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  • DCoE Director Holiday Message

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    Navy Capt. Paul S. Hammer

    Happy Holidays from all of us at Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE)!

    It’s hard to believe it has been almost a year in January since I came onboard. As predicted there was a lot of “drinking from the fire hose” the first several months, but luckily I have found my sea legs. I can’t say that it hasn’t been challenging, but it certainly has been worth it.

    In 2011 there has been a lot of positive change that has occurred within DCoE that will allow us to better serve our sailors, airmen, Marines, soldiers and those in military medicine.

    Three of our six centers are now aligned under different agencies. Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress and Center for Deployment Psychology are now a part of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and National Intrepid Center of Excellence is under the National Naval Medical Center.

  • Frontline Psych with Doc Bender: Getting Psychologically Fit in the New Year

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    Soldiers with the 172nd Infantry Brigade listen to Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta aboard forward operation base Sharana, Afghanistan Dec. 14, 2011. Secretary Panetta thanked each and every soldier and wished them happy holidays and a quick and safe return to the states. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

    Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.

    Around the holidays, especially heading into the new year, people tend to reflect on what they’ve accomplished and make resolutions to improve themselves or achieve certain goals. Many people set goals related to physical fitness: lose 10 pounds, bench press 300 pounds, or max out their physical fitness test. These are great goals that are worth pursuing, but what about goals related to improving your mental health? There are things you can do to improve your memory, mood and generally get psychologically fit.

    A clear mind can positively affect many parts of your life—both in the military and in civilian life. The following tips can help you achieve your goals of developing a healthier mental state next year:

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  • The Time to Prevent Suicide is Always Now

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    We hear about suicide prevention awareness every September, the month designated to bring national attention to this issue. At Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), and many agencies, private organizations and nonprofit groups, every day is an opportunity to reach at-risk individuals through advocacy, crisis intervention and targeted resources.

    I recently asked Dr. Colanda Cato, DCoE clinical psychologist, about her presentation to CrisisLink, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis and suicide prevention organization that provides a national 24/7 crisis hotline. At their “2011 Fall Forum: United in Hope,” Cato talked to CrisisLink counselors, staff and board members about military suicides, connecting with the people who answer those calls to the hotline from service members and veterans.

  • Got Holiday Stress? Here’s How to Prevent and Cope

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    Army Maj. Todd Yosick

    The holidays are a special time for most of us, but can also be challenging because of the multiple demands and stressors of the season. It provides all of us a time to recharge and reflect on the events of the year, while preparing for what the new year will bring.

    We understand the challenges service members, veterans and military families can face during the holidays. The absence of loved ones, adjusting to life at home, communicating with family and friends—all of these things can heighten emotions and increase stress levels. With this in mind, how can we prevent unwanted stress, or better manage our stress during the holidays? Here are a few key areas that are important to remember:

    1. Maintain strong emotional ties and work hard to develop new ones. Remember that your success at bonding with others can provide some of the energy and support you’ll need to springboard into next year. Human connection is imperative, especially when times might be tough.
  • Veterans Service Organizations: Find One that Fits Your Needs

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    U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Katherine Keleher

    If you’re a veteran, you might have already connected with a veterans service organization (VSO) and are familiar with the services and benefits offered by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, for service members who haven’t yet transitioned or will be transitioning to veteran status soon, Real Warriors Campaign recently published an article, “What VSOs Can Do For You” that’s quite helpful.

    When it comes to a VSO specifically, it’s important to note that some VSOs are chartered, which means these organizations are federally authorized to represent veterans before VA, and some are non-chartered. For example, chartered VSOs may prepare and present veterans benefit claims to VA. Non-chartered VSOs may provide veterans and their dependents with information on how to obtain veterans services and benefits, but they cannot serve as a representative before VA. Your specific need may determine the VSO that’s best for you to explore and reach out to.

    Here’s a brief look at a few chartered VSOs partnered with the Real Warriors Campaign:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Dog’s Tale

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    Former Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan and his service dog, Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Leslie Granda-Hill)

    Luis Carlos Montalvan is a decorated war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained while serving two tours in Iraq. I spoke with Montalvan at the Pentagon library Nov. 30 where he shared perspectives on PTSD and TBI and his special relationship with Tuesday, his service dog. From that conversation, here’s what I imagined Tuesday might say if he could talk.

    My name is Tuesday. I’m currently resting at the feet of former Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan, who’s talking about two subjects that most interest him — bringing veterans’ struggles with PTSD and TBI to the forefront, and me.

    Let’s be clear. I’m not really resting. I’m a highly-trained, low-tech asset listening to Montalvan’s breathing, words, inflection and tuning in to any changes in perspiration or scent that might indicate an oncoming anxiety attack. My back is touching his leg. I’ll likely know before he does if he starts to feel unwell and alert him and others. I’ve often heard him say that I’m his litmus test; he looks to me to gauge how he’s feeling.