Veterans with PTSD: Community Support and Treatment Alternatives

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Many military Veterans have long given up home that the VA really care that they suffer from PTSD and can’t get the help they need and, more importantly, deserve!   SFTT has chronicled many stories of Veterans who either can’t get timely treatment or are provided a cocktail of potent drugs to deal with the symptoms that than treat the problem.

While there are many fine physicians and care-givers within the VA, it seems that the size of the organization and its inherent bureaucracy seems to get in the way of providing the support our Veterans need to reclaim their lives.  In the absence of this support, many local institutions and individuals are filling the vacuum to help Veterans deal with these problems within the confines of their local community.  While this may not be the “best” solution, it appears to be considerably better than the level of interest shown directly by the VA.   Found below are just a few of these initiatives:

Local nonprofit helps PTSD sufferers

Bilde25Four Letter Word is a nonprofit with local connections that provides assistance to PTSD sufferers who are members of the military special operations community or are veterans.

Lowell Koppert, an Aiken resident, is on Four Letter Word’s board. He also is a Green Beret and a recipient of multiple Bronze Stars. Four Letter Word provides support in the form of gear, training and travel at no cost to PTSD sufferers who get involved in endurance events as marathons and triathlons.

Four Letter Word’s founders believe intense physical activity can minimize the use of medications to cope with PTSD and prevent substance abuse and/or violence.

Based in the south, this is just one of many grassroots organization that has reached out to touch the lives or our brave Veterans.  Getting the message out to others is a way to help these organizations raise money for Vets

via Four Letter Word, local nonprofit, helps PTSD sufferers

Two New PTSD Treatments Offer Hope for Veterans

A couple of years ago, “60 Minutes broadcast a story about two new therapies being used to treat veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The treatments are called “Prolonged Exposure Therapy” (PE) and “Cognitive Processing Therapy” (CPT). The new treatments were originally designed for attack and abuse victims.”

Found below is a summarized description of these therapies:

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

“Dr. Kevin Reeder is the man behind the VA program. He explains that the idea is to relive the story of the attack at least five times in a single session, and then listen to your voice on tape re-telling the story. The belief is that hearing the traumatic memory repeatedly will neutralize its power from bubbling up from your subconscious memory and catching you off guard.

“Reeder said that Prolonged Exposure Therapy is designed to help people see “the impact and the meaning that these stories have on their lives.” He also said that these therapies were originally developed for abuse victims, and the symptoms are often similar for post-war PTSD.

“If you have PTSD, with the help of your therapist, you can change how you react to things that trigger traumatic memories. In PE, you work with your therapist to relive the trauma-related situations and verbalize the memories in a safe place and at a comfortable pace.

“Usually, you start with things that are less distressing and move towards things that are more distressing. A round of PE therapy most often involves meeting alone with a therapist for about 8 to 15 sessions. Most therapy sessions last 90 minutes.

“With time and practice, you will be able to see that you can master stressful situations. The goal is that you can learn to consciously control the ‘explicit’ memories and learn how to harness the ‘implicit’ memories when they surface from your subconscious mind. If you have PTSD, Prolonged Exposure Therapy can help you get your life back after you have been through a trauma.”

Cognitive Processing Therapy

“The VA is offering a second experimental therapy called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). Dr. Reeder said that repeated trauma can leave veterans feeling like the world at large is a dangerous place. This therapy method begins with writing an impact statement, which is shared with the group in which veterans talk about “how their lives are still held in the grip of war.”

