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Welcome to CombatCounselor Chronicle, an E-zine dedicated to giving you the most current, pertinent information on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based CBT available.

Chris Sorrentino, a.k.a CombatCounselor, is a leader and expert in cognitive behavioral therapy. He combines 30 years of experience in psychology with the discipline from having served as a U.S. Air Force officer for 20 years, 4 of those in combat zones, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2005.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

His Holiness And I

By C.T. Sorrentino

“His Holiness”. I first saw him on TV, a documentary, 60 Minutes, I forget exactly where or when, but he impressed me with his infectious laugh, immeasurable joy, and extremely profound yet simple message: interdependence and compassion; love and non-violence; selflessness and integrity; dignity and respect … I was hooked. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama had my ear and my admiration from that point forward.

I started listening to His talks, I began reading His books, I visited, His website. I use a capital “H” because this man is the real deal, as close to a God as there is on Earth, plus “His Holiness” is always capitalized, so I capitalize the H here out of respect, but will not do so from this point forward because he is such a humble man that he would likely be embarrassed by it, he would not like it. After all, he often refers to himself as a “simple monk”.

His message made sense to me, enticing me to further explore Buddhism, a religion I was unfamiliar with, having been raised Catholic, only later finding out that it is not really considered a “religion” because there is no “God”, no creator, in Buddhism. Buddha was a man, a prince no less, who lived around 2,600 years ago in India, becoming “enlightened” after 49 days of meditation under the Bodhi tree at the age of 35 in a place now called Bodhgaya. So, back to his message, actually Buddha’s message, referred to as the “dharma” in Buddhism and one of the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings), and the Sangha (the devout followers: monks, nuns, bodhisattvas).

First, “suffering” (or “samsara” in Sanskrit), the subject of the Four Noble Truths, is at the root of human existence in Buddhist philosophy. We all want to be happy, but our ignorance: Our thoughts, our emotions, our desires and our inability to manage them get in the way of attaining happiness.
Second, we should observe our body (equated metaphorically to the Sangha), mind (the Buddha), and speech (the Dharma), inhibiting our propensity to lie, cheat, steal, kill, covet, idle gossip, talk badly about others and so on, by enhancing our ability to focus on the present moment and making positive choices while minimizing or eliminating negative ones.

Third, we should be compassionate, empathic, and care about others more than we care about ourselves, letting go of “me”, “I”, our “self” and in the process doing what we can to eliminate suffering in others and ourselves. This is also referred to as “bodhicitta” and those who dedicate their lives to ultimate compassion with a focus on eliminating suffering in all sentient beings (people, animals, insects, etc.) and attaining Buddhahood are referred to as “bodhisattvas”.

So I started reading books on Buddhism, basic books like Buddhism for Dummies, A Beginner’s Guide to Tibetan Buddhism, and other introductory texts, in order to learn more about what seemed to be a very complex subject. Then, not wanting to spend another winter in the Midwest, I had an epiphany - why not go to India and learn about Tibetan Buddhism at its source, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj to be specific, from His Holiness himself?

The first place I visited was the Dalai Lama’s website, where I checked his teaching schedule and, lo and behold, he was going to perform a teaching for a group of Koreans at his temple in McLeod Ganj from the 11th through the 13th of November 2014. Then I started checking airfares. I found a fare for $1,100 on United, which seemed like a very fair price considering that tickets to Europe nearly always exceed that, usually by a lot, so I decided to run the idea by my wife. I would leave in late October, go to Dharamsala for two months to study Buddhist philosophy, then meet her in New Delhi during her winter break (she is on the faculty at a large Midwestern university) for three weeks of touring, then south to Kerala for some much needed R&R by the sea.

Arriving in Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj actually, on a bright late-autumn day, the skies were a deep Dodger blue, the snow-topped Himalayas steep and jagged, the surrounding foothills raining pieces of shale and boulders the size of garbage trucks, and the trees surrounding the town a deep forest green, literally. His Holiness’s temple is actually in the hill station town known as McLeod Ganj, several kilometers and a 15 to 30 minute ride by bus, taxi, or car from Dharamsala depending on which road you take, the pot-holed “shortcut” or the longer, but much more comfortable “bus road”.  So if you want to be around his temple, attend his teachings, or volunteer with the Tibetan refugees as I did, you must stay in McLeod Ganj, not Dharamsala.

I felt totally at home as I entered McLeod Ganj on the first of November, as if I had somehow been there before, maybe in a past life, and my karma, which had been dismal for the past several years (that is another story, maybe an upcoming book), suddenly took a turn for the better as you shall soon find out.

