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Prevent Vet Homelessness with Correct Diagnosis

Matthew Gosney, author of Hidden Wounds

Matthew Gosney, author of Hidden Wounds

Dr. Mark Gordon’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment program could be a life-changer for a huge number of veterans, including many who have sunk into chronic homelessness and many more who are at risk. TBI is so prevalent that some journalists refer to it as the “signature wound” of the American presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The public perception of head trauma is pretty much limited to damage done by roadside bombs, as seen on television. But jumping out of a truck can cause as much damage as an improvised explosive device, if someone does it enough. Mere acceleration or deceleration can have an effect that never goes away (think about whiplash, and then think about what that same motion would do to the brain). A lot of life events cause brain damage in small increments that can add up to tragedy.

Add to that other random factors like football. A healthy young soldier probably played sports in school, and got a “head start” on a life-threatening brain condition. A helmet does not help, because it can’t stop the brain from slamming against the inside of the skull, which causes direct damage. Of course, veterans are not the only victims. A disproportionate number of civilians experiencing homelessness have head injuries in their medical histories.

What Happens Over Time

Dr. Gordon has found shocking deficits in the pituitary hormones of head injury patients. For instance, a shortage of growth hormone causes serious psychological, emotional, and neurological problems. We’re talking about muscular weakness, obesity, sleep loss, heart attack risk, hypertension, diabetes, memory loss, anger outbursts, attention failure, mood swings, and the inevitable depression that will haunt anyone in such a miserable state of health. As Dr. Gordon explained to journalist Joseph Carrington, the long-range consequences are weighty:

These processes include alterations in cerebral blood flow and increased pressure within the skull, contributing substantially to damage from the initial injury… Increasingly, we are discovering that traumatic brain injury is also a causative factor for accelerated hormonal deficiencies.

It starts with the hypothalamus. Via the connection known as neuroendocrine function, it rules the pituitary, which in turn sends out orders to the various endocrine glands, telling them to secrete more of something and less of something else. Damaged by traumatic brain injury, the hypothalamus and pituitary can get out of sync, and only interventional endocrinology can restore their balance.

Even the world of professional sports has started paying attention to how the effects of small, secondary injuries can accumulate over time. They cause symptoms that don’t show up for years. When a person retires from the boxing ring or is discharged from the military, an exit physical will not reveal every possible problem — far from it.

A Bum Rap

Testosterone is another chemical whose insufficiency brings serious repercussions to the traumatic brain injury patient. This fact is very controversial because of the hormone’s negative image. The medical and military establishments see it as a vanity drug that bodybuilders use to cheat in competitions. Also, the public intuitively associates testosterone with violence. The feeling is that a certain number of brain-damaged warriors are already volatile and potentially aggressive — why add fuel to the fire? But, as Dr. Gordon explains, “it doesn’t work that way.”
He defines yet another serious problem:

Unfortunately, people with so-called minor traumatic brain injury, who comprise the largest group of brain-injured patients, have no visible damage at all on brain scans.

In other words, this type of devastation will probably not be uncovered unless the doctor looks for hormonal deficiency. For this reason, brain injury is often misdiagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder and therefore untreated or under-treated.

Like PTSD victims, patients with hormone deficiencies show up with depression, low energy, fatigue, poor emotional state, poor quality of life, and bad disability rating scores. It is easy to mistake one condition for the other, and indeed some people are afflicted with both. But it is no longer necessary to make this mistake, when apparently it can be avoided by asking the right questions and administering the relevant blood test to detect pituitary dysfunction.

Another frequent problem with VA medicine is that even if the doctors recognize, for instance, testosterone deficiency, they tend to prescribe far too much of the hormone. When Dr. Gordon accepts a patient, his pioneering protocol begins with the panel of hormone tests. After a complete physical exam and a detailed narrative history, he creates an individualized hormone replacement program in which both physical and cognitive functions are re-evaluated every month. (In April, he will teach his method to 100 doctors who recognize that once in a while, a Big Answer comes along, and this might be one of them.)

