Monday, March 31, 2014

TNAV this week: Author Julie K. Weber-Torres

The New American Veteran has moved from BlogTalkRadio to Vets on Media!

Each broadcast will stream live through the Vets On Media website, and also live through GallantFew's Youtube Channel. Below is the inaugural broadcast from last week.

This week, at 1pm CST on April 2nd 2014 Adam Bird will join Karl live in the studio.  Adam is co-founder of Vets On Media.  We will discuss some current veteran issues, and we will also speak with Julie K Weber-Torres, author of the new book "A Daughter's Hero".

Julie is the proud daughter of Vietnam Veteran Julius “Jerry” D. Weber.  He completed two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army from 1968 - 1970 as a Light Equipment Engineer with the 557th Engineer Company. He volunteered to bravely to serve his country at the young age of 17, during the war conflict in Vietnam.

Following the loss of her father on October 8, 2005, she was inspired to research her dad’s Vietnam experience to create understanding about his life and struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcoholism.

After a few years of researching she was able to put many pieces of his life together to create a genuine story. A book titled, “A Daughter’s Hero” shares Julie's father’s selfless dedication to our country and his struggle transitioning back into civilian life.

A Daughter’s Hero was written with love and honor and shares the unconditional love and compassion between a daughter and her father. His story is shared in hopes to aid others dealing with similar issues and to create understanding about those suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Karl is looking forward to this, as his grandfather, Phil Vawter was a veteran of WWII (where he earned his Combat Infantryman Badge), Korea and Vietnam.  He died alone and isolated at the age of 65.

Join us for the broadcast, and spread the word.  If you would like to be interviewed on TNAV, drop me a note.

In keeping with the Vietnam theme, a friend of mine recently forwarded me the link to this video about American Prisoners of War in Vietnam.  The brutality and torture of Americans by the North Vietnamese should never be forgotten - and Jeremiah Denton, the POW who revealed this torture to the world by blinking his eyes in Morse Code T-O-R-T-U-R-E just passed away at the age of 98.

The Call

GallantFew is humbled and honored to welcome a new blogger to The New American Veteran. We are not releasing her identify so as to protect her and her Ranger's privacy.  They made the decision to share their experiences in the hope that it will educate and inform others.  As her story develops, you will find yourself dumbfounded and flat pissed off in the way our "system" cares for one of the finest soldiers on the planet - and you'll be inspired by their bravery and leadership.  We hope you'll be motivated to get involved so that we can change the system where it can be changed and provide needed care and support where the system is inadequate.  RLTW  Karl


As a Ranger wife I knew that at any given moment one phone call or one knock at the door could completely change the course of my existence. This is the story of that call. 

September 2011.

My husband was halfway through his fourth deployment to Afghanistan and although I stood strong through the previous three, something about this deployment seemed harder. I had been overly anxious and in tears for several weeks. I needed to relax and decided to go to dinner with two friends. I made a conscious decision to put my phone on silent and left it at the bottom of my bag. We had just settled in to our table and ordered appetizers when a horrible feeling came over me. I needed to check my phone. I dug it out of my bag and noticed several missed calls from my mother in law and she was calling again. 

Before I answered the phone, I looked directly in to the eyes of my friend and said, " I know this is not going to be good." 

I moved away from the table towards a quieter area of the restaurant and answered the call. Looking back, I realize this was the last time I would ever feel peace.

His mother asked me if I had heard from my husband. I responded no, in fact it had been a few days. The next words out of her mouth were, " I am really sorry to have to tell you this but he has been hit by a grenade." 


I had to ask her to repeat what she had said three times. The magnitude of what had occurred only really registered when she continued on to say that she was contacted by his First Sergeant. As any military spouse knows, when the soldier himself does not make the call it is because he is considered unlikely to survive. 

I wish I could say I remained calm and strong or that I followed the Ranger example of being discreet and unwavering even in times of great pain. This was not the case. 

The last words I consciously remember hearing were about him possibly losing his right leg and right arm. By this point I had some how made it back to our table in the restaurant. I collapsed. I was hysterical. I threw the phone to my friend who knew right away what must have happened. As she continued to gather information all I could do was cry on the floor of that restaurant and ask God if he was going to survive.    

When the call was finally over all I had were instructions to stand by, the deepest sense of loneliness I have ever experienced, and a table now full of appetizers. 

AUTHORS NOTE: My husband did survive and both his right leg and right arm were salvageable after some 30+ surgeries that continue on today.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rangers, Shepherds, and the Old Guard

On Friday I received this letter from a Ranger veteran, and I publish it here with permission.

Ranger Hill had been saving money to go to Normandy for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, and due to his schedule he is unable to go - so he decided to donate the funds he had saved to GallantFew.