Forty-five minutes after arriving, having quickly unpacked my backpack in my room at the Pink House Hotel, I decided to go for a stroll around town.  No sooner had I reached the long, treacherous staircase leading from the hotel to Jogiwara Road a few hundred feet above did I meet Thupten Pema Lama. Thupten is a small, slender man who always wears a hat of one kind or another.  His English is excellent and I soon found out that he is the now retired director of the Tse Cho Ling Monastery in McLeod Ganj and a former Buddhist monk.  We walked and talked for a while as he was on his way to get his cell phone repaired at a shop up on Temple Road, one of the two main thoroughfares running the length of the “market” area of McLeod Ganj and the road that takes you to the Dalai Lama’s Temple complex about a kilometer downhill. He pointed out his monastery in the valley below, where he still works part-time, from the second floor balcony of the small shopping center we were visiting. The secluded monastery, a three hundred step trek below the main square, is a peaceful respite where monks pray, meditate, and chant and where tourists can stay in a modest room with en suite bath for just 600 rupees (less than $10) per night. Thupten then invited me for tea at his home the next morning “around 10:00 am” and I enthusiastically accepted this kind invitation from a relative stranger.

Thupten’s small, simple apartment sits on the second floor of a building nearly adjacent to the hotel where I was staying, overlooking the river valley below with a view of the front range as well as the peaks of the Himalayas off in the distance. We had Tibetan bread, which quickly became one of my favorites and a staple throughout my stay, and milk tea, a Tibetan tea mixed with hot milk and a little sugar. As we talked, his sister sat with us, a sweet woman who speaks little English and is struggling with health problems as I later found out. Thupten then invited me for lunch. Unable to turn down such a warm and hospitable invitation, we retired to his living room while he bounced back and forth between there and his small kitchen where he busily chopped fresh vegetables and whipped up a tasty soup which I later found out was a Tibetan dish called “thupka” (pronounced “too-pa”). We watched BBC, his favorite, while chatting and eating our thupka with his sister.

There just happened to be an International Film Festival taking place in town that day, so we jumped in his car, picking up a stray tourist, a doctor from Australia, along the way, heading up the hill to TIPA (Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts) to watch a couple movies. We also had another complimentary lunch with the director of the film we had just seen, a very well known monk and Rinpoche (reincarnation), on the stage in the TIPA courtyard. From tea to lunch(es) to film festival, we had a splendid day and I had made a new friend for life. I later found out that Thupten is very prominent in town and a leader in the local Tibetan community. My karma was definitely heading in a positive direction and all this on just my first day in McLeod Ganj.

Oddly enough, that very same night, I met another very influential and equally well-known Tibetan monk by the name of Bargdo (pronounced “pack-toe”) while having my first restaurant meal at Nick’s Italian Kitchen.  Sitting at a table for two, I saw a monk walk in and ask a woman sitting by the door if he could join her as all the tables in the restaurant were occupied.  I am not sure why she turned him away, but I quickly caught his eye and beckoned him to join me as I was sitting alone and happy to have some company.  Bargdo has written 14 books and given countless public talks around the world about his experiences while being held in a Chinese prison and tortured by his captors, all for publicly pleading for a “Free Tibet” and announcing his devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Chinese.  For someone who was held captive and tortured for years in a Chinese prison, Bargdo was extremely jovial, even joyful, laughing uncontrollably at his own puns and as friendly as anybody I have ever met, including the Dalai Lama himself.  We ended up talking for a couple of hours and I bought one of his books, which he happily agreed to autograph for me before we went our separate ways. Fortunately, his company was much better than my meal, but the evening was an overall success in my eyes. Still day one and more positive karma!

I wanted to attend the Dalai Lama’s teachings, study Buddhist philosophy, volunteer with the Tibetan refugees, and study yoga during my two months in McLeod Ganj, so on the following Monday I made the two kilometer trek down Jogiwara Road to the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, also known as the “Tibetan Library” for short.  As it turned out, they had two Buddhist philosophy courses scheduled each day, Monday through Saturday, one at 9am and another at 11am, taught by two different geshes (a geshe is a Buddhist monk with the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist philosophy), each with his own English translator as the geshes taught only in Tibetan. I registered for both courses for the two months I would be in town, paying a grand total of 800 rupees ($13) for both courses and the texts.

I was too late for the 9am class that day, but the 11am class had just started, so the registrar insisted that I attend.  Entering in the middle of the opening prayer was a bit disconcerting, but none of the fifty or so people seemed to take notice and I quickly found a seat. The geshe was enthusiastic in his speech as he described the day’s verses of Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland in his native Tibetan, so I could not understand a word.  His translator, an American by the name of Julia whom I later came to know quite well, and Geshe obviously had a strong connection, a bond that allowed her to alternate between Tibetan and English all the while bantering back and forth while clarifying key points in the simple yet complex prose being taught. I was hooked … great stuff and positive karma once again!

