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Moe Armstrong






Moe Armstrong
 

My great Grandfather was Jewish, but he converted to Christianity, joined the Union army, and fought down the Mississippi. When he was discharged, he came back to Hannibal Missouri as a carpetbagger. He was kicked out of Hannibal and went to Keokuk. Iowa.  My mom, falls in love with a Hillbilly farmer in Seton Illinois, 40 miles across the river, where she is a school teacher and she married my dad. My dad served in the  during World War 2 and I was born in Keokuk Iowa in 1944 

 

After World War 2, my parents returned to western Illinois and my father became baker.  I developed polio at age 5. I was very sick, spent six months in an iron lung and I was weakened from the polio from the 1st through the 7th grade.  Mom was very driven to fight communism, and to build me up.  So, she kept training me and I kept exercising.  I made 30 and 40 mile bicycle trips, which developed my legs, even though my upper body was weak.  Her whole dream was for me to be a military person, and attend a military academy.

 

I became a football player.  I held the conference record on tackles as a pulling right guard and tackle.  Everyone told me that if I went into the military I would become a great football player.  So, I went into the Navy in (year?) to be a frogman, but that would have taken too long.  So people told me to become a medical corpsman in the navy, join the Marines and go into Marine Corps Recon.  I was accepted and went into1st Recon for two years, jumping off submarines, swimming to the beach, etc..

 

Then around 1962 I got transferred overseas (before Vietnam) and I went to scuba school in the Philippines.  While I was in scuba school Vietnam “broke out.”  I was sent to Vietnam and was with 3rd Recon in Vietnam for almost a year.  I was decorated, given a Navy Commendation with a Combat B for saving a Marine under enemy fire.  I went on endless patrols and was on endless combat missions.  About two weeks before I was to be rotated out, probably my last patrol, I became mentally ill. I didn’t know what to do.  I was the medical corpsman.  I had all this anxiety.  I thought I could see into other peoples minds and was completely “freaked out.”  I had never been taught what mental illness was.  I could do leg wounds and shrapnel wounds, but did not know mental illness.  And, I had become mentally ill.

 

I did anything I could to relax.  I got quiet.  I took hot showers.  But I kept having all this anxiety and kept crying.  I was crying day and night and had clinical levels of anxiety.  I did not know what to do.  Someone said I should go down and see a doctor.  I was immediately evacuated out of Vietnam, to the Oakland Navy Hospital.  I was in the hospital for three months and discharged without any follow up. 

 

I went home to Illinois.  But, mom and dad didn’t want me around because I was too mentally ill, angry, anxious, and totally kinetic.  Because of my schizophrenia, brought about by PTSD, I continued to believe that I could see into people’s minds.

 

I get on a plane and go to California, because it was the last place I was in the hospital and it seemed like a nice place. This was in May 1966, before hippies.  Next think you know, this whole hippy thing happens.  People don’t put me down because of my mental illness, they are tolerant, but they also get me drunk and high.  But, I was already totally out of my mind without getting drunk and high.  That was a disaster.

 

I come to realize that I am too mentally ill to live in these urban areas, so I go to the mountains in New Mexico.  I proceed to live in the mountains for three years.  It is quiet, peaceful.  Even if I am psychotic, the world around me is so calm that I can live in it and I try to get settled in my head.  The wind in the trees seemed to almost eliminate the auditory hallucinations I experienced.  I still keep that white noise going today.  I am living in an Indian lodge that I built myself up in the mountains. 

 

Filberto Ruiz and his team out of the New Mexico Veteran’s Service Commission Office track me down, find me in the mountains, start to get me veterans benefits, and start to work on getting me into town to live.  They get me a place in town.  I start to meet people and live in civilization.  

 

I keep attempting to do something with my life, but I either fall apart, or get drunk and high and then fall apart.  It takes me almost ten years to get clean and sober.  I’m attempting jobs, working at music as a singer and in bands, and I am succeeding. I wind up with recording contracts at Warner Brothers and Polydor.   But, I keep breaking down psychiatrically. I keep unraveling.  I don’t know how to make the long trip to get into economic solvency.

 

Around 1979, I stopped using dope and I start applying for educational benefits with the Veterans Administration.  I also start seeking help through the Vet Centers. I get turned down for vocational rehabilitation services three times during those years because of my mental illness.  In a way this was good because it forced me to develop the stability that I needed to get on with my life. In 1984 I got accepted to the College of Santa Fe.  I’m 40 years old and just starting college.  At the same time I was teaching other veterans how to succeed in school.

 

Because the vocational rehabilitation staff would not agree to pay for studies in mental health, I had to study business.  I go from being a street person to taking mathematics and finance.  I graduated first in my class as an undergraduate.  I then went on to get Masters Degrees in Business and Human Resource Development.

 

I tried to work in several different places, but because of my mental illness people were reluctant to give me a job.   I started to work in Mental Health in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1989 for Recreational Health and Occupational Center with Donald Naranjo.  My job was psychiatric social education,  helping people with serious and persistent psychiatric conditions develop self-esteem, enabling them to do day-to-day activities. 

 

Donald Naranjo taught me the beginning skills of psychiatric rehabilitation, a practice I have come to believe in.  In 1993 I had an offer to move to Boston Ma and work with Vinfen Corporation a non-profit provider of mental health services in Boston.  I have been in Boston since that time, working for Vinfin.  In 1997, I started the Peer Educators project in Massachusetts. In 2002 I came back to my work with Mental Illness Anonymous and started “Vet to Vet” at the Errera  CCC, which was also a research project with the MIREC.

 

Then in 2005, after publicity at a conference on Peer Support, in Memphis, Vet to Vet spread throughout the country.   Vet to Vet started at ECCC and this is the epicenter of the program. People come here to train in Vet to Vet.

 

I’m an ex-recon guy that developed a mental illness and we’re getting through.

   

About Vet to Vet

 

The program is not based on strong leaders, rather, the program is based on mutuality.  It is a learning teaching process, where we try to get people to learn and teach simultaneously.  We say “gladly teach, gladly learn.”  We also identify future facilitators at the meetings.  When I attend meetings I try to enjoy what we have built.  I do not facilitate.

 

The Future of Vet to Vet

 

The future of Vet to Vet is the same as the future of all mental health.  Mental health was not set up as a prevention model, rather, it was set up as a crisis model.  Vet to Vet teaches people to recognize the triggers that might set a person on a downward spiral of mental illness.  With Vet to Vet we will suffer from these conditions, but we will cope and not be disabled by them.  We will be able to live with our illness. 

 

   

“Mental Illness Anonymous”

 

First published in 1990 before Moe went to work at Vinfin.  Used one day per week at ECCC at the “MIA group”.  Also used across the country at different Vet to Vet sites.

 

This was compiled by Moe and addresses people who have co-occurring conditions, substance abuse and mental disorders.   It is estimated that 80- 90% of veterans in the mental health system appear to have co-occurring disorders.  This book is used in ongoing educational peer support meetings, to improve understanding and suggest positive behaviors.  These meetings are the cornerstone of Vet to Vet.  The national Conference on Co-occurring Disorders recognizes MIA as one of the three programs that works.

 

“Hip Pocket Recovery Workbook.”  Boston University

 

Moe reduced the original by Spaniol et al so it could be carried by people in their pockets. The purpose of this was to teach people how to get to realistic levels of recovery.  This is about living with anxiety, stress reduction, taking pleasure in life and addressing mental health issues.  This has almost nothing in it about substance abuse.  MIA is more focused on substance abuse and staying clean and sober. 

 

There is a companion book called “The Experience of Recovery” Spaniol and Koehler – first hand accounts of on recovery and living with mental illness.

 

These are used in Vet to Vet meetings, one day per week, that teach people how to live with their psychiatric conditions.

 

Learning About Relapse  Foundations Associates

 

Used for “Disability Pride, Disability Awareness group”.  This is based on the fact that mental illness and or substance abuse can happen to anyone.   If it happens to anyone, it is part of a life that happens to people.  It is important to take away shame so that people understand that things happen to people.  We have a condition that got us into trouble, but it is a condition that many people have.

 

We also use a series of books from SAMHSA

            Building Bridges

Building Self-Esteem.

 

“Working Life” text by Robert Drake and Deborah Becker reduced by Moe

 

 The purpose of this book is to address employment as part of mental health care.  This will be used in Vet to Vet ongoing support meetings.  People have to see mental health as an opportunity and not as a sentence.

 

“Recovery and Rehabilitation”

 

A book of poems by Moe Armstrong (2000).

 

This is used to facilitate reading and discussions at support meetings.

 

Nutrition in the Fast Lane – Eli Lilly

 

We provide these because many people in the mental health system have weight problems.  These are used both in Vet to Vet Wellness groups and as a pass out.

 

The next thing I would like to do is simplify the textbooks on evidenced based mental health practice.  This would be a tool for people who receive the services.

 

While the contents of this site have been developed in cooperation with Moe Armstrong and VA personnel, it is not an official site of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

By Moe Armstrong

FIRST SERGEANT JOHN HENRY DIED TODAY 

And, I am tired-of these wars taking a toll

Long lingering illnesses are what I am told 
About how he went

He was a tail gunner in the Army Air corps at 16
He fought in Korea
He was my Sergeant in Vietnam He fought hard, there
Everybody I knew in Third Recon-fought hard

All we knew was to go back out on patrol

Never came off patrol myself

Keep on the move and trying to regain my health every day

First Sergeant John Henry died today 

Here at night in Connecticut....I am keeping the lights on

I am saying a prayer to help his soul make the journey
I am superstitious - I suppose

I never gave up....I never surrendered 

I don't roll over very well.....

I remember the the flames and violence
I remember the pride of battles 

The funny times that I also remember
Me, had to burn the shit out of the outhouse

Threw that gasoline in from behind
Lit the match.....and Sergeant Henry came running out

His behind seared 

His was kind to me...in times when kindness really mattered

We are just left memories....

We are left with those of us left behind

So many times I have said the same thing

"There never were guys who I have met

Like the guys who I fought with 
We were Third Recon Battalion"

Sergeant Henry died today and I feel kind of tired and sad

And, I continue on



WE GOT TO CONNECTICUT

Never bet on the wrong horse
Amazed at the people who not only get in the way
They get off at being oppositional

Bumped around the Americas 
That is me

Haydee came from Mexico 
That is her

Laid up for dead in the mountains outside 
Santa Marta, Colombia-1972

Said that I was going to continue to make this a better world, then
Never won the race.....never stopped running, now

Dad used to call me "The War Horse"
Beat down and knocked around....never gave up

Came back to Connecticut to start all over
Or begin again....or both

Haydee wants to write a novel about the trip 
Semi trucks and cars piled up

Blood on the highway 

Drove straight through with the biggest load
Ever carried in my life

We are still unloading
Meet people who do not believe in me

I believe in people 

Will Rogers said he never met a man he never liked
I never met a person-who doesn't interest me

This trip was the hardest drive on my life
Never thought that I would get through Highways
And potholes.....carrying a load

The way I drive says a lot about me

I continue on and never come to the end

If I were betting on outcomes,
I would bet on myself

And 

Our life starts, anew
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