Kathy is the director of Wellness Works, a non-profit located in Glendale, California that works with veterans. In her interview she discusses working with veterans with PTSD, some of the unique challenges that veterans face in their post-military life and growing up with a father who served in the Army during World War II and Korea.
The website for Wellness Works can be found here.
Interview conducted on July 8, 2017 in Glendale, California
Present: Richard Hayden and Kathy Lynch
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Kathy Lynch: Kathleen Lynch.
RH: What is the name of your organization and where is it located?
KL: Wellness Works and it’s located in Glendale, California.
RH: When was it founded and what does it do?
KL: Wellness Works was founded thirty-one years ago and it was supposed to be for holistic alternative practices as well as education. About ten years ago we decided to work just with veterans and their families. In the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic broke out, we worked with the AIDS population before meds came out for them. It was a very inspiring time because the nurse, Nancy Rez, at the time was teaching acupressure and told nurses that if they took her class, she wouldn’t charge them but instead would they volunteer. People heard about that. Acupuncturists heard about it, people who did massage heard about it and it became a five day a week clinic from early morning until late afternoon.
That kind of continued and once the meds came out it got smaller but then people from the community would come and they would ask, “I have diabetes,” or, “I have cancer. Can you help me?” So that clinic went on until about ten years ago when we decided we wanted to work with another epidemic and that’s veterans coming home and not having a place. The board voted on it and ten years ago we started working with just veterans and their families.
RH: What was the exact motivation to start working with veterans?
KL: Well, one of the board members said it is a new epidemic. I am not military, I am not a veteran but I was an Army brat. My dad was in the Army for twenty-three years. He was a retired Major. I have a sibling who is eight years older, a sister, and it was quite an experience growing up under those circumstances.
I never knew my dad. I mean, I knew my dad but I never truly understood anything because he was in World War II and the Korean War but they were always told when they came home that there was nothing to share. Just go pick up your life, do your job as a husband and father, and do the best you can. That was it. But you don’t have to share. Many veterans didn’t and still don’t.
He was a mystery to us. When was mother was dying we had an altercation where my sister brought up the fact, “You never allow us to cry. You never have.” And for the first time, he answered and said, “That’s because you don’t know what it’s like going up a hill, having your best buddies die, and you can’t bring them because you could just get others killed.” I remember thinking at the time, I was thirty-three years old, and I thought, “Oh my God. What has he just said?” And it changed my life. I realized then that he’s held all that in.
So we started working veterans. Our first veteran was a Vietnam Navy man. He was a recluse. He, just twenty years before, stopped drinking. He was spit at when he came home. He was on the USS Independence. He saw some pretty bad stuff and that was surprising, too. But the idea that he came home and wasn’t welcomed, we asked him if this would be a good idea, working with veterans. What he said was, “Yeah, if you serve coffee.” [RH laughs]
And so we started with the book War and the Soul written by Ed Tick. Mary Kaufman was the cofounder of Wellness Works so she and I read that book, knew that book, knew about Ed Tick, took classes with him – five day workshops – where we were civilian holders of the stories of veterans that came back. And it changed our lives. We realized when we came back that people would come up, “How was the workshop?” There were no words. We were changed forever.
So we started a book reading with this veteran and someone else. We did that book and it was halfway through the book he realized that he had come home. It was halfway through that book that I knew who my dad was. We then, from then, have done nothing but read and study. We’ve gone to bases to study. We know military culture and we understand it. Now our goal is not only working with veterans but we want to bring education to the communities of military culture – like fifteen things a veteran would like you to know. By doing this, people who are out there helping veterans, like Pacific Clinics, want us to teach their staff. You’re going to have people helping veterans that really understand where they’re coming from.
RH: Alright. What is your specific role here at Wellness Works?
KL: I’m the clinic director and I guess what that means is I do run the clinic. We have acupuncture. We have craniosacral work which is working with the fluid around the brain and down the spinal column. It’s a type of acupressure but also energy work. It helps with TBIs especially. Traumatic brain injury can be helped and it really does start healing the brain and making differences. So people who have terrible migraines get help, especially from acupuncture and craniosacral work. Then we have massage, we have a reading group. I coordinate that and we work together now with USC. I don’t think we were when I first met you.
RH: No. I don’t remember this.
KL: Yeah. They are great. Their interns who work in a military program are here so they can get hours right before they graduate. So we have now many more counselors and therapists which is great. Doing social work, they get in there and help them get their paperwork in.
RH: Wonderful. Does Wellness Works work only with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans or veterans from other wars as well?
KL: I’m very proud to say no. We work with all veterans. We even work with World War II still so that’s really an awesome thing.
RH: Do you work only with American veterans or have you ever worked with foreign veterans as well?
KL: We have worked with foreign veterans, interestingly enough. [laughs] We have an Afghan veteran that helped with interpretation and things. He’s on our clientele now. And also with Israelis – a woman and a gentleman.
