GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for Veteran Suicides

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In yet another devastating report recently released by the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”), this government oversight agency calls into question the VA’s data records with the tragic conclusion that “63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed.”   As readers of SFTT’s Blog, you are probably not surprised by these latest findings but many in the public may be scratching their heads since they thought these problems were addressed in the wake of the 2014 Phoenix, AZ Veterans Hospital Scandal.

WAKEUP CALL AMERICANS!:    Despite much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” by our elected leaders, at least 22 Veterans still commit suicide each day.

While SFTT and many others are doing their part to stem the “invisible wounds of war,” many veterans suffer from depression and anxiety caused by their wartime experiences.  Sure, giving to charities that support Veterans maybe one way to help, but Sgt. Tony Hogrefe has a far more practical and personal suggestion.   Let our veterans know that you care and extend that Lifeline to as many military service men and women in your community.  Who knows?: Your phone call just may help a veteran with severe depression get through another day and, perhaps, reclaim control of their life.

 Improper Processing of Suicides

Found below are the heart-wrenching results of a recent GAO report on the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) protocols for treating Vets with depression.   As the report suggests,  “Patient data was flawed, inconsistent and incomplete.

Here is a brief breakdown of the stats based on the audited sample:

10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
63% 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 “not always complete, accurate, or consistent.”
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

These numbers are terribly frightening to anyone with a conscious.    Please spare our Veterans the soundbites of political posturing.    While some may argue that we have a “crisis in Syria and Iraq with Islamic terrorists,” I would argue that the real crisis is much closer to home:  “How we treat our Veterans!”   Let’s get together and provide these brave heroes “more than lip service,” and insist that our military and civilian leaders do the same.

Depression and Suicidal Thoughts In Soldiers

Most studies of PTSD suggest that “major depression” or “severe depression” are the single strongest drivers of suicidal behavior.    In fact the somewhat dated Canadian study highlighted below highlights the gravity of the problem which persists today among Veterans of foreign wars.

“Current and former soldiers who seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should be screened closely for major depression since the disorder is the single strongest driver of suicidal thinking, say authors of a new Canadian study.

“Researchers evaluated 250 active duty Canadian Forces, RCMP members and veterans.  The study comes at a time when record numbers of suicides are being reported among American troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the number of suicides reported among Canadian forces last year reached its highest point since 1995.

In veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, about half also have symptoms of major depressive disorder during their lifetime, said the researchers.”
Credits: Depression Strongest Driver of Suicidal Thoughts in Soldiers, Vets

As Sgt. Hogrefe suggested above, we can all do our part and reach out to a Veteran to let him or her know that we care.  For those who want to play a more active role in channeling your energies into SFTT’s Rescue Coalition projects that help Veterans acquire new skills or receive better treatment, please contact SFTT.

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Veterans with PTSD – Insights by Dr. Henry Grayson

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Dr. Henry Grayson, one of SFTT’s distinguished members of its medical task force always points that there are no two identical cases of Post Traumatic Stress.   In effect, each individual brings a set of prior conscious and unconscious experiences – dare I call it “baggage” – that is often triggered in totally unpredictable ways during periods of great stress.  Many veterans have suffered traumatic events in combat and this battlefield stress is almost impossible to overcome when these brave warriors return home.

Dr. Grayson touches on many aspects of this in this lengthy but informative video which discusses his book “Use Your Body to Heal Your Mind.” Dr. Henry Grayson is a scientific and spiritual psychologist who founded and directed the National Institute for the Psychotherapies in New York City. He is the author of Mindful Loving, The New Physics of Love, as well as co-author of three professional books. Dr. Grayson integrates diverse psychotherapies with neuroscience, quantum physics, subtle energies with Eastern and Western spiritual mindfulness. He practices in New York City and Connecticut. SFTT is indeed fortunate to count on Dr. Grayson in our efforts to support our brave Veterans.

Retired Veterans Seek Help

While many focus on Post-traumatic stress disorder for Veterans returning from our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Sadly, many traumatized Veterans from Vietnam were largely ignored and many still suffer from the invisible wounds of that war.  Found below is an excerpt from an article which describes how these Veterans cope with these recurring “nightmares.”

This is a common story among older combat veterans, who have contended with both the stigma of appearing weak and the lack of knowledge about the mental effects of combat. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — characterized by hyper-vigilance, intrusive thoughts, nightmares and avoidance — wasn’t a formal diagnosis until 1980, and effective treatments weren’t widely available until the 1990s.

“They came home, stayed quiet and tried to muddle on as best they could,” says Steven Thorp, a San Diego psychologist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “They worked really hard as a distraction, 70, 80 hours a week, so PTSD didn’t really hit them full force until they retired, or the kids left the house, or they’re reminded of loss through the deaths of their friends.”

Dillard didn’t know how to right himself, but he knew exactly what had changed him: one long, terrible night in the jungles north of Saigon during his first tour, when Delta Company, his unit from the 101st Airborne Division, was nearly overrun by hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers. That night he witnessed heroics by his captain, Paul Bucha, and waited with Delta Company buddies like Calvin Heath and Bill Heaney for a dawn they feared would never come.

