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Seeking Housing for Homeless Vets; Life Without Limits; Cultivating Creativity

Aired November 12, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello, and welcome to the program. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

On tap this morning:

Thinking outside the box. What does it really mean? I'll tell you: the key to get your creative juices flowing is learning how to let go. I'll explain that.

Plus, when you see Kyle Maynard, you might first think how limited his life must be. But once you meet him -- you're about to in just a moment -- you'll realize there's nothing he can't do.

But, first, my investigation of a situation that I found unacceptable. You might be surprised to learn -- I know I was -- that on any given night in this country more than 100,000 veterans, men and women who fought for their country, are literally sleeping on the streets. More than 8,000 in Los Angeles alone.

But what surprised me more is that there's a plot of land, it's nearly 400 acres, that was donated. It's free just to build a home for vets. It would have been a lifesaver for one veteran I met in Los Angeles.


GUPTA: You are young. How old are you?


GUPTA: Almost 23. You are from this area originally?

RISSMAN: San Fernando Valley, just up over the hill.

GUPTA (voice-over): Fresh out of high school, Robert Rissman signed up to fight for his country.

(on camera): What makes an 18-year-old join the Army?

RISSMAN: I wanted to go to college, make something of myself. And the Army said they'd pay for it.

GUPTA: There's a contract. I'm going to serve my country but then my country will serve me.

RISSMAN: That's kind of what I was hoping for, yes.

GUPTA: Where did it fall apart?

(voice-over): It began to fall apart in Iraq.

(on camera): You saw things that I know you don't want to talk about.

RISSMAN: No, I don't.

GUPTA: You probably never want to talk about.


GUPTA (voice-over): The war was winding down. But Robert's unit was busy with patrols. Then a close friend died in a bridge collapse.

RISSMAN: I got back from Iraq, I was having a lot of psychological issues, I guess you could say.

GUPTA (on camera): Post traumatic stress?

RISSMAN: Post traumatic stress disorder.

GUPTA (voice-over): Back home at Ft. Carson in Colorado, he started feeling like people were out to get him. A few months later, someone discovered Robert's illegal sawed-off shotgun hidden in his barracks.

According to Army papers, Robert told investigators he was suicidal. At one point he spent a full day drinking then sat on the side of the bed with the end of the gun in his mouth.

RISSMAN: I wish sometimes that I had died in Iraq. So that my life would have meant something, you know?

GUPTA: Forced to quit the Army, Robert ended up homeless.

RISSMAN: I went through some pretty bad times when I first got out. I was doing a lot of methamphetamines, my drug of choice. I was smoking a lot of dope. And I was getting in with some rough crowds.

GUPTA: And many of those rough crowds were made up of people just like Robert, returning veterans.

As many as one in three soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer some traumatic brain injury, severe depression, substance abuse or PTSD.

RISSMAN: I was dealing with other people that weren't so nice.

GUPTA (on camera): Is that weird for you to hear?

RISSMAN: Yes, that's really uncomfortable, actually.

GUPTA: What happens when you hear a noise like that?

RISSMAN: It startles me a bit, but -- I know it's a truck. GUPTA (voice-over): You see it everywhere you look. Ex-soldiers like Robert are desperate for steady care and for stable housing.

So, I was stunned to hear about a piece of property in west Los Angeles, set aside for this very purpose, for veterans, for long-term housing, and it's literally across the street from the V.A. hospital.

(on camera): The story here actually dates back all the way to the 1880s. Back then the government wanted to create facilities for aging veterans of the Civil War. So, former Senator John P. Jones and his friend, who was glamorous heiress, has decided to donate all of this land.

Now, back then, it was mostly ranchland. But today, just few miles from the Pacific Ocean, it's some of the most valuable real estate in all of North America.

CAROLINE BARRIE, ANCESTOR DONATED LAND TO CREATE HOME FOR SOLDIERS: It was solely an act of goodwill. An act of trying to take care of the veterans they had from the Spanish American War and the Civil War.

GUPTA (voice-over): Caroline Barrie is a descendant from the heiress who made this gift, and she's part of a lawsuit against the V.A. filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The original deed includes a condition that the land be used to establish and maintain a branch of a national home for disabled vets, and a permanent home for houses is exactly what it was.

BARRIE: They had their post office. They had a trolley system that went all the way down to the beach. Everything was provided for them. They had special uniforms.