RH: Interesting. I’m going to get into PTSD and some of the clinical stuff. Can you describe PTSD?
KL: Well, it is a situation where the body has been traumatized. It’s not just from war. Any of us can have PTSD. PTSD is called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and what that means is that there are a series of events that happen in the body. A car accident. After you’re rear ended and the screeching and everything – you’ve had the whiplash – any car behind you, your first thing is to be hyper- vigilant. You’re always looking. You’re prepared. If you hear a screech, you know what’s going to happen. So that’s being hyper-vigilant.
In the war being deployed anywhere, what happens is that soldiers are especially when they’re deployed out, let’s say Afghanistan, twenty-four/seven they are hyper vigilant. How is that? It’s because they never know what’s going to happen and they know they have to stay alert. Well, if you’ve been deployed for a year, then that means that your body is hyper-vigilant right there. Your adrenaline is ready to go anytime. So when they get home, people look and say, “Why are they so fidgety and hyper-vigilant?” It’s simply because the body now has been trained and it’s been years of training just doing that. Therefore, that is a trauma and that adrenaline will be like that for a while. It’s going to take the body time to learn not to be like that.
The other thing is lack of sleep. Any trauma will cause you lack of sleep. If you get hit in the head with a golf ball, you’re going to have a concussion and you have lack of sleep. So it’s important for people to know that PTSD is not just for the military. It doesn’t mean that they’re crazy.
The other thing that’s really important and what we do here is that we don’t use the “D.” Because it is not a mental condition. The reason that it’s written in the DSM-5 is simply so that somebody can get paid by an insurance company because it’s in the book – the code book. But people see that and say, “Oh. It’s a mental condition. This is not good.” Well, it’s a biological, physiological condition. The body has been traumatized. So biologically, these muscles that are so tight are holding that trauma. What happens in any case – let’s say a medic, let’s say somebody who is a helicopter pilot who comes in and picks up the injured – these traumas, what they see, what they do, it’s in their body. They don’t have time to sit down and say, “OK. Let’s debrief.” There’s no time out there. So what happens is the body will hold it in and contain it.
The problem is, there’s nothing to get that out. So they come home and it’s there. Nobody says, “This is what you do. These are the steps. This is how you deal with it.” The first thing that the VA does is give medication. Unfortunately, some medication is very much needed but other times it just slows the process down. And there’s adverse reactions. I’m not saying that I’m not for medication. Sometimes it’s very much needed but if people were to understand that this is biological and physiological, then they would read it differently. So I really believe that’s part of it, too.
Then the other part that’s in there is the anger outbursts. Things like that. You’d have to be in war to understand where that anger comes from but you’d also have to connect it with, again, the adrenaline. We can all be angry. It’s acceptable as I said before. It’s justified anger. However, when that adrenaline gets pumping, there’s no filer for it because it’s just been going constantly. Our job is to teach how we can control it, how we can help control that. One of the things is the acupressure, the finger holds, that’s one of the ways.
The other thing that we talk about is that most veterans when they get back, what they’re feeling is like, “I’m not crazy.” But they feel like they’re crazy because they have been in a situation that’s so bizarre, when they come back there’s nobody that they can tell because it’s too bizarre. Yet when they’re back, nothing seems the same. They’re totally changed. They will never be the same again. This is huge for us. It’s huge for any human being to go through that. So I feel the military as a whole, they don’t appreciate that. They do not give the veterans a chance to come back gradually and say, “This is what you’ll be feeling. This might happen and this is what you do.” And I think that’s one of the serious things.
And they don’t come back together like they used to. In World War II, all the same guys would be together and then they’d all come back and they’re all together, right? Now they come back by themselves and their buddies that they had relationships with, their brotherhood isn’t with them. They’re alone. So being alone, they turn to self-medication. Being with family, family doesn’t understand. All of these things are part of PTS. I can tell you that there is just no way to communicate what they’re feeling. I think that’s a huge piece. If we teach the colleges, the faculties what this is and we teach them that, yes, they sit in the back of the room. It’s not because they’re disinterested. It’s not what we all thought, that they just want to have a door that they can get out of. No. They are ready also to protect. We never think of that but that’s what they did however many years in the service. They protect. That doesn’t leave them. They’re always service-oriented. They’re always giving. So if there was a fire or anything, they’re in control. They can get people out fast.
But teachers don’t know that. They tend to think, “Well, you’re just sitting back there because you’re not interested. You’re just a poor SOB.” It’s the opposite. So that misunderstanding I think is another thing that weighs on them.
RH: So you talked about this a little bit but what are some of the signs and symptoms and how does it manifest?
KL: The signs and symptoms. The first thing is the hyper-vigilance – always looking around because you never know when something’s going to attack you. The other symptoms, the body will try to communicate with you. It will be headaches, it will be the inability to sleep, relax. Many veterans when they get home, they can’t sleep at night. They’re up all night and then they sleep in the day. Sometimes it’s nightmares and flashbacks.
