September02,2015

Coping with Disabilities and Overcoming Suicidal Ideation: A Retired Soldier’s Story

Retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido

By Guest Blogger the Real Warriors Campaign

Not all health concerns are visible or even physical. Support and treatment for an “invisible” wound, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is just as important as treatment for a physical injury. If a psychological health concern is left unaddressed, feelings of stress or hopelessness can become debilitating. In some instances, overwhelming feelings of despair can lead to thoughts of suicide. Suicide prevention is very serious. One act can save a life. To raise awareness about the importance seeking care for invisible wounds to help prevent suicide, the Real Warriors Campaign is honoring the sacrifices of America’s warriors who are coping with physical and psychological health concerns throughout the month of September in observation of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

One member of the military community who understands how physical and invisible wounds can lead to thoughts of suicide is retired Army Maj. Ed Pulido, a Purple Heart recipient. While serving in Iraq in 2004, Pulido was severely injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. As a result, he underwent 17 surgeries and spent nearly eight months recovering from his injuries at Brooke Army Medical Center. Eventually, Pulido and his family made the decision to amputate his left leg due to severe infection.

During the trying time of treating his physical wounds and fighting for his life, Pulido experienced depression and other psychological health concerns, including PTSD. He had night sweats and terrors about the IED blast. He also worried about how losing his leg would affect the rest of his life: “What will my life be like without a limb? How will I be able to walk? And most importantly, how will I be able to support my family?”

All of these uncertainties made Pulido feel like he was not strong enough. For someone who grew up in a military family and devoted his life to service, he did not feel like a real warrior anymore. He recalls, “People told me, ‘you’ll be okay mentally, you’ll get over it,’ but in reality, I wasn’t getting over it.” These thoughts became so much to handle that Pulido began to contemplate taking his own life.

The turning point in Pulido’s psychological recovery occurred when he began to develop a support system through his family, church and fellow service members. He also started talking about his experiences and reaching out for help from Army leadership and the military health system. After doing so, he began to recover physically and mentally. He readjusted his approach to life and realized that he could conquer his physical challenges. He describes the process as a “road to healing” and notes that reaching out is a sign of strength. “At times, I have night terrors and relive being back on that battlefield. What you do is you learn how to handle that, but you also have someone you can talk to about it. It’s truly important that you have a support system and keep using it.”

In May of 2005, Pulido retired from the Army, but he continues to serve the military community as a veteran. Pulido has learned to handle his leg amputation as well as his PTSD and has overcome his thoughts of suicide.

Now Pulido maintains a successful civilian career as the senior vice president of public relations and military affairs for the Folds of Honor Foundation, which provides post-secondary educational scholarships for children and spouses of military service men and women killed or disabled while serving. By learning how to cope with his wounds, Pulido says he is able to maintain a positive family life and enjoys spending time with his wife and their two daughters.

Puldio knows that other service members, veterans and even civilians face similar physical and psychological challenges and he wants them to know that they are not alone. That’s why he shares his story through the Real Warriors Campaign, a public service initiative that encourages service members, veterans and military families to reach out for care for psychological health concerns.

To learn more about Pulido’s story and the Real Warriors Campaign, visit www.realwarriors.net and watch Pulido’s video profile. If you or someone you love is coping with invisible wounds, reach out for help today. Resources are available, including the:

  • DCoE Outreach Center, a 24/7 call center staffed by health resource consultants to provide confidential answers, tools, tips and resources about psychological health and traumatic brain injury.
  • Military Crisis Line, a confidential, 24/7 call center, online chat and text messaging service staffed by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responders to provide support for service members in any type of crisis including stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship challenges and life transitions. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and Press 1, or text 838255.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, confidential, 24/7 call center for anyone in crisis, whether or not they are thinking about taking their life. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak to a trained crisis worker.

About the Real Warriors Campaign

The Real Warriors Campaign is a multimedia public awareness campaign designed to encourage help-seeking behavior among service members, veterans and military families coping with invisible wounds. Launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) in 2009, the campaign is an integral part of the Defense Department’s overall effort to encourage warriors and families to seek appropriate care and support for psychological health concerns.

    Share This Guest Blog on:

August31,2015

One Man’s Promise: The Road to Awards Recognizing Leaders with Disabilities

A photo of John Kemp

By Guest Blogger John D. Kemp, President and CEO, The Viscardi Center

Over 60 years ago a man, born with shortened legs, began his journey. He isn’t a household name. His accomplishments aren’t found on the pages of history books. There are no monuments in his honor. But, he was a man of great stature. A man whose vision and spirit continues to mentor. A man who has transformed the lives of countless individuals. His name: Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr.

