Merritt Retreat Center For Veterans of War

The following was sent to me by our Earth Mother, Betty Merritt who owns and operates a little slice of heaven known as the Merritt Center in Payson, Arizona. Many a man and woman have completed her tailor-made curriculum for healing from that ravages of war. There is simply nothing like it in all the 50 States. It heals. It works. It brings contentment,where there was once psychic pain. It brings love where there was once bitterness and rage. It brings intimacy where there was distrust.

I have had the great fortune to be part of this program for the past 5 years, and currently serve as a mentor and outreach contact for Southern Arizona.

The free retreats start up again in January. Let us know if you know of someone who may want to attend. We can arrange transportation too.

Payson Roundup

One-stop help for vets available at Web site
By Alexis Bechman

November 24, 2009

When soldiers return home from war, they leave behind one battlefield but often find themselves thrust onto a new battlefield — this time fighting enemies in their mind.

The last thing a veteran should have to worry about is where he will get medical care, housing, food or support. But after a recent veterans discussion at Gila Community College, a small group of veterans, therapists and counselors decided Payson combat veterans need more support.

Following that Nov. 12 panel discussion, 13-year Army veteran Miles Hanson, who only moved to town six months ago, stepped up and started a Web site, The site gives local information pertaining to employment, housing, medical care, veteran groups, current events, self-help and most importantly, a place for support.

“A one-stop shop for returning veterans and those already here is a great benefit to local veterans and the community as well,” Miles said.

Betty Merritt, founder and owner of the Merritt Center, put on the discussion and said Payson needs to offer its veterans more assistance after they return home from war.

“There isn’t anywhere enough services that you deserve,” Merritt said.

Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Joseph Robinson and Vietnam veteran Kevin Whitaker said they have both dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since returning home from war and found the bureaucratic process for getting help frustrating.

PTSD affects approximately 30 percent of soldiers who spend time in a war zone, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. PTSD develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal and can often last years.

Whitaker said he spent the last 22 years living alone in Pine dealing with his own version of PTSD.

“I avoided anything dealing with veterans,” Whitaker said to the group. “I didn’t even tell people I was a veteran. But now I would like to help other veterans.”

Beyond the Web site, the group agreed a bricks and mortar location for assistance would be great along with a veterans advocate for Rim Country veterans.

Miles said he would also like to create a business card with basic information about services that could be placed in businesses around town.

Most importantly, veterans need to feel that the community supports them and there is a place to go for help, Merritt said.

“There is a sense that the community expends little energy at the individual level with veterans,” Merritt said. “There is a need to expand the therapeutic community’s understanding and support of the needs of veterans.”

When people go off to war, they are programmed to be soldiers. When they come back, they need to be deprogramed, she added.

“If we don’t recognize that these people need help, we have reactive outbursts,” she said, pointing to the recent shooting at Fort Hood.

Another case hit closer to home, a February standoff involving a veteran and Payson Police.

On Feb. 1, Gulf War veteran Michael Gene Robinson, 52, began a nine-hour standoff by barricading himself inside his home and shooting at police officers.

Talking with police negotiators, Robinson said that the officers in front of his house were Iraqis and therefore his enemy. Robinson eventually told negotiators he was suffering from PTSD. Eventually Robinson surrendered and no one was injured.

Although Army Reserve sergeant Ken Moorin was never violent like Robinson, he was diagnosed with PTSD after he returned from Baghdad in 2004. Moorin suffered panic attacks that were especially debilitating during thunderstorms. Seeking release, Moorin attended Merritt’s free retreat for veterans in Star Valley.

“I felt a sense of peace being with other veterans,” Moorin said. “Talking was so helpful because there is so much anger and sadness.”

“It has to go somewhere so it might as well be health,” he added.

Merritt founded the non-profit Merritt Center in 1987 to offer renewal and empowerment workshops.

Spread over four weekends, veterans work through a series of activities including trauma-release exercises, which allow veterans to release tension stored in the sciatic nerve during combat.

Merritt was inspired to start the Merritt Center after experiencing her own release during a massage. At the time, Merritt was a successful executive with a large corporation.

“An hour into the message I started breathing differently and I felt a white light in my body,” she said. “It said ‘Let go’ so I quit my job the next week.”

