Juneau Alaska, Adventure

Fall Juneau Alaska

Fall Juneau AK 2015

It’s early September 2015 up here in Juneau, Alaska. It’s been some time since I’ve made a post on my blog. My apologies but it’s been a crazy summer with lots of work, adventure, with so many great stories and new friendships. It’s actually been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I have many more blog posts to come, with some great stories about Alaska. I will have plenty of time this winter to talk about the summer, since I will be dreaming about it anyway.


Scrubs my PTSD Counselor

Working dog do not pet



In the past I’ve been adamant about Scrubs having her vest on while out in public. My service dog’s vest is red with big letters that says “WORKING DOG DO NOT PET”. So most people, trying to be socially acceptable—often feel awkward about even asking me why I have a service dog.  It seems like they feel sorry for me as I was left alone for the most part when I lived in California and Washington. Yes, Scrubs is a bit of a conversational piece, but I didn’t need to use her services as much as I have up here in Juneau, Alaska. The relationship between her and I, and what I needed of her was absolutely perfect.  I was turned down for countless jobs up here in Alaska when PTSD service dog was written on my application.  Their loss, Scrubs is a badass, and if you’ve ever seen her you know just what I’m talking about. So I decided to fill out an application, and on it, I mentioned that I had a really cool dog. I got the job.  So now she’s a service dog in disguise since she wears no vest, which had served as a little bit of a shield. I was using this as a crutch, and it is now gone.  People are petting Scrubs!!!!!!  And she’s digging it. I didn’t know if I could trust her and I didn’t know if she was even still keeping her eyes on me.  I’m the only one that would ever even pet her. I am sorry that I doubted her, since this summer she was awesome, the best she’s ever been. She has been on her game. Scrubs never stops working and I think that freaks people out.   Scrubs and I have a dance, a performance, something to show the crowd all day long.  The crowd down at the dock consisted of much more than I expected—it was far more than I was capable of handling. I thought to myself that I have to somehow keep it together, that people are counting on me.  Scrubs turned into some kind of superhero then. Everyone knows Border Collies are smart but I truly belief she was showboating during her performances this summer. She knows exactly what she’s doing when she’s doing it.  I could use Scrubs, and within 45 seconds to a minute I would have 300 people around me, standing completely quiet, watching the show. Watching Scrubs take one step at a time, no one realized I was taking one deep breath for every step she took.  She was calming me down and I could turn everyone silent as I’m pulling myself back together.   This one’s funny, sometimes Scrubs will stand about 20 feet away from me and just stare at me. Then someone would walk by and Scrubs would completely ignore them as they would look around and stare at the dog, trying to figure out what this dog was looking at.  The look on their face as they walked away just dazed and confused about what they’ve just seen, always made me smiley. Scrubs had so many people that would come down from their positions at work on a daily basis just to pet her for a few minutes. She was the star of the show as everyone knows Scrubs on and off the dock. They even call me Scrubs across the street at the coffee shop where I go four times a day. She’s done a good job at keeping me pretty social. Scrubs made a lot of friends for both of us alike. People come pet her every day, I’m pretty sure I call them friends although we don’t see each other outside of work.  The second I’m through with work, I just want to get the heck out of Dodge. And I’m able to do that because I have coworkers that maybe don’t understand, but they accept me. Because of that we made a pretty good team this year.


I live in Juneau, Alaska for a specific reason. Our population is 33,026 in the winter.  1,381,069 people live in San Diego, California—where I am originally from. Juneau’s summertime visitors will be the equivalent of everyone from San Diego walking our city streets over the course of the summer. That’s not so bad, I thought to myself.  But in reality, wow that’s a lot of people for this little town in this giant state of Alaska.  Summer is phasing out, and the tourist season is coming to an end, we’ve made it! The faces and the stories of the tourists I have met this year are a blur.  I was just trying to get through the day, without an anxiety attack from solving some sort of work related crisis over the phone, bus schedules, overbooking, breakdowns, or just a passenger who has missed their bus back from the glacier. I have isolated myself quite a bit this summer after work. Heading out to the forest is my sanctuary of peace and security as it’s also where I sleep on most nights.


A few weeks ago I was reading something a friend had posted on the internet , it said “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier”.  This excerpt stuck with me and I continued to think about this phrase. Days later, I felt the need to act on this, I had no plan, no idea of what I was going to do, but I set out to do just what I had read. I wanted to help someone be, or feel better and happy. I wondered around town for a bit after work, I think I was trying too hard. I had found no ideas, nor any inspiration. So Scrubs and I found ourselves listening to some live music at the Alaskan bar. Scrubs was working the room like the bad sled dog she is, making sure that everyone that wanted to pet her was able to.  Copyright 2015 Thomas P. Skinner - "Think outside no box required"That’s when I met Laura, from New York City. She was visiting Juneau, traveling on a cruise ship.  We talked about Scrubs only briefly until our conversation moved onto the topic of Alaska. She was nearing the end of her 14 day trip up and down Southeastern Alaska, and her face would light up when she talked about the adventures, and the people she had met while up here in Alaska.  I could tell she had fallen in love with this place that I am so fortunate to call home. We talked about grizzly bears, and smoked salmon, living in a big town like Juneau versus that of a small town like Skagway. Laura had a bucket list of things she wanted to see and do while in Alaska. She seemed to be up here craving adventure.  Then I thought to myself, we could sit in this 100 year old bar drink some beers and talk about Alaska, but out of nowhere came the thought out of my mouth, hey let’s go on an adventure.  It was raining outside and we didn’t care. We walked around Juneau as I showed her the town.  The next thing I knew we were riding up the tram