I don't share a lot of details about GallantFew's work because so much of it is intensely personal and the veterans we help are very private people.  I know because of that there are some who wonder why we need funds and what is it we do with those funds, so I thought I'd share this thread I posted on my personal Facebook page earlier.  I didn't expect to get the feedback that I received - 145 Likes, 7 Shares and nearly 30 comments a few hours after posting.  One of them said "Awesome. I needed to hear that today", so I thought I'd share it wider along with a note from a Ranger veteran who made a seriously large donation.
So this is how GallantFew, Inc. works and is typical of the unseen hand that guides. I connect to a Ranger veteran who returned from the brink of suicide and now puts himself in the public eye setting the example and talking constantly about the dangers of DWI and over the weekend is interviewed.
Another Ranger medically retires and moves nearby, in casual conversation mentions he's looking for a service dog, a big full-blooded German Shepherd.
A gal in Pennsylvania, whose brother was an 82nd ABN veteran that committed suicide has dedicated her time and resources to providing full-blooded German Shepherds to veterans. She hears the interview, looks up GallantFew and calls me this morning wanting to help someone.  She and the Ranger are now connected.
I am constantly amazed.
One of the comments:  
You have been a beacon. A light in our lives that continues to shine and points us in the right direction. You do so much for the Rangers but trust me, you have done even more for this wife. I cannot tell you the weight that you have taken off my shoulders. You allow me to breathe and know that when I feel I have no where to turn your light points me to the right direction!!
I'm not writing this to impress anyone, I'm writing to let you know that the funds you provide allow GallantFew the ability to develop networks and put resources in place that make a real, discernible difference in the lives of veterans and their families.  It's not just Rangers, but we started from that foundation so it comprises the majority of the network - but that is starting to change, with the onset of the Raider Project and more and more veterans from outside the Special Operations Community coming to us for transition assistance and to be mentors to those seeking transition assistance.

Last year we helped SFC (ret) Phillip Kitts and his family.  Today Phillip and Heidi are leading the way in talking about their experiences with TBI and PTS, and they are helping me educate lawmakers on shortcomings, and they are setting the example by telling other veterans about their own experiences - sharing lessons learned and resources discovered.  Phillip is taking responsibility for reaching out to communities of veterans - like I did with Rangers, he's doing with veterans from the Old Guard, 1st Infantry Division (by combat teams) and more.

The Old Guard, you say?  What action have they seen lately?  The Old Guard became some of the very first responders following the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.  Phillip watched from Arlington as the attack occurred, and subsequently found himself and his buddies performing the grim task of recovery and accountability in the ruins.

Many exciting and promising initiatives are underway at GallantFew - so stay tuned, we'll be announcing them very soon.  You can get involved right now!

V/R  Karl

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The New Enemy-Post Traumatic Stress

The word Post Traumatic Stress DISORDER is ridiculous. I understand the Post Traumatic Stress part but the DISORDER? Why? Does having PTS really mean you have a disorder. Maybe to a clinical psychologists who refer to the DSM IV to diagnose a certain mental health issue it can be a disorder. However, the word disorder used for veterans can cripple your mental stability. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) includes this definition:

"A clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress (i.e., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., an impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom. The syndrome or pattern must not be merely an expect able and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event. It must currently be considered a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual. No definition adequately specifies precise boundaries for the concept of mental disorder. Also known as mental health, mental impairment, mental illness, brain illness, and serious brain disorder," (DSM-IV, 1994; p. xxi).

Lets break this down a bit. By definition stated above, being hit by an IED, mortar round, grenade, or even simply watching a friend do the same can fall under these qualifications as a disorder. However, the response to these events are not a dysfunction in the individual but merely a natural reaction. The word disorder has got to go. Being diagnosed with PTSD can leave a veteran to almost reason with his/her service as being crazy and not have a way to sort the feelings out. The word disorder gives reason to not hope, no way out, leaving a veteran feeling more helpless. Maybe saying a natural reaction to the duration and exposure to combat should be an obvious symptom of Post Traumatic Stress. IF the re-occurring thoughts and feelings keep manifesting and the person has problems with reintegration or what have you than it needs to be treated in a clinical setting. I feel like the mental health professionals at the VA or any other place that serve veterans have the verbiage wrong in this matter. These are natural reactions to horrific events that can cause damage but labeling a veteran with a disorder just compounds the problem. 