Not knowing what she was going to do, Merritt meditated on an answer and saw fields of pansies. In August 1986, Merritt started a cross-country drive looking for the field of pansies she had envisioned. After 36,000 miles, Merritt ended up at the lodge in Star Valley, where she found a field of Johnny jump-ups blooming.

At the time, a doctor was using the center as a retreat for cancer patients. In 1987, Merritt took it over.

For the last five years, Merritt has offered retreats free for veterans.

“So often they come back and try to numb the pain through either alcohol or other stuff,” she said. “We don’t just shake it off so we need to learn how to release it.”

The first two weekends of the retreat involve bonding with other veterans who have gone through the program.

“A talking circle is introduced in the first session and used throughout the program to provide the foundation for creating trust. With others in the circle acknowledging their traumatic experiences the vet is willing to explore his/her own and before the circle ends or definitely before the first weekend ends, the vet is willing to share a piece of the experienced trauma,” she said.

At the end of each weekend, veterans are given activities to practice at home.

During the third weekend, veterans let go of the traumatic event during a Native American sweat lodge ceremony. During the sweat, Merritt said she keeps the door open more than it is closed.

At the end of the sweat, some veterans exit the lodge feeling reborn.

After letting go of the trauma, veterans replace it with something positive, Merritt said.

During the final weekend, veterans create new life goals. In the past, one veteran expressed a desire to write a book and another wished to give whale tours.

Whatever the dream, Merritt encourages veterans to follow through.

“I am living proof of making your dreams come true,” she said.

Visit the for the free online workbook, Basic Training for Life, a self-help program for returning veterans.

Originally published at:

Get By With A Little Help From Your Friend

This past week it was suggested to me that I give a crack at establishing a bit of a help center online for some of our Disabled Veterans who frequently need some small favors as result of their physical conditions. I think we can do that.

Anyone got a catchy name for the postings? One that will be consistently used?

So, here is the first request.

My dear long time friend, Betty Slaybaugh, and retired Director of Esperanza and Escalante, the transitional housing for veterans, has asked if I can track down a back-hoe to assist a disabled veteran in clearing his driveway of accumulated dirt which is preventing ingress and egress to his property. Any ideas? Leave a message on our pager. 520-540-7000. Thanks.

Gays In The Service? No Problem Says New Study

Bonnie Moradi, a Psychology professor at the University of Florida in tandem with Laura Miller, a military sociologist with the Rand Corporation have concluded that members of a military unit who discover that a member is gay, does not affect the military readiness or cohesion of the group. The factors that surfaced as much more important then gender,were the quality of leadership, the availability and working condition of equipment and ongoing training.

This revisited analysis suggests that homosexuals could serve openly without impacting the units cohesion, contradicting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The Senate Armed Services committee will be holding hearings on this issue next year for the first time in 16 years.

Friend of Local Veterans Joins Ward 6 Staff

Downtown maven and virtual walking Wikipedia of people, projects, places, politics and policy; Donovan Durband, was brought on staff of the newly elected Ward 6 Councilman; Steve Kozachik, who will be installed on December 7th, 2009.

Durband; the former Executive Director of the Tucson Downtown Alliance, and its birthed Tucson Downtown Partnership, comes to the table with a wealth of knowledge about the activity in Ward 6 and a ton of associates who will afford the new Councilman a bit of a shorter learning curve.

The announcement of Durband’s addition to the Ward 6 staff is exciting for the veteran community, as he always worked hard at including our local veterans in many of the downtown events in the capacity of volunteers and trained ambassadors for the Central Business District.

Both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars had their roots in the downtown. The Legion Post 7 has been operating the Veterans Day Parade for nearly 90 years! The VFW once occupied the building that Access TV now calls home. Both of these organizations along with a handful of Disabled Veterans would supply personnel “on call” for a variety of events like Downtown Saturday Night and Dillinger Days and First Night.

Durband’s successor disbanded the volunteer program in a rather perfunctory way, sprinkled with a bit of perfidy, leaving some third and fourth generation Arizona families feeling a bit disenfranchised from their own roots.

It is refreshing to see that our Midtown Council Office will be staffed with veteran friendly persons and open to hosting some of our events.

The probability is pretty high that a few platoons of Vets helped push Steve K. over the top in the election.

Welcome aboard ship First Mate Durband! We hope to be seeing more of you.

