Justseeds ‘War is Trauma’ Veteran Art Show

Join Coffee Strong at the Northwest premiere of the ‘War Is Trauma’ veteran art portfolio showing on Saturday April 21st from 6pm to 9pm at Coffee Strong, 15109 Union Ave SW in Lakewood. For this project over 30 artists from Justseeds, IVAW, and our allies have each created a print that addresses “Operation Recovery,” its larger goals of supporting service member and veterans right to heal, GI resistance, challenging the culture of militarism in the US, and ending the war in Afghanistan. Light refreshments will be provided. All proceeds from this event will go to support Coffee Strong.
register HERE

War Is Trauma is a portfolio of handmade prints produced by the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative in collaboration with the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). This portfolio transpired out of a street poster project, from November 2010, which a number of Justseeds artists provided graphics for “Operation Recovery” – a campaign to stop the deployment of traumatized troops and win service members and veterans right to heal. Posters were pasted in public, replacing many corporate advertisements, to focus public attention towards the issues not being discussed – GI Resistance, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sexual assault in the military or Military Sexual Trauma (MST), and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The action led to another collaboration between Justseeds and IVAW – an “Operation Recovery” booklet published by Printed Matter in NYC and currently the War is Trauma portfolio. For this project over 30 artists from Justseeds, IVAW, and our allies have each created a print that addresses “Operation Recovery,” its larger goals of supporting service member and veterans right to heal, GI resistance, challenging the culture of militarism in the US, and ending the war in Afghanistan. A total of 130 portfolios have been created that we hope inspire 130 exhibitions that can act as a starting point to bring different people together – veterans, civilians, Iraqis, Afghans, and others to dialogue on issues.

The prints are housed within a handmade paper cover from the Combat Paper Project – paper whose source material derives from military uniforms that veterans have cut into small piece, mixed with water, and pulped into paper as part of the healing process. Drew Cameron of the CPP writes, “The batch that I made for the portfolio is mostly created from Army Combat Uniforms that we were worn with the Stryker battalions out of Fort Lewis, WA. These are the same guys who rolled out of Iraq early back in July 2010. I also added Egyptian cotton to strengthen it. I like to imagine that the mill workers who made the cloth I used were the same one’s rising up last spring.”

Light refreshments will be provided.  All proceeds from this event will go to support Coffee Strong.

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April 21st, 2012 6:00 PM   through   9:00 PM
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15109 Union Ave SW
Lakewood, WA 98496
United States
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Coffee Strong calls for systemic changes in Madigan PTSD treatment


Col. Dallas Homas

Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Colonel Dallas W. Homas has been administratively removed from his post as commander of the Madigan Healthcare System, amid concerns that soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not being properly diagnosed. Fourteen soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) will soon receive the results from their PTSD re-evaluations. Officials from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center decided to take a second look at the the soldiers after concerns were raised about their initial diagnoses.

this systemic failure shows that much more needs to be done to help our veterans get the fair diagnosis and treatment that they deserve. Madigan Hospital continues to remove soldiers’ previous diagnosis of PTSD, which in turn lessens the amount of compensation that soldier is entitled to through their experience in the military.

This tactic of overturning diagnoses is another cost cutting measure the military has set up in order to save money after 11 years of the so-called ‘global war on terror. Coffee Strong is operated by veterans of the nonprofit G.I. Voice, which provide services for active-duty soldiers and fellow veterans who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere since 2001.

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Military Resistance a Strong Brew


The .45 caliber single-action, semi-automatic Colt pistol known as the M1911 in military parlance is an extremely destructive handgun at close range. On June 26, 2011, U.S. Army Ranger Jared August Hagemann removed his M1911 from its holster. The 25-year-old already had carried the sidearm with him on eight deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, so he knew how much damage even a single round could do against flesh and bone. It was late Sunday evening at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Hagemann stood in a training area, stalked by a terrorist more relentless than any Taliban suicide bomber. His opponent’s name: post-traumatic stress disorder, the clinical term for a severe form of anxiety usually known by its acronym, PTSD.

Staff Sgt. Hagemann placed the muzzle against his right temple and pulled the trigger. His obituary, published by his hometown paper in California’s San Joaquin Valley, said only he had “died unexpectedly,” words his widow would dispute.

