You Can’t Handle the Truth!: Spies and Damn Lies

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I suppose that most everyone recalls Col. Jessup’s (Jack Nicholson) impassioned defense of a “Code Red” in the film A Few Good Men:¬† “You can’t handle the truth!

For Col. Jessup and many others, the “truth” is an absolute certainty. Every time I hear some “talking head” or “politician” state that “the American public deserves to know,” I can’t help but recall Col. Jessup’s staunch defense of his own “personal” truth or value system.

Many are beginning to realize that discovering the “truth” is – at best – a personal quest. Just when you think you have found that elusive kernel of “truth,” new revelations create additional uncertainties.

For reasons that are not entirely clear (personally, I think it may be intellectual laziness), many of our citizens have created a very simple coping mechanism which I call “tribal politics”. Instead of wearing tribal colors or a tattoo, we simply register for one political party or the other and then cheer loudly to see which party can humiliate members of the other party more viciously.

Civil discourse is now little more than a shouting match, with party supporters cheering on their political gladiators in much the same way that “the mob” cheered on the lions at the Colosseum some 2,000 years ago.

Sadly, our search for the “truth” (even if it could be found) has given way to a whole host of silly slogans and tribal chants that prematurely end any reasonable quest for something close to the truth¬†before it has started. Col. Jessup was probably correct in his assertion that we “can’t handle the truth.”

House of Straw: U.S. Election Meddling and Russia

I understand that people get rattled when they think that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.¬† While politicians and the media have been beating the “meddling” war drums loudly, I am entirely at ease with the thought that Kremlin spooks, lobbyists and hackers have been seeking to tamper with our election.¬† Gosh, I would be even more surprised if Russia hadn’t been doing everything possible to gain a political and military advantage over the U.S.

Why?¬† Well, U.S. clandestine agencies do exactly the same thing in other countries (friends and foes alike).¬† It is not unreasonable to expect that the U.S. would try to influence or manipulate results in other countries for our geo-political advantage.¬† I certainly hope that U.S. spies, hackers and “influencers” have been as active as Putin’s shady cast of characters.¬†¬† In fact, anyone who has played the very popular Online game Sid Meier’s Civilization¬†would attest to the value of spying to gain a competitive advantage over your competitors on the world stage.

It is just plain hypocrisy or stupidity to play the role of a “blushing” democracy when our spy agencies are doing exactly the same thing as Russian spies (or spies of most any other nationality).¬†¬†

While Congressional Hearings are surely a “big thing,” you simply must laugh if you expect spies to tell the truth.¬† Spies are trained to lie and the best ones do a very good job of it.¬† In my estimation, Congress and the Senate and the “American People,” will not be any wiser after this silly political charade plays out in D.C.

Tribal Behavior

When politicians lack the courage to rise above their tribe’s silly rituals, representative democracy suffers.¬† With tribal behavior lurking behind the sanctimonious sound bites of most politicians, it is the American public that suffers.

It is impossible to determine how the “Special Counsel” charade will play for the electorate, but those who place their lives on the line every day to defend our freedoms must be genuinely disillusioned by politicians who argue that they will get to “the truth” for the benefit of the American people.¬† ¬†If you buy into this silly argument, there is a bridge in Brooklyn that many of these politicians will sell you.

While tribal leaders of both parties continue to posture with meaningless soundbites, real issues like the reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs and opioid abuse (among many serious issues) will continue to be pushed into the background as politicians position themselves at taxpayer expense for the next election.

Maybe Col. Jessup is right, “We can’t handle the truth!”

The views expressed here are those of the author and NOT necessarily those of the members of SFTT.

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Opioid Crisis: Contributors to the Current Crisis

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The opioid crisis is real.  It is hard to believe that people dying from drug overdoses each year now exceed the total number of brave warriors who lost their lives in Vietnam.

Homeless Veteran

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, this drug epidemic must be faced with determination to eradicate this awful plague.¬† Yet, in looking at The President’s Final Report on Fighting Drug Addiction and Opioid Abuse, I find myself wondering how we got to this sad state of affairs in the first place.