It was a marvelous place to live. The grounds were gorgeous. I mean, they were just gorgeous.

GUPTA: Mark Rosenbaum is the lead attorney for the ACLU.

MARK ROSENBAUM, ACLU: At one point, this campus housed as many as 4,000 veterans, but the beginning with the Vietnam War era, veterans were kicked out. They were literally kicked out.

GUPTA: Around 200 veterans live on the property today, but none of them in permanent housing. Alongside them, empty buildings, a public golf course, a variety of private businesses like a theater and a bus depot.

ROSENBAUM: This land has been utilized for enterprise rental call, for the Marriot Hotels, for UCLA baseball, for exclusive private schools. They know what this land is about.

GUPTA: I wanted answers from men like Robert Rissman.

Dr. Dean Norman is the V.A. chief of staff here in Los Angeles.

DR. DEAN NORMAN, CHIEF OF STAFF, VA GREATER LA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM: We've added 700 emergency housing and transitional housing beds. They have mental health programs, substance abuse programs and medical programs.

GUPTA: And they also have something else -- they're known as rent vouchers.

NORMAN: Which enable us to put veterans in permanent housing.

GUPTA: In Los Angeles, each voucher just for veterans, is worth more than $1,100 a month. This year, Dr. Norman says the Los Angeles V.A. has given out 2,000. Of course that's 2,000 vouchers for more than 8,000 homeless veterans.

(on camera): Doing the math, there's not enough vouchers, obviously. If they all called you the day after this airs --

NORMAN: Well, it would be shocking. It would be wonderful. We will figure out a way to give them emergency and transitional housing.

GUPTA: If they're hearing you now, what would be their next step?

NORMAN: The easiest thing is to show up.

GUPTA: Just show up at the front door?

NORMAN: If you have any questions at Los Angeles, it's 310-268-3284.

GUPTA (voice-over): Of course, I did wonder, how many of the homeless vets are, in fact, seeing this? How many could even find a phone?

(on camera): There's been a lot made of this property just about a block away from here, that's around 400 acres that was designed for veterans. It was to provide housing for veterans. And people have said, look that property is not being used for that purpose.

What of that? I mean, is that a legitimate beef?

NORMAN: Well, I'm speaking for the agency and you know that's under litigation right now. So I can't even comment on that.

GUPTA: The V.A. will say that we are going to end homelessness by 2015.

ROSENBAUM: Well, they've been saying that for decades. But the most interesting thing is that the lawyer for the V.A. walked into a federal courtroom and said we think this case should be thrown out of court. We don't think there's a basis for the V.A. to have to provide housing.

GUPTA: This is the lawyers on the V.A. side. They're the ones that are raising the flag saying, look, we're not sure this is possible as a starting point.

NORMAN: Again, I can't comment on the litigation. I wish I could, but I can't.

GUPTA: You think it's possible?

NORMAN: I think we have the resources with the community to end homelessness of vet veterans in Los Angeles. That, we do.

GUPTA (voice-over): Robert Rissman, who is not part of the lawsuit, says he hopes it gets resolved before his housing placement runs out and he's back out on the street.

(on camera): You want a new life.

RISSMAN: I want to get a degree. I want to graduate from college. I want to get a good-paying job. Buy a house, you know? The right things.


GUPTA: I can tell you that the judge is taking this lawsuit very seriously. He's appointed a mediator to work on a solution. The lawyers are all going to be back in court next month. So, we'll tell you what happens with them and, of course, with Robert as well.

Up next, a mountain climber who has no arms and no legs, yet he's got his sights set on summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.


GUPTA: This morning I want to introduce to you Kyle Maynard. He was born 25 years ago with no arms or legs. Now, you might think that was going to slow him down. But I tell you what? You'd be wrong.


GUPTA (voice-over): Kyle Maynard is climbing to the top of Georgia's Stone Mountain, bear-crawling almost a thousand feet.

Maynard is a congenital quadruple amputee. He was born without arms or legs. His parents knew the world wasn't set up for him, but they weren't going to let his disability set him apart.

KYLE MAYNARD, SPEAKER AND AUTHOR: They raised me with that attitude that -- like they weren't going to treat me any different.

GUPTA: So like any other little kid, Maynard played sports, even joining the football team in sixth grade.

MAYNARD: And I loved it, because get to hit somebody in every play.

GUPTA: He took up wrestling when football became too intense, and stuck with it, even after losing his first 35 matches.

