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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Veteran Student with PTSD Needs Our Help

Hello, Invisible Reader.  Look at this ... I'm coming at you twice in less than a week.  That hasn't happened in ages.  What does that tell you?  Something has gotten me riled up.  Read on, Invisible Reader and tell me if this doesn't piss you off, too.

Have you read Jim Strickland's column today over at VA Watchdog dot Org?  If you haven't, you should.  Jim devoted his entire column to a former GI who is trying to better himself by going to The University of North Carolina at Charlotte to earn a degree.  He's been struggling to complete his degree in spite of physical and mental health issues that many of us are familiar with.  It's that beast we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

I'll spare you my wrap-up of this Veterans' story.  He tells it best himself.  I'll also spare you my wrap-up of Jim's response.  Trying to paraphrase Jim Strickland is next to impossible.  I will tell you this.  This young Veteran needs our help.  When you read Jim's Q&A, you will see how you can help.  I'm begging you to help, Invisible Reader.  If you know me ... if you've been following my blogs, you know that I don't beg for anything.  I'm willing to make an exception in this case.

If you are a Veteran with PTSD, if you are a Therapist who has treated Veterans with PTSD, if you are the Spouse of someone with PTSD, you can write to the University on behalf of this Afghanistan Veteran.  The email address is provided in the column that is copied and pasted below.  Perhaps if we send enough emails to the small-minded staff of the University this former Solider is attending, we can help him save his college career.  Perhaps we can help him graduate.  With our help, there's a good chance we can help him get into Graduate School.  Better yet, perhaps we can educate an IGNORANT public official.  

Are you ready for it, Invisible Reader?  Sit down, get comfortable and prepare to read a horribly true story of a former Soldier trying to make his life better.  Read about the University who isn't budging on an old policy.  Those of you who went to college know about this policy.  When you fail a class and retake it, they won't replace the old grade with the new one.  They factor both grades into your grade point average (GPA) and in many instances it really hurts you.  Been there, done that, have the t-shirt, did that talk show.

And now, may I introduce, the renowned Jim Strickland, compliments of VA Watchdog dot Org:

by Jim Strickland
NOTE:  Letters in my Q&A columns are reprinted just as they come to me. Spelling and grammar are left as is and only small corrections are made to improve readability, ensure anonymity or delete expletives that may offend some readers. This is not legal advice. You should always seek the advice of an attorney who is qualified in Veterans' law before you make any decisions about your own benefits.


I'm a veteran of Afghanistan who started attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte the same month I was discharged in January of 2008. I have attended school without break even for summer for two and a half years now and only have a few classes left, having gone from a sophomore with mostly online credits obtained during military service when I applied here to being halfway through my senior year.

I paid for my education by serving in the US Army. I was stationed in
Germany. I served a year in Afghanistan. In four years I ended up living on three continents and three different American states. During that last year in the service I struggled with a herniated disc and sciatica from my lower back, popping knees, and two degenerative discs in my upper back. I treated this with strong painkillers that I sometimes still have to take today. I also began seeing the early signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the ugly and hard to understand mental disorder that results from being exposed to combat. I had travelled to many places in Afghanistan but was attached to a Combat Support hospital near Pakistan that handled a great many cases of the dead and disemboweled. I won't describe the things I saw there, and some of them I won't let myself remember.

Spring of 2009 was a year after I separated from the Army and began classes at UNCC I started to finally come undone from the great transition I had made. I was having daily flashbacks of combat and field hospital trauma, as well as regular adrenaline rushes as if I were still in danger despite simply walking around campus. It got bad enough that I had to start seeing two different mental health professionals through Veterans Affairs. The lack of sleep and recurring dreams combined with the adrenaline rushes and combat flashbacks made school difficult, and I was working 30 hours a week. I failed Organic Chemistry I but managed to pass the lab and all my other classes.

I'm proud of what I accomplished. I was still very much trying to deal with my disorders with help from several professionals from the VA, as well as working part time and taking care of my disabled father. I didn't use any of this as an excuse. I didn't ask for special considerations, I didn't ask for a grade I didn't earn. I also was having a great deal of trouble trying to hold together the tired and deeply saddened pieces of myself as I juggled life's responsibilities; I'd like to say I did the best I could.

I'm going for a Bachelors of Science in Biology with a minor in Biotechnology and have a 2.9 GPA. That GPA isn't terrible but I feel my situation makes me eligible for a few exceptions to policy that have negatively impacted it. Here are the details:

I have a few academic petitions that are being appealed right now through academic affairs. Both of them regard exceptions to school policy due to medical reasons mostly pertaining to being treated for PTSD. One of them is a medical withdrawal of a class and the other is an exception to the grade replacement policy.