According to the VA, there are four components to CPT:

  1. Learning About Your PTSD Symptoms. CPT begins with education about your specific PTSD symptoms and how the treatment can help. The therapy plan will be reviewed and the reasons for each part of the therapy will be explained. You will be able to ask questions and to know exactly what you are going to be doing in this therapy. You will also learn why these skills may help.
  2. Becoming Aware of Thoughts and Feelings. Next, CPT focuses on helping you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. When bad things happen, we want to make sense of why they happened. An example would be a Veteran who thinks to himself or herself, “I should have known that this would happen.” Sometimes we get stuck on these thoughts. In CPT you will learn how to pay attention to your thoughts about the trauma and how they make you feel. You’ll then be asked to step back and think about how your trauma is affecting you now. This will help you think about your trauma in a different way than you did before. It can be done either by writing or by talking to your therapist about it.
  3. Learning Skills. After you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, you will learn skills to help you question or challenge your thoughts. You will do this with the help of worksheets. You will be able to use these skills to decide the way you want to think and feel about your trauma. These skills can also help you deal with other problems in your day-to-day life.
  4. Understanding Changes in Beliefs. Finally, you will learn about the common changes in beliefs that occur after going through trauma. Many people have problems understanding how to live in the world after trauma. Your beliefs about safety, trust, control, self-esteem, other people, and relationships can change after trauma. In CPT you will get to talk about your beliefs in these different areas. You will learn to find a better balance between the beliefs you had before and after your trauma.

via Two New PTSD Treatments Offer Hope for Veterans

Clearly, these alternative treatment methodologies are proving to be quite helpful for many Veterans, but does the VA have the capabilities to properly diagnose all Veterans and determine that CPT and PET are viable treatment alternatives.

 

 

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Veteran Suicides: Will it Never End?

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In yet another disturbing article by the New York Times, entitled “In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans try to Save One Another,” author Dave Phillips chronicles the benign neglect of the VA in helping our brave Veterans to cope with the aftermath of war. With no disrespect to Mr. Phillips, a similar article could be written every week detailing the chronic neglect of the VA for warriors at risk of suicide.

While I suppose that there will be much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” over the New York Times article, but will any meaningful change come for the 300,000 to 400,000 Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. Based on the evidence, sadly one must conclude that no meaningful reform will occur within the VA.

The experience of one Veteran in dealing the VA is not uncommon from the countless other stories SFTT has heard from other Veterans,

After the eighth suicide in the battalion, in 2013, Mr. Bojorquez decided he needed professional help and made an appointment at the veterans hospital in Phoenix.

He sat down with a therapist, a young woman. After listening for a few minutes, she told him that she knew he was hurting, but that he would just have to get over the deaths of his friends. He should treat it, he recalled her saying, “like a bad breakup with a girl.”

The comment caught him like a hook. Guys he knew had been blown to pieces and burned to death. One came home with shrapnel in his face from a friend’s skull. Now they were killing themselves at an alarming rate. And the therapist wanted him to get over it like a breakup?

Mr. Bojorquez shot out of his seat and began yelling. “What are you talking about?” he said. “This isn’t something you just get over.”

He had tried getting help at the V.A. once before, right after Mr. Markel’s funeral, and had walked out when he realized the counselor had not read his file. Now he was angry that he had returned. With each visit, it appeared to him that the professionals trained to make sense of what he was feeling understood it less than he did.

He threw a chair across the room and stomped out, vowing again never to go back to the V.A.

Indeed, the article goes on to point out the following:

  • – Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.
  •  – A 2014 study of 204,000 veterans, in The Journal of the American Psychiatric Association, found nearly two-thirds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans stopped Veterans Affairs therapy for PTSD within a year, before completing the treatment. A smaller study from the same year found about 90 percent dropped out of therapy.
  • – Mr. Gerard’s experience shows, however, that the system is only as good as the V.A. treatment it is intended to connect to. The night he went to the psychiatric ward at the Indianapolis veterans hospital, he said, he waited and waited for a doctor to see him. After 24 hours, he gave up and checked himself out.
  • – After surviving an ambush in Afghanistan where several Marines were injured, Mr. Gerard said, he was treated for PTSD by the Marine Corps. But when his enlistment ended in 2011, so did his therapy. He tried to continue at the V.A., but long delays meant it was two years before he got any treatment, and even then, he said, he found it ineffective.