Despite having only 5% of the world population, the US consumes 80% of the world’s global opioid supply.¬† More to the point, these are not disreputable drug barons south of the border peddling addictive drugs, but licensed members of the medical profession encouraging the use of lethal and addictive prescription drugs.

There have been pharmaceutical companies like the Sackler’s firm of Purdue Pharma that used their considerable marketing skills to hype the benefits and hide the risks of opioids, but the most obvious revelation is that the very institutions that should have protected our backs may have been complicit in enabling them:¬† the Healthcare System.

Specifically, the President’s Final Report (pages 20 – 23 with just a few summarized below) argues “that the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system and have been influenced by several factors:”

Unsubstantiated claims: High quality evidence demonstrating that opioids can be used safely for chronic non-terminal pain did not exist at that time. These reports eroded the historical evidence of iatrogenic addiction and aversion to opioids, with the poor-quality evidence that was unfortunately accepted by federal agencies and other oversight organizations.

Pain patient advocacy: Advocacy for pain management and/or the use of opioids by pain patients was promoted, not only by patients, but also by some physicians. One notable physician stated: ‚Äúmake pain ‚Äėvisible‚Äô‚Ķ ensure patients a place in the communications loop‚Ķ assess patient satisfaction; and work with narcotics control authorities to encourage therapeutic opiate use‚Ķ therapeutic use of opiate analgesics rarely results in addiction.

The opioid pharmaceutical manufacturing and supply chain industry:   To this day, the opioid pharmaceutical industry influences the nation’s response to the crisis. For example, during the comment phase of the guideline developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for pain management, opposition to the guideline was more common among organizations with funding from opioid manufacturers than those without funding from the life sciences industry.

Rogue pharmacies and unethical physician prescribing: The key contributors of the large number of diverted opioids were unrestrained distributors, rogue pharmacies, unethical physicians, and patients whose opioid medications were diverted, or other patients who sold and profited from legitimately prescribed opioids.

Inadequate oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):  The FDA provided inadequate regulatory oversight. Even when overdose deaths mounted and when evidence for safe use in chronic care was substantially lacking, prior to 2001, the FDA accepted claims that newly formulated opioids were not addictive, did not impose clinical trials of sufficient duration to detect addiction, or rigorous post-approval surveillance of adverse events, such as addiction. 

Reimbursement for prescription opioids by health care insurers: Sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, largely paid for by insurance carriers. It is estimated that 1 out of 5 patients with non-cancer pain or pain-related diagnoses are prescribed opioids in office-based settings.

Lack of foresight of unintended consequences: As prescription drugs came under tighter scrutiny and access became more limited (via abuse-deterrent formulations and more cautious prescribing), market forces responded by providing less expensive and more accessible illicit opioids.

Public demand evolves into reimbursement and physician quality ratings pegged to patient satisfaction scores:  Prior to this year, poor patient satisfaction with pain care could lead to reduced hospital reimbursement by Medicare through Value-Based Purchasing (VBP). There are often higher costs or no specific reimbursements for alternative pain management strategies, alternative pain intervention strategies, or spending time to educate patients about the risks of opioids.

Given the scope of the problem, there is no question that urgent action needs to be taken to address this epidemic.  Nevertheless, one must question why we should entrust leadership  of that initiative to the same institutions that enabled the epidemic in the first place.

As reported earlier by SFTT in Opioids:  Bipartisan Incompetence in DC and vividly documented in the joint Washington Post and 60 Minutes Report, there are entrenched political and business interests at play.    I find it highly unlikely that they will release their grip on the brass ring with so much money at stake.

To date, there is no price tag on resolving the drug overdose crisis.¬† Isn’t it ironic that the same cast of characters that profited from addicting our nation, now get a chance to monetize the painful withdrawal process?¬† In the corporate world, we refer to this as “double-dipping,” but in politics it is simply “business as usual.”

