An Illustrator’s Journey In and Out of “Shell Shock”

An Illustrator’s Journey In and Out of “Shell Shock”

WW II Veteran Suffers But Recovers from PTSD

George Withers had a whimsical touch in his art that perfectly illustrated the mood in America before and after WWII. Smiles he put on the faces of his subject, even when they were in some unlikely settings, captured George’s glass half-full view of life. Those smiles faded after he returned home from the war. They called PTSD “shell-shock” back then. Whatever it was, it almost robbed him and his family of a fulfilling life together.

With the help of his strong wife Virginia who kept the family together while he was in the hospital for “shell shock”, George broke free from his depression. More that than, he found a new happiness in his illustrations during the late 40s and into the 50s. His happy-go-lucky spirit was reflected in his illustrated stories for many artists including J.D. Salinger for The Saturday Evening Post and Robert Ruark for Colliers Magazine. George Withers leaves behind a legacy of moving illustrations that are a snapshot of the American spirit during those years.

Early Life Moves from Kansas to The Big Apple

Born in Wichita, Kansas on December 20, 1911. Withers graduated with a B.A. in Art from Kansas University. He attended the Art Students League in New York on an art scholarship and studied under George Bridgeman. Growing up in the midwest during the 1930s, George was a big, strong kid – a football player – who somehow found his gift for illustration and used it. Not long after graduating art school, he landed work in Philadelphia as a commercial artist at an ad agency. Illustrating ads for many big brands of the day, he would log almost 500 illustrations alone for 1950s giant Redbook magazine. George was good and success followed him.

Honing his craft and style, he moved to Manhattan. There, he discovered greater success, which included meeting an Irish-American beauty named Virginia who worked there, too. She loved jazz, dancing and eventually George. They married in 1942 and before George went off to war, their son Brian was born.

With George off to war, Virginia would write him about the Manhattan black-outs and how his son Brian was growing. To make ends meet, she still worked at the agency and rented out a room. Having lost both of her parents at a young age, Virginia was a survivor and a practical woman. Those skills would come in handy after her husband returned from the war.

George came home to his familiar Long Island home, but he wasn’t the same. To most in their circle of artist’s friends, life was back to normal. But the smiles weren’t there for George or Virginia. He “got sick” and was admitted into an army hospital in 1946. ??

With her family in emotional and financial trouble, Virginia dug in her Irish-America heels and landed a full-time job at Arthur Murray while dad was hospitalized. She would keep that job and the family together until George worked through his depression and shell-shock.

George Wither’s Wartime Illustrations

Painting Hellish War Images Part of His Daily Duties

The work George Withers painted in World War II was twofold in nature.

On the one hand he was a war artist, working for the Army. He was stationed at ETO Headquarters in Paris, working under Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. The assignments were expansive. There were stories about the Holocaust and its horrors, emaciated people ripped from their families only to die at the hands of fanatic Nazis.


Then there were battle images that needed to be painted, along with war-torn landscapes, displaced people and naval battles in the Atlantic and the Pacific. A multitude of military pamphlets and brochures had to be illustrated. And on and on. There was work to be accomplished each day, Monday to Friday, 8 to 5.

But in his free time and on weekends Withers kept drawing and painting, from the moment he entered the Army until the day he returned to New York in early 1946.

GIs took the lindy, the jitterbug, and Big Band music to France, and the Parisians loved it. Ike was in town. At various times DeGaulle, Churchill, and Eden joined him.

Then the war was over. There were nightclubs, jazz joints, and the Cirque de Paris to attend.

The French displayed a wonderful spirit, and so did the Americans. The Nazis were no more, and there was life to celebrate.

A walk in the Bois de Bologne, (which Withers found to be very similar to New York’s Central Park), a boat ride, and Parisians and GIs alike sunning themselves in the park. The images my dad sent home exude an unquestionable freedom. They are the precursors for actors like Marlon Brando and James Dean, whose performances build on the bravado established by American GIs a few years before.