As I was leaving the class, I overheard a group of people speaking Italian.  Having lived in Italy, being married to an Italian, and of Italian ancestry myself, I speak a reasonable amount of Italian and understand quite a bit more.  One of the group was an older woman with shaved head and dressed in the traditional Buddhist nun’s robes, so I asked her in Italian where she was from.  She told me that she lived in McLeod Ganj, but the rest of the group was from various places in Italy. They were obviously in a hurry to go somewhere, but before they left, the nun invited me to another, more private teaching at a café across from the Dalai Lama’s temple that day at 2pm.  I decided to go and am I glad I did – I was definitely on the karma train!

The small room above the One Two Café seats 12 people comfortably, many of whom sit cross-legged on cushions on the floor with tiny desks in front of them for taking notes. The more “senior” in attendance, those with bad knees like the Italian nun and I, sat in one of the few plastic chairs lining the wall. Our teacher, Geshe Lobsang Choegyal Rinpoche of the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics (IBD), is not only a geshe, but also a “Rinpoche”, the reincarnation of a very high Tibetan lama who reportedly meditated in a cave in the Himalayas for 50 years.  I was later told that Rinpoche is also mentored by His Holiness and was reportedly handpicked by the Dalai Lama to study at the IBD, the monastery inside the grounds of the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj.

As Rinpoche entered the room, that day and every Monday through Friday following, all in attendance would bow, with the Buddhists, and even some non-Buddhists who did not know any better, prostrating themselves three times at Rinpoche’s feet (a prostration is a sign of respect or reverence for a high lama and/or Rinpoche where the individual bows down to the ground in four distinct movements, sliding their hands in front of them as their forehead touches the ground before returning to a standing position only to repeat the movement for a total of three times). He would always start with warm greetings and a small amount of banter, normally light and jovial, before his opening prayer.  He would then begin his teaching for the day. His translator, Ben, from Jerusalem is a soft-spoken and very kind man. His relationship with Rinpoche is also obviously very special and they work extremely well together. Ben is also familiar enough with both Tibetan and Buddhist philosophy that his translations flow effortlessly and were quite easy to understand.

What a tremendously compassionate and wise man Rinpoche turned out to be as I experienced over the next 6 weeks or so in his presence. Incredibly positive karma was generated and much Buddhist philosophy was assimilated over the 45 hours we spent together in that small room simply adorned only with seven Tsongas, wall hangings with paintings of the Buddhas surrounded by crimson and gold silk fabric, one behind Rinpoche’s low throne-like seat and three adorning each of the two side walls. Rinpoche was scheduled to leave with His Holiness for several days of teachings in Karnataka, India in late December and I was very sad to have to part ways on the last day of his teachings. He had become my teacher, my geshe, my guru, my Rinpoche.

I had started teaching English conversation shortly after my arrival to Tibetan refugees at LHA Charitable Trust, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), a non-profit in other words, one of several in McLeod Ganj providing free education and services to the many Tibetans who have escaped from their homeland and the oppression of the Chinese government. I taught an hour-long class Monday through Friday at 4:00 pm and had one student that I tutored, a 28-year old Tibetan Buddhist monk named Sonam that I met each night.

Sonam Wangdu is a Buddhist monk, at least six feet, five inches tall, a giant by Tibetan standards, and one of the kindest, gentlest, sweetest people I have had the honor of meeting in my lifetime. He was arrested in New Delhi, shortly after escaping from Tibet in 2012 at the age of 26, for protesting in front of the Chinese embassy over their immoral occupation of his homeland, Tibet. Sonam was only held for a couple days, short by Chinese standards, and the New Delhi Police told him he was “six feet, seven inches”. He is tall, but I think their measurement was over by an inch or two. That was Sonam’s second incarceration, the first being in Lhasa (Tibet or China depending on who you talk to) where he was arrested by the Chinese for protesting in favor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is persona non grata as far as the Chinese government is concerned. Sonam was lucky, he was only imprisoned and tortured for a week while several of his fellow protestors were shot, some killed, by police for speaking out in favor of the Dalai Lama.

Sonam escaped from Tibet shortly thereafter, trekking across the Himalayas in the middle of winter with three other monks. Crossing near peaks in excess of an altitude of 20,000 feet in temperatures of minus forty degrees Fahrenheit and below, it took Sonam and his companions 30 days to cross into Nepal and reach the Tibetan Welcome Center in the capitol city of Katmandu. They were some of the lucky ones because many of their countrymen and women die of starvation, dehydration, frostbite, freeze to death, or are fallen by Chinese snipers who routinely wait perched atop a ridge for escaping Tibetans to wander by.

Sonam and I met two days after my arrival, barely able to communicate because of my non-existent Tibetan and the little bit of English he had learned up until then. We continued to meet every night of the week, many times for two to four hours while drinking milk tea, Tibetan herbal tea, or simply hot water, one of Sonam’s favorites along with hot milk. We would also meet one day on the weekend and go for a long walk in the woods or up to the village of Dharamkot, a few kilometers above McLeod Ganj, to talk and spend time together. The other weekend day, normally Saturday, Sonam had reserved for, as he liked to say, “washing my body” where he would hike down to the Bhagsu River, which was very cold in November and December, to wash himself and the few clothes he owned.