If you honestly believe that “big government” will get us out of the drug addiction and opioid abuse crisis the government and healthcare system colluded to create, P. T. Barnum has a bridge to sell you.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Nov 3, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

North Korean Defector Warns of “Massive” Military Counterstrike
North Korean military officers have been trained to trigger a devastating counterstrike if their country is attacked by the United States, according to a high-profile defector. Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho’s comments to U.S. lawmakers suggest that¬†military action¬†on the Korean peninsula ‚ÄĒ a course of action repeatedly raised by President Donald Trump ‚ÄĒ would almost certainly result in a catastrophic number of civilian casualties. “North Korean officers are trained to press the button without any further instructions from the general command if something happens on their side,” Thae said Wednesday. “So if there is any sound of fire or bombs or strikes from Americans, the [North Korean] artillery and short-range missiles will fire against South Korea.”¬† Read more . . .

Kim North Korea

First U.S. Airstrikes Reported Against ISIS in Somalia
The U.S. military for the first time has conducted two airstrikes against Islamic State group fighters in Somalia, where the group is a growing presence in a country long threatened by the al-Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab. The U.S. Africa Command said the two drone strikes killed ‚Äúseveral terrorists‚ÄĚ in northeastern Somalia, with the first around midnight local time and the second later Friday morning. The U.S. said the strikes were carried out in coordination with Somalia‚Äôs government.¬† ¬†Read more . . .

Syria Claims that Last ISIS Outpost in Syria Falls
The Syrian government declared victory over Islamic State in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Friday, a big blow to the jihadists as their last stronghold in Syria crumbles. Deir al-Zor, on the west bank of the Euphrates River, is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria, and is the center of the country’s oil production. “The armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces, liberated the city of Deir al-Zor completely from the clutches of the Daesh terrorist organization,” the military source said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.¬† Read more . . .

VA Plea for New Drugs to Treat PTSD
Reported cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are increasing, and trends indicate that growth will continue as more military men and women return from overseas service. But treatment help doesn‚Äôt appear to be coming quickly. So far in 2017, six dermatology drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but no drug has been approved for treatment of PTSD since 2001. At this point, two drugs ‚ÄĒ Paxil and Zoloft ‚ÄĒ have been given FDA approval for PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs created a PTSD Psychopharmacology Working Group, which has issued an urgent plea for the development and approval of new drugs for PTSD as part of a national mental health priority.¬† Read more . . .

Ecstasy in the Loop to Treat PTSD?
In July, the Food and Drug Administration took the important step of¬†approving two final-phase clinical trials¬†to determine whether a party drug that has long been on the Drug Enforcement Administration‚Äôs Schedule I list of banned substances could be used to treat a psychiatric condition that afflicts millions. The drug is MDMA, a psychedelic commonly known as Ecstasy, previously deemed to have ‚Äúno currently accepted medical use.‚ÄĚ The trials aim to determine whether the drug is, as earlier trials have suggested, a safe and effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, when combined with psychotherapy.¬† Read more . . .

Eye Movement Desensitization Reduces PTSD
In a meta-analysis of clinical trials published in PLoS One, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing was shown to reduce the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with a longer duration of treatment correlating with better outcomes. The study authors evaluated 26 randomized controlled trials that evaluated the use of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in patients with PTSD. Outcomes included the effects of treatment on PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, and subjective distress.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops.

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GAO to Investigate VA Over Treatment and Therapy of Veterans with PTSD

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At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the Government Accountability Office (“the GAO”) agreed Sept. 27 that it “will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions.”¬† In particular, the GAO will focus on “how heavily the VA relies on powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients.”

OxyContin - Veteran Addiction

As reported in the Armed Forces News, ‚Äúthis decision is a victory for combat veterans everywhere who are suffering from PTSD and who have been prescribed a cocktail of very powerful drugs to mask their symptoms in lieu of other forms of interactive therapy that work to bring down the stress levels of PTSD to a point where they are no longer debilitating,‚ÄĚ said Coffman.

While this new GAO study may come as a big relief to many Veterans with PTSD (and their families), the tragic findings will surprise few who monitor the shoddy treatment procedures provided to Veterans with PTSD at the VA .

For those expecting that this “new” GAO study will result in any improvements in the treatment our Veterans receive, I refer you to the December, 2014 GAO study of the VA with the title of “Improvements Needed in Monitoring Antidepressant Use for Major Depressive Disorder and in Increasing Accuracy of Suicide Data.”

