Author Topic: Indian PTSD program  (Read 11701 times)

Offline wolfhawaii

  • Posts: 293
Indian PTSD program
« on: April 10, 2008, 10:57:29 pm »
Forwarded from a friend:
From the American Legion Magazine April issue


Story by Ken Olsen and photos by Amy Ellott

Steven Reuben's 25th Mechanized Infantry Unit is ambushed while
working its way up a Vietnamese mountain. A rocket-propelled grenade
blows through his legs. His body goes one direction, his weapon
another. He lies wounded and bleeding, undetected and unable to
fight. He listens in horror as his fellow soldiers are slaughtered by
North Vietnamese troops just a few feet away.

This is the scene Reuben cannot shake, a nightmare that started in
Southeast Asia in 69 and has yet to end. He came home to the Nez Perce
Reservation in northern Idaho with shattered knees, shattered eardrums
and a shattered soul. By the early 1990s he was checking into his
VA treatment program. And like many of the 21 other American Indian
veterans he joined for that final round of post traumatic stress
disorder treatment, nothing quelled the memories, the flashbacks, the
relentless dreams. Two of the other veterans in the program committed
suicide, and nine fled before the inpatient program was finished.

`The Indian veterans didn't trust the counselors," Reuben says.
"Therefore, they couldn't bring their problems out."

A handful of VA staff with combat experience shared the same
frustration. They knew decades of cultural misunderstandings and
mistrust - marked by some VA workers turning away veterans with the
suggestion they get their medical care from the Indian Health Services
— had created seemingly insurmountable rift.

"Nobody was dealing with PTSD," says Dave "Coyote" Mann, who saw
action in Vietnam and worked as a veterans service officer for his
people on the Yakama Indian Reservation.

`They were just shoving it away."

As a result, in 1992, Mann and three VA staff members created a
program that blends modern psychology with ancient spiritual healing.
Today, Camp Chaparral is the nation's most well-regarded program
for treating Indian veterans with PTSD and showing VA health-care
providers the power of ancient spiritual healing.

"This is the only place I've ever found honor," Reuben says. "It's the
only place I've ever found healing."

Camp Chaparral brings VA health-care workers and veterans together on
a sacred section of the Yakama Indian Reservation in central
Washington that is traditionally closed to non-tribal members.

Here, amid the towering Ponderosa pines, veterans and VA health-care
workers sweat together, share their thoughts in group counseling, and
conduct traditional Indian ceremonies and dances. From the first
early-morning sweat- house session to the last lingering campfire
conversation, the veterans share their battles with PTSD and give VA
staff and other sufferers the opportunity to experience spiritual

Despite 15 years of unmatched success and the need to serve nearly
200,000 Indian veterans, VA reduced its support for Camp
Chaparral soon after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. The
number of VA staff permitted to attend has been cut in half, to 40.
Admission, once open to VA health-care workers across the country, now
is restricted to staff in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
Funding was slashed from $50,000 to $25,000 two years ago, forcing the
camp to shrink from seven days to four days. And VA provided no
financial support at all in 2004. That year's camp would not have been
possible without emergency help from the Yakama Tribal Council.

•181,000 Number of living American Indian veterans of U.S. wars.
•21,947 American Indians and Alaska natives who are on active duty
with the U.S. Armed Forces (as of October2007).
•3,868 American Indians and Alaska natives currently deployed in theater.
•47 American Indian or Alaska natives who have been killed in Iraq and
Afghanistan since the war on terror began.

The VA says it's had little choice. Doctors, nurses and social workers
are so busy at regular facilities that they can't be spared to attend
Camp Chaparral, according to department spokes- persons. And when VA's
budget is strained, as it was in 2004, decision makers choose to use
their resources differently.

"It is challenging for facilities, especially for our smaller sites,
to have large numbers of staff away at the same time," VA spokeswoman
Megan Streight says. She maintains that VA will never stop funding
Camp Chaparral. "Camp Chaparral is recognized as an extremely valuable
event in our network. We are fully committed to supporting it."

Mann is skeptical. Given VA's shifting priorities in recent years,
tight budgets and attitude toward Indians, he doesn't expect the camp
to be around another year.

"It's a problem getting VA to understand that Camp Chaparral is very
important to our people," Mann says. "If they don't want to give
money, that's one thing. They should at least allow people who work
at VA to attend."

