VA testing whether meditation can help treat PTSD

Steve Vogel: Seeking new ways to treat post-traumatic stress, the Department of Veterans Affairs is studying the use of transcendental meditation to help returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans Affairs’ $5.9 billion system for mental-health care is under sharp criticism, particularly after the release of an inspector general’s report last month that found that the department has greatly overstated how quickly it treats veterans seeking mental-health care.

VA has a “huge investment” in mental-health care but is seeking alternatives to conventional psychiatric treatment, said W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of veterans affairs.

“The reality is, not all individuals we see are treatable by …

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For veterans, yoga can offer peace

Audra D.S. Burch: Yoga and meditation may be therapeutic for returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering with PTSD or the stress of returning to civilian life.

One week into his second tour of duty, U.S. Marines Sgt. Hugo Patrocinio was wounded by a suicide bomber who drove a dump truck stocked with 1,000 pounds of explosives into a house in al-Anbar, on the outskirts of Fallujah. He had been attacked before, hurt before, but this time Patrocinio was just 20 feet from the explosion.

He would eventually recover from the wounds — the shrapnel in his foot and leg the severe concussion — but the psychological …

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Transcendental meditation studied for military use

Steve Zind, Vermont Public Radio: The military devotes a lot of money and resources to training for combat and to treating post-combat stress. Now there’s research underway at Norwich University in Northfield that uses a tool more associated with peace than warfare to prepare military men and women.

The study is looking at whether Transcendental Meditation will not only make better soldiers, but inoculate them from the psychological trauma of combat.

VPR’s Steve Zind has this story on a group of cadets that some are calling ‘Om Platoon’.

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Inside the Pentagon’s alt-medicine Mecca, where the generals meditate

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Katie Drummond, Wired: The Samueli Institute gets $7.6 million a year from places like the Pentagon to investigate alternative therapies from yoga to acupuncture to water with a memory. But does any of it really work? And can Samueli, a convicted fraudster, really be trusted?

The general is surprisingly good at meditation. It’s not just the impeccable posture — that might be expected of a man long used to standing at attention. It’s his hands, which rest idly on his knees, and his combat boots, which remain planted firmly on the floor. Over the next several minutes, Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Surgeon General of the Army, will keep his eyes closed and his face perfectly relaxed.

Few in this hotel conference room, where three dozen have assembled to mark the 10th anniversary of the Samueli Institute, a research organization specializing in alternative therapies, are able to match Schoomaker’s stillness.

Even as our first speaker implores that we “close [our] eyes … feel the chair, feel the air, feel the breath going in and out,” this motley crew of professors, bejeweled clairvoyants, military personnel and Einsteinian-haired futurists tap their toes, shuffle papers and ogle paper plates of fruit and croissants.

>This might be the Pentagon’s best chance at making alt-medicine work — or at least figuring out if it even stands a chance.

“Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you imagine you’re going, you’re actually only doing it right now, in this moment.” Our meditation guru for the day, Dr. Wayne Jonas, is not only a retired Army medical officer and former director of the holistic branch of the National Institute of Health. He’s also the leader of the organization we’ve met to celebrate.

Schoomaker is here because he has a health crisis on his hands. And he’s betting on guys like Jonas to help cope…

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David Lynch gives $1M to teach veterans meditation

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Academy Award-nominated director David Lynch – a longtime advocate of Transcendental Meditation – wants soldiers and veterans to experience the stress-reducing benefits of TM.

The David Lynch Foundation is giving $1 million in grants to teach the meditation technique to active-duty military personnel and veterans and their families suffering from post-traumatic stress.

The filmmaker said Friday that the grants are from the Operation Warrior Wellness division of his foundation, which funds meditation instruction for various populations, including inner-city students and jail inmates.

Recipients of Operation Warrior Wellness grants include Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Wounded Warrior Project and UCLA’s Operation Mend.

Lynch’s credits include the films “Eraserhead,” “The Elephant Man,” “Blue Velvet,” “Wild at Heart,” “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Drive,” and the TV series “Twin Peaks.”

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Early evidence shows meditation helping veterans with PTSD

The flashbacks and nightmares came often for Robert Singh.

U.S. Army veteran Singh served three tours in Iraq, from 2004 through 2010. He was an Army medic for most of that time. It was a violent, dangerous and intense job. Singh was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2007.

After he left the military in 2010, it became obvious that the drugs Singh was prescribed for PTSD weren’t helping.