Here is a brief summary of the conclusions reached in this GAO audit as reported by SFTT in March, 2015 in an article entitled GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for VA Suicides:

‚Äst10% of vets treated by VA¬†have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
‚Äst86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
‚Äst40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
‚Äst63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

With data integrity breaches like this, it is no wonder GAO cited the suicide data VA relies on as ‚Äúnot always complete, accurate, or consistent.‚ÄĚ
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

If Representatives Coffman or McLane Kuster expect different patient outcomes, they are likely to be as disillusioned as Kimi Bivins, the wife of Veteran Eric who tragically committed suicide earlier this year.    There is little need to request a GAO study to find out how dysfunctional the VA has become.  Simply listen to Kimi describe how her husband was treated at VA facilities.
Even as far back as 2012, the VA knew that opioids were not appropriate for treating PTSD, and yet, the VA continued to provide Veterans with lethal prescription drugs knowing full well the consequences.
While SFTT could point out many similar government studies on inefficiencies at the VA, it seems to be far easier for politicians to request new studies, since they never bothered to read the existing studies or insist on much needed reforms.
Sadly, the VA has become a “law unto itself” and no amount of well-intentioned “studies” or GAO audits will do anything to turn the VA around unless politicians on both sides of the aisle take a sledgehammer to break up the VA into manageable components.¬† ¬†As of today, the VA is simply too large to succeed in its mission.
We can continue to study the problem, but for the sake of our brave Veterans and their families, it is time to take action!
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SFTT Military News Highlights: Week Ending Oct 27, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

Tensions Continue High Over North Korea Threat
Vice President Pence told U.S. troops to “stay sharp” and “be ready” on Friday in the face of an increasing threat from North Korea.¬† “Now more than ever your commander-in-chief is depending on you to be ready. Stay sharp, mind your mission,” Pence¬†said¬†at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.¬† “Anyone who would threaten our nation should know that America always seeks peace, but if we are forced to defend ourselves or our allies, we will do so with military power that is effective and overwhelming. And those gathered here at Minot Air Force Base will play a critical role again,” he said.¬† The base would play a critical role in the face of an attack, as it houses 26 B-52 bombers and 150 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites.¬† Read more . . .

Public Support for US Military Remains High, but  . . .
In the 21st century, America has lost its trust in institutions. A quick perusal of Gallup’s data shows that trust in every major national institution has been on the wane since 2000. Except, of course, for the military. As of this year, Gallup reports that 72 percent of Americans polled had a lot of confidence in America’s armed forces.   Read more . . .

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

VA Studies PTSD and “Brain Bank”
The brain-tissue biorepository (the VA National PTSD Brain Bank) supports research on the causes, progression, and treatment of PTSD. The bank is responsible for tissue acquisition and preparation, diagnostic assessment, and storage. It’s currently storing tissue from 168 brains, most of which are from people once diagnosed with PTSD. Many of the other donors had major depressive disorder. Other brains are from healthy controls. More than 40 of the brains are those of veterans, about 75 percent of whom had PTSD. Most of the veterans who donated brains to the bank served in the Gulf War.¬† Read more . . .

“Gut Microbe” May be an Indication of PTSD
Researchers have known for a while that¬†stress can play a major role in the gut microbiome, affecting bacteria growth and¬†eventually leading to¬†inflammation¬†and¬†mental-health issues like¬†depression and anxiety.¬†But a¬†new study¬†took things a step further, discovering a bacteria trio that might also function as a diagnostic tool for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ‚ÄúOur study compared the gut microbiomes of individuals with PTSD to that of people who also experienced significant trauma but did not develop PTSD,‚ÄĚ said lead researcher¬†Stefanie Malan-M√ľller, PhD, in a¬†press release. ‚ÄúWe identified a combination of three bacteria‚ÄĒActinobacteria, Lentisphaerae, and Verrucomicrobia‚ÄĒthat were different in people with PTSD.‚ÄĚ In the study, those¬†with PTSD had much lower levels of the¬†three bacteria varieties than those who experienced trauma but didn‚Äôt develop the disorder. Additionally, those who dealt with trauma in their younger years had low levels of two of the three types as well.¬† Read more . . .