New Veterans Administration Web Site

The following is for your information and distribution to your members.

John A Miterko
Veterans Advocate

New VA Website

Same name; new face! On Veterans Day, VA rolled out the first phase of a large-scale Web renovation to better serve America’s Veterans. This is the first and most visible step of changing VA’s Web domain to better serve Veterans and their families by making it easier for them to find the information they need about benefits and programs. Long term, VA goals for its Web presence are to make it easier and more inviting for Veterans by focusing on topics and tasks rather than office functions, improving the navigational structure to ensure consistency, and making it more visually appealing. The new Web site design will cover more than 500 VA Web sites and about 80,000 pages. Major changes include improvements in the navigational structure that provide consistency among all sites and consolidate major topics; a slide show section that showcases current VA events or hot topics; and bottom columns that feature news items, highlights and a “Quick List” with links directly to important applications such as Veterans On Line Applications (VONAPP) and MyHealtheVet. Check out VA’s new Web face by clicking here.

Same name; new face! On Veterans Day, VA rolled out the first phase of a large-scale Web renovation to better serve America’s Veterans. This is the first and most visible step of changing VA’s Web domain to better serve Veterans and their families by making it easier for them to find the information they need about benefits and programs. Long term, VA goals for its Web presence are to make it easier and more inviting for Veterans by focusing on topics and tasks rather than office functions, improving the navigational structure to ensure consistency, and making it more visually appealing. The new Web site design will cover more than 500 VA Web sites and about 80,000 pages. Major changes include improvements in the navigational structure that provide consistency among all sites and consolidate major topics; a slide show section that showcases current VA events or hot topics; and bottom columns that feature news items, highlights and a “Quick List” with links directly to important applications such as Veterans On Line Applications (VONAPP) and MyHealtheVet. Check out VA’s new Web face by clicking here.

God Bless
Jose M. Garcia
National Executive Director
Catholic War Veterans,USA
Better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.
In God We Trust

A Belated Congratulations To Councilman-Elect Steve Kozachik

I have to apologize to Steve for not posting this right after the election count. I was out of town on Election Day, and then it just slipped by me.

So why congratulate Steve at a Veterans site? It is because he is the first elected local official that has shown an active, and I do mean active interest in the welfare of our returning veterans.

He hosted many events for these men and women and expressed interest in keeping their needs at the forefront of his governing. It is this zeitgeist that he creates around him, that got him elected. And I would speculate that nearly 1000 of our veterans for whom I helped him garner support, were responsible for much of the cross-over vote, as I know many of them to be Democrats, and Independents. ( I am a 30 year Independent)

The outgoing Councilwoman and staff promised on numerous occasions to host, Welcome Home Forums for our veterans transitioning to civilian life. There was no follow through on this and many other declarations made to constituents.

The first of these forums was just held at Himmel Park Library. Now that Steve K will be domiciling at Ward 6 Office, I am certain we will be welcome as we launch a nationwide program for understanding the unique needs of the combat veteran. Congratulations Steve. We got your back!

Question For the Audience

Here is a question that was put to me over the weekend. We will see how the collective consciousness and attuned intellect of our readers handle this one. I will sit back and listen.

If an increasing portion of our nations debt is owed to foreign banks, eg. 28% of our debt is owed to the Bank of Singapore, then who are our troops defending? That was the question.

Is there any true sovereignty when we are so beholden to international banking? How can you be patriotic under those conditions? My question.

Are we not being turned into a proxy UN Force? Ok… go!

Head Injuries From War Mounting

The following story was televised on ABC News Channel 7 in Arlington, Va. The technology that has been developed to objectify the unseen and frequently undiagnosed injuries of war; head injuries and post traumatic stress are going to tax the disability system to the maximum. Is this not the irony of 21st Century war? The cost of the aftermath of war may soon become so onerous that we can no longer afford to wage it!

And to think of how frequently the syndrome and symptoms of head injuries have occurred in the veteran population since the Civil War, which would have been the advent of huge blast injuries. So for 150 years we have had vets out there compromised in executive functioning and both they and the health professionals never knew what was up.

When grampa was on the front porch acting a little dink dauy and maybe drinking too much whiskey. The chances are real high that he was just clocked in the trenches of France in WWl.

