Our Amendment Options to HR 3495

Our Amendment Options to HR 3495

New Amendment Would Create a National Conference for Veteran Suicide Families

With the launch of a National Conference for Veteran Suicide Families, Once a Soldier offers our lawmakers and the VA a solid option for an amendment to HR 3495  – the‘‘Improve Well-Being for Veterans Act’’.

In connection with House of Representative John Rutherford (R-FL), Once a Soldier was asked to offer options that fit this bill. With the crisis of PTSD and suicide rising, the Veterans Administration, members of Congress and the White House have been laboring over this bill for more than 4 months now. We are happy to add ideas that we feel will help those forgotten Veteran famlies after a suicide.

Once a Soldier’s Amendment Recommendations regarding HR 3495

Overview: Once a Soldier exists to help families before and after a Veteran suicide. Families serve just like the soldier and additionally they have endured:

The uncertainty of service during wartime
The emotional burden of their veteran’s PTSD
The emotional and financial burden of their loved one’s suicide
The stigma of suicide
The financial impact of Veteran suicide

Amendment Options:
Uplifting these unsung American heroes would involve these options:

Option 1: Launch an annual national conference for families of Veteran suicide

Goals of the conference would include:

  • Education on PTSD Management and Treatments
  • Networking between Non-Profits, VA Providers and Families-in-Need
  • Establish a Nonprofit Task Force Overseeing Support for Veteran Suicide Families
  • Bonding between Veteran Suicide Families
  • Collecting Research to Improve Best Practice

Growing a local network of support groups that would help with:

  • PTSD treatments
  • Financing a funeral
  • Body transportation
  • VA benefit navigation

Option 2:  Funding for nonprofit organizations that focus on Veteran families for when PTSD prevention fails. These nonprofits would have a history of:

  • Empowering Veteran Families to Stop Soldier Suicide
  • Offering PTSD education/therapies before and after a Veteran Suicide
  • Offering Mental Health education/therapies before and after a Veteran Suicide
  • Providing Veteran suicide survivor information and outreach


Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. We will.

Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans.

We are the only nonprofit standing with the families after a veteran suicide. Stand with us.

Our Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide.

PTSD Brain Scans Fall Short for Diagnosis

PTSD Brain Scans Fall Short for Diagnosis

What Do Brain Scans Tell Us About PTSD?

Although researchers do not use brain scans to diagnose PTSD in the clinic, they use them to understand what happens in the PTSD brain.

There is abundant evidence for changes in the structure and function of different areas of brain involved in fear response and anxiety, regulation of emotions, cognitive processing and memory.

For example, there is consistent evidence for reduced volume in the brain region called the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and context processing. This leads to difficulties differentiating cues that resemble trauma, such as the slamming of a door, from the trauma cue itself, such as a gunshot.

What are brain scans?

A brain scan is a general term that covers a diverse group of methods for imaging the brain. In psychiatric clinical practice, brain scans are mostly used to rule out visible brain lesions that may be causing psychiatric symptoms.

However, in research we use them to learn about the pathologies of the brain in mental illness. A common method is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that allows us to look at the changes in the volume and structure of different areas of the brain, and integrity of the pathways connecting them.

Then there is functional MRI (fMRI). This method examines blood flow in different areas of the brain as a measure of their dynamic function, mostly in response to a task or event, such as thinking about trauma or viewing of a trauma-related image. I use fMRI in my research to look at the brain circuitry involved in how people can be instructed to learn fear and safety. Positron emission tomography, or PET, and single photon emission CT, or SPECT, are also used in looking at brain function.

At the current stage of the technology and research, psychiatrists, psychologists and neuroscientists only use these methods for researching the brain changes in mental illness, and not for making diagnoses.

In other words, researchers have to combine data from tens of people with a mental illness to determine how, on average, different areas of their brain may differ in volume or function from others. 


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How do we diagnose PTSD?

Like most other psychiatric conditions, PTSD is a clinical diagnosis. That means psychiatrists diagnose PTSD by the symptoms presented by the patient. Clinicians look for a constellation of symptoms for a diagnosis:

    • history of exposure to trauma
    • intrusive symptoms such as frequent flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories
    • avoiding any reminder of trauma (for example, a veteran avoiding watching the movie “Saving Private Ryan”) and its memories
    • hyperarousal, or being overly vigilant, having sleep disturbances, being easily startled negative thoughts or feelings
      significant distress or dysfunction.

When enough number of the above criteria is met, a clinician makes a diagnosis of PTSD.

Clinicians and researchers use the above criteria for consistency in research. They want to be sure that what they call PTSD across different studies passes the threshold of a certain severity and diversity of symptoms.

However, effects of trauma may not reach the “diagnostic threshold” forPTSD, but can still be very stressing. A traumatized person who has frequent nightmares and flashbacks and avoids leaving their house out of fear, is seriously stressed even though they may not meet the required number of “negative symptoms” per the diagnostic manual. From a clinical perspective, we still address their symptoms and treat them. In other words, what matters in clinical practice is helping with the symptoms that are distressing and cause dysfunction.