Juneau AK Tram

that we had all to ourselves to Mount Roberts.  I had never ridden the tram at night and into the clouds, the dimly lit sky. It was quiet as we watched Juneau get smaller, then soon after we reach the top and Alaska got bigger. We could see forever. 9:30 PM was time to get Laura back to the ship.  I gave her a gift of some smoked salmon that I had caught not too long ago. Laura was heading north to Skagway, she would be there in the morning. Skagway was my first home after I arrived in Alaska. I was very excited to find myself talking about it. What to see, what to do where’s the best area to find a grizzly bear. She sailed away and I went back to my camp for the night. I’m pretty sure she had a really good time and I felt good because I had a great time showing Laura the true Alaska and sharing stories.  That’s not the end of the story however. I wake up early the next morning still thinking about Laura and her Alaska bucket list.

Skagway Alaska

Skagway Alaska

I decided to take the day off from work, I called Laura, jumped on a plane and flew to Skagway. Now that’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before but even better yet I was able to leave Scrubs behind. When I arrived I introduced Laura to the best coffee shop in town and the famous Skagway McMable breakfast.  After coffee, hiking, playing on a train, days of 98 show, more hiking, a random pickle purchase, and a spruce tip ale it was time for me to catch the last flight back to Juneau. I set out on this endeavor because I wanted to “Let no one ever come to me without leaving better and happier”.  I know she had a great time but in the end it was also I who left feeling better and happier. I needed that little adventure so bad. This has been a long summer of work. Laura and I still talk and I know we have more adventures to come.

This winter I will post videos and pictures of my summer in Juneau Alaska.  I will talk more about my experience with the VA system up here in Alaska. It’s not quite what I thought it was going to be.

But wait, the story is not quite over I asked Laura if she would consider writing about her experience while in Alaska, and our adventure.   In no time at all, I receive this Great addition to this post from Laura



Right Place, Right Time

I recently went on the adventure of a lifetime, with a person I barely knew, and it very much changed my life for the better.


My best friend Billy is working on a cruise ship that sails through Alaska, and we had decided months ago that I would come cruise with him. Billy decided I should do 2 week-long back to back cruises so we didn’t “hurt ourselves”. We would have enough time for both party nights and amazing sightseeing days. And my first week on the ship was awesome. I was awe-struck the first time the ship pulled into Juneau. It was a beautifully sunny day and mountains were epic in proportion. Billy and I rode the tramway up Mt. Roberts and hurt ourselves on amazing food. In Skagway the next day we hiked to Reid Falls, and as Billy predicted, Skagway was hands down my favorite port. I loved how down to earth it was. Overall I felt a spirit of wildness in Alaska that both captivated and invigorated me. Its really indescribable unless you’re there, breathing it in. One of my friends back home said, “Well you’re wild. So that spirit probably speaks to you.” Haha  Glacier Bay was ridiculous and Ketchikan was a blast between Dolly’s House, the Lumberjack show, and hanging with new lumberjack friends.


Although we had an amazing first week, I really hadn’t done anything off the beaten path since arriving in Alaska. Billy and I decided it was time to buckle down. I scheduled a tour in Juneau to take a helicopter to a glacier and go dog mushing! It was hands down one of the coolest things of my life. Billy was busy on the ship all day, so I was on my own, which anyone who knows me knows that I love. After warming back up on the ship, I headed out again to try a crab leg at Tracy’s and see what type of divey bar I could find. I walked by the Alaskan, which looked right up my alley since it was dark with just a few people inside. Also checked out the Imperial since the dancers onboard had told me to go there, but ended up doubling back and finding myself at the end of the bar at the Alaskan ordering a jack and ginger.

One thing I should tell you about myself – I love people. I love meeting people, talking to people, learning about their lives, and learning from them. So it’s not unordinary to find me at a bar by myself, slowly chatting up anyone who’s interested in talking. I talk to people pretty much anywhere, but I’m happiest doing it while pulling up a barstool in a divey place and ordering a drink.


Alaskan Bar, Juneau Alaska

Alaskan Bar, Juneau Alaska

That’s the night I met Tom. He was sitting there looking at his phone with an awesome dog who I later learned is named Scrubs. Scrubs seemed really cool and so did Tom. He asked me something about why I was there or where I was from, and I explained that my best friend was the lead singer on a ship and I was just a friend on board. We quickly learned that we were separated by just a few degrees. A friend he had met in an airport one time, and who worked in the Days of 98 Show in Skagway, was good friends with a good friend of mine. We confirmed this via Facebook  Anyways, through a very short conversation, the wheels were set in motion to head out of the bar on an adventure. Tom showed me where he worked, a tour company with a GORGEOUS view overlooking the water, ships, and a yacht he deemed Mr. Fancypants. After giving me some bomb smoked salmon AND a separate plastic container to store it in, we decided to head up the tramway in the rain and the mist.


