual anxiety or panic attacks
    • Signs of depression such as apathy, changes in appetite, loss of interest in hobbies or activities or poor hygiene
    • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, aches and pains, nausea, diarrhea or constipation
    • Other changes in behavior, personality or thinking

    Combat stress sometimes leads to stress injuries, which can cause physical changes to the brain that alter the way it processes information and handles stress.

    You should be aware of the following when dealing with a stress injury:

    • Stress injuries can change the way a person functions mentally, emotionally, behaviorally and physically.
    • The likelihood of having a combat stress injury rises as combat exposure increases.
    • The earlier you identify the signs of a stress injury, the faster a full recovery can occur.
    • If left untreated, a stress injury may develop into more chronic and hard-to-treat problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
    • There is no guaranteed way to prevent or protect yourself from a stress injury, but there are things you can do to help yourself and others recover.

    Stress reactions

    Different people handle stress — and combat stress — differently, and it’s not clear why one person may have a more severe reaction than another.

    Here’s what you need to know about stress reactions:

    • Stress reactions can last from a few days to a few weeks to as long as a year.
    • Delayed stress reactions can surface long after a traumatic incident or extended exposure to difficult conditions has occurred.
    • An inability to adapt to everyday life after returning from deployment can be a reaction to combat stress.

    How to get help

    If you or someone you know is suffering from a combat stress injury, it is important to get professional help as soon as possible. Reach out to one of the following resources if you have symptoms of combat stress or stress injury, or if you are experiencing severe stress reactions:

    • Combat Stress Control Teams provide on-site support during deployment.
    • Your unit chaplain may offer counseling and guidance on many issues that affect deployed or returning service members and their families.
    • The Department of Veterans Affairs has readjustment counseling for combat veterans and their families, including those still on active duty, at community-based Vet Centers.
    • TRICARE provides medical counseling services either at a military treatment facility or through a network provider in your area. Contact your primary care manager or your regional TRICARE office for a referral.
    • The Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence provides free resources on traumatic brain injury to help service members, veterans, family members and health care providers. Resources include educational materials, fact sheets, clinical recommendations and much more.
    • Veterans Crisis Line offers confidential support 24/7/365 and is staffed by qualified responders from the Department of Veterans Affairs — some of whom have served in the military themselves. Call 800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting to 838255.
    • Non-military support channels such as community-based or religious programs can offer guidance and help in your recovery.

    If you are suffering from combat stress, you are not alone. Reach out to get the help and treatment you need to be able to live your life fully.

    Source: Military OneSource

    Kyle Carpenter: Worth the Sacrifice

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    Kyle Carpenter speaks in to microphone

    By Kellie Speed

    U.S. Marine William “Kyle” Carpenter wants you to know that you were worth his sacrifice.

    The sacrifice the 31-year-old is referring to is the life-threatening injuries he sustained 11 years ago. On that fateful November 21st day in Afghanistan, a Taliban hand grenade was thrown on the roof he and fellow Marine Nick Eufrazio were holding post on. Instead of running from the explosive, Carpenter heroically jumped on the grenade, saving both of their lives.

    While they each sustained grievous injuries (Eufrazio suffering a traumatic brain injury and Carpenter having to undergo more than 40 surgeries to reconstruct his face, right arm and other body parts at Walter Reed Medical Center), Carpenter says he is “just so happy we are both alive today.”

    In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Carpenter the nation’s highest military decoration for valor in combat – the Congressional Medal of Honor – and he became the youngest living recipient.

    Today, he embraces life to the fullest with a contagiously inspirational attitude, making the most of every day – whether it be skydiving, running the Marine Corps marathon, writing a book or helping to plan his wedding this fall.

    U.S. Veterans Magazine had the honor and privilege of catching up with the decorated Marine by phone to reflect on that fateful day on November 21, 2010, discuss his long and arduous road to recovery and why he considers the Medal of Honor a “beautiful burden.”

    USVM: Can you tell us why you initially decided to enlist in the Marine Corps back in 2009?

    Carpenter: I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to do something for a greater purpose while still young and able, and I wanted to do something that would push me to an unknown limit. Even with everything that has happened, I got exactly what I wanted. Despite the long, dark and painful nights, it has been a beautiful journey. After everything I have been through, I feel like I am more thankful than ever. Perspective has been the most powerful parts of my journey. It has been a process and evolution through many years. If you work at it over time, you will realize the silver linings and blessings in life. Today, I look at a glass as half full and keep myself in check because you remember a time when you could see it only as half empty.

    USVM: Can you take us back to November 21, 2010, and tell us what you remember about the day when you saved the life of your close friend and fellow Marine Nick Eufrazio?

    Carpenter: Nick is an incredibly beautiful person. He was a very junior Marine like me and was extremely smart and confident at what he was doing. It was his first combat deployment, but he was our point man. Having never deployed on a combat deployment, he led our entire squad, which was 70-75 percent Iraq veterans. I will always be honored to have served with him.