U.S. veterans of post-9/11 combat are taking their lives in alarming numbers, and PTSD seems to be the primary cause. If the military’s response is inadequate, is anyone else ready to help GIs heal their psychic damage? And what are combat vets to do when PTSD shreds their souls, yet their commanders order them back to fight in Helmand Province? For the third time?

Ask Ashley Joppa-Hagemann, Jared’s widow and the mother of their two children. She’s sitting in a coffeehouse not far from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), a military reservation in western Washington that is home to 100,000 soldiers, Marines, Air Force personnel, their families, and civilian contractors. Sprawling across 91,000 acres set against the majesty of Mt. Rainier, JBLM was recently called “the most troubled base in the military” by Stars and Stripes, the officially sanctioned newspaper of the Department of Defense.

Though JBLM is nominally in Starbucks country, its neighborhood coffeehouse is no ordinary caffeine bar. Wedged between the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 and a Subway sandwich shop, Coffee Strong is run by vets and strategically positioned 300 yards from JBLM’s gate. Active-duty personnel and veterans get free java and advice. Civilians patronize the shop as well, which exists mostly on donations from those who support its cause.

The coffeehouse is part of a grassroots movement of veterans and pro-GI, anti-war Americans determined to help active-duty personnel and discharged veterans receive benefits due them, get out of the military, or cope with what the U.S. government either can’t or won’t treat effectively: PTSD, the mental illness caused by experiencing trauma, like the horrors of war.

“In the last month of his life, Jared put a gun to his head three times. He told me every day was a struggle to wake up and want to live,” Ashley says. “He said the things he had seen and done, no God would have forgiven him.”

***

 

Antiwar photo by Paul Dunn

Volunteers at Coffee Strong prepare handouts on Operation Recovery, Iraq Veterans Against the War’s campaign for an end to redeployment of traumatized troops and recognition of their right to heal. Coffee Strong is calling for a Congressional investigation into the causes of violence and suicides among combat veterans at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Coffee Strong website lists actions civilians can take: sign a statement of support, donate, spread the word, or write to a U.S. Representative.

Photo by Paul Dunn for YES! Magazine.

One dangerous practice in today’s military,  is that soldiers traumatized during their time in combat zones return home suffering from PTSD, and, instead of getting the medical and psychological help they need to heal, their commanders order them back to the fighting. Those who resist are branded “sissies” or malingerers, and earn the scorn of superiors.

The activist group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) credits this attitude with the frequent episodes of violence related to combat stress that occur at JBLM; these include some domestic crimes so shocking, like the waterboarding of a child, that they’ve been reported in the national media. Coffee Strong activists point to a series of army investigations that found “systematic” shortcomings in how the army treats soldiers just back from war.

At JBLM, 50 soldiers have killed themselves since the beginning of the Iraq War, and this trend spiked in 2011—with 11 suicides from January to October. A Pew Research Center poll released in October found that 44 percent of post-9/11 veterans say they have had difficulty adjusting to civilian life, 47 percent say they feel irritable or angry, and 37 percent say they have struggled with post-traumatic stress. One in three vets polled now says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting.

None of which seems surprising to a Specialist E-4 named Greg who turned up at Coffee Strong one Saturday last September. Because he remains on active duty, he withheld his last name: “You only have to go on one deployment to see the truth,” he says. “America destroyed Iraq. When I got back, I didn’t want to kill myself, but I had days where I told myself, ‘If this is how I’m going to feel for the rest of my life, then I don’t want to be alive.’”

After Greg returned from deployment, he felt a growing anger toward superiors in his chain of command. “I’m not a hothead or a sore person that gets in trouble,” he says, “but I was literally afraid I might see them again and break a chair over their head or something.”

So Greg self-referred to Family and Soldier Readiness Services at JBLM for mental health counseling. He was shocked at the ineptness of his treatment. “This lady is giving me handouts and telling me to take deep breaths. And I said, ‘Lady, this is a big problem. When I was in Iraq, I had an officer who was crazy and vicious.’ We were a couple months from going back to Iraq, and I was afraid I was going to harm this person. And she was giving me pamphlets?”

Greg followed the advice he got at Coffee Strong, and eventually found a new therapist within the Army system who gave him psychological insight and advice. He helped Greg transfer away from the superiors in his unit.

“When I found out about Coffee Strong and Iraq Veterans Against the War, I felt like, ‘Hey, this is okay. There are thousands of other people that feel the way I do. There must be smarter ways we can take care of ourselves,’” Greg says. “Talking to Coffee Strong was a huge help to me.”