You might be wondering, were you scared hanging out with someone you had just met and barely knew? I can answer you this. Good people are hard to find. But you know when you find them. Tom had given me plenty of outs if I didn’t feel like hanging. And what kind of serial killer gives you a plastic container so your fish doesn’t stink up the fridge? Like I said, good people.


Juneau Alaska Tram

Juneau Alaska Tram

The tramway was AWESOME. We had a private ride up, and I’ll never forget the clinking sound as the tram headed up its cables and was pelted by rain. It was gloomy, foggy, and mysterious. We loved it! Tom walked me back to the ship, mentioned something about working there some summer, to which I replied “Of course I would!” because I really would, and off I went, back onto the ship with some delicious salmon and a special sail-away to watch from the deck.


That night we became facebook friends and Tom messaged me later that night saying he had a hankering to fly to Skagway the next day. I was so stoked! Billy knew I wanted adventures, and his work schedule that week wasn’t going to allow for it on his end. This was a perfect chance to explore my favorite town with a new friend, and an insider no less. Tom had lived there years ago. I again checked with Billy, “Is it safe to just chill with a stranger? I mean I think it is, but I’m pretty out there, so I need your second opinion” Billy: “People who want to hurt you don’t usually friend you on Facebook and then comment on your picture.” Haha good call  We made the plan and I couldn’t wait for what tomorrow would hold.


That morning I got up semi-early to go to the gym, and Tom texted me that he had booked a flight that got in around 10:45. He called me from down the (one) street in Skagway and when we spotted each other he threw his arms up in the air, walking down the middle of the street. What an energy this guy has, I remember thinking. We were like 2 peas in a pod, just like the night before. So strange, yet so wonderful to connect with someone like that. Just two people being themselves and in the moment. And two people who for whatever reasons needed each other that day. I firmly believe that timing is everything in life, and for Tom’s and my adventure, we were both in the right place at the right time.


Skagway Alaska

Skagway Alaska

We went to breakfast because I was starving and he asked if he could buy me breakfast which was very sweet. We talked a little about our past and future lives and then headed out to check out an old train that he thought would be cool. Was it ever! We were able to climb on top of it, well I was able to after a hand from Tom  We took tons of pics since he’s also a photographer, and just had an overall blast. Then he showed me where he used to live, with it’s accompanying outhouse, old tour buses he used to drive, and a haunted corner where people fall off bikes! Then we headed out to the Point, which blew my mind and is definitely my favorite place in Skagway thus far. Now that I’m back in the city it’s my happy place. The place where I can close my eyes and feel like I’m right back there, listening to the water calmly lap up against the rocks and feel the cool air on my face. One of us had a hankering for pickles without even realizing it. So after Tom told me all about the one grocery store in town, we headed in and found a delightful afternoon snack that came in a convenient jar. Then we met up with Billy and had some more pickles in a little courtyard that houses the Skagway Bazaar, as well as my new friend Paul. That was another top moment of the day for me. All of my worlds colliding with new friends and old friends and lots of laughs.


The Day of ‘98 Show was great and I would love to be in it. I would honestly do almost anything to spend a summer in Skagway, hiking the Upper Dewey and chilling at the Point everyday. I don’t know if that’s in my deck of cards, but I do know that Skagway holds a piece of my heart.

The rest of the day was spent at a cool bar tasting Spruce Tip Ale, which much to Tom’s dismay is not for me, and exploring the Skagway Rock Store. We walked back to the airport, which was everything I had hoped for and more, with one person working there who may or may not have opened Tom’s growler of beer. When we realized we had an extra half hour to spend together we were like two kids in a candy store. We hurried out the door and tried hiking the path less travelled, since Tom had never done it. We stumbled upon a pet cemetery, looked for lots of non-poisonous mushrooms to no avail, and ate some raspberries that Tom was none too happy about since they weren’t local vegetation. One of the coolest parts of that little trip was finding some seals who were feasting on fish as we walked back over the bridge. I knew I had to get back to my friend, who was waiting oh so patiently for me back at the Ale House, so we started to head back that way. After a few minutes of walking in silence we simultaneously heard his plane, turned to look at it, embraced, and he ran off towards the airport. It was a perfect ending to a day I’ll never forget.


IMG_3465I can’t say why we ended up in that bar at the same time that night in Juneau, and I can’t explain all of the reasons we interacted quite how we did, but I do know that I will forever be grateful to my friend Tom for showing me a real Alaskan adventure. For telling me about the place that he lives and loves, and even encouraging me to lead the way sometimes.