After high school, Maynard became an accomplished mixed martial arts fighter, and he also wrote a book. It's the best-selling memoir, "No Excuses." But a whirlwind book tour left him feeling exhausted and low.

MAYNARD: I got to a point where I was ready to quit speaking.

GUPTA: Then a chance encounter with two disabled veterans who were wounded in Iraq changed his mind. MAYNARD: They made a suicide pact with one another, and said that they -- when they -- the day that they did that, they happened to see my story on HBO and that's what got them to stop.

GUPTA: He regrets never getting their names, but says those veterans reenergized him. So instead of quitting, he continued, crisscrossing the country, sharing his story again and again.

MAYNARD: I know it's going to be tough.

GUPTA: And they inspired him to try for yet another milestone: scaling Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro.

MAYNARD: Why Kilimanjaro? It's exactly because it is the opposite end of the spectrum.

GUPTA: Maynard will hike with a team that includes two other disabled veterans. Their goal: to show the world that no obstacle is too hard to overcome. Today's hike up Stone Mountain is part of this training for the Kilimanjaro trek. And despite his rudimentary equipment, it only takes him an hour and a half from the bottom to the top.

MAYNARD: When people see me, they might think that like, you know, a guy born without arms and legs, or doesn't have arms and legs, like that must be the worst thing that ever happened to him. And I think that that is the greatest gift I've ever been given.


GUPTA: And that is why Kyle Maynard is a human factor. Now, keep him in your mind as you go through tough times in life, give you a lot of perspective.

Kyle and his Mission Kilimanjaro Team start their 16-day trek this January. We're going to be following them all the way to the summit. You can see it right here on SGMD.

Up next this morning, creativity and your brain. I'm fascinated about this. We're going to show you the key to breaking through is learning to let go.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD.

Here's a question, what do you get when you put a freestyler rapper and a jazz musician into a functional MRI machine? This is not a joke. What you might get is a glimpse at the brain at the neural bases of creativity.

We're taking a close look at creativity this morning and we begin in Baltimore, at Johns Hopkins University.


GUPTA (voice-over): All that jazz. It's improvisation. Nearly constant reinvention.

And those syncopated sounds are providing vital clues about what creativity looks like in the brain.

(on camera): So you just came up with that?

DR. CHARLES J. LIMB, OTOLARYNGOLOGIST: Yes. That's why it was so bad.

GUPTA: No, that was good. It was really good.

(voice-over): Dr. Charles Limb is an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

(on camera): I didn't expect to see the guitars and the keyboard here in the EENT surgeon's office.

LIMB: Exactly.

GUPTA (voice-over): His love for jazz spilled over into his work.

(on camera): So you're listening to jazz, and you said, I wonder what's going on inside that guy's brain right now?

LIMB: Exactly. That's exactly the question I've had.

GUPTA (voice-over): The next question: how to measure creativity in the brain?

So Dr. Limb took jazz musicians like David Kane, put them into an MRI machine and let them improvise --

LIMB: Remember, it's very loud.


GUPTA: -- while looking to see what parts of the brain activate.

LIMB: Stop.

GUPTA: He then expanded his study to an unorthodox group of improvisers.


GUPTA (on camera): Well, this may not be what you expect when you're trying to find the center of creativity in the brain, but it could be. On the screen over here, a guy named A-Class (ph), he's a freestyle rapper. He is rapping freestyle right now. And while that's happening, we're doing an MRI of his brain, a functional MRI, to find out what lights up and what doesn't.

GUPTA: So, jazz musicians, freestyle rappers, as a model for creativity?

LIMB: Exactly. GUPTA: And what have you found?

LIMB: Well, this is showing areas of the brain that are active during musical performance and playing a piano. But when you switch to improvisation, you've got this area that's shutting down, and you've got this area that's turning on.

GUPTA (voice-over): So could that be the center for creativity?

LIMB: It gets really interesting when you start thinking about what those things do. This area that went on tends to be thought of as kind of a self-referential, autobiographical kind of area. This area that shut off tends to be involved in a lot of things, but among those things is self- inhibition and monitoring, conscious self-monitoring.

GUPTA (on camera): So you're inhibiting one part, which may be that -- the part that would normally prevent you from expressing yourself, and you're amping up the self-expression.

LIMB: At a very basic level, I do think that's what's happening.