GAO to Study VA Treatment and Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
The Government Accountability Office will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions. At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the government’s top watchdog agency agreed Sept. 27 to study how heavily VA relies upon powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients. Both Coffman and Kuster have received numerous complaints from veteran constituents, who contend that VA relies upon psychotropic medications far too often. Both lawmakers, and their colleagues on Capitol Hill as well, are concerned that use of the medications could be a contributing factor to the alarming rate of suicides among veterans. They cite the cases of two Colorado veterans who were prescribed the drugs by VA. One later committed suicide and the other was reported missing for several days.  Read more . . .


How Does Your VA Medical Facility Rank?
Many of the worst VA hospitals in the country last year remain among the worst this year, according to internal rankings released Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly a dozen of the medical centers who received one out of five stars in quality ratings this year received the same low score in 2016. They include three veterans‚Äô hospitals in Tennessee ‚ÄĒ in Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Memphis, where¬†threats to patient safety have skyrocketed¬†in recent years. Also among them is the Phoenix VA, where veterans died waiting for care touching off a national scandal in 2014.¬† Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops.

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Equine Assisted Therapy Study for Veterans with PTSD

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Last week, I attended a delightful get together at the NewYork-Presbyterian Military Family Wellness Center in New York City.  Directors JoAnn DiFide and Yuval Neria discussed promising new initiatives designed to help Veterans and their families cope with PTSD and TBI.

Dr. Neria is Professor of Medical Psychology at the Columbia University Medical Center and “Scientific Advisor” to Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”).¬† Found below is a photograph of Dr. Neria together with Eilhys England, the CEO and Chairperson of SFTT.

Yuval Neria and Eilhys England

Dr. Neria leads a PTSD and Trauma Research and Treatment Program at Columbia University designed to “improve the lives of individuals exposed to trauma through premier mental health services, innovative translational research and education and training of the next generation of lead physician-scientists.”

At Columbia’s research center, Dr. Neria is spearheading several projects “aimed to advance research on the neurobiological mechanisms of PTSD and the brain’s resilience to its effects.”¬† In particular, SFTT was deeply involved in helping to fund a program (fMRI study) that helps traumatized individuals develop the mechanisms to distinguish between safe and dangerous situations.

More recently, Dr. Neria has become interested in evaluating the benefits of equine-assisted therapy.¬† ¬† The Man O’War Project is the outgrowth of that initiative and was launched in partnership with The Earle I. Mack Foundation, Columbia University Medical Center, The New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Bergen County Equestrian Center.

The Man O’War Project is the first-ever clinical research study to determine the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy (“EAT”) and establish guidelines for the treatment of military veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).

The goal of the Man O’War Project is to “develop a manual for EAT-PTSD that can be delivered in a standardized fashion.”¬† In an initial test program 8 Veterans experienced a reduction in PTSD symptoms of between 26% and 74% over eight weeks in a non-riding group.

This year (2017), the Man O’War Project hopes to test 60 Veterans using a rigorous standardized clinical testing procedure and then to publish their findings in the hope of seeking grants for larger scale research projects and the dissemination of standardized training to other equine facilities that support Veterans.

With the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) “missing in action” to help Veterans with PTSD, it is reassuring to see our¬†prominent Universities and¬† Medical Centers taking a vital role in helping to develop new therapy programs for Veterans suffering from brain trauma.

If you would like to learn more about the Man O’War Project please CLICK HERE.¬† ¬† SFTT is honored that Dr. Yuval is an important member of our Medical Task Force.¬† To learn more about the promising therapy programs supported by SFTT, visit our Rescue Coalition.

 

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Oct 20, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

Why You May Not Know Anyone in the Military
Active-duty military now make up just¬†0.4 percent of the U.S. population, down from¬†1.8¬†percent in 1968 and 8.7 percent¬†in 1945. Military personnel also tend to come from certain parts of the country more than others. Here, from the¬†Defense Department’s most recent¬†annual report on population representation in the military services, are the¬†states with the most military recruits¬†in fiscal year 2015 as a percentage of the population aged 18¬†through 24.¬† ¬†Read more . . .