Head Injuries have now become the signature wound of the War on Terrorism. Oddly this was the prevalent injury in WWll and Korea. In Vietnam it was small weapons fire and booby traps.

Is it not spooky that primitive warriors always find a way to enter combat with stronger Armies, both in weaponry and financing? Is there ever going to be an end to this insanity? Notice this is not a political question. It is the same one that the Generals have to deal with, because they have to replace these soldiers in the bush. So we got a bloody numbers game going on—-exactly like the days of William Westmoreland. Except this time the soldier survives to live a war of homeland disability. Isn’t this like a terrorist memo sent home?

One thing I have never understood is why we now state that PTSD was once defined as, “shell shock.” That is not really very accurate, because shell shock is its own baby as is PTSD. I know, I have experienced both.

The good news is that VA knows this and we now have some of best care in the world for our returning combatants. Tucson VA has is ranked as one of the best in the nation and its poly-trauma unit personnel are the unsung heroes of the day.


Washington – Powerful scans are letting doctors watch just how the brain changes in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and concussion-like brain injuries – signature damage of the Iraq (web | news) and Afghanistan wars. It’s work that one day may allow far easier diagnosis for patients – civilian or military – who today struggle to get help for these largely invisible disorders. For now it brings a powerful message: Problems too often shrugged off as “just in your head” in fact do have physical signs, now that scientists are learning where and how to look for them.

“There’s something different in your brain,” explains Dr. Jasmeet Pannu Hayes of Boston University, who is helping to lead that research at the Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD. “Just putting a real physical marker there, saying that this is a real thing,” encourages more people to seek care.

Up to one in five U.S. veterans from the long-running combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is thought to have symptoms of PTSD. An equal number are believed to have suffered traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs – most that don’t involve open wounds but hidden damage caused by explosion’s pressure wave.
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Many of those TBIs are considered similar to a concussion, but because symptoms may not be apparent immediately, many soldiers are exposed multiple times, despite evidence from the sports world that damage can add up, especially if there’s little time between assaults.

“My brain has been rattled,” is how a recently retired Marine whom Hayes identifies only as Sgt. N described the 50 to 60 explosions he estimates he felt while part of an ordnance disposal unit.

Hayes studied the man in a new way, tracking how water flows through tiny, celery stalk-like nerve fibers in his brain – and found otherwise undetectable evidence that those fibers were damaged in a brain region that explained his memory problems and confusion.

It’s a noninvasive technique called “diffusion tensor imaging” that merely adds a little time to a standard MRI scan. Water molecules constantly move, bumping into each other and then bouncing away. Measuring the direction and speed of that diffusion in nerve fibers can tell if the fibers are intact or damaged. Those fibers are sort of a highway along which the brain’s cells communicate. The bigger the gaps, the more interrupted the brain’s work becomes.

“Sgt. N’s brain is very different,” Hayes told a military medical meeting last week. “His connective tissue has been largely compromised.”

There’s a remarkable overlap of symptoms between those brain injuries and PTSD, says Dr. James Kelly, a University of Colorado neurologist tapped to lead the military’s new National Intrepid Center of Excellence. It will open next year in Bethesda, Md., to treat both conditions.

Yes, headaches are a hallmark of TBI while the classic PTSD symptoms are flashbacks and nightmares. But both tend to cause memory and attention problems, anxiety, irritability, depression and insomnia. That means the two disorders share brain regions.

And Hayes can measure how some of those regions go awry in the vicious cycle that is PTSD, where patients feel like they’re reliving a trauma instead of understanding that it’s just a memory.

What happens? A brain processing system that includes the amygdala – the fear hot spot – becomes overactive. Other regions important for attention and memory, regions that usually moderate our response to fear, are tamped down.

“The good news is this neural signal is not permanent. It can change with treatment,” Hayes says.

Her lab performed MRI scans while patients either tried to suppress their negative memories, or followed PTSD therapy and changed how they thought about their trauma. That fear-processing region quickly cooled down when people followed the PTSD therapy.

It’s work that has implications far beyond the military: About a quarter of a million Americans will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Anyone can develop it after a terrifying experience, from a car accident or hurricane to rape or child abuse.