So when Singh learned of VetMind, a novel study being conducted at Oregon Health & Science University to understand how mindfulness meditation helps veterans’ PTSD symptoms, he enrolled.

And he’s happy he did.

The meditation exercises Singh learned in the study and continues to practice considerably abated his PTSD symptoms, he says. He has fewer flashbacks, fewer nightmares, and when he does have them, he is better able to deal with them, Singh says. And even though Singh still has plenty of stress — he and his wife and two young children live in a homeless shelter in Beaverton — “It’s made it so I’m calmer. This has made it easier, and I can function better than I was functioning.”

VetMind is still ongoing at OHSU, so the final results aren’t in yet. But of the 45 completed participants, many noticed an improvement in their PTSD symptoms and their ability to cope with them, says Helané Wahbeh, N.D., an OHSU naturopathic physician-researcher who is conducting the study.

“Meditation appears to be an incredibly powerful tool for some people,” Wahbeh says.

A recent General Accounting Office report found that from 2006 through 2010, 96,916 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were diagnosed with PTSD. But the number of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans suffering from the stress disorder is almost certainly much higher. As many as 50 percent of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans screen positive for PTSD, with a smaller percentage actually receiving a PTSD diagnosis, according to a 2010 Rand Corporation study.

People can get PTSD when they experience a seriously threatening traumatic event and their response involves intense fear, helplessness or horror. People with PTSD re-experience their trauma over and over again through thoughts, memories and nightmares. They also can experience hyper-vigilance symptoms, like not being able to concentrate, difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, or exaggerated startle response, and avoidance or numbing symptoms, such as avoiding people or places that remind them of the event and not being able to feel a full range of emotion that they could feel before.

Studies also have shown that PTSD is significantly associated with increased suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

Wahbeh says that the emotional processing part of the brain in people who suffer from PTSD is overactive. And the frontal lobe — the part that regulates their emotional response — is underactive.

Mindfulness meditation actually reorients the brain, Wahbeh says, “so the frontal areas of the brain are better able to process over-reactive emotional responses that hinder people from leading normal lives.”

VetMind is being funded by the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine. VetMind’s primary goal is not to prove that meditation can improve PTSD symptoms; past research has already provided some evidence of that in similar conditions. Instead, it aims to find out how meditation influences certain systems in the body, especially the nervous, hormonal and respiratory systems, Wahbeh says.

VetMind requires participants to visit the clinic 10 times: one screening visit, one baseline visit, six training sessions, one endpoint visit and a final check-out. Participants are assigned to one of four groups that practice either meditation, slow breathing, meditation and slow breathing together, or sitting quietly. During the training sessions, participants learn the techniques and then practice at home for 20 minutes per day. Regardless of what group they are in, every participant gets a CD with the meditations at the end of the study.

For Singh, the meditation has helped considerably and also changed how he believes he’s combating his PTSD.

Antidepressant and other drugs he was prescribed “were making the symptoms go away, but they weren’t fixing the problem,” he says. “Whereas this feels more like I’m doing something about it. I’m fixing the problem.”

The study will eventually include 100 participants. OHSU is seeking combat veterans between the ages of 25 and 65 to participate. Interested people can call 503-494-7399.

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Veterans learn about meditation for treating post traumatic stress

Matt Hoffman: Studies show up to 35 percent of our veterans return home with post traumatic stress disorder. But an old world technique is being used in a new way to help veterans, and some say it’s having great success.

Veterans in Eau Claire heard from Jerry Yellin. He fought in World War Two as a fighter pilot, but when he returned home he couldn’t escape the horrors of war he experienced.

“I saw the remnants of 28,000 bodies on 8 square miles of land. 90, 000 soldiers were fighting. 28,000 were killed, and I flew with 16 guys that didn’t come back,” recalls Jerry.

But unlike during today’s…

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Stress for Success: Meditation helps balance the PTSD brain

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Jacquelyn Ferguson: After experiencing horrific events where physical harm either occurred or was threatened such as violent assaults, natural disasters, health emergencies or military combat, some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Managing such trauma is significantly easier for those who experienced only mild early childhood threats that were followed by physical activity to burn off stress hormones and by periods of calm and security, and received supportive parenting (more on this at

For some soldiers, this means their vulnerability to war trauma actually began in childhood. The more childhood upheaval, the more…

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Could transcendental meditation help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder?