Earlier this month, SFTT reported the heart-wrenching personal story of Maj. Ben Richards and What I should have said about Veterans with PTSD and TBI.    His story is not dissimilar to the experiences encountered by the Marine Veterans at the VA and recounted in the New York Times article.  How much more will the American public continue to endure the systematic abuse by the VA and the inability of Veterans to seek alternative treatment outside the VA:

While the New York Times, SFTT and other organizations can continue to highlight the chronic problems in the care given to Veterans, we sadly cannot influence results in a positive direction given the stranglehold that the VA has on the care of Veterans.  We can only encourage the VA to “think outside the box” and allow Veterans the option of seeking alternative forms of treatment not currently prescribed by the VA.

 

 

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Saying Goodbye to a Brave Soldier: First Sgt. Andrew McKenna

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Recently, while visiting friends in Bristol, Rhode Island and “discovered” a town covered in American Flags to say goodbye First Sgt. Andrew McKenna, a 17-year Army Ranger, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan after 6 tours in the Afghanistan and Iraq.

While we continue to mourn the loss of these brave heroes, the citizens of Bristol poured out to extend their gratitude to Sgt. McKenna and many veterans showed up to attend the funeral that had traffic tied-up for several hours. Found below are a couple of photographs that exemplify this heartfelt tribute to a brave young warrior:

Sgt. McKenna Bristol, RI

Sgt McKenna - Flag Tribute

While the war in Afghanistan continues to grind on, the citizens of Bristol – and Americans everywhere – realize the tremendous sacrifice our young men and women in uniform make each day to defend our freedoms. Thank you Sgt. McKenna. Our thoughts are with your family and the many friends you leave behind.

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Why Not Hyperbaric Oxygen for Veterans with PTSD?

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SFTT consults with hundreds of Veterans with PTSD each year and many – if not most – are frustrated at the quality of treatment they receive from the VA.  While most Veterans will acknowledge that VA staff members have their heart in the “right place,” the bureaucratic landscape facing Veterans suffering from PTSD are formidable.  Why has it been so difficult to get Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment to Veterans suffering from PTSD?

SFTT reported earlier in the week of a new grant by DARPA to embed sensors in the brains of Veterans to track brain waves to aid in the treatment of PTSD and TBI.  While it is still unclear whether Veterans will volunteer for this new DARPA initiative, there are plenty of active programs in the private sector which have demonstrated considerable success in treating Veterans with PTSD.  One of the most successful programs has been the Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (“HBOT”) promoted by Dr. Paul Harch.  This program has been featured often by SFTT, but remains unappreciated by the folks at the VA.

In a scathing article by Xavier A. Figueroa, Ph.D. published by the Brain Health and Healing Foundation, the author calls to task both the press and malingerers at the VA who sit on the sideline and continue to discredit the benefits of HBOT. Found below are some of his comments and questions which have all of us at SFTT scratching our heads in wonder at the astonishing behavior of the VA:

If the VA and DoD are willing to try anything, why not HBOT?  Why the hesitation?  That is the real question that is lost amid this debate, but seldom asked. Hopefully, now that a few brave souls in the mainstream news outlets have entered the field of HBOT, other journalists might be tempted to ask some of these questions.  I’m not holding my breath on it. If two solid science/medical journalists couldn’t see through the knot, it bodes very poorly for any therapy that cannot push through the noise of life.

The field of hyperbaric medicine has always been viewed with suspicion by outside practitioners. It has been called a “therapy in search of a disease” and ignored or ridiculed. Something relatively simple as breathing a gas just doesn’t seem like a real treatment for such a complex organ as the brain. Yet, the successes continue to pile up and rigorous science continues to show us promising venues for application with this therapy. There is something going on that will not go away with HBOT.

Kudos to Barry Meier and Danielle Ivory for reporting on the controversy surrounding HBOT, but the real controversy remains to be reported. Why does the VA and the DoD support unproven drug therapies for PTSD and TBI?  If the VA and DoD allow unproven drugs or therapies to be used, why is HBOT singled out for exclusion?  If HBOT is so ineffective, why are so many people demanding access?  Simply ask Retired Army Brigadier General Pat Maney:

 


Now, I don’t have the answers, but when 22 Veterans are committing suicide on average each day you would expect the VA to take more than a second-look at this treatment which offers such promise for Veterans trying to reclaim their lives.  Isn’t it time to DEMAND that our VETERANS receive the TREATMENT they deserve.  If so, why not HBOT?