This is no time to cut back on PTSD treatment, Mann insists.
"We're going to get an influx of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and
we're not prepared for it," he says. "They've got to get their
mental-health programs up and running. I've got a son in the Army in
Afghanistan. He's going to have problems when he gets home."

Informal, Intense. Steven Reuben knows firsthand the weight of
mental-health baggage a combat soldier often carries home. He had
never been off the Nez Perce Reservation when he left for basic
training in 1968. His first firefight, a few days after arriving in
Vietnam, was the Tet Offensive.

"They gave us a one-day combat refresher and sent us into the shit,"
Reuben says.

He was trained as a mechanic, but Reuben was never ordered to use
those skills over seas. "They took my wrenches, handed me a gun and
sent me out," he says. That continued until the night-patrol ambush
that has never quite ended in his mind.

Reuben didn't drink or smoke in Vietnam, but he developed a ferocious
appetite for alcohol once he returned. He eventually over- came his
drinking problem. The PTSD was a different story, despite multiple
attempts at VA treatment.

Then Dave Mann invited Reuben to participate in the first session at
Camp Chaparral.

VA mental-health professionals and veterans are assigned to families
of between 15 and 20 people at the camp. Each is led by at least one
American Indian combat veteran and tribal elders.

During daily sessions, the Indian veteran talks about the trauma of
war and, with the assistance of the elders, the spiritual medicine
that helped him deal with PTSD and resulting substance-abuse problems.
VA staff and veterans participate in sweats in the early morning and
late evening, building trust and breaking down barriers.

"We decided the best way to train the counselors, doctors, nurses and
other VA people was to sensitize them to our culture," Mann explains.
"And we are trying to expose them to how veterans really feel. It
doesn't make them instant experts, but it does make them more accepting."

Camp Chaparral also addresses cultural problems that prevent Indian
veterans from getting the help they need. One of the first steps is
persuading VA health-care providers to abandon an assembly-line
approach to medicine, turn away from their computer screens and listen
to their patients.

"The individual has to feel safe in order to share the deepest,
darkest part of their struggle — before they can begin dealing with
the PTSD," explains Steve Tice, one of Camp Chaparral's founders, who
dealt with PTSD both as a combat veteran and a VA counselor. "To take
that first step and find safety, for a combat veteran, is very
difficult. Making a person feel safe is, in part, about culture. You
need to understand what they bring into treatment."

Reuben remained a quiet loner in Camp Chaparral's family sessions for
the first five or six years he attended. Hearing other Indian veterans
talk about their experiences and sharing sweats and other ceremonies
gradually gave him the confidence to deal with his own trauma.

"It helped me with the memories of the firefights I was in," Reuben
says as he cleans the war bonnet he'll wear for the powwow during the
event's final night. "It helped me with the memories of comrades who
were wounded and crying out."
Now Reuben leads a family group and sweat lodges at Camp Chaparral.
Helping other veterans, and helping VA health-care workers understand
both the trauma of combat and the power of Indian spiritual practices,
is strong solace.

"This gives me confidence and helps me cope with the outside world,"
he says. "Before, I couldn't go out without looking behind my back."
"You never get over it," says Jake Mann, Dave's brother and an Air
Force veteran who served four tours in Vietnam attached to the Marines
and other units. But Camp Chaparral gives veterans "a way of releasing
and learning how to live with it."

Beyond helping them understand and treat American Indian veterans,
Camp Chaparral helps VA employees deal with the personal stresses of
their work. "We're trying to get them to better understand
themselves," Mann says, "so they can better understand their clients."

That's critical, says Suzanne Williams, an Air Force combat nurse
during the Vietnam War who is now a social worker and therapist in the
PTSD treatment program at the Spokane, Wash., VA. For 35 years,
Williams couldn't talk about her war experiences — until she came to
Camp Chaparral.

"You come (to Camp Chaparral) thinking you are going to get a training
on working with Native American veterans. I didn't realize I was going
to be asked to talk about my own experience and begin experience and
begin my own healing journey,"
Williams says. "If I hadn't come here, I would never have been able to
work with veterans."

Some VA doctors and nurses say Camp Chaparral is the best and most
meaningful PTSD training they receive.

"Many people who suffer from PTSD hold things pretty close to their
chests," says Dr. John Osborn, who has treated patients at the Spokane
VA Medical Center since 1983. "You don't develop a sensitivity to PTSD
without this sort of experience. And in medicine, if you don't suspect
a diagnosis, how are you going to make it?"

Ken Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Spokane, Wash.