The US Military Presence in Africa
. . . the Niger operation typifies U.S. military missions underway in roughly 20 African countries, mostly in the northern third of the continent. They tend to be small, they are carried out largely below the radar, and most are focused on a specific aim: rolling back Islamist extremism. In almost all of the missions, the Americans are there to advise, assist and train African militaries ‚ÄĒ and not to take part in combat. Still, those supporting roles can often take U.S. forces into the field with their African partners, as was the case in Niger.¬† Read more . . .

Al-Omar Oilfield in Syria Captured from ISIS
U.S-allied fighters said they captured Syria’s largest oil field from the Islamic State group on Sunday, marking a major advance against the extremists and seizing an area coveted by pro-government forces. With IS in retreat across Syria and neighboring Iraq, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian government have been in a race to secure parts of the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province along the border. The SDF, with air support from the U.S.-led coalition, said Sunday it captured the Al-Omar field in a “swift and wide military operation.” It said some militants have taken cover in oil company houses nearby, where clashes are underway.¬† Read more . . .

David Shulkin

Will Dr. David Shulkin Resign as the Head of the VA?
A long-awaited overhaul of veterans’ health care is being unveiled to the world. At the helm throughout the two years of developing this roadmap has been David J. Shulkin. As the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is finally on the cusp of rolling out its master plan to ensure every veteran has access to timely, quality care, the VA secretary reportedly is interviewing for another job. As the Wall Street Journal revealed Friday, the White House brought Shulkin in last week to discuss having him take over the Department of Health and Human Services, a post left vacant by the abrupt resignation of Tom Price. (VA did not confirm or deny the Journal’s reporting.)  Read more . . .

Are Changes in the Wind for the VA’s CARE Program?
The VA¬†announced¬†that it has submitted the¬†Veterans Coordinated Access & Rewarding Experiences (CARE) Act to both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees. The bill would eliminate the current wait time and distance requirements under the Choice program, which limits participation to veterans who face¬†a 30-day wait for an appointment at a VA hospital or who live 40 miles or more from a VA facility.¬† Instead, veterans would be able to seek care outside of the VA if they face a wait that is longer than a “clinically acceptable period.”¬† The changes would create options for veterans to use walk-in clinics for non-emergency needs and would place veterans and their physicians “at the center” of decisions on where to receive care, according to the VA.¬† ¬†Read more . . .

Virtual Therapists for Evaluating PTSD?
WHEN US TROOPS¬†return home from a tour of duty, each person finds their own way to resume their daily lives. But they also, every one, complete a written survey called the Post-Deployment Health Assessment. It‚Äôs designed to evaluate service members‚Äô psychiatric health and ferret out symptoms of conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress, so common among veterans. But the survey, designed to give the military insight into the mental health of its personnel, can wind up distorting it. Thing is, the PDHA isn‚Äôt anonymous, and the results go on service members‚Äô records‚ÄĒwhich can deter them from opening up. Anonymous, paper-based surveys¬†could help, but you can‚Äôt establish a good rapport with a series of yes/no exam questions. Veterans need somebody who can help. Somebody who can carry their secrets confidentially, and without judgement. Somebody they can trust.¬† Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops.

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Opioids: Unanimous Bipartisan Incompetence in DC

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Just when one was beginning to wonder whether politicians could agree on anything comes the CBS/Washington Post story that shows that the Senate unanimously passed H.R. 471 – Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2015, which stripped the DEA of any enforcement capability and greatly fueled the opioid epidemic in our country.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia voices his outrage in an interview with MSNBC:

Sadly, the wake up moment for me occurs at about 4 minutes and 20 seconds into the video when Senator Manchin explains the “vetting” process used by Congressmen and Senators to approve legislation.

Basically, the take away from Senator Manchin’s interview (and several others he gave) are the following:

  • U.S. Legislation is written by lobbyists;
  • Politicians don’t read the legislation that is enacted into law unless one of their constituents or a government agency raises a “red flag;”
  • Complex laws are enacted by Congress and the Senate without anyone really understanding the consequences of the proposed legislation;
  • Government enforcement agencies are simply a training ground for future lobbyists who march to a different drummer.

Mind you, I doubt whether anyone (other than a paid lobbyist) has the tenacity to sit through 33,000 pages of regulations covered by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

Without getting into the merits of which party has the moral high ground, I think it is fair conclude that our system of government is out of control.

Honesty, how can Congress unanimously pass flawed legislation which directly contributed to the deaths of over 60,000 Americans last year?

Stand for the Troops has long argued that the employment merry-go-round between government and lobbyists destroys the very foundations of our democracy.¬† ¬†Wasn’t it President Eisenhower who warned against the evil of the military industrial complex?

Nowhere is criminal collusion any more evident than the dreadful story which documents The Drug Industry’s Triumph Over the DEA.

Over the years, SFTT has highlighted this lethal yet symbiotic relationship between government officials and lobbyists in the following areas:

  • military body armor;
  • military helmets;
  • psychotic drug testing;
  • agent orange coverup;
  • the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (almost everywhere you turn);
  • opioids and PTSD/TBI programs by the VA

I could list another dozen or so conflictive programs, but the fact remains that no one is likely to be held accountable for his or her actions. Furthermore, our government will merrily provide the culprits that fueled the opioid crisis – or stood on the sidelines watching it evolve – with additional money to “fix the problem.”

This closed loop of collective incompetence and culpable negligence is a self-sustaining blight on the lives of so many brave men and women who have served our country so valiantly.   I would like to tell you that the public is fed up, but who do you turn to?

Most sad!

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The VA and Opioids: Finger-pointing Begins

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SFTT has been reporting for a number of years the abuse at the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) for prescribing addictive prescription drugs to Veterans¬†suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Despite repeated messaging by VA officials that it applies “science-based evidence” to prescribe treatment for Veterans, it would appear that the VA has been sadly duped into believing that painkilling opioids is a “science-based” solution to treat Veterans with PTSD.

The Washington Post reports tonight (Oct 15, 2017), that 60 Minutes will provide an expose on how the drug industry triumphed over the DEA.¬† ¬†While I have no idea how CBS will spin the narrative,¬† it has been evident for many years that the pharmaceutical industry “owned” Congress and government authorities who “regulated” their business practices.

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

The fact that we have an opioid epidemic in the United States should be of no surprise to anyone who has watched this tragedy unfold.    What is a surprise, is that the same groups who enabled this tragedy are now sounding the alarm bells to curb the excesses they themselves created.

In an earlier blog, SFTT cited a few organizations that should have the decency to admit that their “science-based evidence” completely underestimated the effect that easy prescription practices would contribute to addiction.

I do not doubt that corporate greed has played a large role in this terrible prescription drug epidemic, but let’s not forget their important enablers:

More to the point, politicians of both parties deserve a large measure of culpability in providing pharmaceutical companies with the breathing space and easy access to peddle their lethal drugs to the medical profession and naive end users.

How the VA Fueled the Opioid Crisis

Just this last week, Newsweek describes in detail how the VA fueled the opioid crisis by prescribing potent prescription drugs to Veterans suffering from the effects of PTSD and TBI.

In 2011, veterans were twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdoses as non-veterans. One reason, as an exhaustive¬†Newsweek¬†investigation‚ÄĒbased on this reporter’s book,¬†Mental Health, Inc.‚ÄĒfound, is that for over a decade, the VA¬†recklessly overprescribed¬†opiates and psychiatric medications. Since mid-2012, though, it has swung dangerously in the other direction, ordering a¬†drastic cutback of opioids¬†for chronic pain patients, but it is bungling that program and again¬†putting veterans at risk. (It has also left untouched one of the riskiest classes of medications, antipsychotics‚ÄĒprescribed overwhelmingly for uses that aren‚Äôt approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as with post-traumatic stress disorder.)

The Newsweek article, written by Art Levine, goes into great detail how the VA let our Veterans down by prescribing prescription drugs to Veterans with PTSD with little – if any – required approvals from the FDA.

Like most other pseudo-science arguments spun by VA spokespeople, our brave Veterans did not receive proper therapy for PTSD and TBI but rather were served a concoction of addictive drugs that simply mask the symptoms rather treat the problem.

The VA then felt the need to discredit any other therapy programs for Veterans that might conflict with the limited “approved” VA treatment options.