The Patient Who Went Public

Former Navy SEAL Matthew Gosney describes the long, drawn-out VA process of being prescribed one thing, then another, then something a bit stronger (“come back in 3 months”) and finally winding up on a total of 12 meds, 3 of them opium derivatives, and none of them effective. If not for Dr. Gordon, he says, he would be dead. Gosney is working on a book, Hidden Wounds

I went years with hormonal deficiencies that were not tested for … on a protocol that did not and could not help me recover … The second part of the book focuses on PTSD and how after getting physiologically back to baseline I was finally in a place where the hidden wounds of my mind could finally be processed and dealt with … The purpose of this book is to get information out there so veterans can be empowered and take back their lives. There is hope and an answer.

Reactions?

Source: “Using Hormones to Heal Traumatic Brain Injuries,” lef.org, January 2012
Image by Matthew Gosney

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Myths of Homelessness

Day 9German Lopez of Vox.com has published a very enlightening essay called “11 myths about homelessness in America.”

Perhaps the saddest is Myth #2 — “Getting a job will keep someone out of homelessness.” If only! Instead, as House the Homeless has emphasized many times, even full-time work is no guarantee of living inside walls. That condition of being employed, yet unable to afford housing, is called “economic homelessness,” and it is ugly. Not only ugly, but absurd. In what universe would these words make any sense?

The National Low Income Housing Coalition found a full-time minimum wage worker would have to work between 69 and 174 hours a week, depending on the state, to pay for an “affordable” two-bedroom rental unit … A full-time minimum wage worker couldn’t afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent, a standard set by the federal government, in any state.


Source: “11 myths about homelessness in America,” Vox.com. 01/15/15
Image by David Shankbone

Day 9 Occupy Wall Street September 25 2011

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The Return of First Person Homeless

homeless (B)In English class we learned such grammatical expressions as “first person singular” (I) and “first person plural” (we). This is the latest in a collection of posts called “First Person Homeless,” which covers autobiographical accounts by people who have experienced homelessness.

When veteran Glenn Higham of Longmont, Colorado, wrote a letter to the editor, he took the opportunity to thank convenience store workers for giving him hot water in the mornings, and employees of the public library for allowing him to use the computers to find job information and send and receive email. He reminded readers how difficult it is to carry everything you own along with you at all times, and admonished an anonymous housed person for making assumptions about how he lost his two front teeth. He also wrote:

I am a man trying to survive and find a job. I’ve been told many reasons why I do not qualify for housing and financial assistance: too young or old, not physical/mentally disabled, single, no kids, not an immigrant, and wasn’t in a wartime period.

Unfortunately, this situation is shared by many military veterans, even when the systems put in place to help them are in top-notch working order and not corrupted by uncaring and neglect.

Charley James wrote for the Daily Kos that in a year’s time, he had replied to over 300 employment ads and had sent out 200 resumes. The result? Five responses – a total of five phone calls – none of them leading to a job interview. He described the inability to afford prescription medication, the shame of dumpster-diving,  and the disgrace of cheating the transit system of bus fare. He wrote,

During the eight months I have been homeless, I lined up for food only to learn that the charity had run out by the time I got inside. I stood patiently for hours when winter jackets and boots were being distributed to be told nothing in my size remained. I had my underwear stolen, my dignity assailed, my spirit beaten down. I experienced the agony of learning that people I thought were friends would turn their backs on me when I wasn’t any use to them anymore.

Less than two months ago, after the city of Chicago had spent nearly $50,000 building concrete barriers  beneath a highway underpass to expunge people who had been sleeping there, local journalists discovered that the construction had created a truly dangerous situation and would need to be redone at additional cost. A woman who had called this place home published a letter to the neighborhood residents, reminding them of the difficulty of finding work when you have no way to keep your clothes or yourself clean, can’t afford transportation, and never get a proper night’s sleep. Teri Sanchez wrote:

Notice that when you do pass through that we try very hard to keep it as clean as we can; we usually don’t speak unless spoken to, and we never ask for anything… If anyone would just reach out and ask they would know that we are harmless and we are just as afraid as you are – remember we are there all night. We are alone, we are treated as if we are not human… I would like to tell anyone who is interested that we do not want to be there any more than you want us there.