Now flashbacks aren’t like hallucinations. They really do leave, so to speak, their bodies. They go off. You could be sitting across from a veteran and then all of a sudden you notice that they’re not there. You’re talking and they’re just staring. They’ve got what they used to call, in World War II, the hundred yard stare. They would just not be there. What I’ve learned now is that’s OK. They can be where they need to be and then eventually they’ll be back and you’ll say, “So what was that about?” And then they share because you ask in such a way that there’s nothing wrong with it. And think about it. We all do that sometimes. At some point something will trigger us and it will bring us somewhere. So that’s one of the really big things with people who have been in combat, especially.
The other thing is the body will cause pain when the muscles are so tight and they will be in an extreme amount of pain. Now under war conditions and being out there, they don’t feel it because, again, it’s the adrenaline and the endorphins that cover that up. But when they’re home and there’s nothing, then they do. It’s usually knees, back – they’re breaking my back – that type of thing.
And then the nightmares. Nightmares can be crippling to many veterans because it’s things they’ve seen or things that the psyche is trying to get them to get through. But they also can be very physical and very loud. So comes the violence. When they come back with family members like a wife or a girlfriend, many times that’s the first part that will come out. It’s in their nightmares now. They don’t know they’re doing this but they can strangle someone or they can start beating on someone because that’s in the nightmare. And then they think they’re going crazy. It’s that disorientation of that.
Like I say, all these symptoms will lead to self-medication. That’s when the alcohol abuse and the drug abuse begin. They find out, finally, it’s not working. Most of them ditch that idea as we come along. We try to get them before they get involved in that. But that’s them reaching out. None of them want to go to the VA because of the horror stories. So they’re out there by themselves.
That’s another thing. If they’ve had a brain trauma, which most have, recently I’ve read up about the explosions. An explosion can happen anywhere. We could have one across the street and both you and I would have brain trauma. That big bomb that was dropped, a hundred miles away windows broke.
RH: Are you talking about the bomb in Afghanistan?
KL: Yes. The mother of all bombs. And then you think about all the explosions that take place – the IEDs and this and that – they get up and they start walking and they keep going. Maybe they have a headache, maybe they can’t hear anymore, but they keep going. Well, now we know there’s been damage. They don’t know that though. They come back and they have symptoms. They’re dizzy, ringing in the ears that is so loud that it drives them nuts. This is one of the things that is also a symptom because that’s a trauma.
And then the other thing is, of course, the ability of knowing that you’re not right. You know that you’re not right but you can’t put your finger on it. It literally takes you out of the present. This isn’t mentioned much in PTS but it is something that is sure to happen and they need help to understand that that’s how it is at first. Now, some of these symptoms will go away and they’ll go away on their own but a lot of times they don’t and they need things like acupuncture and craniosacral work. They need things like yoga, proper breathing because the biggest thing that trauma is is stress. Stress causes you to breathe from your upper chest rather than down in your abdominal area. Then not enough blood and oxygen gets to the brain or the muscles to relax. So it’s all of those things put together.
RH: What are some of the triggers?
KL: A loud noise. A backfire. The Vietnam veteran that I was talking to was standing out in a parking lot and a car backfired. Honest to goodness – the fact that he didn’t dive under the car – we all jumped but he, especially. Even though he wasn’t in direct fire, he was on that big ship that did fire with those jets taking off with that loud noise and it just undid him.
The other thing is a trigger could be a child crying. Now see, in Afghanistan, lots of children cry for many reasons. Whoever knows what this particular veteran felt or saw that would have triggered them. We have a nurse who was a retired Colonel. She was a flight nurse and was also in Iraq. She’s working in an ER now – in fact, she’s running it – and a young girl was brought in. It brought everything back. She was triggered severely. She ended up here at the support group and she had to talk it through. Her whole body started shaking. She couldn’t breathe. The whole thing. That’s a trigger.
The other kind of a trigger could be dogs. Now, why a dog? One of our veterans is in a writers group and he told a story about dogs. This guy is always dog sitting and taking care of dogs but the story was that when he was in Iraq, he was ordered to shoot any dog he saw, without question, because dogs bark and give you away. He denied that order. He was the only one that wouldn’t do it. But others did so he never got caught but that stayed in his mind. So now a dog will trigger that but it triggers it in a positive way. There’s such a thing as positive triggers. They will bring you to a dog or whatever the situation is. So that would bring that right back to him.
RH: So you talk about the soldier who didn’t want to kill dogs, this Vietnam vet who heard the backfire when he was on the aircraft carrier and heard the jet. So to develop PTSD or other problems, you don’t necessarily have to witness combat or witness death?
KL: No. You don’t. First of all, boot camp, OK? [RH laughs] Boot camp – and I think the Marines and Army are the worst – that will cause some PTS. Depending again, every person’s different – how they grew up, what were their stresses when they were young. It all depends. But many people will say their PTS started in boot camp and I’ve read many books where that is really the fact. That’s where they learn and that’s when they were changed.