The paintings and drawings my dad sent home were artistic in nature. They weren’t produced for an art director. As a body of work they represent the only time that Dad was truly an artist. He experimented with styles, becoming quite modern in some of the paintings.

He also illustrated many of the letters he sent to his wife.

As an American with a family at home, he couldn’t wait to return. In one letter he said, “When I get to Penn Station I’ll grab the first subway car to our apartment. If the train’s not there I’ll just run home as fast as I can.”

Thanks to Brian Withers who wrote the above for the Chicago Tribune, find it here.


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.

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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. 

Sunbelt Wellness Institute Ketamine-Infused PTSD Clinic

Sunbelt Wellness Institute Ketamine-Infused PTSD Clinic

Jacksonville Clinic Sees Encouraging Results Now and Promise for the Future

Treatment-Resistant Mood Disorders Have New Hope in Ketamine PTSD Therapy

If the name Ketamine sounds vaguely familiar to you, you might be thinking about the street drug Special K. Yes, they’re the same thing, but in multiple trials this drug has found a new life in the most amazingly helpful way.


 Sunbelt Wellness can be reached at (904) 328-6749

Not Just for Veterans

One-third depressed people don’t benefit from traditional treatments. Luckily, with the relaxation and reclassifications of some drugs, new therapies are showing great results and greater promise. We are happy to feature a local Jacksonville treatment center, veteran run, that is living proof of the benefits for PTSD victims.

Sunbelt Wellness Institute offers a customized cost-effective treatment regimen of Ketamine Infusion therapy, for clients suffering from treatment resistant depression, bipolar depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal ideations and other resistant mood disorders. This therapy has also been effective in chronic pain conditions including complex regional pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines and cluster headaches.

Interview with Dr. Kalynych and Dr. Hogan


Most medications prescribed for treatment-resistant mood disorders and chronic pain work by changing the amount of specific neurotransmitters, chemical messengers, in the brain. The side effects of these medications can be debilitating.

Ketamine works in a different way. IVKT triggers a cascade of events in the brain, temporarily blocking the activation of certain chemical receptors in the brain and signaling other pathways. Ketamine works on NMDA receptors, producing a protein that causes rapid growth of new neural connections, or “rewiring” of the brain. This rewiring effect leads to the antidepressant and anti-inflammatory benefits of IVKT.

Intravenous infusion is the Gold Standard for Ketamine therapy and is widely supported in published clinical studies.


Conditions Treated

PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.

It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.

Symptoms include flashbacks, bad dreams, recurring thoughts, avoidance behaviors, hyperarousal, agitation, cognitive difficulties, and mood disorders. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or one or more of the other anxiety disorders.

Not every traumatized person develops ongoing (chronic) or even short-term (acute) PTSD. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause PTSD. Symptoms usually begin early, within 3 months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes they begin years afterward. The course of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic.

Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe
symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed
with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

Some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances, such as: Persistent depressive disorder, Postpartum depression, Psychotic depression, Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and Bipolar disorder.


Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave and can cause physical symptoms.

The term “anxiety disorder” refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias. Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions – just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States.

Suicidal thoughts, or suicidal ideation, means thinking about or planning suicide.Thoughts can range from a detailed plan to a fleeting consideration. It does not include the final act of suicide.

Suicidal thoughts are common, and many people experience them when they are undergoing stress or experiencing depression. In most cases, these are temporary and can be treated, but in some cases, they place the individual at risk for attempting or completing suicide.

Most people who experience suicidal ideation do not carry it through, although some may make suicide attempts. Causes of suicidal thoughts can include depression, anxiety, eating disorders such as anorexia, and substance abuse. People with a family history of mental illness are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

A person who is experiencing or could experience suicidal thoughts may show the following signs or symptoms:

feeling or appearing to feel trapped or hopeless; feeling intolerable emotional pain; having mood swings, either happy or sad; being agitated, or in a heightened state of anxiety; experiencing changes in personality, routine, or sleeping patterns; consuming drugs or more alcohol than usual, or starting drinking when they had not previously done so; engaging in risky behavior, such as driving carelessly or taking drugs; experiencing depression, panic attacks, impaired concentration, and more.