When I went in for my mental health evaluation after I had been blasted a few times I was asked a series of 4-5 questions. I answered to the best of my ability and truthfully. What I came out with was a mental health diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Guess what? It drove me to not want to get help from the professionals who just hooked me up.  I lived up to that diagnosis and basically convinced myself that I was borderline crazy and it was never going to go a way. Once I started studying psychology in college my thoughts changed. Everyone, in some capacity has a threshold to endure pain, suffering, and trauma. The bodies natural reaction is to shut down the conscious mind and pick up certain events through the unconscious, this is the brains defense mechanism. The purpose is to help shield the traumatic memory. That mechanism is a natural reaction. The re-occurring dreams, sounds, and smells, are not dysfunctions. They are the natural response to the traumatic event.  I'm not saying that guys should not be diagnosed, I am saying the verbiage needs to go. The stigma of having a disorder while still in a Ranger Battalion, Special Operations Warfare Team, or simply still being a line dog in the Infantry can ruin your psyche. Having things in your medical file like, "mental impairment," "serious brain disorder," "or mental illness" can ruin a man's position within a team.  It can also send signals to others, to stay away from that person, he's crazy. etc. This goes so far as to affecting veterans, and employment. The stigma of being in combat is nothing more than feeling like the rest of world is labeling you as a crazy, those labels drive isolation. Isolation leads to suicidal thoughts, and you get the complexity of the situation.

Karl adds:  The VA's accepted treatment for PTS is immersion therapy.  In my opinion, immersion therapy is criminal negligence on the part of a mental health professional.  In immersion therapy you relive the trauma over and over and over and over... by telling it to a parade of different (and usually non-veteran) shrinks.  They believe if you go through it so much you become hardened to the experience, better able to deal with it.  Makes sense, you know if you continually rip the scab off an open wound it heals, right?  NOT.  Doesn't make sense at all, it ignores basic understanding of the brain's ability to capture and store memories.  We are working with Dr. Carrie Elk on an innovative treatment program that is working for Special Operations veterans (and active duty too) without drugs, without immersion, and we are seeing success in a couple of one hour sessions.  We seek to bring her to communities all over the country to train the trainer and get this therapy wide-spread exposure.  More to follow on this.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Veteran Unemployment - What's the Real Deal?

Last week the Veterans Administration published this article about veteran unemployment.  It's titled "Veteran Unemployment Continues Downward Trend".  From the article:
"Although the month-to-month unemployment rate for Veterans continues to fluctuate, Veteran unemployment is still trending downward."
 and concerning Gulf War Era II (i.e. post 9/11) Veterans:
"...we see unemployment is 9.1 percent which, while up from January's 7.9 percent, is still among the lowest in more than three years.  If you compare these data points over the past few years, you can see the downward trend for Veterans unemployment is continuing."
 You can see their charts here.

Every month since January 2011 I've been capturing numbers from the Department of Labor Veteran Statistics Report. It comes out monthly and has numbers broken down by eras.  Anyone can look at it and draw their own conclusion.  My conclusion is a bit different than the rosy picture the VA paints.  Here are the headlines from the last three month VAntage Point blog on Veteran unemployment:

"Veteran Unemployment Continues to Decline, Lowest Rate in Five Years"
 "Veteran Unemployment Numbers Hold Steady in in (sic) January 2014 Report"
"Veteran Unemployment Continues Downward Trend"
There are indeed some very positive things in Veteran unemployment rates.  Overall, Veterans are significantly less likely to be unemployed than a non-Veteran.  On a twelve month average ending February 2014, any Veteran is nearly 9% less likely to be unemployed than a non-Vet.  Further, a Gulf War Era I (Desert Storm) Veteran, is 21% less likely to be unemployed than a non-Veteran.  For the month of Feb 2014, a Desert Storm era Veteran is half as likely as a civilian to be unemployed.  50%!'s the part that doesn't get the attention it should.  A Gulf War II (post 9/11) Veteran is 24% more likely to be unemployed than a non-Vet over a twelve month average and in February that went up one point to 25% more likely unemployed than someone who never served.

Further ugliness, a female Gulf War II Veteran is 30% more likely to be unemployed than a female non-Vet.

Period March 2013 - February 2014

When you compare eras in the numbers provided by the Dept of Labor, it becomes very apparent than our newest Veterans - many of whom volunteered to go to war AFTER 9/11, knowing we were a country at war - are facing the greatest employment challenges when they return home.

We can put all the nice wrappers around the statistics we want - but that kid returning to Dallas, Kansas City, Seattle - that kid is facing isolation, a government-endorsed PTSD treatment program that in my opinion makes PTSD worse in a Veteran, not better and many of them are dying as a result.

General Wayne Downing (God rest his soul) used to say he had a simple cure for PTSD, and that was simply "you're hired".  I believe that's about 75% of it and we're working with innovative companies to get more veterans great jobs - but there's still work to be done to help the brain file and store traumatic memories in a way that they aren't overpowering.  We're working with the Elk Foundation to train licensed therapists on how to do this without continually ripping the scab off while wondering why it's not healing.  You can learn more about Dr. Elk's work here.

The below chart is the report I post monthly on social media.  It starkly shows what is happening by era and by sex.  In every graph except the top right, the green color indicates post 9/11 veterans - and it's virtually always higher. Go on, look for yourself - I'll wait.