While you may not be familiar with Dr. Viscardi, U.S. presidents and international statesmen knew him as Hank. His story began with his promise to a doctor that he would make a difference in the life of at least one individual with a disability as a means of repaying the bill for his artificial legs that he could not afford. In fact, he became one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities, served as disability advisor to eight presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter, and had strong ties to the veteran community. Dr. Viscardi worked with the Red Cross at Walter Reed Army Hospital, which at the time housed the only military amputee center in the country. Though his primary role was to write reports about the condition of wounded soldiers, he took on more hands-on work. For example, he encouraged and listened to wounded soldiers and taught them how to walk on their artificial limbs. Dr. Viscardi set up the first dance in the Red Cross building for enlisted men who were amputees which led to formal dancing classes. He held driving classes for amputees, recognizing how necessary driving would be for a man to hold a job and be independent in his community. Later, Dr. Viscardi’s efforts at an Air Force rehabilitation center led to an expansion and upgrade of the Walter Reed amputee program which became the beginning of a program that went on to provide the disabled solider with the finest prosthetic appliances the world had ever known.

Years later, Dr. Viscardi founded our organization to show that disabled veterans from World War II and the Korean War had the skills and abilities to be successful, productive employees. It provided assembly and factory work for several industry giants and was the first U.S. business to be staffed primarily by people with disabilities. Services were expanded in the early 1960s to include vocational training and job placement for all people with disabilities. In 1962, Dr. Viscardi established an accredited, private school giving children with severe physical disabilities the opportunity for an education in a more traditional setting – one that had not previously been available to them. Today, it bears his name. His efforts helped inspire legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 that protects the rights of children and adults with disabilities. He also wrote eight books and was the inspiration behind the establishment of numerous disability related organizations nationwide and globally.

One Viscardi alumnus, Robert Pipia, now a District Court Judge, often speaks of Dr. Viscardi’s personal and far-reaching impact:

Dr. Viscardi was similar to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a driving force in this country for the civil rights of people with disabilities. If Dr. Viscardi didn’t start the road in the 20s through the 40s, have relationships with the U.S. Presidents, and found Henry Viscardi School, I don’t know if you ever get an Americans with Disabilities Act… Dr. Viscardi called me monthly and I always valued his call. He always talked to me about my future and being an elected official in public office. He also spoke to me about not just being an elected official, but involvement in the government and making an impact in the community.

This influence continues to be echoed by current students who reflect on how the school has changed their lives and their paths for the future.

I, too, can speak to how Dr. Viscardi made individuals believe anything is possible. As a young boy, I saw him speak and afterwards, met him. He was living, breathing proof that I, a person with a disability, could achieve the American dream – a meaningful job, a family, homeownership.

Now, I have the privilege of leading the organization he founded 60 years ago. The Viscardi Center continues to educate, employ and empower people with disabilities, guide employers on the benefits of an inclusive workforce, and shape policy changes that will benefit the people it serves.

In 2013, The Viscardi Center established the Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards to honor our founder’s legacy. These global awards acknowledge influential individuals with disabilities who are today’s leaders, mentors and role models for our peers and our next generations. Each year, nominations are received from cities throughout the U.S. and countries around the world. The nomination pool is diverse and includes individuals with a wide range of disabilities from academia, healthcare, government, non-profit, military and corporate sectors.

This year’s awards selection committee is once again being co-chaired by Robert Dole, former U.S. Senator, and Rosangela Berman Bieler, chief, Disability Section – Program Division, UNICEF. Awardees have included: Tony Coelho, primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act; Kathleen Martinez, former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor; Jim Abbott, former MLB pitcher; U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin; actress Marlee Matlin; as well as worthy individuals from Australia, Israel and Kazakhstan.

I invite you to nominate an exemplary leader in the disability community who has had a profound impact on changing attitudes, raising awareness and improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. Nominations are being accepted until September 30, 2015 and more information may be found at http://www.viscardicenter.org/about/hvaa/hvaa.html.

About the Guest Blogger

John D. Kemp is president and CEO of The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations providing a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower children and adults with disabilities. As a person with a disability who uses four prostheses, Kemp inspires others to achieve the impossible through knowledge, experience, vision, and persistence.

A graduate of Georgetown University and Washburn University School of Law, Kemp co-founded the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) with Paul G. Hearne in 1995. In March 2006, he received the Henry B. Betts Award, regarded as America’s highest honor for disability leadership and service. In December 2014, Kemp received the Dole Leadership Prize, awarded by Sen. Robert Dole, for his lifelong disability work.