For the Huffington Post, a woman named Vennie Hill reflected on the actions that seemingly led to her being homeless. The interesting part is, an awful lot of housed people have quit school too early, taken a drink, tried a drug they should have stayed away from, lost their virginity too young. Yet somehow, life and the Universe forgave them, and they were not cast out into the streets to struggle for survival, year after year.

Hill had too much humility to say this, but none of the things she mentioned were any worse than the things done by millions of people who, nevertheless, are lucky enough to live beneath roofs. She wrote:

I’ve made a lot of wrong choices in my life, but realizing that has helped me make better ones. So, if you happen to see me walking and talking to myself, remember that I’m not crazy; I’m just talking to God.

Reactions?

Source: “The homeless are many, diverse,” TimesCall.com, 02/08/12
Source: “Suddenly Homeless 37: Daring To Hope,” DailyKos.com, 11/15/12
Source: “Kedzie Underpass Homeless Woman Pens Online Letter to Avondale,” DNAinfo.com, 12/01/14
Source: “Why Am I Homeless?,” HuffingtonPost.com, 11/23/11
Image by gaspart64 (Gaspar Torres)

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Ending and Preventing Economic Homelessness

Travis_County_ResolutionIn December 2014, the Travis County Commissioners Court in Texas joined a growing number of Mayors who have endorsed similar Resolutions calling for the U.S. Congress to adopt the House the Homeless, Inc., three-pronged SOLUTION that will End and Prevent Economic Homelessness.

There are two Federal Standards causing Homelessness in the nation. According to the last several reports from the U.S. Conferences of Mayors, a full-time, minimum wage worker cannot get into and keep a one-bedroom apartment. This makes up fully 1/2 of the 3.5 million people who will again experience homelessness in the nation this year. The other half, who are so disabled that they cannot work, are eligible to receive federal disability benefits called Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. While the Federal Minimum is currently set at $7.25 per hour, and shown to leave full-time workers on our streets, the SSI stipend for those who cannot work equates to about $4.22 per hour, or a little more than half that failed amount.

The Resolution calls upon the U.S. Congress to:

1) Fix the Federal Minimum Wage so that a person working a 40 hour week will be able to afford basic food, clothing, and shelter (including utilities and transportation) wherever that work is done throughout the U.S.

2) Index the SSI stipend to the local cost of housing so that a person deemed disabled by the federal government can afford a roof over their head other than a bridge.

3) Embrace the Ethical Tenet: “Discharge No One Into Homelessness.” Our nation’s Institutions: hospitals, prisons, mental health facilities, jails, foster care facilities, U.S. military, etc., must devise plans to ensure that when people are discharged from their facilities (on time), they attain stable housing situations and are not discharged to our streets. (Sign the petition here.)

Note that there are already existing structures available to enact this proposal, as each institution is already equipped with a team of social workers.

This three-pronged Blue Print will end economic homelessness for over 1 million minimum wage workers and prevent it for all 20 million other minimum wage workers. Finally, the plan will prevent homelessness for anyone leaving one of our Institutions.

Presently, the financial cost of dealing with homelessness falls 100% to the shoulders of tax payers. This plan will reduce that burden on our Municipalities that currently sustain and deal with homelessness through the creation and maintenance of shelters, transitional housing units, the use and cost of our hospital emergency rooms as if they were health clinics, parallel court systems, and police diversion for the enforcement of “Quality of Life” ordinances. Other tax savings can come from the reduction of excessive reliance on food stamp supports and excess reliance on General Assistance, TANF and EITC as all will be reduced by 50% or, in the case of The Earned Income Tax Credit, done away with entirely. This could all be done if employers (who benefit from the labor of workers) were to pay a wage that at least pays these workers enough so they can afford a simple efficiency apartment (which is even less than even a one-bedroom apartment).