    I had just turned 21 a few weeks before we were on that roof. We started getting attacked in the morning at daybreak. I remember rolling over in my sleeping bag, hearing gunfire and saying to myself, “it’s just another day in Afghanistan.” Right before the grenade came, Nick and I had been on post for four hours and it was so close to the next shift that one of the guys was putting on his gear to get to us. I just remember the final few seconds before I felt like I got hit really hard in the face. Nick and I had been going over scenarios of getting attacked. We had been getting attacked the entire 24 hours before and we had very few sandbags to protect us on the post so we were not in the best position. I remember we were going over if they came down from this alleyway, this is how we would react. You can never be fully prepared for combat scenarios, but we were just trying to get that one second jump and a little more clarity what we would do. The last thing I remember, I asked Nick what he would do if a grenade came up on the roof and he said, “I’m jumping off this roof.” I said, “Dude, I’m right behind you.” Then I felt like I got hit hard in the face.

    Even though I don’t remember seeing the grenade or hearing it land, as I struggled to put the pieces together of what had happened, I realized I was profusely bleeding out. I thought about my family and my mom specifically, and said a quick prayer for forgiveness. That allowed me to truly believe and know, as darkness was closing in and I was getting extremely tired, those were my final moments.

    USVM: You call that your “Alive Day.” Tell us about that perspective and how you remain so positive.

    Carpenter: When I woke up five weeks later after my injury and realized those were not my final moments and that even though I had a two-page long list of injuries, I still woke up. I truly do feel like every single day is a bonus round. I slowly started to realize that what happened and my injury were a necessary steppingstone that I had to go through to pave way to that bigger purpose.

    It was that kitchen counter moment I talk about in my book, You Are Worth It: Building A Life Worth Fighting For, when I had to realize the past is truly the past. When you get knocked down in life, whether it takes a day or a year to heal, you have to realize, and it’s a tough life lesson, you only have two options – that is, to get up and take that one small step forward or you are going to sit at that kitchen counter for the rest of your life. You can only move forward and look forward. Once you do that, just like the saying goes, all good things come to an end – the same goes for the bad. Stay positive, search for those silver linings and blessings and realize what you do have. Not only will you get back on your feet, but you can and will come out on the other side of that struggle better and stronger than when you started out.

    USVM: When you reflect now, did you ever think you would be capable of doing what you did?

    Carpenter: Still, 11 years later, I cannot believe I did what I did. Over the years, I have transitioned my thinking; I don’t really care if I can’t remember the details of those few seconds, I am just glad I woke up and did what I did. I realized that’s the beauty of the human spirit. There are so many amazing and courageous people out there. Many don’t know it because their time hasn’t come yet, but the smallest acts can be lifesaving.

    USVM: Can you tell us what the Medal of Honor means to you personally?

    Carpenter: The Medal of Honor represents more than words could ever express. First off, it’s not my award and never has been and never will be an individual recognition. Beyond that, it represents my journey of suffering and injury; it represents the Marines that were there with me in Afghanistan serving and sacrificing; it represents the children of Afghanistan longing to read but living in too much fear and oppression; it represents all of the people around the world that wake up every day and hope today’s sunrise will be a little more hopeful than the day before; it represents the Marines and troops that didn’t make it home; and it represents all Americans. It’s very heavy, but it’s a beautiful burden and one that I am very honored and humbled to be recognized with.

    Kyle Carpenter is an American former marine, bestselling author and motivational speaker. Follow him on Instagram @chiksdigscars or YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsL5sNtcRgmG-YPsrEo9q_w.

    PAWS for Veterans Passes House Legislation

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    Senator is standing at podium that displays the text Pass Paws

    By Natalie Rodgers

    The Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act, adorably nicknamed the PAWS, was reintroduced as a bill earlier this year and just made its second pass through the House this past May in a bipartisan unanimous vote.

    The bill would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to run a five-year test program that would assign service dogs to veterans with PTSD, trauma and other post-deployment mental health issues. The grants issued by the VA under this program would cover the cost of providing the dogs to veterans as well as the cost to train the puppies. The reintroduced February bill has additionally been amended to classify veterans with mental illnesses but no mobility impairments to qualify, should PAWS pass.

    Representative Steve Stivers, (pictured) who served with the Ohio National Guard in Iraq, was inspired to create the bill after a mutual veteran friend of his expressed how much his own service dog that helped him with his recovery, allowing him to return to normal activities that were once too difficult to perform.

    “I’ve heard countless individuals who’ve told me that working with a service dog has given them their freedom,” Representative Stivers said in a statement to the American Legion. “These men and women fought to protect the American way of life…with the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, we can make sure they’re able to enjoy the things they fought to make possible.”

     Steve Stivers, R-Ohio pets service dog
    UNITED STATES – May 13: Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, greets Phoenix, a service dog, during a news conference highlighting the passage of H.R. 1448, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers for Veterans Therapy Act in Washington on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

    On average, about 20 U.S. veterans die by suicide every day, with many of these suicides resulting from post-service mental health issues. Outside of that, PTSD is estimated by the VA to affect anywhere between 11 percent and 30 percent of veterans who serve in conflict.