This one veteran that was on the carrier, one of his friends had the same name as he did and they were friends. His plane crashed right there. He saw it. You’re not going to forget that and it meant a lot to him. But the other thing is just being out there, on the ocean, on this huge ship, the sorties that took off on those carriers were in the thousands. They never stopped. It was a continual barrage and they think to themselves, “Oh my God. They’re not just flying. They’re going to drop bombs. They’re going to drop whatever they can.” That has an effect.
And the last one I know that is interesting is we have a Vietnam veteran who’s in his sixties and his job was he got the bombs ready and armed them. Then they took them off and put them on the planes or the aircraft carriers, wherever they took them. One day he was in the shade resting and he was not in Vietnam – Taiwan, I think. They were just sitting there resting and it was hot work. All of a sudden it hit him. “Oh my God. These are going to kill people. Not just the enemy, they’re going to kill civilians. What am I doing?” And this is after doing thousands of them, probably. He became a conscientious objector at that point which is horrible during a war because then he was on the outs. It was terrible. But anyways, his PTS is that. Oh my God. I’m here working and, all of a sudden, what does it mean?
RH: Alright. So we talked about Vietnam veterans. Do you have any similar stories about post-9/11 veterans and some of the things that they’ve done?
KL: Every single one of those veterans that are here today will tell you where they were when that happened and how it spurred them onto the military. When they left, they felt, Oorah! We’re going to go do this and this is going to be great. And unfortunately Desert Storm was one of the worst catastrophes for us as a nation because, number one, we weren’t prepared. They didn’t have the proper armor. They didn’t have the proper officers so they were out there totally uneducated with what they were going to be doing. When those veterans came back, they were wounded in more ways than I can tell you and they will tell you – and they’re loyal to the nth degree – but the biggest wound was how they were let down. Because when you’re out there and you don’t have the correct armor and you don’t have the things that you need like proper officers to tell you what to do, you’re just stuck out there. So that was a great wound for them. And they’re bitter. They still would step up to protect their country, no question, but they’ve got their feelings and they know that wasn’t a good choice.
KL: Oh, and can I say one more thing?
RH: Oh yes. Please. Go ahead.
KL: [laughs] This gives me my chance. With Desert Storm, that’s when we found out about depleted uranium. That is the most horrible part of that conflict because they used it in what armor we had. When those trucks or whatever were shot at, the dust was all over it and they breathed that dust in. We have a veteran that has more uranium in him than is on the charts. I would say twenty-six days out of the month he’s in bed with severe headache, with severe illness, and it’s unconscionable that we and other countries allowed that to happen because we made a pact that we wouldn’t. Then we turned around and did it anyways. So that’s another thing that I feel. You don’t have to put that in! [laughs]
RH: That’s alright! That’s cool. In your experience, does the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD different from veterans from other wars and, if so, how?
KL: I think across the board there’s PTSD or whatever we called it in the past. In World War I it was shell shock – all of that. In World War II there was a place where they would take the veterans – especially the catatonic ones and the ones that couldn’t walk but there was no reason, the ones who couldn’t see but there was medically nothing wrong – they worked with them for months until they were better and then they could go home sometimes years.
So there was always that but I think in the present wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s different just like Vietnam was different. We’re working now with children. Civilians are involved and you never know. You never know who has that grenade, who has that bomb, where it is and what it is. The thing in World War II were the snipers. They could be anywhere. We had the World War II guys that would come to the barbeques and tell the stories of the snipers and you never knew where they were. In Afghanistan, those guys would go, “Wow. That’s what that’s like.” But yet in Afghanistan, they do have them but not to the extent that they had them in World War II. Now they have the added thing. A little boy comes running to you and you think he wants candy. He gets closer and everything goes up. That’s a different kind of stress and a different kind of post-traumatic stress. I think that’s why we’re seeing more of it, I do believe, and it’s just crazy.
And then you think of our society. We do terrible things to each other but we don’t do that. We don’t put them out there to be the target. I think our young men and women, they’re not ready for that. They’re not ready for, we’ll call it barbarism. But do you know what? We’ve had it in all of history but not all young men and women have seen it. Now they are seeing it and that’s the other thing.
RH: I want to ask that question but specifically compare Vietnam veterans and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. I know that after Vietnam, the Vietnam veterans received a terrible welcome from the American public and the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has been largely the opposite where we’ve been welcomed home, received a positive reception and I think, in many ways, the American public has learned from Vietnam. Do you see a difference in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and Vietnam veterans because of this dynamic?
KL: Yes. Vietnam, they got back and the country was crazy. It was crazy and it was an unpopular war. It was horrible when you think of 58,000 people just dying and then it ended the way it did. That was much like Korea except that we were never given the information. Korea was never a war. My dad, that was one of his things – it was a police action. Yet he saw the people dying. How can you call that not a war when he went through all of what he knew World War II was? So there was a bitter, bitter, bitter taste in those veterans.
