Eighteen months ago, when my film team and I began making our feature-length documentary STRANGER AT HOME, we had a sense that our worlds would be forever shifted by the veterans, their family members and the mental health experts we’d meet to learn about the impact and devastating ripple effect of the invisible wounds of war – post traumatic stress, TBI and the even deeper moral injuries of the combat experience. Our sense has become a reality and then some. None has rocked our consciousness and creativity as much as Dr. Mark Russell, Former Commander and 24-year Naval psychologist who revealed that there’s a perfectly relevant, evidence-based blueprint for a successful mental health reentry program for veterans. Indeed, the program was mandated in 1944 by FDR, developed by the military and shelved shortly after WW ll ended. There’s been nothing since despite the mental health lessons of war fully documented in that program and captured in John Huston’s documentary LET THERE BE LIGHT, which never did see the light of day after its completion in 1946. In fact, the film was classified, labeled as “secret” and shelved until 1986. The real crime here is that a successful reentry program was in place for Veterans and then dismantled. Or the more hopeful thought: that program is right there to dust off, upgrade and put into action immediately. The million dollar question is: Why aren’t we doing that?

“We’re re-inventing the wheel at every generation, with every war, at a great, tremendous resource, and great expense at both the human level and financial level and we need not do that.” — Mark C. Russell, PhD., Former Commander and psychologist U.S. Navy, Founder of the Institute of War Stress Injuries and Social Justice, Antioch University in Seattle.

7 powerful reasons WHY the reinstatement of a mandatory reentry program will absolutely save lives:

1. Cut through negative stigma – The current nature of military culture is NOT to reach-out for mental health care and treatment. This creates the perfect storm for someone to struggle in isolation, turn to drugs and alcohol, which can then lead to attempted and successful suicide. A long-stay, transition program for all troops, to go through mental health triage, assessment and care, upon leaving the service, can help determine their short and long term needs, educate them on the symptoms of PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury, and provide the support and resource structure needed to recover from the invisible wounds of war.

2. Provide essential fellowship – One of the biggest reasons for a veteran’s downward spiral, beyond not getting the necessary care and treatment for their emotional and psychological injuries is the sudden separation from fellow troops. Many say: “one day you’re in-country with the people you were willing to die for and the next you’re standing in your living room.” A long-stay reentry program keeping veterans together, allows them to decompress as an at-home unit, experience the benefit of veteran group therapy and process what they’ve all been through – that only they understand.

3. Help the families – The families of the emotionally and psychologically injured veteran need as much support, education, awareness and healing, if not more, than the veteran. A long-stay, reentry program would allow families to reintegrate in safe, secure and comfortable environments with their veteran. They can learn what’s ahead in management and understanding of the symptoms of PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury. They’d have the opportunity to meet other veteran families and build a lasting support structure that would exist after the reentry program has concluded.

4. Provide choices of treatments and therapies – Presently, the number one and cookie-cutter treatment for PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury is medication. The anti-anxiety, anti-depression, anti-psychotic meds given to veterans – that is, if they come forward on their own and seek help – are often times the main contributors, coupled with alcohol and drug abuse, to create the climate (side effects) of acute despair, which can lead to suicide. In a long-stay, organized and supervised reentry program they would have access to many successful, evidence-based treatments and therapies – traditional and holistic – to experience and determine what best fits their needs and symptoms. By treating each veteran as an individual, and determining a treatment protocol that’s right for them, a sense of value, worth and self-empowerment, essential to the recovery process, is fostered.

5. Restore a sense of purpose – Many veterans report that one of the biggest losses coming back is no longer having a sense of purpose. These people are so highly trained, so loyal, that returning to civilian life, where their uniforms, training, medals of honor are suddenly meaningless can cause a major identity crisis on top of the emotional and psychological injuries that must be healed. A long-stay reentry program that has civilian career counseling and social training available to them will rebuild those pathways to discover a new sense of purpose.

6. Unify a nation of resources – Many veteran advocacy groups are currently working solo and at the grassroots levels, both regionally and nationally. Under a national reentry program they can be coordinated and organized to more effectively help with services and outreach to those veteran families already impacted by these injuries.