    However, in a joint study done by Kaiser Permanente and Purdue University, evidence shows that veterans with service dogs experience fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress, a lower risk of substance abuse and a healthier mental state.

    “The results these veterans and their dogs achieve and the bond they share is remarkable,” said Mikie Sherrill, supporting representative and Navy veteran. “I’m so proud that we’ve passed this program through the House once more. Now, we need to keep up the pressure to ensure it passes in the Senate and gets signed into law.”

    From here, the bill will go on to the Senate to be voted on before making its way to President Biden for signing.

    Sources: The American Legion, sherrill.house.gov, congress.gov

    Pentagon to require COVID vaccine for all troops by Sept. 15

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    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon will require members of the U.S. military to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press. That deadline could be pushed up if the vaccine receives final FDA approval or infection rates continue to rise.

    “I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” licensure by the Food and Drug Administration “whichever comes first,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says in the memo to troops, warning them to prepare for the requirement. He added that if infection rates rise and potentially affect military readiness, “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so. To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”

    The memo is expected to go out Monday.

    Austin’s decision comes a bit more than a week after President Joe Biden told defense officials to develop a plan requiring troops to get shots as part of a broader campaign to increase vaccinations in the federal workforce. It reflects similar decisions by governments and companies around the world, as nations struggle with the highly contagious delta variant that has sent new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths surging to heights not see since the peaks last winter.

    Austin said in his memo says that the military services will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need, and how this mandate will be implemented. The additional time, however, also is a nod to the bitter political divisiveness over the vaccine and the knowledge that making it mandatory will likely trigger opposition from vaccine opponents across the state and federal governments, Congress and the American population.

    It also provides time for the FDA to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected early next month. Without that formal approval, Austin would need a waiver from Biden to make the shots mandatory.

    Troops often live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, increasing the risks of rapid spreading. And any large outbreak of the virus in the military could affect America’s ability to defend itself in any national security crisis.

    Read the complete article posted on AP News.

    Recognizing the Symptoms of PTSD

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    woman sitting down with elbows on her knees and one hand on her head looking distraught

    People who live through a traumatic event sometimes suffer its effects long after the real danger has passed. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

    While PTSD is often associated with combat veterans, any survivor of a natural disaster, physical abuse or other traumatic event may suffer from it. The good news is that with professional help, PTSD is treatable.

    But the first steps in getting help are learning the risk factors, recognizing the symptoms and understanding the treatment options.

    Knowing the risk factors

    Several factors play a role in developing PTSD, such as individual personality, severity of the event, proximity to the event, the people involved in the event, duration of the trauma and the amount of support the person receives afterward.

    You may be at higher risk if you:
     

    • Were directly involved in the traumatic event
    • Were injured or had a near-death experience
    • Survived an especially long-lasting or severe traumatic event
    • Truly believed your life or that of someone around you was in danger
    • Had a strong emotional or physical reaction during the event
    • Received little or no support following the event
    • Have multiple other sources of stress in your life

    Recognizing the symptoms

    Just as individual reactions to trauma vary, PTSD symptoms also differ from person to person. Symptoms may appear immediately after a traumatic event or they may appear weeks, months or even years later.

    Although the symptoms of a “typical” stress reaction can resemble those of PTSD, true PTSD symptoms continue for a prolonged time period and often interfere with a person’s daily routines and commitments.

    While only a trained medical professional can diagnose PTSD, possible signs of the disorder include:

    Re-experiencing trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder frequently includes flashbacks, or moments in which the person relives the initial traumatic event or re-experiences the intense feelings of fear that surrounded it.

    Avoidance/numbness. As a result of flashbacks or other negative feelings, people suffering from PTSD may avoid conversations or situations that remind them of the frightening event they survived.

    Hyper arousal. Feeling constantly on edge, feeling irritable and having difficulty sleeping or concentrating are all possible signs of PTSD.

    Children can also suffer from PTSD. In children, PTSD symptoms may differ from those seen in adults and may include trouble sleeping, acting out or regression in toilet training, speech or behavior. Parents of a child with PTSD may notice the child’s artwork or pretend play involves dark or violent themes or details.

    Understanding the treatment options

    Even suspecting you have PTSD is reason enough to get a professional opinion, especially when free help is available around the clock to service members and their families.

    If you’re not sure whom to talk to, start with any of the following:

    • Military treatment facility or covered services.You can locate the nearest military treatment facility and covered services in the civilian community near you through the TRICARE website.
    • Your healthcare provider.If you receive health care in the community through a civilian provider, you can start by talking to your doctor.
    • Local Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.If you are eligible to receive care through a VA hospital or clinic, find the nearest facility through the Veterans Health Administration website.
    • Military Crisis Line.If you or anyone you know ever experiences thoughts of suicide, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255. The Military Crisis Line staff can connect you with mental health support and crisis counseling services for a wide range of issues.

    Remember, you are not alone. Free help is available 24/7 to service members and their families. Seeking help is a sign of strength that helps to protect your loved ones, your career, and your mental and physical health.

    Source: Militaryonesource.mil

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