While there does seem to be a strong effort to curb the use of prescription pain drugs, Art Levine points out that this has forced addicted Veterans to seek other alternatives:

Equally troubling, the¬†crackdown¬†on opiate prescribing‚ÄĒa swing from one dangerous extreme to another‚ÄĒmay be contributing¬†to an increase in heroin and illegal opiate medication use among veterans, as well as suicides from pain-wracked veterans going through¬†poorly monitored withdrawal. (Even with new opioid guidelines, the number of veterans with opioid-use disorders increased 55 percent from 2010 to 2015.)

While recognizing the heart-wrenching impact of this epidemic is certainly an important first step, it seems ludicrous to suggest that the same cast of characters who created the problem should be the ones empowered to solve it.

Veterans, Veteran organizations and our political leaders have known for years that the VA is broken.   How many more needless Veteran deaths and suicides do we need to confirm the undeniable fact Veterans are not receiving proper care and treatment at VA facilities?

While 60 Minutes will no doubt cast a dark shadow on the pharmaceutical industry, shouldn’t their partners in crime stand up and admit their undeniable culpability?

Our Veterans deserve far better than the shady dealings between unethical drug companies and their no less reprehensible political benefactors.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Oct 13, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

North Korea Steal Military Documents from South Korea
A South Korean lawmaker says North Korea computer hackers stole hundreds of secret military documents from South Korea. The documents are said to include plans for destroying the North Korean leadership if a war takes place. The South Korean official, Lee Cheol-Hee, is a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the National Defense Committee. He said on Tuesday that defense officials talked about the stolen documents. Officials believe North Korean hackers were able to see classified military documents stored at a South Korean defense data center. The attackers reportedly gained control of the documents in September 2016.  Read more . . .

Vast Majority of Americans in their 20s Unfit for Military Service
The military is facing a growing recruiting crisis: 71% of Americans between 17 and 24 can‚Äôt meet the minimum criteria for service, which places the burden of service on an ever-small and shrinking pool of troops with a family history of joining the military. At an Oct. 12 Heritage Foundation panel in Washington, D.C., Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican and former Air Force one-star general¬†told¬†attendees ‚Äúthe single most important ingredient to readiness is the constant flow of willing volunteers.‚Ä̬† Read more . . .

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

How the VA Contributed to the Prescription Drugs Epidemic
. . . the Department of Veterans Affairs has played a little-discussed role in fueling the opioid epidemic that is killing civilians and veterans alike. In 2011, veterans were twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdoses as non-veterans. One reason, as an exhaustive¬†Newsweek¬†investigation‚ÄĒbased on this reporter’s book,¬†Mental Health, Inc.‚ÄĒfound, is that for over a decade, the VA¬†recklessly overprescribed¬†opiates and psychiatric medications. Since mid-2012, though, it has swung dangerously in the other direction, ordering a¬†drastic cutback of opioids¬†for chronic pain patients, but it is bungling that program and again¬†putting veterans at risk. (It has also left untouched one of the riskiest classes of medications, antipsychotics‚ÄĒprescribed overwhelmingly for uses that aren‚Äôt approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as with post-traumatic stress disorder.)¬† Read more . . .

Treating PTSD with Artificial Intelligence (AI)
There is a real appeal to shouting into the void: the ubiquity of Google search as confessional, the popularity of PostSecret, the draw of confiding in a trusted friend with the hope verging on understanding that our secrets won’t be shared all point to this. A group of researchers from the University of Southern California, with funding from the DARPA wing of the Department of Defense, believe that desire might drive a preference among veterans with PTSD to anonymously discuss their symptoms with a computerized avatar.  Read more . . .

service dogs for Veterans

Veterans Advocate for Congressional Action on Service Dogs
Veterans’ advocates are urging Congress to make the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) support organizations that provide service dogs to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. The Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans held a press conference Tuesday with members of Congress to advocate for the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act (PAWS Act), which would provide $25,000 grants for eligible organizations to train and pair service dogs with a veteran. The bill would also prompt the VA to launch a pilot program looking at the links between service dogs and mental health.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider donating to Stand For The Troops.

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