7. Save millions if not billions – By creating legislation and policy that mandates a reentry program for veterans, with an emphasis on mental health care and treatment, we would lessen and eliminate unnecessary fall-out medical, mental health care and incarceration costs. By taking care of these men and women properly, upon their exit from the military, we can bring 22 down to zero, eradicate homelessness and genuinely rehabilitate a population of the finest and most dedicated human beings on the planet.

“We’ve got to treat mental illness as a priority as we do physical illness. We’ve got to take out the shame that PTS is, something they (the military) calls a readiness issue. It’s something that affects everybody that goes to war.Mark C. Russell, PhD., Former Commander and psychologist U.S. Navy, Founder of the Institute of War Stress Injuries and Social Justice, Antioch University in Seattle.

(Written by award-winning documentary filmmaker Beth Dolan one of the producers for “Stranger At Home” “Stranger At Home” is a feature-length documentary film shedding awareness and real solution on the veteran and military family mental health crisis. Their Indiegogo campaign to raise the next leg of production funds needs your help immediately. They have a match fund pledge of $10K promised if they raise $10K by July 16th. This film is a 501c3 endeavor and all contributions are tax deductible. CLICK HERE to help:






As Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

That couldn’t be more true about the documentary filmmaking process.  A completely non-linear journey, it has three distinct aspects from my experience.  It’s one part the gathering of “clay” — the raw material to eventually sculpt a piece.  It’s one part detective work – the process of discovery to find the clay.  It’s one part total and complete surrender – the willingness to be open and flexible on the path of discovery.

Questions are the keys to the discovery, which leads to the gathering of the clay.

Here’s a question we asked Dr. Mark Russell, one of our experts, when he told us that there was a mental health reentry program, at one time, for returning soldiers. The successful program was put into place by FDR in 1944 and dismantled shortly after WW ll ended. Many wars and many years since there has been NO other program in its place.

So we asked him…

“What will it really take to de-stigmatize mental illness and make mental health care and treatment for our soldiers – for our society — a top and lasting priority?”

This psychologist and retired Navy Commander (24 years) had an answer that seemed so practical and quite frankly, so obvious.

Our military, the most influential and pro-active organization on the planet, he explained, needs to be empowered by the rest of us to make mental healthcare and treatment a civil rights matter and necessity.


Memorial Day“Every 65 minutes a member of the military — be they active duty or veteran — takes his or her own life”.

As I read this the other day, while going over interview transcripts for the documentary, I was really struck, as if I’d heard it for the first time since being on the journey of making “Stranger At Home.”

Had I?

That couldn’t be true. Hell, I interviewed the person who said it — a number of them. I’d even transcribed the interviews.

So, why did this feel so new? Why did it get my attention in that way that only a raw and simply stated fact can grab you?

The only thing I can come up with is this: We’re all — certainly my film team and I — more used to saying, hearing, reading that 22 per day are taking their lives. We’ve even used it as a compelling graphic in the trailer for our documentary in-progress — “On average, 22 veterans per day are taking their own lives.”

We’ve set this statistic on a black background for more gravity, with some pretty weighty music under it. Effective and people do gasp when that moment rolls onto the screen. In other words, if they don’t already know what’s going on, we get their attention. They shift into a palpable awareness, just as my team and I had, that our veteran population is in dire straits with a profound mental health crisis, which needs all hands on deck today to fix, not tomorrow.

After all, one of our intentions with making “Stranger At Home” is to open hearts and minds, to not only elevate a conversation about de-stigmatizing mental health care and treatment in this country overall, but to never, ever, EVER stop having this dialogue when it comes to the care of our veterans and their families.

Here’s a sad and yet hopeful fact — In 1944, President Roosevelt put into place a national reentry program for returning veterans with an emphasis on mental health care and treatment. They had the data, the research, a thorough plan of treatment for what was truly recognized as the consistent and legitimate mental health consequences of combat trauma. The program was shelved shortly after WW2 and nothing, in terms of legislation for another program of this nature, has been re-instated since.

The crucial point of this is — a still relevant blueprint for this program exists and the question is what are we waiting for? — A mental health crisis?

Well, we have one.

I get it now — “every 65 minutes” was wording that woke me up again. I’m grateful because I never want to become complacent — as a filmmaker, as a human being.

On Memorial Day and every day, may we remember all who have lost their lives, both on the battlefield and at home, in the name of our freedoms.

Be safe, be peace, be compassion,

Beth Dolan/Producer for “Stranger At Home”

Let your voice-for-change be heard by supporting this important and timely documentary. Donate and let your money be your messenger.  Films can move mountains! 