Involved with the disability movement for more than 50 years, Kemp has partnered with, worked for and served as Board Member/Chair or CEO of several leading disability and nonprofit organizations.

    Share This Guest Blog on:

August20,2015

Brain IDEAS, It’s all in Your Head

Brain IDEAS Symposium Oct 23, 2015 Denver Colorado
 By Guest Blogger Wayne Connell, Founder and President, Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA)

I’ve noticed one thing everyone is talking about nowadays is the brain. Sometimes the discussion centers on frontal lobes, brain stems, neurological pathways and wiring and firing. Other times we are in search of finding out if we are right-brained or left-brained.

Psychology.about.com states:

According to the theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. For example, a person who is “left-brained” is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective. A person who is “right-brained” is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective.

On a recent assessment, I scored 52 percent left-brained and 48 percent right-brained. I guess that makes me pretty even in regards to logical thinking versus intuitive thinking; maybe I’m neither logical nor intuitive (don’t ask my friends).

Read More about Brain IDEAS, It’s all in Your Head

August17,2015

Small Acts Can Have a Huge Impact

Kerri Roberts, Research Coordinator with the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM)
 By Guest Blogger Kerri Roberts, Research Coordinator with the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM)

As the first destination in the continental United States for individuals who are wounded, ill and injured in global conflicts, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), in Bethesda, Md., cares for the nation’s most seriously injured service members. Walking the halls there, especially for the first time, can be a shocking experience for many people. Certainly there were times, in my two years of recruiting patients for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) research studies at WRNMMC, when I saw things I had never imagined and faced situations that brought me to tears. But, it was also the place that I encountered some of the most courageous men and women I have ever had the honor to meet and witnessed incredible recoveries, which continue to be a daily source of inspiration. It is the first of these incredible recoveries that I would like to share.

When I met Dave (name and personal details changed to protect privacy) he was an inpatient on the Wounded Warrior floor at WRNMMC. He had been seriously injured two weeks prior in an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast while deployed to Afghanistan. In the explosion, Dave had lost part of his right leg, lost two of his fingers and suffered a mild TBI. After being stabilized, he had been transferred from the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, to WRNMMC and, on the day we met, was awaiting yet another surgery, one of the many he would need to help repair what was left of his leg.

Upon arriving at his hospital room, I peered in and saw him lying in bed. He was skinny, frail, pale and bald. He looked decades older than the 21 year-old man I had expected to see. At the time, having only worked at WRNMMC for a few weeks, I was somewhat nervous about entering a patient’s hospital room. However, when I knocked on the door, Dave graciously welcomed me with a big smile and invited me into his room. When I told him about our research study he quickly agreed to participate, despite the time and effort it would require. I remember being surprised at how eager he was to participate in our study, especially given what he had just been through and the great challenges he still faced. But Dave, like many of the service members I would come to meet, told me that he was happy to help, that he would do anything he could to help improve care for future service members.

Read More about Small Acts Can Have a Huge Impact

August12,2015

Drive Safe; Nothing is Worth Your Life

Be Safe, Drive Smart

By Guest Blogger Shawn Stevenson

I have recently moved into a new neighborhood and am still getting to know the place and the people around. My neighbors are really nice. The morning I moved in they sent me a welcome lemon meringue pie and invited me for lunch since I could not have managed to whip up something yet, what with all the unpacking to be done. I happily obliged. On visiting them, I found out that a couple lived there with their daughter and aunt. The aunt was a dear old woman whom I hit it off with right away. While talking, we hit upon a certain topic that led to her relating an incident I would like to share, after having sought her permission, of course. Allow me to write from her perspective:

It was a very difficult day for all of us; little did we know that the following couple of months would be even more demanding. My nephew, David, his wife and I, were sitting together in our lounge, playing with their first and recently-born daughter. It had not yet been one week since she was born, yet we still could not help but marvel at her delicate features. She smiled in her sleep and we went crazy. She had an angelic beauty about her. But then, every baby does, or so I like to believe.

We were thanking our lucky stars for this bundle of joy when David decided we should celebrate. He was more excited than any other new dads I have seen and the excitement did not fade even after a week. So, David went to get some goodies and we did not stop him, though we had been celebrating every moment since the birth. It was really heartwarming watching him. “Cake, drinks, some pastries is all I am getting. Be back before you know it!” he said before stepping out.

Read More about Drive Safe; Nothing is Worth Your Life