GUPTA (voice-over): But before the brain can amp up self-expression, it must have a foundation. After that, the doctor says, it's about letting go. Similar to how your brain functions in a dream or in a meditative state.

LIMB: I view this as a neurological description of letting go.

GUPTA (voice-over): I like that. You need to let go to be creative.

LIMB: I think it helps quite a bit. You can't let go 100 percent, because you're still playing an instrument, but you really, really, to in a way turn yourself off so that you can just trust these creative pulses and not shut them down.

GUPTA: But can this be taught?

LIMB: I think that creativity -- children have it in an untrained form, and you're almost -- it's innate. When you see an infant being creative, no one taught them how to do that.


GUPTA: And there is a lot to learn there.

Po Bronson join us. He's author of "Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children." He's joining us from San Francisco.

Po, thank you.

You know, I found that -- just working on that piece fascinating. You heard me talk to Dr. Limb. And you can tell that I sort of seized then to this idea of letting go.

I mean, are kids -- first of all, as a starting point, are kids better than that -- better at that than adults because they're less inhibited, they're just younger?

PO BRONSON, CO-AUTHOR, "NURTURE SHOCK: NEW THINKING ABOUT CHILDREN": The neurosystems of inhibition are ones that wire up in kids. So, when you say they're good at letting themselves go, they're born letting themselves go, they learn to inhibit themselves and then they have to relearn to dis-inhibit. They have to learn to let go.

So, just to be clear -- creativity is both the production of new ideas and that are novel and that are valuable to a given social context. You have critique your ideas at the same time. So, you have to go through blender pulses of letting go and then evaluating. Letting go and then evaluating.

GUPTA: So, let's say you're sort of wiring up, as you say, and then you get to the point where you want to, you know, let go, not sensor yourself as much. You have the content, you have the idea, and it's a good one.

How do you let go then? I mean, how do you dis-inhibit, if you will, to some extent?

BRONSON: Well, let's talk about it just in the home, because you were talking about kids. So, you know, I'm here in San Francisco. When kids here drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, they ask their parents -- mom, dad, how come the bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, is orange? And a lot of parents could answer that question, but as parents, what we need to do to encourage their creativity, to sort of wire up these neural networks is use that as a learning moment to force them to generate lots of ideas. To turn it back into that back seat and say, come up with as many ideas as you can, as to why it might be orange rather than golden color. And then evaluate those, what do they think is the best idea.

GUPTA: My kids -- quick question. They talk about imaginary friends sometimes, or, you know, they --


GUPTA: Or, you know, they obviously watch a lot of things, that they create their other imaginary world. Is that valuable?

BRONSON: Wow, Sanjay. You've got good kids. Those are some good signs, because one of my interesting works is what's called paracosms. And paracosms are these sort of alternative worlds that kids create. The paracosm creation or paracosm ideation peaks at around age 9 or 10.

Other things for young kids, when they're free playing, if they can do a lot of role playing, that helps their creativity, because they learn to sort of see something from multiple perspectives. And the other thing with young kids when they're doing their free play that you'll see -- and we're talking now, again, 4 to 7 years old -- is they might actually look angry. They're going to show a lot of what's called negative emotions in their free play. And it's because play is the only safe harbor for these, sort of, challenging and threatening and hostile thoughts that they don't know what to do with when they're out there in the real world in which they have to inhibit themselves.

GUPTA: You know, it's -- just hearing you talk, I see exactly what you're describing, and I bet you a lot of other people listening see the same thing in their kids as well. It makes a lot more sense.

It's a fascinating topic, Po. The book is great, "Nurture Shock."

Thanks so much for joining us, really appreciate it.

BRONSON: Thank you, Sanjay. It's great to be with you.

GUPTA: All right. And we'll be right back.



GUPTA (voice-over): It's the season for giving, especially food. With persistently high unemployment, the need is growing. More than 16 million children in the United States cannot get adequate amounts of nutritious food.

BILL BOLLING, ATLANTA COMMUNITY FOOD BANK: There is enough food. There are enough resources. There's enough good people out there. It's a matter of us figuring out and facilitating that.

GUPTA: If you're donating, food banks say make sure it's non- perishable. Protein rich foods like beans, tuna are good choices.


GUPTA: That's going to wrap things up for SGMD this morning. Thanks so much for being with us. And stay connected throughout week on my Lifestream, Also, follow me on Twitter @SanjayGuptaCNN.

We'll see you right back here next weekend.

And time now to get a check of your top stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM."