John Strickland is a 23 year Army veteran who served in Vietnam and later found himself suffering from PTSD. After discovering Vitanya Brain Performance Centers, John became a franchisee in order to help others increase their brain performance.
Vitanya is a company that helps first responders and veterans in conjunction with the Heal the Hero Foundation. Vitanya's program is a non-medical, non-intrusive, non-pharmaceutical option to help maximize health brain functions.
Links & Resources
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcast. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes. As soon as they come out, if you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit DriveOnPodcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio and now let's get on with the show. Hey everyone. Today, my guest is John Strickland, who is a franchisee of Vitanya Brain Performance Center in El Paso, Texas. He's a 23-year Army Veteran who served in Vietnam and afterwards, suffered from PTSD. He's here to talk about his background in the Army, his journey, finding treatment for PTSD and how Vitania has helped him through that journey. So, John, welcome to the show. Why don't you, give us a little information about your background and your time in Vietnam and things like that.
John Strickland: 00:01:20 Well, thank you for having me, Scott, and it's a pleasure to be with you. I joined the Army in 1965 after one year of college. So, you can do the math. I'm not a spring chicken. I served three years in artillery, including a year in Vietnam. And, during that first tour in Vietnam, I met some helicopter pilots at that time. They needed a lot of helicopter pilots. So, I applied for flight school while in Vietnam, knowing that I would come back to the States, go to flight school, and go back to Vietnam. I spent, almost three years at Fort Sill before that tour in Vietnam and then a year at Fort Sill as a drill instructor, a platform instructor at the advanced training or artillery, waiting on my application for flight school. So, I went to flight school and graduated high enough in my class that I was offered advanced helicopters.
John Strickland: 00:02:35 So I accepted that and here's the reason, I could fly a Cobra helicopter. Well, I'd already been in Vietnam for a year. Hueys land out in the middle of the jungle. Cobras land where there's fuel and ammunition. We had air superiority and my wife was pregnant and that kept me in the States for three more months. So, I went to Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, supporting long range, reconnaissance patrols. We were based at the same base. So, we had a lot of comradery. We met with one another and they would always talk about boy, how we love those helicopter pilots. They didn't realize that they were so high on my list of people to admire. Can you imagine a six- or seven-man team going out looking for the enemy? And when they find them, they know that they're outnumbered, that was just amazing to me. So, when you a call from troops in combat, we're airborne within two minutes, that was our goal. And we're out there to help them. So, I had a lot of admiration for the people that we were helping.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:03:56 So when you started off as artillery in Vietnam and then you decided to apply for flight school while you were in Vietnam and learn how to fly helicopters. What made you decide to go about that transition? What made you want to get into flying helicopters?
John Strickland: 00:04:21 Well, I had considered taking pilot lessons before I even joined the Army. I was just excited about being able to fly and I could stay in the Army and make a career out of flying helicopters. That seemed like a pretty good deal to me.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:04:39 It seems like it's pretty much every kid's dream growing up is to fly planes and helicopters and things like that flying overhead. And it's either that, or do you want to be an astronaut or something? As a kid growing up you see these things flying around. It's like, wow, I would love to do that. And I know when I was a kid, we grew up, watch movies with fighter pilots and helicopter pilots and things like that. And my brother and I, we'd jump on the couch and we'd pretend like we're flying in the planes or in the helicopters, whatever. And then when we crash landed, we land into a pile of pillows on the floor or whatever. And so, it's kind of like the dream come true is you're basically getting paid to learn how to fly these things. And then, turning that into a career in the Army and then you continued to fly helicopters after the Army, is that correct?
John Strickland: 00:05:39 Yes, I did. I flew in the Gulf of Mexico for the oil and gas industry for about 11 years. And the company that I was flying for was an aeromedical company in Phoenix, and there was an opening there. So instead of being gone for seven days at a time, I could work the same kind of schedule seven days on seven days off, but I'd be home every day. So, when I mentioned that to my wife, she said, “yeah, let's move to Phoenix.” We didn’t know how hot it was.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:06:09 Well, yeah, they don't put that in the sales pitch to get you into that job. You're basically living on the surface of the sun here because I'm in the Phoenix area myself, for people who might be listening and don't know that. And right now, today's forecast is to be about 116 degrees. This is in mid-August. So, it feels like you're living on the surface of the sun at times but thank God for air conditioning and cold water to keep us cool. So you got out of the military and you transitioned into this civilian job flying helicopters, which is awesome that you're able to use the training that you got in the military to be able to continue on a civilian career and continue doing the thing that you enjoy doing
Scott DeLuzio: 00:07:01 even after you got out of the military. A lot of times people get out of the military and their job isn't necessarily translatable to the civilian world. An infantryman, for example, there's not too many infantry types jobs or things like that. I mean, you can translate some of the skills into security and law enforcement and things like that. But you're not going to be doing the same exact type of job once you get out of the military. But you had some struggles, during your time in the military and after getting out. Would you mind talking a little bit about that and what you experienced and what that, that caused, you know, afterwards, after you got out of the military?
John Strickland: 00:07:43 Yes, I can. But I'd like to address one point that you brought up there. Oh, there's one word that covers my career and that's service. I always saw myself in a service role. You're helping someone else. So, that's why especially ending up playing in our medical helicopters, you for sure didn't cause the accident, you're there to help them get to a trauma center. To your question, I'm going to back up to the last three years of my military career. Although I was an attack helicopter pilot, I fell in love with flying by reference to instruments, but cobras don't do that. So, my primary job was to fly cobras, but the job I really loved was flying Hueys by referenced instruments. And I became an examiner testing, all the other pilots on their abilities to do that.
John Strickland: 00:08:40 So by the time I was a CW4 with 20 years’ experience and my wife wanted to go back to Germany one more time before we retired. I said, I don't want to do that. The Army is going to send me to a school that I don't want to go to. Well, that's where the PTSD really began to manifest. They forced me to go to corporate school because I wasn't qualified to fly any cobras in the inventory. And when we got to the gunnery session, I spent three days without sleeping. I was having flashbacks, nightmares. It was terrible. Now my generation was told, do your job, just suck it up. So, I didn't go on sick call, but looking back on it after the fact, if I gone to the flight surgeon and said these are the problems I'm having, he would have taken me out of that course.
John Strickland: 00:09:40 I would have gone to Germany and flown Hueys and been very happy. Instead. I was the worst soldier in the unit. I was so angry. And the unit that I flew with in Vietnam has a reunion every year, and I didn't know it, but the battalion commander who I was the primary pilot for when we went to the field, was also in the same unit. So, he retired as a bird Colonel and I'm sitting across the banquet table at one of these reunions. And so, Dave, that officer efficiency report you gave me when I retired and he nodded, I said, that was the worst report I got in my career. And then I added and I deserved it. So, I recognized I was a terrible, he asked me to influence the young pilots right out of flight school. Well, I influenced them. All right. It's not in the right direction. Negative way. So that was where the anger was really manifested that culminated in me diagnosed with severe PTSD. It wasn't so much the flashbacks from the war. It was because I was forced to do something that I didn't want to do that brought those reflections from earlier years back. I'm going through that gunnery, the three days of gunnery barring live ammunition and it was just terrible.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:11:16 And things like that can bring you back to those bad times where there were things that happened that sometimes you might just rather forget happened. And it could be something, in this case, you were firing live ammunition and things like that. And so, there was the noise and there was the sites and things like that. And so that it probably the smell of the gunpowder, I don't know exactly what it was that brought you back there, but all of that stuff combined can create those triggers on all of our senses, that sense of taste and smell and sight and hearing, all of those things can trigger memories.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:12:05 I was just talking with my wife the other day. She was cutting up some vegetables for dinner and some peppers and just the smell of that caused me to say to her, I feel like I'm standing in my grandfather's garden that he had when I was growing up as a kid, because he grew peppers in the garden and just that sense of smell brought me back there. And that was a happy time, it was a good time, I had good memories. So that's good. But the same thing can happen on the negative side to where you experienced some trauma, you had some other issues that might've gone on during your time in Vietnam.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:12:49 And then you go and have those same senses coming back to you and it takes you right back there. And I'm sure you're not alone in that. And that's why I do this podcast too. And it's why I want people to know that they're not alone, if they're experiencing this type of stuff or not, they're not crazy. Or anything else like that, it's a normal human reaction. And if anything, they're normal for being able to experience these types of things. So how long did you go before you were actually diagnosed with PTSD?
John Strickland: 00:13:28 It wasn't too long after I retired. I reconnected with a Vietnam Veteran flight nurse that I'd flown with 10 years prior and learn that he had liver cancer. Well, I had recently retired. I had plenty of time. He could no longer drive. So, I started taking him to his VA appointments, waiting a liver transplant in 2014. He died prior to a liver becoming available that sent me into a spiral of depression. I got to the point that I was thinking of hurting myself and I said, “no, I can't, I gotta get some help.” So, I went to the VA and I remember the interview. I walked into the mental health clinic. They took me into a room and a young lady sat down and asked me six questions. And I answered yes to all six of them and was crying by the time I answered the last question. And she looked at me and said, I understand we can help you. Oh, there is help. There's hope. So, I was diagnosed with severe PTSD.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:14:43 Just a side note here, I'm glad that you've shared that story about going to the VA and getting the mental health facility and getting the treatment, because it does take some courage to admit that you have something wrong. You're not Superman, there's something not right. And you do need to go and get that worked on or checked out by someone who knows what they're doing. And there are lots of good people who do work at the VA and in other facilities too that do this type of work and they can help, if you give it a chance, I think that's the important thing. So, you went through, and so I'm imagining you went through the process of getting the mental health treatment through the VA for a period of time. How did that look for you? What was that process like?
John Strickland: 00:15:50 I did the counseling, I took their medications and I got to the point that I wasn't going to hurt myself, but then I was reflecting and I asked myself the question, is this as good as it gets, because there are still issues there. And that's when I found Vitania.
John Strickland: 00:16:27 I saw a video of how this technology helping Afghan war Veterans, and that was funded by a nonprofit associated with MIT, and it is called Heal the Hero Foundation, and this video was so impressive. The video is available on Heal the Hero Foundation's YouTube channel. So, I'm not going to tell her whole story but that is my inspiration. I told my wife; I'm coming out of retirement. This can help so many people I've got to do this.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:17:02 So, what is it about and how it works and what's the process like
John Strickland: 00:17:15 I'm going to give you a quick story about the whole process. Vitania is on the leading edge of neuroscience, we capitalize on advances in brain science by using software and advanced technologies to balance the brain. We're nonmedical, non-intrusive, and we don't use pharmaceuticals. We are not talk therapy. We're using technology. The first advance we capitalize on is galvanic skin response. That's the technology of an EKG, EEG, or polygraph. That technology has advanced to the point now that we can read the electrical signals the brain is sending through the skin. So, by placing your hand on a device that has sensors on it that connects our technology to your brain. The second advance we're capitalizing on is the fact that we can now ask the brain questions. It's called bio communications. So, let me use anxiety as an example. Someone comes to us and I access our software and tell it we're investigating anxiety through that device that the person has their hands on with the sensors on it.
John Strickland: 00:18:30 The technology asks the person's brain, search yourself and find the electrical signals you're sending concerning anxiety. And the brain does that process. It determines what is your normal range for this session and it reports to us the electrical signals. It's sending this outside that normal range we call imbalances. The next step is through the technology we ask the brain to search yourself and find the electrical signals that will bring those imbalances back within your normal range. And the brain does. We're going to ask the brain, send those signals instead of what you've been sending. We're rebooting the brain like a computer, giving it a new norm.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:19:13 Interesting.
John Strickland: 00:19:15 Anxiety is going to be greatly reduced or eliminated. I've had people at the end of one session, take a deep breath and say, I feel so peaceful. Your brain just corrected the issues.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:19:30 And now is this a system where, you used the example of a computer, so, if you have a problem with the computer, you reboot it or you install something, you do something to it, and then it's fixed. And it continues operating normally until it doesn't and then you might need to go reboot it again, or you might need to do something else to it. Is it sort of a similar process where you are fixing whatever the issue is, maybe it's anxiety or whatever the case may be. You're going and fixing the issue with the individual. Is it more of a permanent solution or is it something that needs some tweaking over time?
John Strickland: 00:20:17 A prospective client will ask me, how long is this going to take? And my answer is, I can't answer that. You're going to tell me when you reached your wellness goal. So, I have long-term clients and I have clients that were with us for a few months, and I said, I've reached my goal. I'm not coming back anymore. Well, congratulations. The doors open if you find a need to come back.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:20:40 So, I guess the answer is like anything it varies.
John Strickland: 00:20:48 Let me give you our legal disclaimer that'll answer that question. I'll answer it. I'm sure we do not claim to heal, treat, cure, diagnose, or prescribe. Those are medical terms. We don't use those.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:20:59 So, in that case, it seems like it's something that somebody needs to experience for themselves to see if this really something that's going to work for me, and go through the process, and see how that affects them. And, whether or not it's going to be something that they choose to continue with for their own personal wellbeing. In your situation, you went through this process, what was it like for you? And what happened when you first heard the story about the Afghanistan war Veteran who went through this process, and then you decided to give it a shot. What was the process like for you? And how did that look?
John Strickland: 00:21:57 Before we opened our center? I had already decided I was going to be a franchisee. Before we opened the center, I tested myself using the technologies. And when I mentioned anxiety previously in our technology, we call this a panel there over 22,000 panels in the software. I tested myself for post-traumatic stress. That's the only panel I looked at. It identified 47 biomarkers that were out of balance, panic disorders, depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, post-traumatic stress. But in that first session, the technology in my brain found a solution to all 47 of those items. I sent those solutions to my brain for six weeks, and I felt so different than I retested myself. The technology showed nothing out of balance concerning post traumatic stress. Okay. I don't use the word cure, but my post traumatic stress is very well managed.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:22:57 That makes sense that it isn't necessarily cured. And I think that goes back to the question that I had before. It's not necessarily cured, but it's managed. And there could be things that happen in the future where, like I was saying before with the senses that could come back and trigger something, a memory or whatever that brings some of this stuff back up. But on a day to day basis you're managing it well enough that it's not affecting your day to day life.
John Strickland: 00:23:32 Well, let me make another point. You know, trauma is just not occurring to soldiers and first responders, if someone's in a car accident, they can experience trauma. So, I'm one of the long-term clients I mentioned.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:23:51 And that's a Testament to it, too. You know, you put your money where your mouth is and opened up the franchise and you're helping people with the technology to get through this, whether they're military, first responders or someone in a car accident or who was involved in some other sort of crime or something like that, they were robbed or whatever the case may be. They're going to suffer from some mental anguish as well.
John Strickland: 00:24:26 Well, we can talk about the pandemic in relation to this as well.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:24:30 Certainly, with regards to anxiety and things like that. I can imagine that that's a big thing.
John Strickland: 00:24:36 It's an organization called Mental Health America that does free scanning online or prescreening. They've been doing this for six years. And as of June 2020, over 169,000 additional participants reported having moderate to severe depression or anxiety compared with participants who completed the screening prior to the pandemic. Now that's a very small sample, you know how many people go online looking for screenings for depression or anxiety? And there's 169,000 additional people.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:25:14 So it's a significant bump.
John Strickland: 00:25:17 Mental Health in America is a very important topic right now.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:25:20 It certainly is. Going back to the Veterans. So, what other situations have you seen Veterans come in with? Obviously, PTSD is a big thing. I want to go back to what we were saying before about sharing your story and things like that and showing that it's okay to share that type of thing. I want to highlight some examples of situations where this technology has helped other Veterans who've come through your office and gotten the assistance that they needed. And maybe if you can share some examples, obviously, without divulging too many deep personal details of the individuals, so that way someone else might hear this message and resonate with it and say, “yeah, that's something I'm going through. And maybe this is something that can help me too.
John Strickland: 00:26:18 Well, I believe instead of me taking the time and giving those examples, I would direct people to our YouTube channels. Heal the Hero Foundation on YouTube is the one that will have the Veterans, the first responder stories. And you will see five-minute videos there that are just very impressive. And that's really what got me doing what I'm doing. So yes, I've had successes in our center, but it's better if you can connect a face and hear the story from the person.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:26:55 So I'll put a link to Heal the Hero Foundation and their YouTube channel in the show notes for this episode. So, anyone who's listening I will put that in the show notes. So, you can just click over to that relatively easily.
John Strickland: 00:27:14 The YouTube channel for Vitania Brain Performance Center has videos more along the civilian sector and children that are suffering from ADHD and autism, those kinds of things, which is a very large client segment for us. The two YouTube channels are separated that way. Veterans are going to want to see the Heal the Hero Foundation videos.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:27:40 Absolutely. Yeah. And I'll have links to all of this stuff in the show notes, including links to Vitania’s website. So, you can look up the location, see if there's a location near you that you might be able to check out and see if it's something that is right for you. Ultimately that's a personal decision you're going to have to research it, do the due diligence on your own to see whether or not this is a program that you think will help you. Give it a try if like anything, if you don't try it, you'll never really know. I suppose you can look into the details of it and take a look to see if that's something that you want to try out. One question they may have is can you explain the science behind what you're doing?