More research is needed for the scans to be used in diagnosing either PTSD or a TBI. But some are getting close – like another MRI-based test that can spot lingering traces of iron left over from bleeding, thus signaling a healed TBI. If the brain was hit hard enough to bleed, then more delicate nerve pathways surely were damaged, too, Kelly notes.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.

Upcoming Veterans Forum/ Himmel Park Library

On Thursday, November 19th, 2009 from 5:45pm to 7:45pm at Himmel Park Library, located at 1035 N. Treat Ave, near Tucson Blvd. and Speedway, there will be a Forum for dialogue with the community about veterans of war returning home. The topic is:


Join us in a “Coming Home” dialogue that intends to inform and engage the whole community in learning new ways of viewing the veterans you know and love. This is the first in a series of panel discussions and is intended for veterans of all ages and families from all generations. An extensive question and answer session is scheduled.

For information call Sue Parker at Himmel Library 520-594-5305 ext.3

The Other Insurance Issue; The Sad Hypocritical One

Following is a letter forwarded to me by a local combat veteran of the Marine Corps. His name has been deleted, but he has given permission to publish his petition for explanations for the declination of life insurance as a result of having a PTSD diagnosis. ( Note. Since this was posted the author has elected to share his name. It is Pete Bourret. He is a combat veteran of the Marine Corps who served in Vietnam.)

I am familiar with this very sad fact of life. I am equally conversant with its prevalence and the gross lack of justice involved. The impunity embedded in our nations Insurance industry is soon to become a national disgrace. The irony of the fact that a warrior can defend his/her nation and its system of capitalism and in turn not be qualified for life insurance, is beyond comprehension.

Someone, somewhere, has created some bogus science that states that Post Traumatic Stress shortens ones life span. This veteran is asking to see proof of this assertion. I am asking to see studies, from either the National Institute of Health or the VA, that indicate this confabulation.

Can you imagine the impact on a young soldier with a family when they learn that the mental health care they received on the heels of war is preventing them from protecting their very own family’s finances. I see rage on the horizon. I see class action law suits. And worse, I see the myriad of caring outreach programs at Vet Centers and VA clinics backfiring when the word travels that you are sealing off your future financial options. Who do these folks think they are? Maybe we should just draft all executives in the insurance industry first.

So the citizen soldier who is wounded in war is rendered incapable of being a full citizen in the country they just upheld. Is there a more poignant hypocrisy to be found?

We will be re-visiting this open wound in the veteran community over the next several months. Possibly, the parent company of the Citizen, Gannett, can help us out with a feature article in USA Today, which is known for its veteran and military coverage. Or are they too owned by the Insurance Industry?

November 11, 2009

Pruco Life
PO Box 8660
Philadelphia, PA 19176-8660

Denise Holmgren
Vice President, Underwriting:

This letter is in response to your companies response to my request for specific information, which I have requested on multiple occasions yet have failed to receive; a copy of your original letter will not suffice.

Please advise me if I should conclude that your determination of my uninsurability was based on my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis in general. I ask this because I have repeatedly requested the specific information (three times) that you utilized in your determination; however, I only received several hundred pages of my VA mental health records without any specific details. Let me be as clear as I can be: I expect you to submit to me the specific language that caused your organization to draw the conclusion that I am not an appropriate candidate for life insurance.

This is my last request for this information that you have an obligation to provide to me in a timely manner. I find it ironic that I am writing this letter to your organization on Veterans’ Day, yet it seems that your company fails to honor veterans who served and became casualties of war. The fact that your organization believes that a veteran with a PTSD diagnosis is a poor candidate for a life insurance policy shows that there is great ignorance about this diagnosis within your organization. Had you bothered to check with my psychiatrist because of a concern, you would have discovered that I am much more than the basic notes that he wrote. You were too busy to do that because we know that the business of American business is the bottom line. For veterans like myself, when I volunteered to serve as a combat Marine in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, my bottom line was to defend your freedom and to protect my fellow Marines. I guess our values do not coincide.

In closing, I ask you to re-evaluated your process for determining insurability in the area of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Regardless, it only makes sense that potential recruits to the Armed Forces should be made aware through full disclosure that serving is also hazardous to their insurability should they be traumatized by of combat. As a retired English teacher with too much time on his hands, I will gladly set the educational process in motion. I think it is time that people learn how your organization actually “supports” the troops.

Happy Veterans’ Day,

Peter Bourret/USMC