The Purpose Of Having Purpose: An Ode To Our Veterans

I consistently hear from veterans, who feel comfortable opening up to me and my filmmaking team, that one of the biggest contributing factors to their emotional and psychological injuries, upon leaving their service life behind, is a loss of purpose.

A concise, simply stated concept, right?

A loss of purpose.

It’s a concept so perfectly in keeping, I’ve respectfully learned, with the no fluff, to-the-point, military discipline, training and thinking that is wired into the men and women who sign up for the job no one else wants to do.

Grief, in other words, seems almost an intangible premise for these tactical warriors. Although in truth, grief – grieving – is exactly what’s going on. A natural human response to loss of any kind.

No, what’s painfully graspable to this highly dedicated citizenry, as shoes replace boots, is a loss of purpose — a lack of direction upon exit; the sudden absence of task and goal.

“You were part of a ‘family’, a community dedicated to this highest and clearest purpose: protect the soldiers next to me, protect my country. There comes a day, if you are fortunate enough to make it home, that everything that you’ve trained to become and believe in has no meaning in civilian life. It’s hell not knowing who you are anymore.” — Marine Corps Veteran/two deployments to Iraq

To hear variations of this statement again and again has opened my heart hugely to the crux of the post traumatic stress and moral injury of war emergency crippling and needlessly killing so many valuable, skilled and whole-hearted human beings at this time.

Most especially hobbled, it seems, are the post 911 generation of soldiers, many of whom have served multiple deployments, and as a result sustained some pretty serious brain, central nervous system and overall injury to the psyche.

“Hell”, indeed – a pitch black forest where the lighted path of purpose can not be spotted to save your life, as is literally the case with the reported 22 suicides per day amongst veteran and active duty soldiers.

I didn’t know this until we started to make “Stranger At Home”. Apparently, there’s irrefutable evidence that after 220 days — give or take — of consecutive time spent in a high stress, military/combat zone that the human psyche actually breaks – shifts into a state of supreme imbalance that, without the proper help and healing can’t return to normal function.

I mean, think about it – a bone in your arm breaks. It has to get re-set to heal properly in order to be of full use again. In all circles of life, even the military, there’s no shame in breaking an arm. Likewise, there needn’t be shame in the breaking of a psyche.


Right, because as a real injury – which a broken psyche is — this requires the dignity and process of true mending, not half treatment measures.

That being said, we have learned from numerous veterans, that the go-to, prescribed method for handling these psychological and emotional injuries is with medication, with not a whole of other treatment choices made available.

It strikes me that this is like putting an ace bandage, instead of a cast, on a broken arm. I’m no doctor, but that probably won’t heal the injury effectively and may just mess things up even more.

I’m not knocking medication, as it can be helpful in de-intensifying the depression and anxiety symptoms of PTS, but it can also leave the wounded feeling “dull, flat, with no energy”, to use their words.

As one male veteran honestly shared, “high dosages of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-you-name-it also leave you impotent.” Yet another rough identity crisis for these already hurting people in search of a purpose again.

In light of the archaic stigma – still held by the military and in turn our society at large – that mental illness and injury are weaknesses of character and not real conditions, it’s no hard leap to understand why so many struggling veterans shut down and don’t reach-out for comprehensive help to heal their neurological, psychological, emotional and spiritual bodies.

Sadly, we’ve come to understand, that not seeking mental healthcare seems the better alternative for many veterans, rather than lose your potential option for future military employment. Your record gets a negative mark for admission of PTS symptoms. Likewise, the same concern carries over to attempting to land a civilian job.

Damn stigma.

Moreover and worse – to suffer the ridicule and humiliation of your commanding officer and fellow soldiers calling you a “pussy” (yeah, we’ve heard this) can drive soldiers – both active and veteran – to simply tough things out in isolation.

Taking matters into their own hands and unable to make balanced-minded decisions, many discontinue the dull-making, anti-erection meds and turn to alcohol and other drugs for relief.

Hell hath even more fury.

As you can imagine, devastating side effects ensue in this self-treatment measure for sure – not just for the injured, but also for every single loved one in their lives.

It’s my personal opinion and experience that the destructive ripple-out of substance addiction — physically, emotionally, spiritually, economically – from one, to an entire family, to society as a whole is the longest engagement of war, with untold casualties, that the human race has ever participated in.