Twelve month rolling snapshot

It is also my opinion that federal government will not fix this issue.  It is one that must be addressed at the grass-roots level.  Until communities - local governments, Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis, faith community - until they take responsibility and ownership for transitioning veterans back into the local community, the problem will continue for long after we leave Afghanistan.   I call on Veterans in every community to come together, show leadership and get your local community - YOUR local community - to take ownership.  It's going to be hard work, it's going to take Veterans going eyeball to eyeball with politicians, then eyeball to eyeball with young battle-hardened kids coming back home, you're going to hear things you don't want to hear, but you're going to learn what they need and you're going to get your community to provide it.  Contact me and I'll help you get started.

It's easy to say "I support the troops, I support Veterans", it's an entirely different thing to take action and actually do something about it.

Let's roll.

Plan With The End In Mind

Normally I write about issues pertaining to Landmark Education and it's impact on my life and how it can help you. Today I thought of doing something a little different. The concept Plan With The End In Mind I learned in Landmark Education, but also in the Army and also in college and professional development courses in the business marketplace.

So, what does the title to today's post mean?

Let's start with the end in mind. What if today was my last day on  Earth. What did my life look like? How did I feel things went? Now imagine if I could go back to the beginning and design my life to be a certain way. What would that look like? 

That said, we can't go backwards. What we can do is live as we choose; or in other words the life we design. If you want peace and contentment as your end goal, look back on your life and see the choices you made. Are they in keeping or in alignment with your goal? If so, great! Keep it up. If not make choices that will put you on track to reach your goals. What if I want to look back at my life and see I was famous, or wealthy or loved or whatever it is I choose?

You  must start with the End In Mind. Plan backwards for your success. Did you plan your life or did you live your life without a plan? One equals success the other is just hoping to find success and always wondering why I can't get "IT" together. Veterans and military people really understand planning for success, but how many apply mission planning principles in our daily lives? How many of us set up an OP-Order for our very lives? 

What is our Current Situation?

What is our Mission or Goal?

How are we going to Execute?

What is needed to Support our Mission/Goal?

What is our Command and Control process? 

Ask yourself these questions and try this exercise, fill in all the sub topical categories under each heading. At the end you will have a solid plan for whatever situation you are in now to go where you want to be. Then you can look back and see you reached your overall objective for your life. 

This was something I was pondering while looking at my life up to now. It made me consider what I want the rest of my life to look like when I am at the very end looking back. 

Here For You,
Larry Zabel

Monday, March 3, 2014

Work Ethic

Men who have sacrificed so much for our freedom deserve to be taken care of (or at least be understood). Some guys that leave active duty have a rough time integrating back into society. We know this, its obvious and its frustrating. But what are we going to do about it? I am going to highlight my past experience after I left active duty about how my work ethic was perceived in my first post military job. My hope is to make other veterans aware of the small issues that arise while being employed in the civilian sector. I feel like I am always harping on the same few areas but its very important to me because I am about to graduate in May and apply for jobs. What I don't want to do is run into the same barriers I ran into before I went back to college. Never make the same mistake twice.

Without a network and without a purpose Warfighters have less of chance to thrive in a civilian setting. When I left active duty I found that my "normal" operational tempo did not translate into a civilian workplace. I landed an environmental clean up technician job when I came home. Working for a small HAZMAT business owned by a Vietnam veteran, it was ideal for me. The work is not hard but what I loved about it was that I was on a "team." In every job I ever want I want camaraderie. I was happy to be on a team. But as I learned my job, I became very efficient, getting jobs done that allowed for 3 days done in two and on to the next. What I didn't know was that my efficiency was festering among other workers. Sometimes I worked so hard that my managers and other colleagues would tell me to, "slow down." Or give me a look like, "what's wrong with the crazy veteran today." .  I am not trying to "toot my own horn" but I knew how to get stuff done the right way, efficiently. and cost the company less.  Instead of using me as a strength they drove me away from my own core values by uncalled for remarks and counseling sessions.. When in all actuality my tempo should be the standard, my work ethic should be used as a force multiplier and an asset to the company. A skill that any manager should want to utilize on his or her team. I left the job because others felt that I was trying to work them out of a job. I was constantly being called into the managers office and asked why I was working so hard, or "what's wrong."

In order for the Warfighter community to relay our skills to other civilian employers we have to establish a line of communication that allows managers, owners, and human resources to understand our skills. I second guessed my work ethic for the longest time and wondered if these people were right. They were wrong. My work ethic will allow me to succeed. I will not shy away from it nor will I stop holding others around me accountable for their own work ethic. I will make sure next time to put on my resume, that I work hard so that it does not offend others. Warfighters, keep charging forward and keep leading the way as we all change the civilian mindset to become veteran friendly!