Chronic pain is often defined as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks. Whereas acute pain is a normal sensation that alerts us to possible injury, chronic pain is very different. Chronic pain persists—often for months or even longer. Chronic pain may arise from an initial injury, such as a back sprain, or there may be an ongoing cause, such as illness. However, there may also be no clear cause. Other health problems, such as fatigue, sleep disturbance, decreased appetite, and mood changes, often accompany chronic pain. Chronic pain may limit a person’s movements, which can reduce flexibility, strength, and stamina. This difficulty in carrying out important and enjoyable activities can lead to disability and despair.




Veteran PTSD and Opioid Addiction Statistics

Veteran PTSD and Opioid Addiction Statistics

1 in 15 Veterans Have a Substance Abuse Disorder.

31% of Vietnam Vets Suffer from PTSD.

11% – 20% of Vets from Iraq/Afghanistan Have PTSD.

20% of Vets Suffer from Addiction to Opioids or Other Drugs.



A new JAMA report is bad news for Americans: By 2025, deaths from illicit opioid abuse are expected to skyrocket by 147%, up from 2015, according to a new study. Between 2015 and 2025, around 700,000 people are projected to die from an opioid overdose, and 80% of these will be caused by illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.

See the PDF report here.

See the JAMA site here.

Original article: PTSD and opioid addiction are two man-made afflictions that have found each other in today’s America. The latest report from the The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) uses data reported these number in 2016, meaning the data stopped being collected at least a year ahead of that time.

While the number of 1 – 15 is not good, veterans have a lower rate that the general population. That’s 6.6% for vets and 8.6% for non-veterans. In terms of suicide, vets are just slightly above the national average. In any event, PTSD and opioids combine to make our veterans especially at risk for addiction.  It’s also important to remember that all of the numbers, especially the opioid numbers are not exact.

Battlefield and Examination Room Treatment

The VA and other reports acknowledge that physicians need better training to manage opioid treatment for veterans. Between 2001 and 2009, for example, the percentage of veterans receiving pain management with prescription narcotics increased from 17 percent to 24 percent. The number of opioid prescriptions written by military physicians more than quadrupled during that time.

Getting started on pain medication seems like a good place to examine why soldiers and veterans, just like the rest of the population, get hooked on these painkillers. From a report on the subject, we present some more statistics on what gets veterans started:

Over 20% of veterans experience back pain.

About 16% experience joint pain.

Over 25% experience migraine pain.

About 27% experience neck pain.

Approximately 34% experience both back pain and sciatica.

About 37% experience jaw pain.

With these kinds of numbers, it’s easy to see WHY vets get addicted to opioids due to PTSD and general battlefield conditions.

View and Download the ITF 2016 Annual Report

Interagency Task Force on Military and Veterans Mental Health 2016 ANNUAL REPORT Department of Defense Department of Veterans Affairs Department of Health and Human Services

While this report doesn’t deal with PTSD or Opioid addiction, is it important to note that of the estimated 20 Veterans who die by suicide each day in this country, 14 do not receive VA care. This report holds valuable information to bring that number down or get help where it’s needed.


Our Mission

About 20 veterans die by suicide every day, VA data shows. That’s nearly twice the suicide rate among Americans who did not serve in the military. Once a Soldier in on a mission to ease the financial burden of the family after a veteran suicide. Please donate to help us do more for them.

Movement to Make PTSD an Official Cause of Death

Movement to Make PTSD an Official Cause of Death

Suicide as Cause of Death Can Change the Benefits

Veteran families of soldier suicide have all seen the death certificates that list the cause of death as suicide. It’s a heartbreaker, but it’s also causes financial issues. It’s not fair to the veteran, it’s not fair to the families and we are doing something about it.

Death records are the official documents issued by a government stating the cause, location, and time of death. Many death certificates also include personal information about the deceased.

VA DIC Claims and the Death Certificate

I found a good article written by Sandy Britt who was a Montgomery County, Tennessee, veterans service officer. My efforts to call met with a bad number listed as did the email which bounced back. Still I want to give her credit for the following: 

In some DIC claims, proving the veteran’s service-connected disability caused death or “materially and significantly” contributed to it is a simple matter. For example, if the veteran was service-connected for heart disease and diabetes and one or both of those conditions were listed as the immediate cause of death in Part I of the death certificate, DIC will be granted.

However, sometimes the service-connected disabilities are listed only in Part II of the death certificate. In that case, medical records and evidence must show that the service-connected condition listed in part II “substantially or materially” contributed to the veteran’s death.

According to VA regulation “Contributory cause of death is inherently one not related to the principal cause. In determining whether the service-connected disability contributed to death, it must be shown that it contributed substantially or materially, it combined to cause death, or that it aided or lent assistance to the production of death.”

The fact that the service-connected condition is listed in Part II is not enough to grant DIC.

As a service officer I have seen many death certificates that are not filled out adequately or even correctly, especially if the physician who completed it is not the veteran’s regular doctor and was just present at death in an emergency room, for example. For most families, what is listed on the death certificate is not really that important, but when it comes to VA DIC and service-connected burial benefits it is, and family members need to be aware of that before the death certificate is written so they can let the doctor know why a complete and accurate death certificate listing the veteran’s chronic conditions, if applicable, is necessary.

The rest of her article can be found here.


Important Item

What Sandy wrote in that last paragraph bears repeating: family members need to be aware of what the VA DIC and service-related benefits are before the death certificate is written so they can let the doctor know why a complete and accurate death certificate listing the veteran’s chronic conditions, if applicable, is necessary.

Top Ten Causes of Death According to the Center for Disease Control

Number of deaths for leading causes of death in 2015:

Heart disease: 635,260
Cancer: 598,038
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 161,374
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 154,596
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 142,142
Alzheimer’s disease: 116,103
Diabetes: 80,058
Influenza and Pneumonia: 51,537
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 50,046
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 44,965

Cedrick Taylor - Connecticut 2016 PTSD-related suicide

ABout Once a Soldier


Once a Soldier in on a mission to ease the financial burden of the family after a veteran suicide. Please donate to help us do more for them.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

PTSD and Substance Abuse

Coming Home to a Different Type of Danger

PTSD and substance abuse are two enemies that our veterans find themselves fighting in 2018. The combat exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan are linked, in various studies, to a sharp increase in the major mental health conditions reported in the U.S. military. Military members are returning from deployment with serious physical and mental health problems and, without the proper help provided, may attempt to self-medicate by abusing alcohol or drugs.

Substance abuse, like alcohol abuse and opioid addiction are the most common substance abuse cases in the military population. Just as the opioid epidemic is sweeping the nation, the epidemic is growing among veterans who have been prescribed these addictive drugs for injuries. Use over time can create a dependency, which can lead to a serious addiction. Over 40% of veterans suffer alcohol abuse at some point, and prescription drug abuse among military members is 2 ½ times higher than civilian rates.

In a study investigating suicide risk factors among all active duty members of the U.S. military in 2005 and 2007, it was found that suicide rates increased in every branch. A number of factors were found to coincide with the increase in suicides rates, one of which was the use of selective serotonin re uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other prescription drugs. While SSRIs seem to be a common treatment for PTSD and other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, studies have shown that they may increase the risk of suicide. More research should be done to fully understand how these factors impact suicide rates, and to find solutions that may decrease the incidence of suicide.

Veteran substance abuse often coincides with post traumatic stress disorder. In order to fully recover, both disorders need to be addressed and treated. Treating the substance abuse without addressing the other mental health disorders will likely result in a relapse.

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