 

 

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Veterans to Receive Brain Implants to Treat PTSD?

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16wire_electrode_array

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In yet another startling revelation, “the Pentagon is planning to implant veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with small electronic sensors that will map their brains. The project will proceed with the help of a $30-million grant provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”

According to a statement released by Massachusetts General Hospital — the creator of the chip — the “deep brain stimulation (DBS) device … will monitor signals across multiple brain structures in real time.”

“Our goal is to take DBS to the next level and create an implantable device to treat disorders like PTSD and TBI. Together with our partners we’re committed to developing this technology, which we hope will be a bold new step toward treating those suffering from these debilitating disorders,” said Dr. Emad Eskandar, director of functional neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and the project’s principal investigator.

Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research group with experience in the development of “miniaturized smart medical devices,” will partner with Massachusetts General and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in creating the brain implant.  Source:  The New American.

One would hope that DARPA knows what it is doing in partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital and Draper Laboratory to treat PTSD and TBI, but you seldom hear the outcomes of studies conducted by independent contractors.

For instance, where is the data collected by the Department of Defense on at least two studies dating back 7 years on sensors embedded in military-issued helmets?   Did the DoD discover that our military helmets didn’t provide our military personnel the protection they deserved?  While I am not a great believer in conspiracy theories, I find it surprising that sensor data collected for at least 7 years has not been made public.   Is there something the military doesn’t want Veterans and active duty personnel to know?

The American Psychological Association (“APA”) has rightfully concluded “that psychologists should no longer aid the military at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere – in effect reversing more than a decade of institutional insistence that such participation was responsible and ethical.”  This statement by a former President of the APA was printed by The Guardian and is the fallout of a damning report suggesting that the APA endorsed 9/11 prisoner torture policies that even the CIA rejected.

Outside contractors continue to profit through generous grants provided by the DoD and other government resources.  While SFTT applauds the use of scientific research to study PTSD, it would be useful to know whether Veterans will volunteer to be part of this Massachusetts General Hospital study.  Furthermore, how will the results of these studies be communicated with the general public.

After waiting 7 years to see the results of sensor studies on military helmets, the general public is still waiting for information.

 

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Veteran Suicide Hotline Gets Scrapped

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In yet another example of “sending the wrong message,” the Pentagon is curtailing funding for Vets4Warriors which operates a highly regarded Veteran suicide hotline. According to a New York Times article published yesterday, Keita Franklin, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, announced that suicide counseling previously offered by Vets4Warriors will now be taken over by another help line, Military OneSource, “which has more services available.” Ms. Franklin goes on to say that:

“It will still be peer to peer, 24 hours a day, but with more services we can connect callers with,” Ms. Franklin said of Military OneSource (1-800-342-9647), which will take over calls from active-duty troops next month. “Imagine a call center where if you need family support or financial support services, we have that all right there.”

Now, I am not an expert in suicide prevention, but I suspect that dismantling a reasonably successful suicide hotline for Veterans in exchange for what appears to be a supermarket of Veteran services is not going to reduce suicide rates.  Mind you, the VA has not proven to be particularly effective at providing meaningful treatment for Veterans suffering PTSD and other ailments.

While I am hopeful that Ms. Franklin will be proven right in the long-run, past history suggests that “Big Brother’s” approach to providing meaningful treatment alternatives to Veterans suffering from PTSD has not proven to be very successful.  More importantly, big bureaucracies operating under such grandiose names as Military OneSource are generally not very nimble at adjusting their programs to the needs of individual veterans or endorsing new treatment alternatives.   In fact, Military OneSource sounds more like a supermarket than a place where a high-risk Veteran would seek out companionship of a fellow Veteran to work through a particular problem.

