Former First Lieutenant Char Marx of Clear Path, our original partner in education, and I used to discuss Veteran culture often. She always provided intriguing expressions such as referring to Veterans as “Living Histories.” One day when chatting, we talked about the potential for a major traumatic event involving a Veteran in our program. I’ll never forget that moment, she started the expression by saying “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of…” at that point we both locked eyes and said simultaneously, “when”. My heart sank then with the gravity of knowing that moment was yet to come.
As of today, I have three reports of Veterans who visited our students who harbored a plan of suicide or ideation of suicide. This year I engaged a protocol for crisis care for a client in need. This helps all of us understand that Suicide is always within arms’ reach and it does not discriminate. That is why we include the VA in our primary Veteran continuing education instruction, providing Suicide Awareness in our classes. That is why we hosted CONTACT of Syracuse last week, providing Suicide Awareness and Prevention training to massage therapists in our community, free of costs to the therapists.
Our ‘when‘ occurred a few weeks ago with the news that a former administrative leader at Clear Path who was instrumental in helping us develop the program during the first three rotations, died by suicide. To say that I’m sad is not adequate. After years of research, Clinical experiences, hearing stories, watching film and other forms of information exposure dedicated to military culture and Veteran experiences, I have built an emotional resilience. That resilience is vulnerable right now as I process this news and other recent news such as the tragedy in Thousand Oaks, California.
He was an administrative leader. He served in positions to help other Veterans. A few years ago he would not be considered ‘on the radar’ of concern.
Allow me the opportunity to balance that somber thought. As of today the statistics report that most Veterans do not live with PTSD. The current statistics provided by the VA suggest that Veterans living with or who have lived with PTSD range from 11- 30% based on period of conflict. (1) Literature also points out that in 2008, the VA estimated that while 1 in 3 Veterans experienced some symptoms of depression, 1 in 8-10 experienced major depression requiring treatment. (2) In 2015, the rate of Suicide among U.S. Veterans was 30.5 per 100,000. (3) Statistics always sound so significant, right? Numbers with a percentage symbol after them, sound so profound. Yet as these numbers reflect, most Veterans do not live with PTSD, PTSI’s, or major depression.
I illustrate these points so that massage therapists and other Integrative Medicine practitioners are not intimidated while working with Veterans. News stories, Hollywood, and incorrectly-informed reports, cause us to believe the majority of Veterans live with major stress or depression. Also, sometimes people misunderstand the term Veteran causing them to incorrectly think the prevalence of anxiety or depression is greater than it actually is among Veterans in general. Veterans are people who served our U.S. armed forces whether during peacetime or at war. Some Veterans were deployed during times of conflict. Their risks for depression or anxiety is greater. Some Veterans are Combat Veterans who have engaged actively in combat experiences. Their risks are even greater.
Our hundreds of Clinical hours and experiences over the past four years, have provided many positive outcomes (the medical term) and enriching experiences (the educational term) with all types of Veterans with all types of experiences. I remember the woman who arrived to our Clinic with limited facial affect. She explained living with constant pain as a result of her service overseas. She also lived with constant anxiety and depression because her life stalled, compared to her high-school friends who did not choose Service. They went to college, married, or started families. She explained she was not capable of engaging in normal social activities. After her massage, she left while explaining and smiling uncontrollably, she was going to buy a ‘Christmas tree and decorate it’. She proclaimed she was ‘going to enjoy her weekend’.
Through our experiences in the program we have learned in general, Veterans are strong people that live healthy lives. Some need a specially trained practitioner that is prepared to support their Veteran-specific psychological and emotional needs while treating service-related physical injuries. For those of you who work with Veterans and are not specially trained, please help yourself and them by receiving appropriate training, especially if they are referred by the VA. Consider that most Veterans receiving VA care are being treated for war-related illnesses and service-related injuries. Couple that with the consideration that Veterans who live with these illnesses or injuries have a greater incidence of anxiety and depression. To secure my point further, consider the following questions.
Would you receive patient referrals from a high-risk perinatal center or a cancer center without being properly trained?
Do you immediately know 5 adaptive methods to use for clients who identify living with MST? Do you know what is MST or did you have to look it up?
What methods do you use to support a Trauma Informed Care Model?
What is your treatment goal for a session when there has been a recent alteration in an opioid prescription?
Would you know what to do if you, like the massage therapists mentioned above, have a Veteran client with a plan for suicide?
Let me reiterate, the rates, risks and major psychological incidences or crises are low and rare. Yet when incidences occur they are significant and profoundly sad. The 20 Veterans who take their lives every day is too many. As I can now personally attest, one is too many.
At the very least, start your education here: crisis support resources for IM Practitioners. The holidays and winter weather are coming, be prepared to help yourself, your clients, your family, and your friends. There are many articles regarding massage for Veterans that offer a foundation for exploration. Beyond the links and articles, consider training through our program, other Veteran-specific training programs, or through advanced training programs dedicated to psychotherapy and trauma.
For a listing of current classes and other resources in our program please explore this page.
For those of you who work with Veterans and are trained in our program, recall the section of training on Self -Care. We are here to assist you with post-event support and have consulted with local VA staff who also available to help. If we can help, contact me immediately.
Yes, the recent news reports these last few weeks are sad but they do not scare me. Instead I am motivated to help more than ever. 2019, here we come.