Sonam and I became very close and remain close to this day, talking on Skype when possible and texting on WeChat, a favorite among Tibetans in India. He has become like a third son to me and I hope we can meet again very soon, possibly in the United States where he would like to visit one day. Sonam gave me a Tsonga of the Shakyamuni Buddha, the “original” Buddha, formally known Siddhartha Gautama, a prince from Northern India who was enlightened under the Bodhi tree some 2,600 years ago. And he calls me “respected teacher”, a term of endearment that warms my heart every time I hear it.

As I mentioned earlier, the Dalai Lama was scheduled to give three days of teaching from the 11th through the 13th of November upon request from a group of Koreans. Anybody could attend the teachings as His Holiness’s temple can accommodate two to three thousand people comfortably, so three days prior I took my two passport photos and paid my ten rupees (16 cents US) at the Dalai Lama’s Security Office on Bhagsu Road not far from the town square, receiving my security badge in less than ten minutes. I then walked to the temple to reserve my seat using a piece of paper with my name written on it, affixing it to the cement floor with some borrowed tape at a location where I was told His Holiness would walk past following the teaching each day.

When I arrived on the morning of the first teaching, lo and behold someone was sitting on my reserved spot! Normally, it would not have been a problem and I would have simply sat somewhere else, but there was a full-house and not a square inch of available space anywhere. When I informed the intruder of his error, he stood up and showed me his name on a large mat where he had been sitting, but when I picked-up his mat to reveal my name on the concrete below where his mat had been placed, he had no choice but to move elsewhere. Those are the rules, I did not make them up, I only enforce them!

The Dalai Lama arrived shortly after the appointed hour of 8:00am, causing much excitement as he circumambulated, clockwise of course, the temple before entering. As he did, he stopped and talked to several people, touching others and giving blessings all along the way. Upon entering the temple, he made jokes with the Koreans seated inside along with some of the monks from his temple before being seated and getting down to business. As he started talking in Tibetan (translations were available in several languages via FM radio – you have to bring your own), dozens of young monks started circulating through the crowd with large baskets of Tibetan bread and huge steel pots filled with steaming milk tea (you have to bring your own cup), handing out the bread and pouring the tea to everyone in attendance. This is a ritual at every teaching in his temple, followed by a short prayer from His Holiness over the bread and tea before everyone begins consuming them. The teaching then begins in earnest and continues for four hours except for a 15-minute “toilet” break about halfway through. These three days of teaching focused on Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, the same text we were studying in my 11:00 am class at the Tibetan Library, so much of what was said sounded familiar. I will not elaborate on the details of the teachings because it would take up too much time and is too detailed to include in this short story, but it was enlightening, pun intended.

The next two days proceeded much the same as the first, except that on the last day there was a large lunch provided by His Holiness for the Korean’s and anybody else who wanted to partake, including Tibetan bread, rice, a vegetarian curry, and boiled vegetables, standard fare for a large
gathering and completely free of charge of course. Another thing that stood out to me was that on the second day there were several young monks navigating their way through the large crowd with stacks of 1000 rupee notes (1000 rupees equals about $16 US), seeking out the Buddhist monks and nuns, giving each of them a 1000 rupee note, not to anyone else, just the monks and nuns. Having vowed to a life of poverty, existing on the simple meals at their monasteries and wearing only the crimson and gold robes of Tibetan Buddhist monk or nun and a simple pair of shoes or sandals, these men and women live on very little, so $16 is a lot of money. A small gesture of compassion by His Holiness to the Sangha, his devoted followers, the Buddhist monks and nuns, but with an enormous impact on those who subsist on less than one dollar a day. Just another example of the compassion of the Dalai Lama

Another teaching, this time for four days in early December, was scheduled short notice after my arrival for a group of Mongolians, so I had the opportunity to attend a total of seven days, nearly 25 hours of teachings with the Dalai Lama during my time in McLeod Ganj. What a blessing and what tremendously positive karma had come my way during my stay!

But wait, that is not the best part of the story! Shortly after I arrived in McLeod Ganj, knowing that the Dalai Lama would be at his residence much of the time, an unusual occurrence with his hectic travel schedule, I decided to request an audience. Why not? The bad news: I received word from Tenzin Taklha, the Dalai Lama’s nephew and personal Secretary, three days after my request telling me that an audience would be impossible due to the Dalai Lama’s strenuous schedule and concerns for his health. The good news: I was invited to a group receiving line on December 8, 2014 where I would have the opportunity to greet His Holiness, receive a blessing, and have a photo taken with him. I was elated!

Thupten Pema Lama told me that these receiving lines were group events where nationalities are grouped together for the greeting, blessing, and photo. Well, that was good enough and just to have the opportunity to be so close to him was blessing enough for me, so I waited for the appointed hour – 8:00am on December 8th.

I arrived early at the temple’s security office that morning where I was checked-in, went through a metal detector, was patted-down (frisked), and had my possessions thoroughly checked. I had brought six mala (Buddhist rosaries) and two khata (ceremonial scarves for blessings) with me to have them blessed by His Holiness. Because nothing can be carried on your person when meeting the Dalai Lama, except a mala or khata, they were aggregated with all of the other’s and my remaining possessions were taken and sealed, all to be returned to me at the end of the visit. I was then told to go to a waiting room at the base of the hill leading to his reception center and living quarters.

There were probably 75 or so people there that brisk December morning and from what I heard, there were people from Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Tibet, China, and America of course. Nearing the 9:00am hour, we were grouped together in a line by nation and led up the hill toward the reception center. The line wrapped around the semi-circular driveway in front of the reception center with the head of the line under the canopy in front of the building. I was about one-third of the way back, number 25 or so. The Dalai Lama arrived shortly thereafter with his entourage, waving to his guests and smiling and laughing as is his way.

Just as Thupten had told me, the groups from individual nations were instructed to approach him one at a time. I could not tell you where the first groups were from, but there were from 5 to 12 or so people in each group. He would greet them, chat briefly, give them a blessing, and his staff would then take a group photo. The encounters lasted from one to three or four minutes. The group in front of me was from Japan and there were seven of them. I overheard the Dalai Lama telling them in English how wonderful it is that the Japanese are so forgiving toward Americans for having dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II and that forgiveness is a critical part of compassion and Buddhism. Little did His Holiness know that the next person in line was an American and a military veteran at that.

Oh, I forgot to mention, I was the only American in line that day, so when it was time, I was escorted to meet the Dalai Lama alone - I was the only nationality with just one member present! When I approached him, one of his staff said, “This is Lieutenant Colonel Sorrentino of the United States Air Force”. I then presented the white silk khata to the Dalai Lama between my two outstretched palms, as is the tradition, taking it from me he placed it around my shoulders as I bowed. He then took my hands and we bowed together in greetings. Not letting go of my hands, he asked me, “How long were you in the military?” to which I replied “20 years Your Holiness”. “ Did you serve in combat?” he asked. “Yes Your Holiness, I served in the Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan operations”. “Oh, very good”, he replied. At that point his staff were looking as if it were time to move on, so I took the opportunity to tell him something rather than asking a customary question.

I said, “Your Holiness, I have been fortunate enough to volunteer teaching English conversation to and befriending many Tibetans while here in McLeod Ganj and I have gotten to know your people very well”. I went on, “I have to tell you that I have never met such kind, compassionate, joyful, and wonderful people in my life and if there is ever anything I can do for you or the Tibetan people, please do not hesitate to ask me”. As I was finishing my comment, my eyes began to fill with tears of joy, both for the opportunity to meet this great and very kind man as well as because of the joy that working with my Tibetan students at LHA and my monk Sonam had given me. I have to say that was a bit of sadness as well, knowing what hardships and suffering the Dalai Lama and all Tibetan refugees had experienced while escaping from Tibet in very harsh conditions, leaving friends and family behind to do so.

His Holiness saw the tears in my eyes and still holding my hands he told me, and I am paraphrasing, about tolerance, interdependence, compassion, and forgiveness.  He said that it is helpful to empathize with and feel compassion toward those who we feel harm us or wish us ill will and that anger and resentment only cause our own suffering. The Dalai Lama added that the ignorant are oblivious to the feelings of others, requiring even more compassion from those with the wisdom to understand their suffering and that those are the reasons Tibetan Buddhists are such compassionate, joyful, and caring people. A few more photos were then taken, I later found out that the photographer had been snapping away the entire five minutes for a total of nine photos, and then it was time for me to let the next group approach. It then dawned on me that the Dalai Lama had not let go of my hands the entire time we were together.

His Holiness says that our enemies give us the best opportunities to practice compassion and forgiveness.  He has every reason to hate the Chinese for what they have done to him and his people, yet he loves them as much as anyone else, if not more, and holds no animosity.  He believes, like all Tibetan Buddhists, that every creature on earth, insects, animals and humans alike, could have been our mother or father in a previous life, so we must treat every living being with the same love, compassion, dignity, and respect we would afford to our parents. In this way, it is much easier to feel compassion toward our enemies. 

I have only a few hundred hours of exposure to Buddhism, having only scratched the surface with much yet to learn and practice. I still find it difficult not to become angry with and intolerant of ignorant people (the Dalai Lama likes to call them "stupid"), but his teachings have allowed me to reexamine my gut reactions and, eventually, soften those reactions with patience, acceptance, understanding, and compassion for all sentient beings, both the good and the bad. That is what I learned in the group and individual encounters between "His Holiness and I".

Copyright 2015 – 3rd Wave Media Group, LLC – All Rights Reserved

Title: His Holiness And I

Key Words: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, his, holiness, Dalai, Lama, Dalai Lama, Tenzin, Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, McLeod, Ganj, India, Tibet, China, Chinese, LHA, Tibetan, refugees, combat, counselor, CombatCounselor

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

These Senators Are Responsible For Damaging Our Military, Leaving Us Vulnerable To Future Attack - Do You Want Them Leading Our Country?

This list is circulating on Facebook once again to remind voters which of our Senators DID NOT support our military, allowing the deterioration of our professional military system:

53 Democrats ... Not surprised

12 Republicans ... Shocked!

Missouri Republican Roy Blunt ... Again, no surprise. He refused to help me when I was discriminated and retaliated against for being a Veteran and standing up for my rights

Diane Feinstein ... Would expect nothing less

Al Franken ... Funny guy, but as far left as you can get ... Shame on you Al!

John McCain ... Extremely surprised! A Veteran, former POW, and normally staunch supporter of the military and Veterans

Claire McCaskill ... The "other" Missouri Senator - two for two - Missouri hates Veterans. Again, no surprise. She also refused to help me when I was discriminated and retaliated against for being a Veteran and standing up for my rights 

Fortunately, the Senate and House finally reversed the COLA cuts for current retirees, but those entering after January 1, 2014 will see a 1% COLA offset (reduction) every year after retiring until they reach age 62. For the average retiree, that will be 20 years or more, eroding their retirement and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime.

Unlike many, I actually contacted my Representatives back in January of 2014, asking them to reverse the cuts and published posts on my popular blog begging others to do the same. It apparently helped to some extent because the cuts to current retiree COLAs were reversed. Here is one of the posts from my blog:

What will the cuts to future retiree COLAs do? We will have to wait and see, but one repercussion could likely be retention problems, eroding the professional military system we have today with a return to conscription and the "drafting" of unwilling and unmotivated people into the military. 

In the volatile world we live in, do you want a strong military, an all volunteer force, to protect our freedom, our unalienable rights, our borders, our citizens? If so, do not vote for these cowards in the upcoming elections and do not vote for their many counterparts in the House of Representatives, like Lynn Jenkins (Kansas), another Republican who turned her back on military retirees and the subject of the above post, and Paul Ryan, the traitor to American servicemen and women who co-sponsored this Bill.

Let's turn this country around, keep it strong, and protect the freedoms so many men and women in uniform have died for over the past 240 years. Vote for PATRIOTS, not COWARDS. Thank you and God Bless The United States Of America!

PS - The good news is that the co-author of the Bill in question, devil incarnate Paul Ryan (R-WI), will not be running for president in 2016 ... The bad news is that Paul Ryan is now, and shall be for six years, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the most powerful committees in our government and responsible for reviewing and making budget recommendations.

Title:  These Senators Are Responsible For Degrading Our Military, Leaving Us Vulnerable To Future Attack - Do You Want Them Leading Our Country?

Key Words: Senator, Senate, Congress, Congressman, Congresswoman, COLA, military, retiree, Facebook, vote, voter, voters, election, 2016, blog, CombatCounsleor, combat, counselor, McCain, Feinstein

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Just For Fun": Very Polite Automated Italian Toll Booth Machine

Neapolitans are not exactly well known for being civilized, and because my family is originally from the area I am being polite, but their automated toll booth machines certainly are ... watch this very short video to see for yourself ... "arrivederci"!

Title: Very Polite Automated Italian Toll Booth Machine

Key Words: polite, Italian, toll, booth, tollbooth, tole, machine, arrivederci, Tangenziale, Naples, Napoli, money, funny, viral, video, CombatCritic, travel, value, TravelValue

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Resilience: Armor for Your Mind

Listen carefully to what I say, but don't believe a word of it. Language and rule-governed behavior have severe limitations, experience does not.

We can't change evolution's work, but we can alter what we pay attention to (mindfulness) and how we REACT to "perceived" threat (acceptance).

Resilience is key to mental health and is something you can enhance through acceptance of and willingness toward aversive events. Are you focusing on the content of your life (thoughts, sensations, emotions) or on the context (what's happening right now)? You do have a choice.

NOW, GET OFF YOUR BUT! Yes, it's spelled right. Replace the word "but" with "and" and accept responsibility for your behavior and your life. Try it, see how it feels.

StayPresent ... StayTheCourse ... BeResilient!

Title: Resilience: Armor for Your Mind

Key Words: anxiety, combatcounselor, depressed, depression, health, kccbt, mental, resilience, resilient, therapy, fear, armor, mind, PTSD, BeResilient, chronicle

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Watch The CombatCounselor Channel on YouTube ... Over 500,000 Views!

CombatCounselor During Kosovo Operations - March 1999


CombatCounselor with the first-ever Czech Republic NATO airlift
mission in Skopje, Macedonia during Operation ALLIED FORCE
Russian Antonov AN-124 in the background

Title: Watch The CombatCounselor Channel on YouTube ... Over 500,000 Views!

Key Words:  "CombatCounselor Q and A" "The CombatCounselor Channel" series "Body-Mind-Behavior Therapy" questions viewers show Twitter CombatCounselor YouTube, 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for Veterans Act ... Great Idea, Poor Execution

By C.T. Sorrentino, LtCol, USAF (Ret)
      LPC, NCC

In regard to the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans ACT, the legislation states:

Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act or the Clay Hunt SAV Act - (Sec. 2) Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to: (1) arrange for an independent third party evaluation, at least annually, of the VA's mental health care and suicide prevention programs; and (2) submit a report to Congress, by December 1 of each year, containing the most recent evaluations not yet submitted to Congress and any recommendations the Secretary considers appropriate. 
(Sec. 3) Directs the Secretary to survey the VA's existing Internet websites and information resources to publish an Internet website that serves as a centralized source to provide veterans with information, updated at least once every 90 days, regarding all of the VA's mental health care services.(Sec. 4) Requires the Secretary to carry out a three-year pilot program to repay the education loans relating to psychiatric medicine that are incurred by individuals who:

are eligible to practice psychiatric medicine in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) or are enrolled in the final year of a residency program leading to a specialty qualification in psychiatric medicine; 
demonstrate a commitment to a long-term career as a psychiatrist in the VHA; and 
agree to a period of two or more years of obligated service with the VHA in the field of psychiatric medicine, as determined by the Secretary.
Limits the loan repayment to no more than $30,000 for each year an individual performs such obligated service.
The Clay Hunt SAV Act is a great start and long overdue, but shortsighted considering that over 8,000 Veterans commit suicide each year.  Psychiatrists, like all medical doctors (M.D.), are mostly concerned with prescribing pills, which is not the answer for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or many other psychological problems (anxiety and depression, the most common psychiatric conditions) for that matter. Pills only mask the symptoms of an underlying problem (disorder) and, in most cases, do little or nothing to help resolve the problem. After over 30 years in the field, I am not aware of a single medication that “cures” a psychological disorder. Psychotherapy by a trained, licensed professional is currently the most effective treatment for anxiety and depression and, by the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) own admission, the cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) are the most effective treatments for most disorders.

The APA, a large and powerful special interest group, and proponent of the "medical model" (physicians/psychiatrists and pills/"Big Pharma" ... another massive and very powerful special interest group), has blocked Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) access to many government programs because we (LPCs) are a threat to the status quo. If people (Veterans in this case) actually receive treatment (therapy) and resolve or reduce their psychological problems, what need would there be for psychiatrists and/or pills? There would be little or none ... big problem for psychiatrists and the big pharmaceutical companies that bring in tens of billions of dollars each year from psychotropic medication (antidepressants, antipsychotics, etc.) prescriptions.  So the APA does whatever they can to make sure LPCs are blocked from government jobs and contracts just as they are doing by controlling puppets like Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA, and Congress, ensuring that only psychiatry students receive financial support (and, eventually, jobs) under the Clay Hunt SAV Act.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), of which I am currently a member, possibly for not much longer, sits atop his throne at HQ/IAVA on Madison Avenue (another topic altogether - why does a non-profit need an office on Madison Avenue when that money could be going to help Veterans?) and makes decisions affecting millions of Veterans, apparently without proper counsel. When a longtime proponent of and advocate for effective mental health treatment for our Veterans, me, a retired military officer and Veteran of four combat operations as well as a clinician with decades of experience treating military and Veterans with PTSD, anxiety, and depression offered constructive criticism to Mr. Rieckhoff on Twitter:
Mr. Rieckhoff responded with this defensive and poorly conceived notion:
Beside being defensive when an expert in the field offered very accurate, factual, and compassionate advice with only the best interests of Vets in mind (I am not selling anything, do not have an office on Madison Avenue, nor do I have a massive ego to feed by getting face-time with Congress and the President of the United States), Mr. Rieckhoff is either completely ignorant and/or controlled by the powerful special interests (e.g. APA, big pharma) if he truly believes that, pardon my English, bullshit. 

Of course the APA disagrees with me because they have a very big dog in that hunt ... it is called money, a lot of it! In regard to "every veteran group in America", they would of course be remiss not to support such legislation to reduce Veteran suicides.  The problem being that, like Mr. Rieckhoff and IAVA, those groups also do not completely understand the issue.  Mr. Rieckhoff obviously also does not understand that Licensed Psychologists and LPCs are key to effective therapy and the long-term resolution of psychological problems, not just the symptoms, helping America's Veterans to heal, not just cope with their symptoms (e.g. taking antidepressant medications).

According to Roethel (2012), the National Center for Health Statistics reports that:

1. Americans are taking more antidepressant medications than ever before. When researchers compared the data from 1988 to 1994 with data from 2005 to 2008, they found that the rate of antidepressant use increased by almost 400 percent. 