Veteran Suicide Rate Still Stands at 22 a Day

In is hard to image that Veteran suicide rates still remain at 22 a day, which is exactly the same number when the US Army released its Suicide Prevention Report some 5 years ago.

Will the consolidation of suicide prevention hot line services under Military OneSource stem the tide? I think not. In fact, most Veterans are vitally concerned about the privacy of their conversations and to convince them to share their problems and concerns with “Big Brother” is probably the last thing they would want to do.  I am stunned that this “privacy” consideration did not deter the bureaucracy from taken a second-look at what appears to be a rush decision to bring third-party services under Big Brother’s umbrella.

While budgetary concerns are most certainly important, SFTT is not convinced that this consolidation effort seems thought out well, particularly where it concerns getting Veterans at “high risk” the treatment they both deserve and need.

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Veterans turn to Yoga for PTSD

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Many veterans are turning to Yoga to deal with severe depression and the symptoms of PTSD rather rely on highly potent prescribed medication.   The recent report by the GAO confirms that the VA has dropped the ball in helping vets get the support they need in dealing with the crippling effects of PTSD.   In fact, Yoga is buy just one form of alternative therapy that Veterans are finding beneficial as they seek to regain control of their lives.

In fact, the video below highlights one such program which offers a 100 hour certification course from Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans.

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans

Yoga has long been associated with “wellness” and it is encouraging to find so many programs popping up throughout the United States that Veterans find useful in dealing with stress.  Certainly, the rigor of Yoga requires a level of self-discipline and commitment that builds a more resilient body and attitude to deal with everyday stress.  Found below is a brief excerpt of the certification program for Mindful Yoga Therapy:

Yoga practices are a powerful complement to professional treatment for Post Traumatic Stress. A mindful, embodied yoga practice can provide relief from symptoms and develop the supportive skills that Veterans need in their lives. This in-depth certification prepares teachers to share Mindful Yoga Therapy with veterans in either a community or a clinical setting — and if you’re a certified yoga teacher, we invite you to help support the healing journey of Veterans in your area.

The Mindful Yoga Therapy’s 100-Hour Certification program consists of five modules presented over five weekends, covering both the Beginning Mindful Yoga Therapy Program and a new Resilience Program. 
The 12-week Resilience Program is the follow-up to the Beginning Mindful Yoga Therapy Program. Both programs include a 12-week protocol that incorporates Embodyoga® supports and all five “tools” from the Mindful Yoga Therapy “toolbox.”

Found below is the story of one veteran, Army Lt. Col. John Thurman who lost 26 co-workers during 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.  He suffered from severe smoke inhalation while trapped in the building under the debris.   “In the months after the attacks, Thurman found he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thurman’s PTSD meant he wasn’t sleeping for months after the attack, even with the prescription drugs he was taking. And his pulmonary function hadn’t returned to full capacity.”

But when Thurman started doing yoga, it “made all the difference in the world in my ability to deal with the stress and my injury from that day.” He fell so in love with his time on the mat — with yoga’s traditional asanas, or poses, and deep breathing — that in 2013 he attended teacher training. He left his job at the Pentagon and is now teaching yoga full-time, including at the  Pentagon Athletic Center, where his classes are packed.

Starting Friday night and running through Sunday, Thurman and 17 yoga teachers from five states will be gathering at Yoga Heights in the Park View neighborhood of the District for yoga for PTSD and trauma training. The studio will host workshops specifically designed to heal and help veterans suffering from both the emotional and physical wounds of war.  Credits: Warrior Pose — One way to help veterans with PTSD? Lots of yoga. – Washington Post (blog)

Research Studies Seem to Support Yoga Therapy

Indeed, so intense has been the demand by Veterans seeking alternative treatment therapies to prescription drugs that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Defense are funding research studies to determine the efficacy of Yoga in treating PTSD.  Found below are some of their findings:

Researchers have demonstrated that trauma-sensitive yoga, which focuses on stretching, breathing techniques and meditation, can help patients regain their inner balance, calming that part of the brain that has become hyper-aroused under severe stress.