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Alaska VA, Outstanding Veteran Treatment

Three full weeks in Alaska, and several interactions and appointments at the VA Clinic here in Juneau, and I could not come up with one complaint. My physical and orientation went well. I attended a VA town hall meeting and was not expecting the turnout for the event. The meeting was well attended. It was one other vet and myself in a room with 100+ empty chairs. Everyone else in the room was a VA employee. To my surprise when the meeting started we had a conference call with many remote locations all over southeast Alaska talking with other veterans. I was very impressed with how much I learned and the services I was offered. I feel I have accomplished more in the past 3 weeks in Juneau than I have in the last 4 years at the San Diego VA Hospital. The thing I like most about Alaska is the remoteness. The island is only 30 miles or so wide and the city is all crammed into about 5 miles of land. I really can’t tell you anything about downtown Juneau but for the past 3 weeks I have stayed in the wilderness of Alaska exploring as much as possible; rivers and lakes rain or shine Scrubs and I are in it. The lack of people and the abundance of wilderness and wildlife suites me just fine. Tomorrow I start my counseling sessions with a doctor. It has taken me three years to be able to say that. I am pretty nervous and excited all at the same time. VA secretary Robert McDonald’s office I believe has held up their end of the bargain of what I was told about my treatment here in Alaska. Robert McDonald I thank you sir for your help. Now if someone could help me locate my service records that the Army can’t seem to find, that would be great.

Tomorrow is a pretty big day for me. I start my new job, I meet with my new doctor for PTSD counseling and it’s my daughter’s 5th birthday.

I have started a new Facebook page called MyAlaskaHome where I just talk about living and exploring Alaska and skip all the PTSD mumbo jumbo. Check it out, hit like, and follow along as we try not to get trampled by tourists or get eaten by a bear. This video covers the past three weeks of our time in Alaska.

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North on the Inside Passage

Greetings my friends, from Juneau Alaska. We have made it safely to our destination. Remember back on Feb 13, 2015,  I was telling you about VA Secretary Robert McDonald and the phone calls I made to his office, and I also talked about receiveing 2 phone calls from the VA facilities up here in Alaska the same day.  Well I have to say so far, I am surprised and pretty happy with the results. 24 hours after I arrived in Alaska I had my first Appointment at the medical center for veterans here in Juneau. My apointment  was fast and very easy. The building was not crowded and the staff was very polite. Today was just blood work, I get an actual doctors appointment in just a few days.  The  next appointment I am really interested in. Will I get into some treatment for my PTSD symptoms or will it be the same old runaround I am accustom to down in San Diego at the VA Hospital. I am keeping my spirits high, and just letting go of the past or should I say I am working hard at letting go of the past. The more I think about the VA Hospitals in San Diego and Tacoma WA the more frustrated I get.  I think this move to Alaska is such a good decision for me  Today, my first full day in Juneau Alaska I had about 1,316,000 less people than my last day in San Diego. I went to the bank I was the only there. I also went to the DMV , again hard to believe but I was the only one there. I even went to the grocery store and nobody in the checkout line but me. I know it don’t sound to impressive to most people but my anxiety keeps me from being able to to these seemingly everyday tasks.

Being on the ferry, feeling that steel ships vibration from the massive propeller brought back memories I had completely forgotten about. The color of her deck, Hays Grey, the feeling and memories were sort of hard to handle at first, but the lack of people and the vast openness of the mountains surrounding our vessel kept me focused. Remembering my years on the LCU Army boat always leads me back to the funeral detail that pretty much ended my career in the military. I could not get out soon enough. The last night on the Alaska marine ferry I hit the rack about 11:30 PM. I remember shooting strait out of bed trying to find my boots and uniform a little after 1 AM. I felt pretty confused and remember thinking something is not right. My adrenaline was pumping and I was feeling deeply concerned, it took me about 5 minutes and I realized the boat is not vibrating we are going way to slow something is wrong with the boat. In the past this would have been my problem if I was on the LCU “Landing Craft Utility”  Army boat. I finished getting dressed and went down to the Cafeteria on the ferry and found out we had blown an oil line and the engineers had everything under control. it did not take us long and we were purring right along again full steam ahead. I stayed up the rest of the evening the adrenaline was better than a cup of coffee.

My first full day in Juneau has been great. the snow is really coming down in this winter wonderland tonight.

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Small House Movement, A look with Tom and Scrubs.

On our way to Bellingham WA where we will catch the Alaska Marine Ferry to Juneau. we stopped to check out two 700 sq foot tiny homes. Way bigger than I want to live in, but never the less pretty tiny compared to most houses. check out our video leave a comment below. would you like to live in the first one or the second one we looked at.

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The Adventure Begins.

Today is move out day. I am Moving out of my Geodesic dome. Managed to load my Hobie Adventure Island Kayak, My two bicycles by Surly, the big dummy, and my long haul trucker. We are heading out first thing tomorrow morning for the upper peninsula of Washington. Camping for a week than its north to Alaska on the ferry. I am excited about this trip for so many reasons. I am still not to sure how much I should believe about the information on the VA system in Alaska. I have all fingers and toes crossed. I have my first doctors appointment 25 hours after I arrive. I also have a few more appointments later in the week than I think I head to the Va Hospital in Anchorage hopefully the following week to reopen my disability claim.

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Scrubs had to go to the doctor

Checking things off the list. Today was the trip to the veterinarian so Scrubs my service dog can get her health certificates to travel into Canada and Alaska from the lower 48. I really want to start packing up the Jeep but its raining pretty good today, tomorrow is supposed to be much nicer. the videos blog will get a lot more interesting once we set sail on our adventure north. Thanks for watching. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel and we awe on FaceBook to.