Dr. Norman Rosenthal: As Memorial Day approaches, it is fitting that we remember the debt owed, in the words of Winston Churchill, by so many to so few — those men and women who have fought and, in some cases, paid the ultimate price, so that the rest of us can live in freedom and safety.

Here in Washington, D.C., there will be formal ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery and informal ceremonies at the monuments that mark the wars that claimed too many. Likewise, throughout our great country, people will be remembering, grieving, reflecting.

Allow me to share with you the stories of five veterans, who are very much on my mind this Memorial Day. These five young men participated in a study under my direction to determine whether meditation could help assuage the painful and disabling aftermath of their service in Iraq, Afghanistan or both. While serving, all were exposed to the horrors of war in one form or another. They saw their fellow soldiers and the enemy killed at close quarters, directly experienced the blasts of powerful bombs or improvised explosive devices, and drove along country roads, never knowing when they would drive into the next ambush.

After returning to the U.S., these young men were among the huge number of soldiers and Marines (1.6 million and counting) who have suffered the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of this condition vary, but typically involve hypervigilance (jumpiness, irritability), detachment, avoidance of situations that trigger memories of the traumatic events, flashbacks and nightmares – as memories spring unbidden into consciousness, accompanied by drenching sweat, a pounding heart…

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Veterans find peace with yoga in ‘Connected Warriors’

Boca Raton Some local veterans’ combat days are long gone, but they still have nightmares, edginess, short fuses and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Many seek help from support groups, psychologists and drugs. But some are finding that a different kind of therapy releases the tension: yoga.

Connected Warriors, a weekly class at studios in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Wellington, is filled with veterans and their families who seek to manage their stress through yoga poses. They learn how to breathe, meditate, stretch and balance with people who understand their battlefield encounters.

“I am learning to stop being on the defensive,” said Maria Mariska Allsopp, of Dania Beach, who retired after 25 years as a sergeant major in the Army. “I am making my own kind of peace.”

Allsopp, 58, was the fifth woman to go through Army airborne training, the first woman jumpmaster and the first female first-sergeant of an Army rigging company. She said she relished her trailblazer status but started having bad dreams soon after she retired and was diagnosed…

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with post-traumatic stress disorder. Memories of sexual harassment also plague her.

“In this class, I am getting something I have been missing: Trust from men,” Allsopp said.

The class has been so successful that yoga teacher Judy Weaver, of Lighthouse Point, has been training instructors to teach at studios across the state and hopes to start programs across the country. Weaver is a founder of Connected Warriors, a nonprofit organization that encourages yoga for veterans.

Weaver became sensitive to veterans’ issues after teaching yoga to Beau MacVane, an Army Ranger from Boca Raton who served five tours in the Middle East but died in 2009 of Lou Gehrig’s disease at 33. She saw how the breathing and meditation techniques she taught him remained useful even as his condition deteriorated.

“They give instant relief to the body,” Weaver said. “Whatever limitations you have, you can still get the benefits.”

Researchers are confirming that yoga’s exercises and relaxation effects help veterans’ physical problems, moods and energy levels. Several studies are exploring how yoga complements psychiatric therapy.

Preliminary results of a Defense Department study show that veterans with PTSD had fewer symptoms after 10 weeks of yoga classes twice a week and 15 minutes of practice each day at home.

This is not news to Ralph Iovino, 61, who thinks yoga has helped him heal from war trauma experienced in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. He often relives his time as a rescuer on a helicopter crew.

“I would go down on the cable and get people back up,” remembered Iovino, who lives west of Boynton Beach. “If I froze or panicked, people died.”

Iovino still has shrapnel in his back, forehead and knee, and came back to the United States angry and sick from heart disease. He discovered yoga five years ago and said it has helped him slow down so he thinks before he speaks.

He said his high-blood pressure has disappeared and he is undergoing training to become a certified yoga teacher.

Bob Conway, of Delray Beach, also thinks yoga and meditation techniques have helped him calm his nerves and learn to trust. He turned to drugs and alcohol when he returned from Vietnam in 1970.

He said he always keeps his back to walls since he served in the Marine Corps as a sniper and tunnelman. But in yoga class, he is willing to get into poses facing the wall, knowing his fellow vets are nearby and supportive.

When he began learning breathing techniques with fellow veterans, “I thought, boy, is this dorky, just goofy,” said Conway, 60.

Now, “I look forward to yoga more than golf on Sundays, and golf is my religion,” he said. or 561-243-6536

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