***

Grounds for Resistance Still
Grounds for Resistance
Film Trailer: Veteran-run coffee houses like Coffee Strong give service personnel a place to find help outside the military.

Coffee Strong, whose name is a takeoff on the “Army Strong” ad campaign, was started in 2008 by veterans from IVAW. Their aim was to help soldiers get services, and along the way focus some of the anti-war sentiments they knew existed among active-duty personnel. It’s one of three active anti-war coffeehouses near U.S. military bases. Under the Hood Café was launched outside Fort Hood, Texas, by 18-year Army wife Cynthia Thomas when her husband was sent on his third deployment. Norfolk OffBase, in Virginia’s Hampton Roads area, is perhaps more of a resource and organizing center than a full-blown cafe, but it calls itself a coffeehouse nonetheless.

All three enterprises trace their roots to draft resistance counseling during the Vietnam War era, when Quakers and then others helped draft-age men explore alternatives to fighting: going underground, moving to Canada, jail time, seeking conscientious-objector status. Add the support of veterans who counsel GIs based on their own experience of the system, and you have a well-respected method of resisting war by supporting the humanity of the soldier. Coffee Strong is firmly in this tradition, and boasts a luminary board of directors, including Noam Chomsky, former foreign service officer and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright, journalist Dahr Jamail, and, before his death, the historian Howard Zinn.

Two paid staff and about a dozen volunteers keep Coffee Strong open. All the volunteers pull a shift behind the espresso machine, says Kelly Beckham, who’s volunteered at the shop for more than a year. “But we do more than just make coffee.”

Volunteers talk with the soldiers, answer questions, and connect them with a cadre of specialists who help with discharge papers, veterans’ benefits, or getting access to PTSD counselors within the military or from private health care.

“When you’re a volunteer at Coffee Strong, you hear all the time how hard it is to get proper treatment, or just get their paperwork processed,” says Beckham. “Or, they’re upset with lack of support from their chain of command, how any kind of personal problems get swept under the rug.”

Word is that some commanders on base disapprove of the cafe’s anti-war stance, although, Beckham says, “We give benefits advice to anyone, whatever their opinions about the military are.” She pauses. “We are taking care of what the army has left behind. People shouldn’t have to come to a coffee shop to get help with benefits or do their paperwork for medical treatment.”

Cesario Larios, one of the founders of Coffee Strong, believes so strongly in the project’s mission that he’s using vacation days from his paid employment to help out as a volunteer. He says that encouraging GIs to stand up for their rights, including the right to heal, is a first step to opening up room for soldiers to take a moral stance against war.

“That’s why I’m involved,” he says, “so we can encourage soldiers who have huge moral reservations about what the military is doing. Some of them are choosing alcohol and drugs to avoid the reality of feeling trapped within their military contract and a future that includes more deployments that they don’t wish to take part in—that’s why we’re seeing more suicides. I think that if we can show them that there is a broad base of support from vets and civilians, they will begin to see there is another way.”

***

Between deployments, Jared Hagemann grew more alienated and less functional. Ashley says he’d routinely down a six-pack of beer while driving around in his truck. Sometimes he’d guzzle a 24-pack: “And that’s how we spent the first few years of our marriage.” In 2009, after returning from another combat deployment, Jared checked himself into 5 North, the psychiatric ward at JBLM’s Madigan Army Medical Center. He was separated from his wife at the time, and she remembers that, when he was released, Jared phoned and said he was scared to be alone, that she was the only person he trusted.

She raced to find Jared with his Colt in his hand. Soon afterward, some Rangers arrived. Jared said he wanted out of the unit. They told him if he left the Rangers he would either go to jail or be sloughed off to the regular Army, where he likely would face a 15-month combat deployment.

Heal the Warrior

Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country

Breaking the cycle of war making: our country will not find peace until we take responsibility for our wars.

Jared tried the antidepressant Celexa but didn’t like its effects. He saw several counselors at JBLM. Some forced him to talk about what he’d seen and done in combat, and Ashley says it would send him into a drunken rage for two weeks. The Army accused him of using PTSD as a ruse to get out of work and said if he wanted counseling he would have to schedule it on his own time.

“The Rangers knew all about our problems, but they were no longer doing anything to help,” she says. “I even went to the base commander; he told me, ‘That’s normal. It’s normal for the men to come back and drink, abuse their wives and their children.’