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Moving to Alaska (Trailer) with Tom and Scrubs

I Cant explain how excited I am about heading to Juneau Alaska in a few days. But I guess I need to try, seeing how this is a blog about my life and living with PTSD. first of all the lack of people in Alaska is a big plus for me. Don’t get me wrong, people are great, just not in mass quantities like in San Diego. The wildlife is still wild, whales easily seen from shore. Grizzly bears, Black bears, Wolves, Moose just to name a few are exciting to see. The adrenaline shooting through me as a bear walks up behind me while I was filming another bear over 100 yards away, is still a story I share at most campfires. I just finished this short Movie Trailer and posted it on Youtube. this blog is still where I will post my treatment with the Va, my ups and down with PTSD. but if you would like to keep up with the wildlife photography may I suggest Subscribing to My Youtube Channel Alaska Home. I will try and post Videos several time a week.

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Alaska Home Part 2

We have made it safely back to the dome in Washington. I almost didn’t recognize the place. it is bright and sunny not a cloud in the sky. its good to be back for a short stay. Just a few days and Scrubs and I will load up the jeep once again and head to Bellingham to catch the ferry north. The dome feels so empty without my daughter playing inside. I miss her so much already

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Alaska Home with Tom and Scrubs.

I am happy to say, today is my last full day in San diego Ca. Tomorrow morning. I start my drive north, back to Washington State. I am heading back to my geodesic dome that I built this past winter. My intention was to live in the dome up in Alaska. Thats why I designed it to be portable. Some of my plans have changed, but I still have time to change my mind again.  I don’t think the dome will make it on this first trip to Alaska. I have found a house to live in for the summer. Sight unseen I am taking a big leap of faith and leaving the dome in Washington. I will get treatment for my PTSD and reopen my VA claim for benefits. I have been told many things by the VA up in Alaska. I still find it hard to believe but again out of necessity I am going on faith, Fingers crossed. I will be in Washington for a few days to say my goodbyes to my friends and load up the rest of my belongings. than I catch the ferry system AKA the Alaska marine highway.

Copyright Thomas Skinner 2015

I had the Idea to start a video blog of “my adventures north”. Thats the best description I can come up with at the moment. I really don’t know what will happen in Alaska. it is my intention to make it my permanent home. My dream is to build a bigger dome ,much bigger like 40 feet or so. to be completely off the grid on some Alaska island on the shores of the inside passage.  accessible only by water or plain. I want NO roads. on this eve of my departure I completed my first Video blog. I know its not the best but its just the beginning. I will take you on an adventure this summer keeping you up to date the best I can on PTSD treatment in Alaska and how and what we are doing. pleas subscribe to my YouTube channel and leave a comment.



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Building My Geodesic Dome House.


I have started to build my Home. it is going to be 18 feet wide and 9 feet tall. My tiny geodesic home will also be portable and completely Off the grid. with solar, and a water collection system. I am not a carpenter but its amazing what you can do out of necessity. I am on the verge of homelessness. some great friends have allowed me to come to Washington state and gracelessly allowed me to use there shop and a spot of land to start working on this project. with only plans in my head I have begun to create my home. my geodesic off grid dome. My intention is to live in this Geodesic dome in Alaska.

Framing Geodesic dome

Framing Geodesic dome

Geodesic Dome Frame work

Geodesic Dome Frame work

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My PTSD, Photography, now Robert McDonald is Involved

My wildlife photography has been my escape from my PTSD and the anxiety attacks that accompany my dreams nightly. I still wake up at night thinking I just heard a gun shot. I wake up in the middle of the night in such a panic that I am late for a funeral. I wake up in the middle of the night with my arms asleep, you know that tingly kind of painful feeling, afraid I am just about to pass out and afraid to move. I performed funerals, many many funerals the last portion of my military career in the army. The 21 gun salute, the trumpet perfectly playing taps, the weight of the body as we carry the casket to the church and the grave, the faces of the deceased, the faces of the families grieving, the final salute from an elderly man as he was pushed by his nurse in his wheelchair to say goodbye to a fellow soldier, a brother in arms remembering how they survived ww2 and the battle on Normandy. I remember how he struggled to stand but once he did he was perfectly standing at attention and rendered one last salute. We stood at attention for such long periods of time that our hands and feet would fall asleep. If you locked your knees and passed out during a funeral service you better fall face first and lay there at attention. I saw it happen once, its crazy how the body twitches as it wakes up from such an ordeal. Performing funerals in the military was an honor and I considered it a privilege. We trained and then trained some more. 8 or 9 hours a day every day we would practice folding the flag, making the 21 gun salute sound absolutely perfect. Our every movement was deliberate and precise. We really train in the military from basic training on, to march in unison. After being involved in funeral detail the rest of the military just seemed a little sloppy, if you know what I mean. Two decades later I was involved and participated in a military funeral in 2010. I folded and presented the American flag to the surviving family members. Within just a few months after that funeral my PTSD symptoms BOILED to the surface and have haunted me to this very day. The battle in my head, turned into my battle with the San Diego VA. I served my country and buried my fallen brothers and sisters with honor. I presented the flag on behalf of a grateful nation as a token of appreciation for honorable service yet I still lack the honorable treatment from the Veteran’s Hospital, especially in San Diego, all veterans have earned while in the service.