So, how do we really, sincerely, passionately, compassionately, easily, effortlessly help to nurture the healing – in body, mind and spirit – of not only our veterans, but each and every one of us?

For me it comes down to loving yourself enough to know, without any doubt, that balance, well being and happiness is our inherent birthright, and that whatever traumas are experienced — for we all have them – can be brought into the light and healed.

The purpose of having purpose then is to know our worth fully and to BE that worthiness in all we do, all we say and all we create.



Becoming A Servant Of Peace & How Robert DeNiro Sat In My House

One year ago my soul path brought me to know that I had to make the documentary “Stranger At Home.” Something re-awakened within me. It was a callback, actually, to a feeling I had in a movie theatre, at age 19, after sitting through a Pittsburgh premiere screening of “The Deer Hunter.”

The extensive, back-home, post-Vietnam sequences of this chilling film had been shot on location in Clairton, Pennsylvania – a small steel town just across the river from P-burgh, where I was attending a theatre school as an acting major. The campus and the whole community, really, was a-buzz with news of this film’s impending release.

Some of my luckier classmates had an opportunity to work on the film during the summer break, prior to this wintery debut. I could only lay claim to the story that an overstuffed, thrift store chair, that was in our off-campus house had been one that Robert DeNiro’s famous rear end sat in when he visited the house that previous summer.

As the rumor went — he’d come back with a female classmate to have some fun. Even then I was too naïve to understand what “fun” really meant. What can I say? — I’m a late bloomer. The real point is, I wasn’t there to see this acting royalty in my house, yet I romanticized that beaten-up chair, and in my eyes it became quite the revered throne – a home tour focal point for any visitor.

Besides Mr. DeNiro starring in “The Deer Hunter”, the movie starred and launched the film careers, in many ways, for Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken, John Savage and the late John Cazale. My “dramat” mates and I were in awe of these fairly new actors. Their work in this critically acclaimed film about what coming back from war looked like made us believe that these exceptional acting opportunities were possible for us, too, once we graduated and took on the world.

Truthfully, for me, “The Deer Hunter” before I saw it was a daydreaming notion about fabulous future roles, not the mindful truth of the tearing apart of the real lives these roles were based upon.

In all fairness, I really knew nothing about the Vietnam War. I was young enough to not have the deeper understanding of the serious injustice of this war – both our being involved and worse, how we treated and regarded those who served upon their return. I am grateful because as unschooled as I was in the savvy ways of relationships as a kid, my empathy muscle was advanced. I got called ultra-sensitive – a lot.

Yes, somehow, the God of my understanding spared me the deeper impact from the Vietnam War experience – both in my limited social circle and in my immediate home — and waited until I was 19, sitting in that movie house, on that snowy day in Pittsburgh, and said, “I want you to see something and it’s going to change your life.”

“But God,” I said, “what about boys, what about dating, can you change that for me?”

There was no answer. The film started instead. As I watched, all romantic ideas went out the window and I basically had one of those ah hah life moments. My deep knowing — whether I liked it or not – was that I was never gonna be one of those girls who partied and played effortlessly, who looked good no matter what she wore, or sounded cool no matter what she said. Instead, love myself or fight myself, I was gonna be someone who would always be questing for the thing to stand up for, and as far as attraction assets went, if you dug an activist with a big heart, then I could potentially be your gal.

No one in the packed audience stood when the film ended and the credits finished rolling. No clapping either. There was just shocked silence. After a long sit in that stillness I could hear others begin to cry. The emotion overcame me and I broke down into an all-out sob. Nothing pulled together about it. Yeah, try as I might, I would never aspire to coolness.

I felt it all –- the injustice, the helplessness, the anguish for those who lived through the combat experience, but will never be the same when they return home – nor will the people who loved them before they left. And we did what? What?? – call them “baby killers” instead of thanking them, instead of bending over backwards to help heal these people who defended their country? How is this possible? Empathy on overload.

After watching this powerful movie I was no longer a war virgin. In two hours I understood the fallout. I got it — the consequences of becoming slaves to aggression, fear, and separatism and this was the most painful part — I hadn’t a clue as to how to help.