Trauma or prolonged stress can cause a malfunction of the parasympathetic nervous system, researchers say. That’s the part of the brain which enables the body to relax, easing pain and even helping unblock digestive systems — often a problem for wounded troops who get high doses of medication and not enough exercise.

In war zones, researchers have found, this parasympathetic nervous system often becomes “frozen” as the body gears up for danger by injecting adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing rapid breathing and pulse and hyper-vigilance — the “fight or flight” response.

That’s good and necessary self-preservation in times of peril that helps keep troops alert and alive. Back home, however, that hyper-vigilance is out of place and can cause insomnia, anxiety and outbursts of anger. Returning warriors with PTSD become dependent on drugs or alcohol “because they have no other way to calm themselves down,” said Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a clinician and researcher who has studied PTSD since the 1970s.

Drawing from traditional yoga, trauma-sensitive yoga teaches patients to firmly plant their feet and activate their leg muscles in poses that drain energy and tension from the neck and shoulders, where they naturally gather, causing headaches and neck pain. “The goal here is to move tension away from where it builds up when you are stressed, and focus it on the ground so you feel more balanced and connected,” Carnes said.

One of her patients was struggling with outbursts of violent anger, a common effect of PTSD, and had gotten into raging arguments with his wife. Several weeks into regular yoga classes, he went home one day “and his wife lit into him and he could feel a confrontation coming on,” Carnes said. “He told me that he’d taken a deep breath and told his wife he was going upstairs to meditate. And that was the first time he’d been able to do that.”

Practices like iRest and other forms of yoga are so clearly effective that now they are taught and used at dozens of military bases and medical centers — even at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va., home of the Navy SEALs, the branch of commandos who killed Osama bin Laden.

“I knew anecdotally that yoga helped — and now we have clinical proof of its impact on the brain, and on the heart,” said retired Rear Adm. Tom Steffens, a decorated Navy SEAL commander and yoga convert. Within the military services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said, “I see it growing all the time.”

Steffens, an energetic man with a booming voice, first tried yoga to deal with his torn bicep, an injury that surgery and medication hadn’t helped. He quickly became a convert, practicing yoga daily. Visiting with wounded SEALs a decade ago, he noticed that “the type of rehab they were doing was wonderful, but there was no inward focus on themselves — it was all about power as opposed to stretching and breathing.”

The military’s embrace of yoga shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, yoga — a Sanskrit word meaning to “join” or “unite” — dates back to 3,000 B.C., and its basic techniques were used in the 12th century when Samurai warriors prepared for battle with Zen meditation. Credits: Military Battle PTSD With Yoga – Huffington Post

Stand For the Troops is committed to providing our brave warriors with the best treatment available as the seek to reclaim their lives from the debilitating effects of PTSD.  Certainly, funding for Yoga therapy is a welcome relief to many of our Veterans.

 

 

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Making Stress Your Friend: How to Cope with Severe Depression

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Severe depression is no laughing matter, particularly if you are a Veteran who is back in the United States after one or more deployments to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Sadly, many Veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress and, according to multiple sources and the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) are ill-served by the Veteran’s Administration.

The most recent GAO report on the VA found that “86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks.”   In other words, if a Vet has received anti-depressant medication, there is little follow-up by the VA to monitor results and determine if there has been any noticeable improvement or, perhaps, an adverse reaction to prescribed medications.

Many independent studies, including the VA itself, have concluded that over-medication in treating PTSD can be particularly hazardous an possibly fatal for Veterans seeking relief from the demons of PTSD.  If this is the case, shouldn’t other avenues that offer “true” therapeutical solutions be pursued rather than the failed policies of over-medication currently pursued by the VA?   Sure, many of these alternative treatment methodologies may lack adequate clinical trials, but more lethal medication cocktails certainly don’t seem to be the right answer, particularly after the damning GAO report suggesting that there is little to no follow-up.  It seems to me that the only party benefitting from this sad state of affairs are the pharmaceutical companies and their band of merry lobbyists.