Thomas Skinner U.S. Army

Thomas Skinner U.S. Army

Recently I contacted the new VA secretary Robert McDonald on his cell phone asking for help. 24 hours later I received a call from Washington DC. 27 minutes on the phone and I had buckets of promises and was told many things I found too good to be true. I hung up the phone feeling if this is coming from the top, if this is true, I feel saved. If this is just more empty promises I am totally screwed. 24 hours later a representative from the VA in Anchorage, Alaska called me. All my files have been transferred to my new state of residence, Alaska. 5 minutes after hanging up with Anchorage I had yet another phone call from a VA facility in Alaska. When I arrive at my new residence in Alaska next month I have an appointment 25 hours after I arrive and then two more appointments scheduled the following week, with even more help to resolve my missing military records and my disability claim for my PTSD which was denied back in 2011 for not having more proof that I was in the military doing what the military needed me to do without questions: from navigating a LCU (Landing Craft Utility) hitting beaches for training to the real thing saving people’s lives in times of tragedy. Honoring the fallen with such perfection to this day it is still drilled deep in my muscle memory. I was told the Army has lost my Service records but was able to find my DD214 and my medical records. If I had taken pictures of me performing funerals maybe that would be enough proof. We had pagers back then not smart phones, GoPro cameras ,and face book. I remember getting in so much trouble for just bowing my head at my first funeral. Boy, did I do push ups for that mistake. Standing at attention means you don’t move, twitch, scratch, and if you do pass out from locking your knees your teeth better stick in the grass and you better not move if you do collapse. Do I have pictures of funerals? What kind of stupid question is that? So my VA claim was denied. I’m not sure why, but hanging out in crowds is just too much for me, but hanging out with bears that can run 40 miles an hour, photographing wild animals and living in a tent is absolutely my favorite thing to do. I am moving to Alaska to live off the grid and photograph the Alaskan wild frontier. Mr. Robert McDonald has such a mountainous task ahead of him but in my opinion he is on the right track. Subscribe to my blog post. I will keep you informed on the progress of promises.

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President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention

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Secretary Bob McDonald Cell Phone

Va Secretary Bob McDonald gave out his Cell Phone Number.
“I did that on purpose,” McDonald said with a smile at the Student Veterans of America National Conference. “I did because I want to demonstrate to the employees at VA how we need to think about our customers. We don’t hide from you. We want you to call us. We want to deal with your problems … and now we’re building that capability internally, so you might not always get an answer from me but somebody will try to help you out.”

Since then, hundreds of Veterans have called and e-mailed Bob. Sometimes he answers, sometimes his staff answers, but more importantly the Veteran gets an answer.

Posted in My Life with PTSD, Uncategorized |

PTSD Stigma, A Tool for Accusations.


Understanding PTSD

Understanding PTSD

“Do me a favor. I took these two pictures today tell me witch one you prefer,” is what I posted on Facebook. I am now up to 39 comments. Most all pick B.

I know I need to fill you in on what’s going on with the VA and treatment. In my last blog, I was standing on a busy street corner at rush hour holding a sign in frount of the San Diego VA Hospital. (I will get back to that. This is more of a short story than a blog post. I have so much to say.)

Recently, someone wrote to me. Let me sum up what was said in that paper: This person said they were concerned that they didn’t think I was  receiving any treatment, and they were concerned I could be dangerous. Another comment was that since my service dog had been hit by a car on the 4th of July this year, I might be unstable. Scrubs is ok, by the way, but she did need some stitches. All of this this is coming from a person who has zero contact with me, but instead decided to use the stigma of PTSD as a tool for accusations. I would call it a form of bullying. And, that is the exact reason I continue to write this blog:  to help people Understand PTSD and the effects it has on the patient as well as the caregivers, and how we are treated at the one hospital we should be able to lean on the MOST.

Lets talk about this picture. All but a few said they prefer the way I look in picture with my beard short. I totally agree. What if I were to ask which guy do you think has PTSD. I didn’t want to know the answer, so that’s the way I went with the question. BUT, my long beard and hair does not make me a bad person. It is nothing more than a way of coping with anxiety out in public. When I look like this, far fewer people ask to pet Scrubs, my service dog, or approach me, than when I am all clean cut. I use this tool and my service dog to cope with anxiety instead of taking all the dangerous drugs the VA wants to give out.  I go out; I just need a little more space than most people. My beard is one of my experimental self treatments, and the results say I will keep the long beard.

As you probably know, more than 22 veterans, men and women, take ther lives every day due to the effects of PTSD. Those veterans are the only ones not in treatment; they are gone. If you have PTSD, agoraphobia , or are dealing with some form of high anxiety level in your life, you are “in treatment.” Some people just treat themselves. People use support groups, formal or informal. Mood swings, change of appearance, and even isolation: these are symptoms, also known as tell tail warning signs of the problem.