“And I told him, ‘That’s not Jared. My Jared doesn’t do that.’

“And he just said, ‘That’s how they handle it.’ And that was that.”

Not until Jared’s suicide did Ashley find dependable support: “I haven’t really gotten any support from the military at all. Coffee Strong treats me like I’m human. They check up on me. They’ll even watch my kids and play with them.

“Whenever I needed somebody to talk with, Coffee Strong—they’ve been there for me. They’re amazing.”


Dean Paton wrote this article for The Breakthrough 15, the Winter 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Dean is Seattle correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.

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Coffee shop is talk therapy for vets in distress Coffee shop is talk therapy for vets in distress


 

TACOMA, Wash. – Deborah Flagboam is still traumatized by a sexual assault during during boot camp, and needs a post-traumatic stress disorder therapy dog to help her cope with her thoughts of suicide.

 

“It wasn’t just a cry of help, it was real,” Flagboam tells CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen. “My life really wasn’t the same, I couldn’t really find a way to live any more.”

 

But the former Marine was told by military officials there was a two-month waiting list for long-term psychiatric therapy. So she came to Coffee Strong, a coffee shop just outside Joint Base Lewis McChord.

 

The veteran-owned shop opened three years ago to serve free coffee to soldiers and Marines. Over time, it became a place for troops to share their problems and treat the mental scars of war. Veterans at Coffee Strong found help for Flagbom within 24 hours.

 

“I dont think i would be alive today to be honest,” Flagboam said, “I could have ended up like Sgt. Jared Hagemann. Army Ranger Jared Hagemann killed himself this past June. He was facing his eighth combat deployment as a member of the Special Forces.

 

“At that moment,” his wife Ashley said, “I knew this would be the death of him.” Ashley said she warned base officials soon after her husband threatened suicide. He had that look in his eyes that he just wanted to die.

 

In 2004 there were 64 confirmed suicides in the Army. This year, 130 Army deaths are apparent suicides. There have been six at Lewis McCord.

 

Col. Dallas Homas, in charge of the suicide prevention program at Lewis McChord, said, “We have thrown immense resources at this: Money, effort, time to try to get soldiers to get the help they need and we have come a long way, but we are still losing soldiers to suicide.”

 

Some officers warn their troops to avoid Coffee Strong — which does not hide it’s anti-war message. But  Homas takes a different view. “I think that where ever a soldier can get help is a good thing.”

 

At Coffee Strong, there is no weakness. Just the comfort of comrades.

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Come and see “Grounds for Resistance”


When: Feb 7, 2012 at 2pm and 6:30pm

Where: 606 S. Fawcett Ave, Tacoma, WA 98402

website: http://groundsforresistance.com/

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Part of the Grand Cinema’s Tuesday Film series! Two showings, one day only!

In November 2008, a group of U.S. veterans opened COFFEE STRONG, a coffee shop located outside the gates of the U.S. Army base Fort Lewis in Washington. Inspired by the Vietnam-era G.I. coffee house movement, Coffee Strong provides a safe space where service members, military families, and veterans can drink coffee and discuss issues, such as their experiences of war, deployment concerns, the hardships of life in the military, and veteran benefits.

Members of Coffee Strong–most of whom were deployed one or more times to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and all of whom are under the age of 30–provide G.I. rights counseling and direct people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, sexual assault, discrimination, recruiter abuse, and medical and legal problems to the appropriate resources. They also provide counseling for those seeking options for leaving the military early, including entry-level, dependency, hardship, medical, psychological, and conscientious objection. Visitors to Coffee Strong read books from the free library, use the free computers with Internet access, explore literature on war and imperialism, and enjoy special events, such as punk rock shows and movie nights.

This fifty minute documentary film is about Coffee Strong: its importance for its most active members, active duty soldiers and their families, veterans of recent and past conflicts, and regional and national political movements. At the center of the film are the men and women whose experiences in the military and war compel them to commit themselves to help others who are serving or have served in the past. Each individual featured in the film exists within a nuanced tangle of conflicting emotions tied to pride, dedication to service, friendship, anger, disillusionment, sadness, and guilt. The film examines each one’s stories from their decisions to join the military, their experiences of war, and their motivations for devoting themselves to Coffee Strong. It explores how their relationships with one another and their activist efforts to make a more peaceful and just world help them cope with their own experiences.


f war.

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