But we go to Vietnam and it lasted forever. It was so long but they were not volunteers, they were drafted. They got out and then, as they got older, they said, “This is not going to happen again. We’re going to set up places where any other vets that come along, they will have a place to go.” So when Afghanistan and Iraq happened, it was not a draft. It was volunteer. There’s a huge difference. Huge difference. So the Vietnam veterans, they welcome these guys sincerely with an open heart, “Thank you.” And their response, the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, is, “No. Thank you. Because of you, we’re welcomed home and because of you we’ve got care.” So that’s huge in itself but we have to remind ourselves that these kids – men and women – went in thinking one thing and probably came out knowing something totally different. I think that’s the moral among them.
RH: I want to jump back because you gave me an interesting answer earlier. You said that you’ve worked with some Israeli veterans and, I’m sorry, what was the other country?
KL: Oh yeah. An Afghan veteran.
RH: So you’ve said that you worked with some Afghan Afghanistan veterans and some Israeli veterans. Are there any cultural differences between the way that Israel and Afghanistan and American veterans process their experience afterwards?
KL: Yes. The one thing which is very interesting, is that the Israelis do not really think of it as PTS because every single citizen of Israel is in the military and has been forever. So when I worked with the one woman, she said it’s no big deal. But then as we worked a little longer, she said, “Well, that helicopter went down and eight of my friends died and that was kind of big. But at the time, we weren’t allowed to think about it.” So it’s how they are trained and it’s not to say that they’re not going to have issues because I think they will but they don’t name it and deal with it in such a way. Does that make sense?
RH: Yes. Absolutely.
KL: Now Afghanistan, it’s a little different because this guy’s working for us. What I can tell you about Vietnam for sure, not that we had any, but Ed Tick who wrote War and the Soul has taken veterans back to Vietnam and none of the [Vietnamese veterans] have PTSD. They say the reason is because there’s no guilt there. There’s no anything there because they were defending their country. And so when the Americans come, they greet them. They have no hatred towards them or anything. It just really blows everybody’s mind. It’s something that Ed Tick has shown videos of and they just keep saying, “Please. Don’t feel bad. It was something that had to happen. We did what we needed to do because we were defending our country.” And so, they don’t have this problem but our veterans do because they were the oppressor. Isn’t that interesting? Never thought of that. But they’re a very happy people.
RH: I’ve actually been to Vietnam. I don’t want to get too far off into it and we just went as tourists but not for a second were we ever.
KL: No. They think the world of you.
KL: Isn’t it? I know. You learn so much.
RH: [laughs] Alright. Do you find any difference in how men and women are affected by PTSD and, if so, what are those differences?
KL: When we started out we had eight women from the VA and what happened was this one veteran said she never knew what it would be like to step out of that plane and have no color. It was devoid of color. It was all brown. The only thing, you might have a blue sky.
RH: You mean the color of the landscape?
KL: The landscape, everything. To her, that was her first trauma. I’m not saying the guys don’t think that too but this is one thing that if it’s a sensitive person or a person who’s an artist, they’re going to be affected differently. Women are mothers or they love children. I think the thing that is the worse is the children. The children who are so poor, the children who aren’t allowed to go to school, the children who are crying in the streets among all these people who are dressed up in what they’re dressed up in and carrying all these, you know. And I think the women, that hits them harder. Not that the men don’t but other things hit the men, I think.
Most of the women who were out there, they weren’t combat quote/unquote but they were. They were in the Humvees. They were sitting up there in the gun turret. They were there. They had to break into the [word inaudible], the woman that would frisk the other woman. So if there’s anything in that that’s part of PTS, yes. Now whether they’re on the front line or not, I guess now they’re going to be, there’s going to be different statistics, I believe. Being that the men are on the front lines doing the killing and getting to a site where they’re going in, I think that it’s a little bit more.
RH: Alright. What are some of the significant non-mental health challenges that veterans face?
KL: One of the things that I just thought of with post-traumatic stress is that you can’t focus – concentration, lack of concentration. Going to school. Like they’re told, go to school. Don’t lose your schooling. They’re not ready because they can’t focus and they can’t remember. There are things like this that are very important when you’re going to school. The other thing is they’re older now – if not by age, definitely by experience. So these young whipper snappers in school [RH laughs] are acting out, doing whatever and being just jerks. It makes them very angry because now they see their freedom of going to school and these kids know nothing of life, so to speak. That’s huge. So they’re going to fail and they’re going to have to keep going back until they can figure out, how do I do this? Some of the schools have done very well. They have a program “Boots to Books” and then they keep the veterans cocooned in special classes as they start and gradually get them ready to face other things so that’s good.
The other thing is money management. A lot of these kids went in before they really had a chance to live and figure out the car payment and the this and the that. Now they come back and they get a certain amount of money, maybe, or they have a job for a little bit and they don’t know how to keep their money. They just spend it. They don’t know how to save. If they’re able to keep the job – and that’s the other thing – if you’re not getting good sleep, you’re not going to make it in the morning. You’re going to be fired. If you can’t concentrate and it’s a job that requires that, you’re not going to make it. So after job after job after job, you realize you’re a failure. It wears on your self-esteem and all of that.