Resources for Vets with PTSD and Severe Depression

My wife recommended that I read a book by Tami Hoag called Cold Cold Heart.  The story deals with the aftermath of the rape and brutal torture of a young woman by a serial killer.  While the story is not my particular cup of tea, Ms. Hoag’s research into PTSD is quite remarkable and, in my opinion, captures the complexities of dealing with daily problem than affects so many Veterans.  Found below is the despair of one young male Veteran in the book who had been fired from a job by a most unsympathetic boss:

He wanted it to change.  He wanted to make it change.  He wanted to be the world with an angry fist and smash it into a million pieces.  But in reality he couldn’t do anything about it.  He was helpless and worthless and a burden on society.  He had no strength.  He had no power.  He had all he could do to get from day to day without fucking something up, without wanting to kill himself or someone else.

Each Veteran suffering from PTSD and/or depression has his or her own personal demons, but facing the day-to-day grind with hope and resilience is as heroic as anything these brave young men and women have done in battle.

Listed below in no particular order is a list of online resources Ms. Hoag found helpful in conducting her research to write the book:

For those seeking help from community based organizations for Veterans near you, consult SFTT Resource Center Guide.

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Predictive Modeling to Prevent Veteran Suicides

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A study entitled “Predictive Modeling and Concentration of the Risk of Suicide: Implications for Preventive Interventions in the US Department of Veterans Affairs,” has recently been published online by the American Journal of Public Health.  In the extract cited below, the VA claims that predictive modeling can help identify Veterans with a high risk to commit suicide and, therefore, provide enhanced intervention to prevent Veteran Suicides:

 Objectives. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) evaluated the use of predictive modeling to identify patients at risk for suicide and to supplement ongoing care with risk-stratified interventions.

Methods. Suicide data came from the National Death Index. Predictors were measures from VHA clinical records incorporating patient-months from October 1, 2008, to September 30, 2011, for all suicide decedents and 1% of living patients, divided randomly into development and validation samples. We used data on all patients alive on September 30, 2010, to evaluate predictions of suicide risk over 1 year.

Results. Modeling demonstrated that suicide rates were 82 and 60 times greater than the rate in the overall sample in the highest 0.01% stratum for calculated risk for the development and validation samples, respectively; 39 and 30 times greater in the highest 0.10%; 14 and 12 times greater in the highest 1.00%; and 6.3 and 5.7 times greater in the highest 5.00%.

Conclusions. Predictive modeling can identify high-risk patients who were not identified on clinical grounds. VHA is developing modeling to enhance clinical care and to guide the delivery of preventive interventions. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print June 11, 2015: e1–e8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302737)
Read More: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302737

Assuming the findings our correct, this is a great tool in helping to provide targeted preventative treatment to those Veterans.

Veteran Suicides Still at Crisis Levels

While many public and private studies have provided hope that Veterans can reclaim control of their lives, veteran suicides continue to remain at near crisis levels.  Since the historic 2010 US Army study on veteran suicides and suicide prevention, most evidence continues to suggest that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrat of Connecticut) is quoted as saying “When you have 8,000 veterans a year committing suicide, then you have a serious problem.”

Many other government leaders on both sides of the aisle echo similar views, but there has been little meaningful improvement in veteran suicide rates over the past five years.

While we are hopeful that the diagnostic modeling with bring targeted relief to long-suffering Veterans, past experience would suggest that VA is slow to implement change and many Veterans will not receive the help they require.

It has become very fashionable to blame the VA for all problems – real or imagined – but clearly more must be done to address this alarming problem.

 

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Veteran Unemployment and PTSD

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Veteran unemployment continues to be a major problem in assimilating brave veterans back into society after their return from active duty in a hostile environment.  While there is an unemployment compensation program administered by the government for ex-service members called UCX, most veterans would prefer to have a job.

