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Vietnam veterans fear loss of PTSD group therapy program

A group of Vietnam veterans told The News-Review this week they’re about to lose a group therapy program they say has improved their lives and, in some cases, saved their marriages.

The Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center said it is moving toward a more evidence-based approach to treating post-traumatic stress disorder. The veterans said they were told that the weekly therapy sessions that some have relied on for as many as 20 years would end this week. After they complained, the VA announced the group would continue meeting while it transitions to an unspecified new type of care.

By Thursday afternoon, group member Chris Haymond had collected 45 signatures on a petition urging the VA to continue the groups.

Haymond has been a member of a Vietnam veterans therapy group at the VA since 2001. He said the VA therapist who facilitates the group’s sessions announced last week he had been promoted to a different job and that no one would be replacing him. The therapist facilitated groups for Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II veterans.

Haymond said his group is important to the veterans, and it’s not acceptable to “have it pulled out like they turned the lights off all of a sudden.”

He began attending after his wife gave him an ultimatum.

“I was told that if I didn’t get some help ... I would no longer be married,” he said.

He credits the weekly sessions with saving his marriage.

So does Herman Redlich, who said he was on the “brink of just going under” when he joined the group about eight years ago. He said it was a “real kick in the shorts” to hear the group meetings would end.

Redlich said the group members support each other.

“I compare it to going to church on Sundays, and how you feel when you come out of church, a feeling of serenity and that everything’s going to be OK,” he said.

Group member Richard Gorthy said he used to “be a yeller,” but the group has helped him with that.

“I don’t relate to people very well, especially people that are noncombatants. The guys in my group, I can relate to them ... and vice versa,” he said.

Several of the veterans said it just wouldn’t work as well to meet as a social group without a facilitator to keep them on track. They also said individual counseling would not be as effective.

“When you go to a one-on-one meeting you’re seeing a psychologist behind a desk with a computer that asks you the questions and punches in the buttons and then you go home,” said group member Paul Knupp.

Knupp said his wife finds him easier to get along with since he joined the group around 2000.

“They don’t make a pill to do that. The VA’s not going to get off by giving you another pill to try to fix you,” he said.

Andy Hansen is relatively new to the group, having joined three years ago. He used to kick and punch in his sleep, forcing his wife to go into the other room at night. Now he sleeps better, and he has hope.

He said it’s the veterans’ similar experiences that make the group effective.

“It’s a sense of continuity for us. We know each other well. We have a bond. It’s just something I think America owes us. We need help and this is really helping,” he said.

Interim VA Director Kevin Forrest said the group therapy program has merit, but there is a movement nationwide toward more evidence-based approaches, meaning programs backed by studies proving their effectiveness. He didn’t specify what the new approaches would be.

“Evidence-based treatments are by far the most effective when it comes to treating PTSD and other mental health issues, that’s why the Roseburg (VA) is taking steps to maximize their use,” he said in an email. “As part of this effort, we are engaging this particular PTSD group to discuss evidence-based groups and an appropriate transition. The group, however, will continue to meet during this transition.”

Teaching students to think like scientists at Geneva Academy

Geneva Academy students put science to the test this week during the school’s biannual science fair.

Students were challenged in September to choose an experiment to present to their classmates, teachers and four community judges. The assignment allowed three methods of experimentation: the traditional scientific method, a “Myth Busters” approach, and a category called “Improve the World,” where students analyze the best solution to a real-life problem.

Exhibits were wide-ranged. Eighth-grader Benjamin Boice compared and contrasted the distance and accuracy of mangonel and trebuchet catapults; Cole Chapin, a sixth-grader, tested the electrical conductivity of different fruits; and junior Kaitlyn Riley tested the consistency and pigmentation of homemade and store-bought oil paints.

“The most fun part of our science fair is watching the students explain their projects because they experience the pleasure of presenting the completion of months of hard effort on their part,” said sixth-grade teacher Lenny Lanterman. “The value of doing this is to guide children into more closely observing and exploring their world, and wondering and questioning what would happen if they changed something, and if they can get a certain outcome by that change.”