What we try to do here – and I think we’re doing it and I couldn’t be prouder – is that we now have a grant where we brought in a partner and they’re teaching finance. They’re teaching them. They’ll apply for their money and maybe three years down the line, they’ll look at their bank account and it’s got ninety thousand dollars in it. Whoa! What do you think? “I’m going to Vegas. I’m going to this.” Yeah. They just spend it and then they have no idea. So we try to teach them, “You’ve got to save, you’ve got to spend,” and teach them how to have a checking account, teach them the things that they need to do. And then, another part of that program is to help them write a resume, help them practice that, get them clothes that they can use to go have a job interview. So we’re also working on that. They are able to have GR, to have food stamps if they need at the get-go. Those things. A lot of them aren’t at school. They may be going to community college and they’re living in their cars but nobody knows that. Nobody asks. There was just an article in the Times about it so it’s a big issue.
RH: Do you have any specific stories that you can share of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have come in and have had some trouble and have either recovered or had some continuing difficulties?
KL: Yes. One that was from Desert Storm came and what happened was he was filled with uranium. That was one thing. He had every symptom of PTS that you can imagine. For, I don’t know how many years, he tried everything. No drugs, no alcohol. He tried everything. Then finally on the day he came here he said, “This is it. I’ve done it all. Somebody over at the VA said, ‘try Wellness Works.’” And he said, “So I came.” He told me in the intake, “Whatever.” And I know what that means. They get hopeless and they get suicidal. He was at his wits end. He has a look and we were sitting with him at the table. He was sitting there and many people wouldn’t even approach him. He and I are like this [makes a hand gesture to show togetherness] all because he just needed to be listened to.
He had acupuncture twice a week. He had the craniosacral work. He started the writers group. He now has every symptom taken care of except one and that’s his sleep pattern. We’re working on it. We’re so close it’s not even funny. But he will have his down times and I know, after all these years, that’s hard. But the greatest part of it all is that one by one he shed those things and he’s always there to help another veteran. And I figure if we can get him from survival to get him to being just really sustained, the next thing is self-care. He’s doing that. He’s not doing dumb things. He is a survivor and he’s going to make it but we always know when he’s having a bad time so we all reach out. That’s what this is about – veterans reaching out. That’s one. [laughs]
RH: Any others?
KL: Yes. I have to tell you that the writing group has really worked with the Iraq veterans in the fact that you don’t just sit down and tell it all. Some of it’s so buried, it’s really hard. Some are still self-medicating to an extent with marijuana because it is the one thing that will keep them from going into this huge depression where they just don’t think anything of themselves.
This one guy with the dogs, he’s just beautiful. But as he learned – he did the acupuncture, he did all the things – and now it’s the writers group. That writers group, little by little the stories come out and they’re getting more detailed and making the listener go, “Whoa,” which is so good because they’re safe in doing that. And they’re doing it in such a beautiful way but he has changed. He is somebody that’s always here if you need him. He’s just doing his thing. Yeah, he tried school, it didn’t work. He tried cooking school – it worked but that’s not it. So he’s still searching but what he’s finding above all is that he’s OK and I think that that’s it in a nutshell. We have a book. I want to give you one of these books. That writing group put together a book of their writings. Not all of them are Iraq and Afghanistan. The stories just, you know? But it’s taken four years and it starts with little baby steps. But if we have the patience and we’re there to support them and be with them, it’s well worth it.
RH: Very cool. I want to talk about recovery. You just touched on this a little bit but what does recovery from PTSD look like?
KL: They’re always going to have PTS but they will have the tools to work with it. We have a Captain Ishigaki who is here every Thursday doing psychosynthesis which is spiritual therapy. He has PTS and he knows he will always have it. But he also knows that when he’s triggered, he knows what to do. It has taken him years to get a hold of, years and years, but these young men that looked at him, they know, “OK. This is going to be my buddy from now on and I’ve got to make it my buddy.” So the recovery is being able to use these techniques as we talked about, that you were shared with earlier. Those finger pulls or that tai chi or just taking that deep breath when that anxiety starts to build for whatever reason – Where am I? Who am I? – and knowing, ah!, I’ve got it. That’s recovery.
A huge part of recovery is helping other veterans and giving back. That’s huge.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Are there any particular treatments that you find to be particularly effective?
KL: Yes. Acupuncture is one. We have a Vietnam veteran for forty years that has had migraines, horrible migraines. He worked through it the best he could but, you know, it was just something he knew he had. After three acupuncture treatments, they were gone and they’ve never been back. He gets tension headaches but that’s something else. He knows what’s causing it and he knows what to do. I think acupuncture works on the whole body.