John Strickland: 00:28:26 Okay. Yeah. I'm not going to attempt to do that, but I'm going to tell people how they can find it. Our clinical director is Stacy Smith. If you'll go to our company website vitania.com and click on the link, focus areas, then mental health, and there's a place to get future notifications for the talks that he does. And if you're working in the mental health field, you can get continuing education credits for watching his presentations. He will explain the science behind it and much more effectively than I can, but I've been asked not to attempt it.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:29:13 Okay.
John Strickland: 00:29:17 Dr. Stacy Smith is our client National Clinical Director at Vitania.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:29:21 Okay. Anything else that you want to tell people about Vitania and what you do and how it works or anything else that we didn't touch on yet that you might want to talk about?
John Strickland: 00:29:42 Yes, there is, I'm located in El Paso, Texas but we have 19 centers in eight States. So, you can find those, [email protected] An exciting thing is that we have remote capabilities, that device that I told you about. If you had that in your office, we could instruct you how to download our software on your computer. And we could connect like we are on this zoom meeting and we could complete a remote session. I have clients across America, 50% of my clients are remote clients. I have clients in Washington state and New Hampshire and in between, so this is not something that you need to be fearful of. Oh, hell I look it up and it's the closest franchises or hours away. I can't do that. We can do this remotely, a Gulf war Veteran. And he lives in Illinois.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:30:47 Oh, okay. And this is probably a great thing too, especially this time during the pandemic and everything, where people may just not want to go into an office where there's other people, unnecessarily getting exposed to other people who may or may not be sick. Talking about anxiety and things like that certainly would add to it if they had to go in and do that as well. So, you know, being able to do that from the comfort of your home, where you're maybe more likely to be on a normal baseline level of your mental health is probably a better option for a lot of people too. So that's good if there's no center nearby where you happen to live, the remote option is always there as well. So that works
John Strickland: 00:31:42 For that reason, I have two clients in El Paso that are remote clients. They just don't want to come into the office. People can learn more about us. If there are members of the VFW, there was a one-page article about our company and the June/July 2020 issue on page 53. And it talks about our remote capabilities. We did a pilot study with Veterans in a community college, somewhere up North, forget the state, and it was very successful. There are two things that we've accomplished in the El Paso market that we're the only ones in the company that have accomplished this. We are now VA community care partners. Oh, wonderful Veterans can use our services and we can build a VA for it. So even if you're remote, connect with me and I can teach you, I'll give you the information you need to get to your primary care doctor to get a referral to us, and you can become a remote client and we can build a VA for him.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:32:51 Oh, that's outstanding for all the people who might be struggling with getting appointments through the VA or things just don't seem to be working out with the provider that they're working with, give this a shot and it doesn't really cost. It doesn't really cost you anything. If it's going through the VA if you're eligible for that.
John Strickland: 00:33:12 That's been about 18 months in the works, but I finally have the written agreement in hand. We're just now starting this. And one more point before we're off because we're approved through the VA. Now we're also being credentialed for other insurances. So that's a big thing for a company like ours to be able to accept insurance. And we're working in that direction.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:33:39 Wonderful. Well, John, it has been a pleasure speaking to you about all of the technology that Vitania has available and the things that it's done and your time in Vietnam and your service, which we are all very thankful for as well. And like you said, you've continued serving throughout your life. So, service is definitely a good word that I think you can be proud of using to describe your career and your life. Thank you for that.
John Strickland: Thank you.
John Strickland: 00:34:24 Can I end on a light note?
Scott DeLuzio: Yes, sir.
John Strickland: Would you like to know how a good conduct medal was taken back?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:34:31 Go ahead. Yeah, let's hear it.
John Strickland: 00:34:34 Okay. I was enlisted before I went to flight school and I was awarded the good conduct medal. And at the end of flight school, I got a paper. They just handed it out in a formation and it's the award of a good conduct medal. Well, knowing that it should have been the second award I went to personnel. And so, this should be the second award of a good conduct medal. And they said, Oh, we're not authorized to award the second award. And they revoked my good conduct medal.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:35:09 So, trying to straighten out the records ended up dropping one of those for you. So, the Army is good with messing up paperwork. So, well, thank you for sharing that story and the other stories. And, like I said, it's been a pleasure speaking with you and talking about all of what Vitania has to offer. So, thank you again.
Joh Strickland: Thank you very much, Scott.
John Strickland: 00:35:38 Thank you for having me.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:35:43 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, DriveOnPodcast.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DriveOnPodcast.