Students presented their hypothesis, materials, process and conclusions on Wednesday and Thursday. Experiments were graded as “superior” for outstanding work, “achievement” for very good work and “participant” for satisfactory work. Additional grand champion ribbons were awarded for exceptional projects.

Many, like eighth-grader Ali Wright, found their hypothesis to be incorrect. Wright tested multiple cleaners to determine the best solution to remove blood. Her theory was that bleach, being a strong chemical, would be the best solution to remove day-old synthetic blood from pieces of carpet. She found, however, that set-in cleanser worked the best.

In a similar experiment, sixth-grader Hudson Allen wanted to know the best way to remove a paint stain from carpet. He hypothesized that the strong chemicals in rubbing alcohol would break down the paint and make it easy to remove. But instead, he found that dish soap was most effective.

According to first-time judge and civil engineer Jennifer Sikes, what students might have seen as failures were perhaps their greatest lessons.

“Just because they’ve picked a project and tested a theory, even though it didn’t pan out the way they think it was supposed to, that doesn’t mean it was a failed project,” Sikes said. “That’s part of science. This might not be (the result) we expected, but we still learned stuff and we need to take that and move on to the next step.”

Local pediatrician and returning judge Beth Gallant was adamant that it is perfectly alright to fail.

“It is very important to fail. It is very important to think back critically, review what you have done, pick up the pieces and change your behavior so you can be successful,” Gallant said. “That spans all areas of learning, not just science.”

Eighth-grader Evan Chapin openly admitted that his first attempt was a failure. He tested the affects of honey on growing squash. Chapin had to scrap his first batch of honey water because it fermented. He refrigerated his second batch, which allowed him to conduct a much more successful experiment. Even so, his hypothesis that honey would help plants grow was incorrect.

“Don’t give your plants honey, it’s a bad idea,” Chapin concluded.

“It’s really easy to pick up a phone and Google something and you get a quick answer and it is instant gratification,” Gallant said. “What I want kids to do, and what is kind of the basis of science, is to think critically about the world around them and then figure out how to figure it out for themselves. When you do it you learn a lot more than when you Google it.”

First community superintendent search meeting brings little input

Only one community member showed up to the first community member meeting in the search for a new Roseburg Public School Superintendent. He was on his way to a concert and had an hour to kill on campus at Roseburg High School.

Most of the input comes from online surveys, said Michael Taylor, who is leading the search at NextUp Leadership for the district. He said he’s had meetings of one or two people before and wasn’t surprised.

“We do far more on the surveys than we would do otherwise,” Taylor said. “This particular survey is just trying to get an overall sense. We often have community meetings of one, two, three people. It’s very typical unless there is currently a real controversy.”

Taylor said the purpose of the survey and community meetings is to gather information about the desired qualifications for the new superintendent and to identify strengths and areas for improvement for the District.

Taylor led the search for Gerry Washburn, who was the superintendent from July 2015 until August 2018.

Interim Superintendent Lee Paterson came along with board directors Micki Hall and Charles Lee. He agreed with Taylor that the ease of the online survey and lack of current issues contributed to a smaller turnout.

“I thought there would be a lot more people,” Paterson said. “I know what he said is probably the reason why a lot of people didn’t come out to the meeting. In the old days, this was the only way you could do it. Now, with the electronic submission, they will have what they want and they will have it in a form they can fold in. This takes a lot more time.”

Taylor asked students, teachers and community members the same questions from the online survey in meetings that started during the school day and ran until 6:30 p.m.

Elementary teacher Sherri Good, who stayed for a little bit after the teachers’ meeting, said she wanted a superintendent who knew education across the board, not just one level or another.

“Most of the staff in Roseburg want to do what’s best for kids — and that’s not just in the classroom,” Good said. “That’s helping wherever we can. We know it’s a commitment.”

She said communication had improved greatly this school year compared to last year when she didn’t know what she was supposed to do.

“You’re hopeful things will get better,” Good said. “If there really isn’t a good fit, don’t pick the one that’s the lesser evil. Open up the search again.”

Taylor said they have received more information from the online survey which runs until Tuesday and the organization will present their findings at the school board meeting Wednesday.