2. Antidepressants rank among the top prescription drugs among U.S. adults up to age 44, they are the most common prescription medication for Americans between the ages of 18 and 44, and the third most commonly prescribed drug across all age groups.

3. 60 percent of Americans taking antidepressant medications have used them for two years or more and 14 percent have taken them for more than 10 years.

4. 11 percent of Americans over age 12 take antidepressants.

According to Cohen (2007), the "U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 2.4 billion drugs prescribed in visits to doctors and hospitals in 2005. Of those, 118 million were for antidepressants" alone.

Big Pharma has long been tied (financially) to the APA in general and psychiatrists in particular:
In March 2009, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it would phase out pharmaceutical funding of continuing medical education seminars and meals at its conventions.  However, the decision came only after years of controversial exposure of its conflict of interest with the pharmaceutical industry and the U.S. Senate Finance Committee requesting in July 2008 that the APA provide accounts for all of its pharmaceutical funding.  Despite its announcement, within two months, the APA accepted more than $1.7 million in pharmaceutical company funds for its annual conference, held in San Francisco. 
With the U.S. prescribing antipsychotics to children and adolescents at a rate six times greater than the U.K., and with 30 million Americans having taken antidepressants for a “chemical imbalance” that psychiatrists admit is a pharmaceutical marketing campaign, not scientific fact, it is no wonder that the conflict of interest between psychiatry and Big Pharma is under congressional investigation. (CCHR International, No Date)
New Yorker Magazine reported (Greenberg, 2013) that “It’s been just over twenty-five years since Prozac came to market, and more than twenty per cent of Americans now regularly take mind-altering drugs prescribed by their doctors. Almost as familiar as brands like Zoloft and Lexapro is the worry about what it means that the daily routine in many households, for parents and children alike, includes a dose of medications that are poorly understood and whose long-term effects on the body are unknown. Despite our ambivalence, sales of psychiatric drugs amounted to more than seventy billion dollars in 2010. They have become yet another commodity that consumers have learned to live with or even enjoy, like S.U.V.s or Cheetos.”

Unfortunately, there are also many uninformed or ignorant people in the world who do not understand the difference between psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers, much less all of the unlicensed frauds out there taking advantage of people and the system, lumping all psychotherapists under the label "psychiatrist". FYI folks ... a psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) and normally prescribes pills, being much different than psychologists, counselors, and social workers who are trained primarily in psychotherapy and do not prescribe medications. You can read more about the differences here.

I recently asked you to please show your support for the Clay Hunt SAV Act by writing to your representatives and let them know that something must be done to help reduce the number of Veteran suicides (22) each day and that the answer is not more psychiatrists in the Veterans Affairs (VA) system or subsidizing their education. As I stated, the best answer is effective, empirically supported treatment by well-trained, licensed, professional psychotherapists (psychologists, LPCs, and social workers), insisting that the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for Veterans Act MUST BE AMENDED to also include the subsidizing of LPCs, social workers, and psychologists in-training, not just psychiatrists. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Reickhoff apparently does not like to listen to Veterans or experts in the field before proposing legislation that affects millions of Veterans and reduces the number of suicides as the Clay Hunt SAV Act has now passed both Houses of Congress with no changes.  What a shame! Maybe if Paul Rieckhoff cared about Veterans as much as his massive ego, he would have consulted with real experts instead of only the large special interest groups before drafting such a critical piece of legislation affecting our brothers and sisters-in-arms.

Do not get me wrong, the Clay Hunt SAV Act is a start and I am extremely pleased that our government has finally recognized that there is a problem as well as a need for a solution. I am only saddened by the fact that such a poorly conceived notion, that more psychiatrists are the answer to the Veteran suicide problem, was put before Congress and ultimately the President for signature in this landmark legislation.

You can read more about my views on mental health treatment, and the associated stigmas, among military and Veterans as well as the implications in regard to PTSD and suicide in my article: The Stigma Killing American Heroes on my blog and as published in De Oppresso Liber magazine.

Here are a few more articles from my blog that are related to the information detailed above if you want to do some more reading:


CCHR International (No Date): Shrinks for Sale: Psychiatry’s Conflicted Alliance - The Corrupt Alliance of the Psychiatric-Pharmaceutical Industry

Cohen, Elizabeth: CDC: Antidepressants Most Prescribed Drugs in U.S., July 9, 2007, CNN: 

Greenberg, Gary: The Psychiatric Drug Crisis. New Yorker Magazine, September 3, 2013 Issue – Elements:

Roethel, Kathryn: Antidepressants - Nation's Top Prescription, Published 4:49 pm, Tuesday, November 13, 2012, SFGate: 

Title: Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for Veterans Act ... Great Idea, Poor Execution

Key Words: Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, SAV, ACT, Afghanistan, America, anxiety, Clay, Clay Hunt, depression, Hunt, IAVA, Iraq, legislation, Paul Rieckhoff, prevention, suicide, veterans, PTSD