Offline debbieredbear

  • Global Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 1462
  • I love YaBB 1G - SP1!
Re: Indian PTSD program
« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2008, 11:53:03 pm »
Sadly, this good program is not available to women vets with PTSD.  And there are no similar programs. With the way things are now, there are a lot more women vets coming home with PTSD.

Offline educatedindian

  • Administrator
  • *****
  • Posts: 4756
Re: Indian PTSD program
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2008, 12:56:15 am »
When I was still at ASU I remember talking to a Dineh in the IHS. (Sorry that I don't remember his name, but it was the only time I met him, in a group of a couple dozen.)
He mentioned that the IHS will now work with the Veterans Dept and pay for the cost of materials, up to a couple hundred dollars, for the Enemy Way ceremony. They'll also pay for the cost of materials for a sweatlodge, and the VA hospital in Phoenix has a sweatlodge on hospital grounds. For boths sweats and the Enemy Way, though, they have to be careful that frauds don't try to take advantage. Only the enrolled can get materials paid for, and they have to be widely known and trusted in the community for many years.

Stories about vets being healed by ceremony makes up a big part of my dissertation, and the book that it's being made into. Which I guess is something I should've added to that other thread.

Offline wolfhawaii

  • Posts: 293
Re: Indian PTSD program
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2008, 08:46:07 am »
Sadly, this good program is not available to women vets with PTSD.  And there are no similar programs. With the way things are now, there are a lot more women vets coming home with PTSD.

Why is this program not available to women? I am a veteran of Desert Shield and Desert Storm; the VA has been less than responsive in my case for years. Seems like if they are denying a program to women veterans there should be some legal recourse.

Offline debbieredbear

  • Global Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 1462
  • I love YaBB 1G - SP1!
Re: Indian PTSD program
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2008, 03:12:50 pm »
I don't know. But I wish my neice, who is Desert Storm, could partake. Also my  Nam friends. Maybe, until now, there hasn't been much call. But maybe with more women vets, they will have to set up a women's program. I have a friend who has benefitted greatly from this program. Before he went in, he was suicidal from his PTSD. Now he is like a whole different person.


  • Guest
Re: Indian PTSD program
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2008, 03:44:16 pm »
Now this was years ago, even before Desert Storm. We talked to the woman that was the head of the Woman's Program with the VA. I cannot remember her name. But then their explaination was that women had alternative sources to health care. That is "her husband's insurance", they were non-combat, there was then only less than 1% in the military. We disagreed iwth her, but the bottom line came down to money, budgets, and how they wanted to spend it.  I think the same applies today, even though the percentage has risen to almost 30%. She really wasn't interested.

Offline Kevin

  • Posts: 182
Re: Indian PTSD program
« Reply #6 on: May 31, 2008, 03:43:49 am »
The stress of not feeling honored and respected for being in combat is significantly less for Indian Vets than non Indians. I would wager heavily that no Indian Viet Nam Vet ever got spit on or called a baby killer by his people. My gut feeling is that the time warp today's Vets experience, i.e. in country one day and the next day back home via jet airliners, is felt less by Indian Vets than non Indian Vets given the cultural perceptions of time many Indians have. Said time perception is different than that of non Indians. I saw more than one eagle feather in Nam, meaning cultural identity was carried across , strongly, to the combat zone and though away, they were still better connected to their people than non Indians. Perhaps some of the attrition of returned combat Vets is more readily attributed to environmental factors such as few jobs, lousey health care and lack of infrastructure and resources and the rampant presence of alcohol abuse amongst non Veteran peers

Offline MikePutfus

  • Posts: 25
Re: Indian PTSD program
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2008, 05:29:44 am »
Some years back while going to Bay Pines, VA in Florida There were no programs for Native Veterans. About 12 years ago I was approched by a fellow Native Veteran about starting a program for us. 15 went through a in-house program first, and then started a support goup that met two times a month. After losing many of us over the years we started letting other Veterans in. It's hard getting older Native Veterans to join anything. The VA disbanded us once, and many refused to come back when we started up again. Now Bay Pines has disbanded us again saying they have no funds for us, and what they have has to be used for the new Veterans. They did say they would let us use a room if we wanted, but that's it. I will never belong to another Veterans support group Native or otherwise at VA again. It's hard enough trying to get a Mental Health Doctor to understand anything dealing with my beliefs and ways. Let alone losing Brothers and then being shoved out the door like left overs, and not worth the bother.