Population of U.S. Suffering PTSD

PTSD is common, affecting 8% of the U.S. population, up to 30% of the combat exposed veterans, and 30%-80% of refugees and victims of torture.

This Once a Soldier blog/advocacy post was reprinted in part with permission from and can be found here. 

PTSD for Beginners by a Beginner

PTSD for Beginners by a Beginner

PTSD for Beginners by a Beginner

The mission of Once a Soldier doesn’t include helping with PTSD. As the founder, I specifically wanted to avoid PTSD because it was, and is, out of my league. There are many other charities and experts who you should turn to. Now, that seems like wishful thinking. Not all suicide soldiers or veteran suicides are PTSD-related, but many are. So I’m confronting this issue sort of head-on and I’m going to start at the beginning. If you’re looking for info on PTSD for beginners, join me in this brief blog and let’s get started.

We will cover symptoms, onset, diagnosis and where to get a screening.

A Google search on the second page found what I needed as a beginner: PTSD for Dummies. Perfect. Here are the highlights from that page, and trust me, we aren’t done with just that as a source.

Let’s start with what they list as the symptoms. As a beginner looking at PTSD, I don’t find these particularly helpful, but here they are:

Intrusive thoughts, emotions, or images: These may include vivid nightmares and/or flashbacks in which you feel as if the event is occurring all over again.

The Beginner in me says: I don’t have vivid nightmares or flashback, but if you have PTSD, I’m going to assume that the subject matter of these is war or combat-centric. If that’s the case, then that’s a big red flag. Here’s another one: was this person just discharged from active duty? Maybe I’m thinking of PTSD all wrong. It first entered my vocabulary when it because of a military issue from troops returning from the Gulf. Maybe my awareness of PTSD needs to widen out to include civilians who are maybe trapped in a horrible marriage, have trauma from childhood or a million other ways that the human psyche can be damaged.

Avoidance and/or numbing: For instance, you may avoid people or things that remind you of your trauma, feel emotionally detached from the people around you, or block out parts of your traumatic experience.

The Beginner in my says: We all want to avoid unpleasantries in our lives. We do many unsavory things to do this, such as working at a job we hate, a spouse we don’t love, or living beyond our means. As far as feeling detached, scroll through the posts and comments on social media and reading between the lines reveals that many people detach from society for a varitey of reason.

So far, this guide is okay, it is, after all, for dummies and not meant to be hyper-detailed.

Hyperarousal: Hyperarousal means being on red alert all the time, being jumpy or easily startled, having panic attacks, being very irritable, and/or being unable to sleep.

The Beginner in my says: Red alert isn’t what I’m on, I’m not jumpy, no panic attacks but I can be one irritable stinker from time to time. Sleep has never been a problem.

The Dummies go on to say that PTSD for Beginners needs to be aware of these symptoms:

You may also experience symptoms including body aches and pains, depression or other mental disorders, or problems with drugs or alcohol.

Okay, these are just flat-out not good and I’ve given up on the rest that follows in their post. The subject headers included how to beat it, truths about recovering, and meds. Honestly, I’ve never been a big fan of pills and the opioid addiction we find ourselves fighting needs to stay as far away from PTSD as we can get it. Soldier suicide and veteran suicide don’t need any help from monster opioid.

once a soldier charity helping survivors of veteran suicide


More Detail from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Here’s a second source that digs a little deeper into the onset and symptoms. View this content on their site here. The following is also detailed in what a traumatic event might be, and it’s a lot of information, so I bolded the more basic things a PTSD beginner should know.

PTSD is diagnosed after a person experiences symptoms for at least one month following a traumatic event. However, symptoms may not appear until several months or even years later.

The disorder is characterized by three main types of symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
  • Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered

PTSD Diagnosis criteria that apply to adults, adolescents, and children older than six include those below.

Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation:

  • directly experiencing the traumatic events
  • witnessing, in person, the traumatic events
  • learning that the traumatic events occurred to a close family member or close friend; cases of actual or threatened death must have been violent or accidental
  • experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic events (Examples are first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). Note: This does not apply to exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures, unless exposure is work-related.

The presence of one or more of the following:

  • spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events (Note: In children repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the traumatic events are expressed.)
  • recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events (Note: In children there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content.)
  • flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring (Note: In children trauma-specific reenactment may occur in play.)
  • intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
  • physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events

Persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic events or of external reminders (i.e., people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations)

Two or more of the following:

  • inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs)
  • persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous”).
  • persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • persistent inability to experience positive emotions


Two or more of the following marked changes in arousal and reactivity:

  • irritable or aggressive behavior
  • reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • hypervigilance
  • exaggerated startle response
  • problems with concentration
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep

Also, clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning not attributed to the direct physiological effects of medication, drugs, or alcohol or another medical condition, such as traumatic brain injury.


If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, take a simple first test with an online screening tool found here. You can print or save the results and share with your healthcare professional.

Final Word from Once a Soldier: PTSD for Beginners from this source isn’t making it. I get no real picture of the symptoms to look for and even then, the causes may or may not foot back to combat or anything that a veteran can get help with through the VA. I will continue to circle around PTSD for Beginners by a beginner because I owe it to the vets and myself to learn more.