“That night marked all of us,” says Dillard, 66, who now lives on a ranch in Livingston, Texas, and assists other veterans with their disability claims. “It’s been the source of lots of nightmares.” via: PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Retired Veterans Seek Help – AARP

Military Suicides and PTSD

Our military leadership is rightly concerned about the rate of suicide among military veterans.  SFTT has been reported on this growing problem for some time, but little substantive change has occurred over the last several years.  Sure, the government has announced many measures to deal with the problem such as the “Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act for American Veterans,” but suicide rates continue to be high.  Found below are some of the recent government initiatives, but the even more compelling arguments why these token actions are not enough to stem this epidemic problem.

Suicides by active-duty troops and veterans are at levels that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Each day, on average, a current service member dies by suicide, and each hour a veteran does the same.

In response, President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in February. The act aims to make information on suicide prevention more easily available to veterans; it offers financial incentives to mental health professionals who work with vets; and it requires an annual evaluation of the military’s mental health programs by an independent source.

The law is commendable, but it won’t come close to ending military suicides. That would require radical changes in the policies, procedures, attitudes and culture in two of our biggest bureaucracies: the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Fifteen years ago, the suicide rate among patients in a large HMO in Detroit was seven times the national average. Its leaders decided to try to end suicides — not just reduce them but end them. In four years, the incidence of suicide at the HMO was reduced 75%; with more tinkering, the rate went down to zero, and has stayed there, at last count, for 2 1/2 years. The difference was an all-out commitment to the cause.

The HMO also implemented measures to provide timely care by enabling patients to get immediate help through email with physicians, to make same-day medical appointments and to get prescriptions filled the same day too.

A similar commitment by the military could achieve dramatic results, at least among active-duty troops. These troops are in the system now, their activities are being monitored regularly, so there are plenty of opportunities for assessment and treatment.

Then there is the matter of stigma. It’s not the military’s responsibility alone to destigmatize psychological problems, but there are steps the military can take.  Service members with PTSD who are able to manage it should be strongly considered for promotions just as though they had recovered from physical wounds. Their ability to overcome mental injury should be recognized, so it inspires others.

To keep its troops mentally healthy, the Defense Department must reduce the number and duration of combat deployments and do more to prepare troops for assymetrical warfare. It must help them adjust to life when they come home — with jobs, housing, loans and legal assistance. It must enforce, not just approve, a policy of zero tolerance related to sexual harassment and assault.

Each element has a price, and collectively the cost will be astronomical. We must be prepared to pay it if we are sincere in our commitment to support our troops.

John Bateson was executive director of a nationally certified suicide prevention center in the San Francisco Bay Area for 16 years. His latest book is “The Last and Greatest Battle: Finding the Will, Commitment, and Strategy to End Military Suicides.”  via: Support our troops? Dealing with PTSD requires commitment

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Bacon Brothers Rock for Veterans in DC

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Bacon Brothers Rock for Veterans and SFTT

 

Join SFTT at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University in Washington DC on Saturday, March 22nd where the Bacon Brothers pay tribute to Military Veterans.

Order your tickets now.

In addition to the Bacon Brothers we have a lot of great talent lined up and General Peter Chiarelli will be presenting a Purple Heart to Major Ben Richards.   Major Richards is a distinguished graduate of West Point and like many veterans serving in Afghanistan and Iraq he suffers from the “invisible wounds of war”:  PTSD.   Join us at Lisner Auditorium for a night of great music and to applaud a brave hero and listen to Major Richards tell his story.

 Show your support by registering now.

For those of you who want to grab the best available seat as Lisner,  CLICK HERE  or enter http://bit.ly/sftt_dc in your browser.  Note:  Before you can enter your payment details you must SELECT THE DELIVERY OPTION (dropdown menu to the left) to proceed.

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Duty: The Leadership Question

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ revelations in Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, has served as cannon-fodder for what passes for intelligent political debate in our country.

While I am just now getting into the book, it appears to be a most articulate and considered analysis of how people in leadership make decisions affecting the lives of brave young men and women thrown into battle. While some may see Gates’ pointed commentary as an opportunity to skewer a political opponent, one should be far more interested in what the memoir says about leadership.

In the case of President Obama, former Secretary Gates goes to great lengths to insist that the President made all the “right decisions” (at least from his perspective), but that the President didn’t seem to “buy into the mission” which is critical for a Commander-in-Chief sending men and women into battle.

Paraphrasing what I believe Secretary Gates is saying:  “It  is simply not enough to make the ‘right’ decision, a ‘real’ leader fully embraces that decision and conveys a sense of determination and decisiveness that resonates with those he has been mandated to lead.” Churchill springs to mind, regardless of his many faults and errors in judgement.

I suspect that most military officers would support Gate’s position on the importance of demonstrating leadership when the lives of our citizens are put at risk.   Indeed, one could argue that Gates’ recipe for “owning the mission” is a necessary characteristic for all  leaders.  Sadly, the instructional value of Gates’ memoirs for future leaders will be largely lost on the current generation of politicians who prefer to lead based on the ever-shifting winds of public opinion.

With the War in Afghanistan now entering into its 12th year, the leadership and conviction that sustains and inspires deployed military troops are more important than ever.   Hopefully, President Obama and those in Congress can demonstrate leadership far more pro-actively than they have in the past and – equally importantly – send a message to those who have served so valiantly that they will not be forgotten.

Unfortunately, today’s brand of leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will continue to respond with the same stale and vitriolic political rhetoric that trivializes “real” leadership and personal integrity.    Thank you Secretary Gates for doing your Duty!

 

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