I’ve never had a film watching experience like that again. Oh, I’ve been moved by wonderful, beautiful films throughout the years, films that fire on all cylinders – be they comedies, dramas, documentaries – stories and characters that have drawn me in and taught me something, but nothing that changed my outlook on life so fundamentally as “The Deer Hunter.”

It’s no wonder that my acting path would lead me to my storytelling path, which would lead me to my filmmaking path.

It’s no wonder that the identity of activist would morph into choosing to become a servant of peace – to the best of my ability – in all I do, say and create.

It’s no wonder that “Stranger At Home”, a voice for peace, for wellness, for healing, for the caring of each other – not only our veterans, but every one of us — fuels my spirit and reminds me daily, through all the doubt and uncertainty of making this film that:

Daring greatly is synonymous with loving deeply.

And to my 19 year-old self I would say, “it took a bit, my friend, but we figured out a way to help.”

Peace and love,


“Stranger At Home” – a 501c3 non-profit documentary film – explores de-stigmatizing PTSD and the deeper psychological injuries of combat, and in doing so, fosters the crucial importance for comprehensive mental healthcare in the military, this country and worldwide. It is through generous contributions of all amounts that this movie is getting made. Every contribution is fully tax deductible. You can help by clicking the “DONATE” button on the upper right.


Daring Greatly For Our Veterans

Happy Halloween, All!

Nearly a year ago we set our intention to make a documentary film about shedding light on the impact of post traumatic stress and the moral injuries of combat on our veterans, their families and society.

In shedding light, we knew we needed to focus on solution as well, ‘cause really, isn’t beating the drum of hope so much more satisfying than shaking the rattle of blame?

Whoa, Nellie, big storytelling shoes to step into? Oh, man, you got that right. A comedy would have been safer, more familiar, certainly lighter subject wise.

Really, what on earth were we thinking?Continue Reading ‘Daring Greatly For Our Veterans’

Staying On Vision: Every Veteran Matters

Hi Folks —

Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s the middle of September already. Temperatures, unfortunately, still feel like the height of summer out here in Southern California, yet there’s that distinct shift of energy that says Autumn is fully enroute.

Yes, the light, to me, is noticeably different, leaves have begun to fall from trees. Signposts. Hints of where we are and where we’re headed. Faith makers that we’re in progress to cooler, calming days. I see ’em all and I’m grateful.Continue Reading ‘Staying On Vision: Every Veteran Matters’

Dogs Help Our Veterans And Vice Versa

Hey Folks,

We’re spinning lots of plates right now — filming on STRANGER AT HOME, beginning to pre-assemble our story (early editing stages) in post production and continuing to fundraise — not just for the movie, but also for those organizations dedicated to making a positive difference in our veterans’ and their families lives.

To that —

We’re honored to be participating in a really wonderful fundraising event coming up in late October, which I’ll have more details about very soon.

As I keep sharing, we continue to meet so many on this path to getting STRANGER AT HOME made. We’re not only  hearing the stories of our military and their loved ones, but also civilian folks — just like you and me — who are genuinely taking loving and compassionate action to improve our veteran situation.

Continue Reading ‘Dogs Help Our Veterans And Vice Versa’


Folks —

Such a rough week with the loss of the magnificence that is Robin Williams. A gut, soul and heart punch to be sure. Yes, he was a genius artist, but he was also a high priest — a great leader in our midst, showing everyone, through his rare gifts of expression, what love, loving, laughter, laughing do for our well-being.

And yet, sadly, paradoxically, he couldn’t get a hold of, or hold on to his
own well-being.

This begs, for me, the age-old question: do our great teachers and wise men really have to suffer — like hang on a cross suffer — to wake us up to what’s truly important in life?

Compassion And Love — Not Just Our Veterans, We ALL Need It!

Hey Folks,

I’ve been trying to sit down to update you for several days now, yet the river runs swiftly on everything involving STRANGER AT HOME. A good thing. An exciting occurrence.

Truly, I’m lookin’ at the last two weeks and I’ve been everywhere talking about this film, fundraising and making the movie as well — and I’ve got some photos to prove it, which I’ll share with you in just a moment.

And no, I’m not superwoman either. Hardly. I seek out naps frequently and have long talks with my Higher Self, mostly asking for the courage and guidance to stay open to the next moment, and the next, and the next on the journey of seeing this documentary to completion.Continue Reading ‘Compassion And Love — Not Just Our Veterans, We ALL Need It!’