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On Independence Day: Are We Living Up to the Promise for Our Veterans? The SeniorScape ™

Leading up to celebrations of our country’s independence, I’m proud that for the past two weeks I had the privilege of interviewing two retired Marine Corps officers, Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col Ted Blickwedel and Former Marine Captain Jerome R. Strayve, Jr. (Jerry) on SeniorsSTRAIGHTTalk. I thought it only fitting that since our country’s independence was achieved on the backs of the undeterred courage and bravery of countless soldiers, the story of the plight of present day veterans should be exposed.

Following his Retirement as a Marine Corps Lt. Col., Ted Blickwedel, became a licensed clinical social worker in order to provide mental health counseling to fellow veterans.

He never expected to experience the callous approach to providing service to veterans at the hands of the Veterans Administration, where quantity was prioritized over quality care by increasing counselor workloads at the expense of the quality of mental health service offered to veterans living with PTSD. A story all too familiar to the millions of nursing home residents, many of whom are also veterans, and the healthcare workers charged with caring for them.

Neither did Lt. Col. Blickwedel ever intend to be a whistleblower. Once speaking truth to power, he was at the receiving end of retaliation, isolation, gaslighting, mobbing, false accusations and character assassination. Not an unfamiliar plight for anyone who sees wrongdoing, feels morally compelled to stand up and speak out in an effort to highlight injustices towards carving a path for much needed change. Ted Blickwedel has displayed what John Lewis has described as raw courage. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, stand up, speak up and speak out,,,You cannot be afraid to speak p and speak out for what you believe. You have to have courage, raw courage?

Forty two years after they trained together at officer training camp, Former Marine Captain Jerome R. Strayve, Jr. ‘Jerry’ and Lt. Col. Blickwedel were reunited. Jerry was immediately struck by the seriousness of the story, Ted’s intensity and steadfast desire to create change. Jerry described their meeting in this way, “When Ted came to me with his story, I was aghast. Not in disbelief of the veracity of what had happened, but that it had happened again! Having experienced the military’s medical community’s lack of compassion for active-duty personnel and their families. I felt compelled, honored and driven to help Ted write his shocking story.”

The collaboration between Blickwedel and Strayve led to the June 15, 2022 release of their book, Broken Promises, written to create awareness and advocacy for veterans and the counselors who provide care. The desired outcome of the book is a collaborative working relationship with the Veterans Administration to enact policies and procedures that will ensure quality mental health services for veterans as well as to protect the mental and physical well-being of their counselors.

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col Ted Blickwedel’s relentless and tireless pursuit of speaking truth to power has been successful and has led to the expectation that Congressional legislation will pass at the end of this fiscal year. This legislation will hold the VA leadership accountable to prevent this situation from continuing to occur.

Blickwedel’s expertise as a counselor is without question. It’s clear there’s a range of evidenced based treatment interventions that can be effective for veterans experiencing symptoms associated with PTSD. Not only do these techniques go a long way in ameliorating the symptoms associated with PTSD, it could dramatically positively impact personal, familial and friend relationships, as well as improve overall functioning and ability to reengage in society as a civilian. Beyond veterans, it’s brought to light that these techniques are universally accepted for improving symptoms associated with many of the emotional and psychological challenges in people’s lives.

Jerry Strayve, co-author of ‘Broken Promises’ brings a perspective more aligned with those of us who do not have up close and personal experience with veterans who have experienced PTSD. Strayve was open, and indeed displayed his own vulnerability, when describing the impact of these interviews on him personally. His impressions of veterans who have successfully completed programs addressing their PTSD punctuates the point that quality of care for veterans, and especially those with PTSD, is a moral imperative.

The inadequacies of care for our veterans brought to mind the infamous quote from Mahatma Ghandi which I’ve referenced in connection with care for our elder citizens, our most vulnerable and infirm, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.

We honor and celebrate our veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and we tangentially remember them when celebrating our nation’s independence, even though acknowledging their sacrifice is more of a footnote taking a back seat to fireworks and barbecues, but have we given them the honor they truly deserve if we are not providing adequate care for their wounds of war?

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Phyllis Ayman Ambassador for Conscious Aging Life Management and #1 WSJ and USA Today Best Selling Author, Podcaster

Phyllis Ayman is the Ambassador for Conscious Aging Life Management, and founder of Mindful Longevity Solutions. She coaches individuals to develop their Personalized Longevity or Wellness Care Plans so they can live as healthfully, happily ,and fulfilled as they possibly can. As an aging life careplanning coach and mediator, she guides families to make decisions and mediate challenging conversations around aging care issues. She conceived and owns the trademark IMpathy®, essentially the inner game of empathy, which the hallmark of her proprietary programs.

Ayman is a #1 WSJ and USA Today Best Selling author, featured speaker, panel moderator, trainer, advocate gerontological speech/language pathologist and dementia care specialist. She spent over 40,000 hours working with thousands of individuals and families in long term care. Her writings have been featured in Next Avenue, McKnight’s Long Term Care News and McKnight’s Senior Living, and the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioner Newsletters.

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