Craniosacral teaches veterans how to relax and once this deep breathing starts what happens is, once you get that relaxation and that deep breathing, you’re on your way. If those finger holds open that airway, then that’s what we do. So I think those two treatments are excellent. We have a class called Operation Wellness which teaches the veterans that they’re not a mental case, that PTS is biological and physiological, and we have some tools to help you through the moments but we first want you to know what it is. And that is an eight-week course and when we used it just recently when we were over at Veteran’s Village, we only had six in a class, they never miss, and I’m telling you they’re a core now. They have another unit and they’re together and they help each other and it’s just wonderful. So I would say you have the education, you have the right methods and it’s good.
RH: Alright. Last couple of questions. You’ve already touched on some of this and may have already answered the question but what are some of the positive experiences of recovery that some veterans may have?
KL: They laugh more and that’s a good thing because that means they’re relaxed more and they’re trusting. They enjoy the trust they have and you can see that. The other thing is, relationships improve. One of the Iraq vets, after so many years you begin to wonder, “Am I lovable? Will I be lovable?” And after all these years he now has found someone. The smile on his face is totally different. His recovery is showing and it’s there. And it’s beautiful. That’s one of the things.
The other thing is recovery, even though it’s still happening – every day it’s happening – you then can see the whole world and I think that’s different. They will know if a vet walks in here and they’re in trouble. They will know and right away their heart’s out there. They love that. It gives them self-worth.
RH: Do you have any funny stories about veterans that you work with?
KL: [laughs] Yes. I do. The veterans here are all funny [laughs] but they’re here because they need to be and we have to remind ourselves of that because sometimes they do the craziest things. This one guy is kind of stand-offish it seems but in the beginning you would want to hug him. That’s just what we do. He’d look at you like, “No way.” And one day he walks in and he looks at me and he goes, “Give me a hug.” [RH laughs] And everybody went [makes a surprised face] with a shocked look and he goes, “What?” And we all laughed. It was just beautiful. But the other thing is he’ll be out at the writing group, he leaves the writing group and he leaves the writing group and he comes into my office and he says, “So where’s my hug?” [RH laughs] Wow! This is so much fun. We just laugh. They can get you laughing so much and it’s like you’re just sitting around the table. They were being good around you, I guess, but they will act up like you could never, you know? And I think that is such a positive thing. It really is.
One of the things is somebody brought helmets and stuff because we were building the battle cross for Not On Our Watch and they put a helicopter helmet on my head and put it down and then they all posed with me. [RH laughs] It was just horsing around and just doing that. To me that’s hysterical that they can do that and they can be funny. They can also drive me nuts but they can be funny.
RH: Alright. Last few questions. As a society, what can the US do to improve mental health care among veterans?
KL: Well, the society has to recognize what a veteran is. That’s why education is so important. I mentioned this and I’m going to mention it again. Not On Our Watch was our attempt to bring to society’s consciousness that twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. Now they want to tell us that’s not so, it’s now twenty. No. It’s more than twenty-two. We know that so we’re sticking with the twenty-two. The reason is we need society to know this figure. Now it’s been in the paper, it’s been on TV, yet when we do this in September, people come up and say, “Twenty? That can’t be right.” And we say, “Oh no, it’s right and it’s probably even higher than that.” They don’t count the ones who die by cop. They don’t count the ones who overdose by drugs. Did you know that?
RH: Yes. Lots do.
KL: They overdose by drugs and the military says, “It was a drug habit, not a suicide,” even though the parents have their journal and it states clearly. That’s not right. Why? They lost their battle with PTS. That’s why. They don’t know what else to do. So society first has to recognize it. They have to know military culture which nobody wants to because it is different. It’s a different code of honor. It’s a different everything. It’s actually beautiful when you think of it but it’s not being honored. And they know that, the veterans. If society would understand that then society would say, “Wait a minute. This is not going to continue. We’re going to fix this.” And by fixing it, what does that mean? It means we’re going to fix it so that – I don’t know if this is possible – the money that we have doesn’t go for dumb crap, it goes for one thing and one thing only and that’s the medical help that these veterans need. That’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take society to open their eyes and say, “We sent them there. They went there for us. Why can’t we step up?” You know? That’s where we’re at. Step up for God’s sake. Do something.
We just found out – I just found out so I’m on a roll now [RH laughs] – when you’re diagnosed with PTS, your records – now I don’t know if this is true – they will put on your DD214 that it was Other Than Honorable. And I said, “No. That’s not possible. They can’t do that.” Well, they do it even afterwards. No, they cannot do that. Well, evidently they have been. And the director of the VA is now, which shocks me, is going to change every single DD214 that was other than honorable because of PTS.
RH: What are they going to change it to?
RH: Honorable. OK.
KL: If you got PTS because you were out there doing what you were doing, who do they think they are? Well don’t you know? That changes everything, doesn’t it? Other than honorable, that can mean anything so you’re not going to get any benefits. Oh. Well, that helps. The VA has a lot of problems and they’re trying to fix them short handedly and we just have to be on top of it but it’s hard. But like I say, education.