Additionally, it has been clearly shown (www.UniversalLivingWage.org) that by paying living wages business will benefit by stabilizing the workforce and by simultaneously stimulating both local and national economies through increased consumer activity.

Finally, by paying fair, living wages, we will spur on the housing construction industry both locally and nationally as we respond to the housing needs of people who will finally have enough income to rent efficiency apartments just as Henry Ford’s workers became able to afford to buy the cars they were making.

Let’s take Action to make America the strong, industrious country that we know it can be. Let’s put the “O” back into Opportunity.

Richard R. Troxell

President/CEO/Founder House the Homeless and the Universal Living Wage Campaign

 

 

 

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When Vets Hunt for Vets

Homeless CampsiteMany Veterans, Especially the Homeless, Simply Avoid VA System” is the title of a story from KFBK NewsRadio in Northern California’s Placer County. The system is overloaded, says radiation oncologist Dr. Darryl Hunter, a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He founded and runs a nonprofit organization, the Sacramento Community Veterans Alliance, whose mission is to connect homeless vets with health care services, a process that starts with free checkups.

Dr. Hunter has said in the past that some Vietnam veterans were made to feel ashamed of the war in which they participated. Also, a large number of vets from all eras are simply unaware of the services available to them. Whatever the reasons, former military personnel are “disappearing in the shadows.”

Throughout the country, veterans seeking help for medical and/or psychological damage have faced so much obstruction and indifference that they have simply stopped trying. Many now prefer to steer clear of bureaucracies, and some purposely hide. Remember, these people were trained to endure hardship, to improvise, to live off the land, to conceal themselves. A lone veteran who does not want to be bothered can vanish much more successfully than, for instance, a civilian single parent with 3 or 4 kids.

Missing, Not in Action

Two years ago, Joe Leal told NBC News that in Southern California he has personally encountered thousands of homeless veterans – not just hard-core old-timers left over from the Vietnam era, but military personnel who served and were discharged post-9/11. His team of vets and active duty soldiers searches the canyons and underpasses, finding burn-out cases, both male and female, who are shockingly young.

Leal, an Iraq veteran, founded the privately-funded Vet Hunters Project, which since 2010 has placed more than 2,500 veterans in either temporary accommodations or permanent homes. The preparation offered by the government for transition from military life back to civilian is totally inadequate. There are even reservists, technically still on active duty, who are homeless. Leal is quoted:

A lot of the active-duty people are getting out even though they don’t have a plan. They’re so fed up after five to six deployments. They say, ‘I don’t care what I do when I get out, I’ll just figure it out when I get out, but I know I don’t want to do this any more.’ That’s what I’m running into.

House the Homeless previously called attention to the efforts of George Taylor, who searches the byways of Florida with the object of rescuing veterans.

Shad Meshad founded the National Veterans Foundation and is himself a retired medical officer. Under his guidance, teams comb the Los Angeles area twice a week, looking for the lost. Journalist Siri Srinivas writes:

Meshad says that the VA’s estimate of homeless veterans may be a mere fraction of the actual numbers – he speculates that veteran homelessness may be five times the problem that the VA acknowledges.

Housed people who do volunteer work or interact informally with the chronically homeless may form a vague suspicion that all the vets on the streets are not officially accounted for. But when professional experts believe that the veterans experiencing homelessness are chronically undercounted, the whole situation begins to look even more serious. Currently, the number in just one city, Los Angeles, is estimated to be around 6,000. How many is that? If you lived in L.A. and had time each day to meet with one homeless vet, and listen to his or her story, that number would supply you with 16+ years of daily coffee dates.

Reactions?

Source: “Many Veterans, Especially the Homeless, Simply Avoid VA System, KFBK.com, undated
Source: “Fewer homeless vets this year, but advocacy group sees ‘alarming’ rise in younger ex-service members.” NBCNews.com, 12/10/12
Source: “’They don’t care’: how a homeless army veteran was forgotten by the VA,” TheGuardian.com, 11/11/14
Image by waferboard