Military veterans speak on need to increase resiliencyYellin, Travis: TM programs needed for veterans
Saturday’s forum in Fairfield about posttraumatic stress was a kick-off to promote the need to equip today’s military with more tools to increase resiliency, said Chris Busch, program director at the David Lynch Foundation.
“We need to establish resilience in our warriors, not only for combat,” Busch told the audience of about 200 people attending Healing the Hidden Wounds of War Fairfield Arts & Convention Center’s Stephen Sondheim Center for Performing Arts.
“The Veterans Administration is paying for two large studies about the effects of Transcendental Meditation on post traumatic stress disorder,” said Busch. “One of the studies is going on in Saginaw, Mich., and one in Minneapolis.”
Another TM study is under way at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. A private university founded in 1819, Norwich is the birthplace of Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Military cadets volunteered to learn Tanscendental Meditation last school year.
Busch shared a video about the study, including feedback from the student soldiers who have practiced TM since autumn.
“At Norwich, we’ve always worried about the whole person,” said Norwich University President Richard Schneider, in the video, dressed in his two-star, major general U.S. Army uniform. “We’ve always concentrated on making very smart and very strong, great leaders; ethical leaders. I think TM will provide us another whole dimension of integrating all that and improving performance in all those areas. I haven’t found anything else that will do that.”
Cadets in the video speak about heavy class loads, being in leadership positions of responsibility and being tired; tired muscles, a tired mind and falling asleep in classes. Meditation brought noticeable change — in being more alert and muscles relaxing during meditation and experiencing a rejuvenated mind.
One student cadet said a difference he sees in his meditating platoon versus non-meditating platoons, is his “platoon is more professional, ‘more locked-on,’ they’re not joking around.
“It makes my job easier [in a leadership position] that the platoon is meditating,” he says. “Meditating definitely enhances their ability to understand what we’re essentially asking them to do. When I was a ‘rook,’ we had to have things explained three or four times before we finally got it right. Now, I can tell my rooks the first time, and maybe a second time and they’re getting it right.”
A freshman cadet said, “We’ve picked up a reputation on campus as ‘those weird people that meditate.’ I kindly point out to them the fact that we don’t fall asleep in class, we’ve got better PT [physical training] scores, we do better on tests, we have better uniforms, we don’t get yelled at as much as they do, and then they quiet down pretty quickly after that.
“I’d say the biggest benefit is the energy,” said the freshman. “In high school, I’d drink a whole thermos-full of coffee each day. I don’t have to do that anymore. It feels good not to have to rely on things like that and be able to do it myself.”
A female senior cadet said in the video she was at first a skeptic.
“Now that I’ve learned [TM], it’s great. I’ve directly seen the benefits. I’m a senior, and I’ve never earned a grade point average over 3.0,” she said. “This semester, I’ve taken 22 credits, four lab sciences and I have a 3.6. I don’t think I got that much smarter all of a sudden. The TM helps me focus so I get more out of study time.”
“ROTC commissions 70 percent of all the officers of the United States,” said Schneider, who with other administrators at Norwich learned TM a short time prior to the cadets’ learning.
“Can you imagine if by this experience at Norwich University, the birthplace of ROTC, we provide a very important tool in these young officers’ tool box they’ve never had the benefit of before; we can influence 70 percent of officers in a very short time. And we owe it to them to give them the best tools to win, and I think this is one of those tools.”
The five-minute, 13-second video is available on the David Lynch Foundation website.
Two of the main speakers Saturday were veterans Jerry Yellin and Luke Jensen.
Yellin, now a Fairfield resident, was a young World War II fighter pilot, who suffered from PTSD for 30 years before learning TM in 1975, “which genuinely saved my life,” he said.
“I’m here today to offer scholarships to any veterans, and their families, who want to learn Transcendental Meditation,” said Yellin who co-chairs the Warrior Wellness program begun in 2010, supported by the David Lynch Foundation.
He related his own story, including his wife’s support. Yellin and Helene married in August 1949.
“She never knew she married damaged goods,” said Yellin. “I know I caused her a lot of suffering. War had wounded me in places that can’t be seen.”
He also introduced Jensen, 33 years old: “No one understands combat like a combat veteran. I’m pleased to introduce my hero, Luke Jensen,” said Yellin.
Jensen, an Iowa native living in Story County, had deployed to Afghanistan in August 2009 as a member of the Army Reserves. He began experiencing severe stress, panic attacks, depression and suicidal thoughts shortly after arriving in Afghanistan.
A story in the Des Moines Register published a year ago, detailed Jensen’s struggles and life back with his wife and two young daughters when he returned home. Yellin had read that story last summer and called Jensen at work the next day and offered David Lynch scholarships to Jensen and his wife, Abi, to learn TM.
Saturday in Fairfield is the first time Jensen has told his story to a live audience. A video with the Jensens was created prior to Saturday, which told some of their story.
“Thank you Jerry for reaching out to me when I was in very dark space,” Jensen said. “Since learning TM in July 2011, I have less anxiety, my blood pressure is down, and I now know this practice has helped veterans from every generation of wars.”
Jensen recounted his story, from aspiring to work in law enforcement and fulfilling that in 2001, to daily suicidal thoughts and drinking to self-medicate in 2010 and 2011. His voice sometimes shook from nerves or emotion. He used the word “ashamed” frequently.
“TM helped my family come out of darkness, it brought me relief and gave me hope for the future,” said Jensen.
Yellin, Travis: TM programs needed for veterans
At Healing the Hidden Wounds of War forum, Jerry Yellin, told about his inspiration to ask for a division of Operation Warrior Wellness to teach Transcendental Meditation to help military veterans.
It came from a personal experience, a tragedy of another soldier’s family that had Yellin pursue a program to help veterans.
“I asked what was the cost of current treatment for veterans with post traumatic stress when I met with the deputy of the V.A. administration,” he said.
The 2006 and 2007 Veterans Affairs cost of mental health support to veterans of all wars, was $15 billion and $18 billion, said Yellin.
“We have so many young veterans who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Yellin. “They will live another 50 to 60 years … and mental health costs could be $20 billion each year?”
That provides an economic motivation to have Transcendental Meditation programs available on a large-scale basis for veterans, he said.
Fred Travis, a Maharishi University of Management professor and director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness and Cognition, also said larger-scale TM programs are needed for veterans.
“The Veterans Administration will approve TM for a veteran on a one-at-a-time basis,” he said.
“We still recommend that TM is a part of a treatment program, not the only part,” said Travis. “Work with professionals.”
Travis explained how post traumatic stress works on the brain.
“The Amygdala part of the brain tags important events to file away in your memory,” he said. “It tags each detail; it’s permenantly stuck on. Every experience is tagged with strong emotion.
“Post traumatic stress is a natural reaction to unnatural events. So once all these events are tagged with strong emotion, the person now feels they have to be completely in control. You experience hyper-vigilance and can’t rest. We also know from research that when someone is experiencing PTS, the brain’s frontal lobes turn off. The frontal lobes are the ‘CEO’ of the brain. When it’s not functioning properly, you don’t have the brain power to find a solution; you only see the problems,” said Travis.
“TM takes the mind beyond just coping,” he said. “If we could do something beforehand to increase resilience, how much better.”
— Diane Vance, Ledger staff writer