I was in treatment at the Va for awhile. I got to talk to a doctor every week for one hour. The first office visit was spent by me trying to figure this guy out. I thought the doctor was a bit “out there” talking to me about breathing. I remember the moment when I was supposed to sit with my eyes closed, breathing, and I was thinking, “Yea right, this guy is a quack.” A few weeks later, I also remember the moment I caught myself focusing on breathing, just like the doctor had said… that was a good moment. I actually looked forward to talking to him. I held onto his advice once he gained my trust. Best experience, to this day, was with that doctor. I also remember a moment when I had checked myself into the VA hospital for a 72 hour stay. I was pretty upset. The best coping tool at the time was focusing on the pathetic attempt to keep us safely locked in with the chain link fence. Really VA? 22 years ago the US Army taught me how to climb a fence. I believe it was one of our general orders: to try and keep trying to escape. I had a room with 3 other individuals. I found an empty room at the end of the hall. The door was open; it was completely empty with just a mattress on the floor. A nurse came by to check on me, and I asked, with tears flowing down my face, if it would be ok to be alone in this room. “Yes, you go right ahead.” I remember that moment, laying on the cold floor thinking, this is not what I expected. I was put into a cage: it was a pretty hostile   feeling environment. Just then, a male nurse pulled open the door, and was very aggressive. Then, he yelled at me to get up, flipped over the mattress, and said a bunch of other things I can’t even remember at the moment. I never considered him a threat; he was just a little bitty guy. I think the chain link fence and his alarm call button made him feel brave. Then, he proceeded to lock me in the room. Needless to say, I immediately checked myself out of the hospital after making a report. That incident “went away.” I still talk about it, but the VA has never brought it up again. That was a bad moment.

Where I am going with all this is: PTSD is a bad moment not easily forgotten. I have PTSD issues just from that one incident. It still really bothers me that the hospital treated me that way. But, when you think about how long we live, it really was just a moment in my life.

The VA Hospital uses talk therapy, aka exposure therapy, as one form of treatment. Remember, every Friday I got to talk to a doctor, and we would talk and talk and so on. When that doctor left the hospital, I was devastated, but I continued my treatment without him. I went to the extreme. Recovery is important to me. I went from staying in my house, where it was safe to driving all the way to Florida where I could attend convention of about 6,000 people and tell my story of PTSD and what it is like. I bicycled across the country 4,012 miles with my service dog on the back, talking to big crowds and random conversations at a truck stops. The following year, I was asked to be an official speaker at the convention in Long Beach. So, I would say my therapy is going really well. I continue to give formal and informal talks, wherever I go.

You can listen to the old me on NPR or start at the beginning of this blog and see the transformation and recovery. I am growing and changing, like everyone else in life. I have changed my appearance. I have a new group of people I hang with just because of my appearance.

Understanding PTSD

Understanding PTSD

Looking the way I looked actually brought treatment to me. Let me explain. The people talked to me about their crazy hippie ways: talking about aroma therapy and even YOGA, for heaven’s sake… And my favorite and yours: living in the moment. The more I thought about living in the moment and how crazy that sounded to me, it also started me thinking about past moments: the good ones. You remember that one time… that moment you promised yourself, “I will never forget this day!”… and you forgot it anyway. Things started coming back to me like: the first time I got to drive the car on the freeway at 16 years old; the first time I asked a girl steady ( that’s just a funny story…that’s a good moment.). I remember crying at my wedding, I was so happy; that was a good moment. The birth of my child was a great moment. We pick and choose the moments we remember. I would rather recall my wedding day than the day it ended. I don’t know what to call it but PEACE, LOVE, and GROOVY. I have learned to listen, to understand, and not just to come up with a relpy. So, I learned from their words, to think about moments; to choose the moments I think about.

As far as my service dog goes: it was an eye opener when she was hit by a car, and I came to the realization that could have been it for us. I have started leaving her alone while I go outside, and from time to time, when I go over to see friends. Interestingly, my friends usually say, ” Where is Scrubs?” before saying hi to me. I think it’s funny.

Living in the moment has so many meanings to so many people. Having PTSD is living with the horrible moment(s) you just can’t seem to shake. My life has had some great moments with many more to come. I have been able to pick and choose which memories get to live, rent free, in my head. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but, with yoga, breathing, meditation, support from new friends and old, talk therapy (aka exposure therapy), my service dog, recovery is happening.

So, to finish this up to the present: it has been a month of waiting, and my new appointment at the VA is tomorrow. Wish me luck.

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My National PTSD Awareness Day 2014