Dr. Cynthia Wolf-Johnson in Academic Affairs is handling the appeals in both situations. My professor and advisor have both said they think the petitions are absolutely appropriate and will back me up, but I've been told that Dr. Wolf-Johnson has stated that she's taking the matter under serious consideration but doesn't really know anything about PTSD or other veteran-related issues.

It was my professor and advisor who have suggested if I know of any veteran's advocates that they might try and contact Dr. that she might spread the word or be able to better handle these cases in the future; apparently my claim of PTSD is the first that's ever reached the appeal process as a justified reason for exception to school policy.

I would humbly say that it's a very good reason to make exceptions for veterans when the situation calls for it. If you felt like...trying to educate Dr. Wolf-Johnson she seems very nice (I've met with her) and I think for some reason you'd do a much better job of letting the administration know what PTSD really means better than I could explain it because you've experienced it from an outside perspective.

Dr. Cynthia Wolf-Johnson (academic affairs) email: 

At this point my petitions have been rejected and I might be disqualified from doing any further work in the lab or be accepted to Grad school because of my GPA (which is dramatically lower because of the F on my transcript that the administration won't replace with a C I received for re-taking the same class). They've said that they're sorry I've had some hard times but that isn't cause for exception to policy. I don't think the blackout confusion and misery I've experienced with PTSD counts as "some hard times". I was hoping after reading a few of your columns that you might tell me how I can fight this.

If someone could see fit to take exception to the fine print of the grade replacement policy and allow me to use the grade that I worked so hard to earn, I promise that I will make the University proud as I continue my education. I believe that I deserve the exception, and I hope that each person that considers my case believes the same.


Brendan Kraft


I was deeply saddened by what you wrote to me Brendan. With your permission, I’m sharing this with others.

Universities and professors are notoriously anti-war and anti-military. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was grilled during Senate Confirmation Hearings when a top Republican questioned her over banning Military recruiting at Harvard . Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) , ranking member on the Judiciary Committee , accused the Manhattan - born Kagan of treating the U.S. Military "in a second-class way" by barring recruiting in one student services office while she was dean of Harvard Law School .

But that’s a legitimate debate in a campus setting and those things are all well and good and healthy in the American way of life.

However, to send out word to a veteran that a hyphenated professor in a leadership position “...doesn't really know anything about PTSD or other veteran-related issues” is a slap in the face to all veterans.

Whether or not war is wrong, particularly war like the one we’re involved in now or the Vietnam “conflict”, is a fine topic for philosophical and intellectual debate in the classroom or the Congress.

When we’re faced with the reality of what happens during war is not the time to continue the debate.

If this academic leader is that deficient in the ability to understand the ravages of war...the human effect...or can’t be bothered with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have such horrid and lasting issues with what they were forced to see, and do, that person has a problem.

I know people who feel above it all. Their arrogance is shocking. They blame the veteran for being so foolish as to have gotten voluntarily involved in it all. You wanted to take that oath, now suck it up and accept the consequences of what you did.

I’m probably not the one to speak to her on your behalf. I’m seriously angry about what is happening with your education on that campus.

Let’s ask a few of my friends how they feel about this?

I salute you sir. I salute you for your service to our country as well as your magnificent accomplishments that will lead you to a better life in our great country.

You are one of the heroes of the latest Greatest Generation. Those who don’t really know anything about PTSD (or seem to care) and the many other issues of veterans, not so much.
 There you have it, Invisible Reader.  How does that make you feel?  Angry?  Disgusted? Empathetic?  Sympathetic?  All of the above?  Are you ready to take action?  I hope so.  Write an email to Dr Wolf-Johnson.  Remember to keep it civil.  Getting nasty with her won't help Brendan's case.  What the good Doctor needs to understand is how PTSD affects us in our daily lives. She needs to understand what a struggle it is for us all the time.  She needs to understand how the flashbacks get in the way of the things we do, but how we continue to try to drive on right through the middle of them.  Some of us succeed and some of us don't.  She needs to know that we aren't the same people we were "before".

Brendan is obviously a fighter in every sense of the word.  He fought for his country.  He's fighting for his education.  He's fighting through his physical problems.  He's fighting through his PTSD to accomplish his goals.  Now it's our turn to fight for Brendan, Invisible Reader.  Time to step up to the plate for this brave young man.  Will you take five minutes of your day to fight for him, Invisible Reader?  I sure hope so.

Until the next time, Invisible Reader ....


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