RH: Good to go. What are some of the ways that people, be they civilians or veterans, can contribute to the mission of Wellness Works?
KL: Ah! We are not funded by the government. We are totally by private donation. And being a good non-profit like we are, none of it goes to overhead. We only have one staff member and two part-time. All our practitioners are volunteer so donation is one. It’s huge. But if you’re an acupuncturist, come on. Volunteer for us. If you’re a craniosacral person, volunteer for us. That’s what has kept us going, basically. Because of Wounded Warrior – that episode of all the money going to the top – we were turned down by several people because they were burned. And so how could we survive this long? Nah, that’s not possible. One of the founders has donated money for salaries for the last ten years. That’s not healthy. We need people out there to step up and say, “OK. We need to help this organization because it’s one of the ones that’s doing good work and really hanging in there.” So trust me, donations. We’re a 501(c)(3) so it’s tax deductible. You didn’t know you’d be one a soap box
RH: That’s OK. [laughs] Actually, I kept the soapbox questions to the end. If you could say something to a veteran who may be dealing with PTSD and does not know what to do or where to turn, what would it be?
KL: You’ve come to a good place. We can get you started and then, if you’re not hooked up with the VA, we will get you hooked up. No matter what, you’re OK. You’re OK and we will support you. We will be there for you because that’s how we survive. And I also have to say the Glendale police department not long ago found a homeless veteran. He was in the Army, Airborne 82nd, living on the side of the road in San Fernando about twenty feet from the [train] track with a dog – a two-year-old lab mix, black, beautiful. And the guy was really intelligent – oh my God. We brought him here. The police said, “I know about Wellness Works and we’re going to test you here.”
Well first of all, if they’re homeless it’s not easy because they might not be ready. That’s the first thing I ask them, “Are you ready? Because if we work hard to get you a place, are you really ready or would you rather be out?” Because many of them would rather be out. They don’t want to be part of society. No, he was ready.
So the police got his dog shots, got him groomed, helped the guy with clothes. Everything. Got him to the VA to get set up. We had a few hiccups going along and then one day he broke down. He broke down because he couldn’t understand why we were helping him. He couldn’t understand why another vet would let him stay at his home. He just didn’t feel worthy of any of this attention – why the police were doing so much for him. And the policeman said, “No. This is what we do. You’re good.” He said, “Well, I just want to walk and think.” That was a red flag in my head. So he was picked up by the Pasadena police and they took the dog. And the sad thing about that is that’s all he had. Well, it was a false accusation or whatever but then they found a lawyer and so now, the dog’s in a pound, he’s in twin towers, and there we are. First ecstatic and now in the dumps. But we got the dog. And the dog’s up being trained right now. He was allowed to come back to Glendale in a couple of days and go to court in Glendale, get rid of the warrant and start all over again. But this is how it is – sit with him and say, “It’s OK. This isn’t going to be easy but we can do this together.” And I think that’s the key. We can only do it one at a time because we’re not huge – and I don’t want to be because I want quality. So the dog is being trained. By the time he gets out, the dog will be done and they will be reunited. Is that beautiful?
RH: Yes. That’s nice.
KL: That’s a great story but it’s also a collaboration with the police. That is just so awesome. And there’s a group of police that are veterans. They are policemen and they have a medical group where they go out and they look for these veterans.
RH: Very cool. I want to ask you the same question but I want to ask it, let’s a say that a veteran is not in Southern California so not in your geographical area. If you could say something to a veteran who may be dealing with PTSD who is not in Southern California, just in general, and they don’t know what to do, what would it be?
KL: OK. It all depends on where they’re from. If they’re in an area where there is a VA, because some aren’t, I would say the first step you do is go to the VA because they do have at least something for them. Now if this person isn’t homeless, I would do a lot of talking and probably have a therapy session on the phone and let him know that he’s OK, that this is something that can be worked out although it feels out of control. It can be worked through. And if it’s an area that I have some resources with – like North Carolina, I have a group over there that’s working with veterans – I would reference that. And then the next thing I would do is I’d make sure he has a suicide line and make sure that if he ever felt really crappy, this is what to do. And then, really, the reference is most important and that’s what we’re trying to deal with here. We did have someone call from Riverside and that’s just out of our area. I immediately said, “I know the person to contact,” and I gave him that contact. So that’s the thing. I first want to make sure that he is OK, or she is OK, and then secondly how close to a VA are you and that type of thing.
RH: Alright. I have one question left now, before I ask that question, is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
KL: You were really good. You got most of it. [RH laughs] That’s really awesome. I can’t think of anything.
RH: Excellent. So the last question I have, since you started Wellness Works, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
KL: I guess working with veterans. I think that decision was a courageous one. We didn’t know what we were going to do so we had to study first but as of today I think there’s nothing better that we could have done. Probably that.
RH: Excellent. Anything else?
KL: Nope! That’s it.
RH: Well thank you very much! Thank you for a wonderful interview.
KL: Thank you.