Thomas skinner and service dog Scrubs at the San Diego va hospital

Thomas skinner and service dog Scrubs at the San Diego va hospital

National PTSD Awareness Day 2014

I have been in a battle with The San Diego VA hospital for a long time trying to get treatment for my service related PTSD. UNFORTUNATELY I have not had much luck. The doctors always seem to come up with a convenient reason why I can’t be seen at this time. So I am once again put on a waiting list of 2 months. This has happened more times than I can count. My case has been passed around from department to department : first the PTSD clinics ,then to the anxiety clinic where I was given yet 3 complete different reasons why there is no room at the inn for me to be seen. About a week ago I was talking to a VA advocate via Facebook. The advocate managed to get some co-director from the mental health department to give me a call. His sarcastic and condescending tone and comments set me off in the first 20 seconds of the conversation. I cut him off from continuing with his sarcastically toned comments and told him exactly what he could go do with himself. I hung up the phone. Texting once again with the VA advocate, I found out mister important co-director was pretty bent out of shape. I really don’t care what your job title is especially with the long waiting lists and the amount I have learned about how the VA operates. Take for instance the 22+ suicides of our veterans every day of the week. I started this blog post May 2011 so I ran the numbers at 24,090 suicides in the last 3 years, and to learn of the bonus pay for the people in charge at the Va. So I went to see my congresswoman Susan Davis, better late than never , I was able to state my case and left her office feeling hopeful. That was about a week ago. I know the congresswoman is just as busy and is dealing with hundreds, maybe thousands, of different problems so I knew this would not be a quick fix, so again I need to sit back and wait my turn. It’s National PTSD Awareness day 2014 and I was content to just stay in the house and try not to acknowledge this day. What’s the use all the work I have done and none of it seemed to make a difference? The government is just too big and full of talented speech writers and excuses on why we still have long waiting lists for our veterans. Half way through the day I was really disturbed. I was not seeing or hearing anything on the news or on Facebook about PTSD awareness day. Than I got mad because I was giving up on the day, the topic, and the fight. So I decided to go fly a sign in front of the VA here in San Diego during Friday night rush hour. I stood up, went to the depths of my closet and found my old BDU’s (camouflage uniform)and my American flag. When I put it on it felt like I was putting on a protective shield. To me the uniform stood for great power and a sense of pride. When I put it on I smiled, first because after 20 years it still fit but I also felt I was ready for battle, not to go and hurt anyone, that’s not in my nature, but the overwhelming feeling of confidence that I could do this. I stopped by my local Staples print department in Rancho San Diego whom I have used for the last 3 years when I needed something printed for my cause UnderstandingPTSD. I informed them on what I was doing and 5 minutes later I had a coupon. My sign was free. Thank you Staples. Sign in hand I head to the VA hospital. The first 10 minutes standing in the sun on the corner I remembered how hot the uniform was. I forgot to bring water with me. I was not really suffering from thirst but it is what I chose to focus on, after all, I was alone on a busy corner in San Diego with my service dog Scrubs during rush hour. I remembered the many many many funerals I participated in and how uncomfortable I was in the heat and the cold, thirsty or trying not to shiver, but when you are in the military you learn to suck it up. I just had to take off the uniform shirt. It was taking me down memory lane to a place I did not need to go. Many people honked at us, I am guessing as a sign of support. About an hour, maybe a bit longer, 3 very well dressed VA employees came down to talk to me. A woman and 2 men. My first thought was, “look who drew the short straw and had to go talk to the crazy guy on the corner waving a flag and a sign” This was the damage control crew. They were polite and very courteous to me and told me if I came up right now I would receive treatment and the help I was asking for immediately. I agreed and the three damage control met me at the front doors with a forth person who stuck with me for the rest of my visit. I was taken to the 2nd floor and had a nurse who was a Navy veteran assure me he was now in my life and he isn’t going anywhere. If I have a problem he will do everything in his power to help me. After telling my story and complaints to yet another person I was then escorted to a doctor’s office. For the next hour or so we talked and was promised I will be seen in a week or so and treatment will start in less than 2 weeks. I was told ” We are not back logged and have no waiting list”. So I was not actually able to receive treatment that day but yet again put on a waiting list. I received some insight on some of the notes in my medical records and informed them some of what I was hearing was a down right lie and that’s not what took place. So two weeks from today if I still have not started treatment of some sort I will be on that street corner every day, all day long.

This process of receiving treatment started 3 years ago with my now ex-wife and my mother, then the minister of my church Rev. Bill Peterson, awesome man, I might add. He got me to the VA. Then I found out I should go to the San Diego county VA advocate office. They did the voodoo that they do filling out loads of paperwork on my behalf. A year later I was denied benefits for my PTSD. They say the army as lost my service records. 3 years fighting this battle is not a long time from what I have been told by other veterans, some being victorious with their VA claims. Others have just given up and to this day have not received treatment, some ending up taking their own lives, some ending up on the street flying a sign “disabled homeless vet anything helps God bless” . The person who talked with me the most was a UCC Chaplain named Nancy Dietsch. She is a Chaplain at the VA hospital in San Diego. In my opinion the chaplain office is the best kept secret the VA has to date. What a valuable resource. I was never once told about the chaplains and the resources they are able to provide. I got that info while I was in Florida at a convention. I was never told about the caregiver program for a family dealing with a loved one battling the side effects of shell shock aka the thousand yard stair aka combate fatigue, aka PTSD post tramitac stress disorder . I bicycled across the country speaking to thousands, and went to speak at two conventions on both sides of the country. We were on NPR ,Fox News, and countless news-papers and public speaking engagements, none of which seemed to get me any closer to some real help. What helped was the news of the treatment our veterans were receiving in Phoenix, AZ. But it all came down to this old hippie and his dog standing on a Friday afternoon on a very busy street corner with a free sign that said SD VA denies treatment to vets PTSD. Stay tuned. Let’s see what happens over the next few weeks.

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