While the vast disparity in veteran unemployment compared to civilian unemployment levels that existed in the past has narrowed, a recent government study argues that returning Veterans are likely to face some period of unemployment.   “For veterans, unemployment is the biggest predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity, says a new study. The PTSD symptoms may be combat-PTSD-related or sexual-trauma-related, but either way, veteran unemployment predicts the severity of PTSD symptoms more than even indicators like depression.”

Veteran Unemployment and PTSD Symptom Severity

Aside from the stability that a job provides, some studies suggest that employment may also help Veterans cope with PTSD.  From my perspective, it is a bit of a “chicken-and-the-egg” situation as many potential employers may be unwilling to risk hiring a Veteran with symptoms of PTSD.  In fact, many of these Veterans may have resorted to drugs and/or alcohol to help them deal with PTSD.  This may make it next to impossible to receive employment offers given mandatory drug testing.   Nevertheless, for those employers willing to take the risk, a steady job can help mitigate the devastating impact of PTSD.

The researchers who did the study are not claiming causality in any way, there is simply a correlation between veteran unemployment and PTSD symptom severity. That said, it is reasonable to think that meaningful employment for veterans, particularly those with combat PTSD, may help returning veterans psychologically. While we don’t know that for a fact, what we do know is that veterans are a valuable addition to the civilian workforce and their work to defeat poaching in Africa is just one example of that value.  Unemployed Veterans Suffer More Severe PTSD Symptoms | Understanding Combat PTSD – HealthyPlace

Deeper Than Scars of War: Healing PTSD with Old Ways

Found below is a fascinating article which describes how one Veteran got back to his “Choctaw family roots,” to help deal with the symptoms of PTSD and simultaneously help preserve the great traditions of this Indian tribe.  Let me introduce, James Tom:

The scars of war run deep for Oak Park Heights, Minnesota resident James Tom, the type of scars that can’t be seen at first glance. Where the battlefield could have taken his limbs or his life, it instead gave Tom the debilitating affects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression that eventually took his self-identity. When the United States Army and the Veteran’s Administration gave Tom the status of full disability benefits, living with the illness could have “driven me stir-crazy,” Tom said. Instead, Tom found the only thing that runs deeper than any of his scars is his culture and heritage.

Tom traces his family roots to both the Mississippi and Oklahoma Bands of Choctaw, and there are about 20,000 Choctaw living in the United States today. Tom began an effort to not only preserve the skills and traditions of indigenous cultures, but to teach others what he has researched and learned.

Tom started slowly with research into his family, into the Choctaw and the indigenous people of the region. Tom said his parents had not taught him many skills or traditions of the cultures, so he began to learn by trying what he read about and saw by going to powwows and other gatherings. Making a drum for a powwow began by learning how to tan hides from deer. After deer hides, Tom turned to tanning buffalo hides using the traditional methods of brain tanning by using animal brains rich in emulsified oils to soften the skin for leather making.

It was through word of mouth in the community that Tom became known for his skill of the traditional method of brain tanning, causing many to seek him out to learn the skill. The week-long tanning process is difficult and requires a lot of commitment to do it correctly. The skins must be fleshed—scraped of all fats and membranes—then stretched and soaked in water. The fatty brain material is rubbed into the skin, soaked in water again and then smoked in a special fire.

Nawayee Center School is a charter school that teaches students who are predominately from Native American families. While the school teaches classes like math and reading, its mission is to connect students with their cultural identities through hands-on learning and programs like brain tanning and other indigenous arts.  “We were able to get a grant to bring James in and teach the students,” Ladd (School Director) said. “He first came to the school with squirrel hides. Now the kids are working on the big buffalo hide.”

For Tom, teaching others about this part of his heritage has helped him find peace.“I absolutely think it has helped me. I have been able to find my own identity again,” Tom said. “Everyone has a heritage and a big part of who you comes from it.”  This piece has been republished with permission from the Stillwater Gazette, where it originally was published on May 4. via: Deeper Than Scars of War: Healing PTSD with Old Ways

As this story illustrates, there are many ways in which Veterans can create meaningful employment opportunities for themselves and help others at the same time.

 

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