Veteran Suicides: The VA Releases “New” Statistics

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) recently released a report showing state-by-state disparities in suicide rates among Veterans.  Sadly, the data tracks Veteran suicides rates through 2014 leaving a significant time gap in determining whether the trend in 20+ veteran suicides a day is improving.

Veteran Suicides

(U.S. Army photo by Stephen Baker)

The news media has been quick to seize on some of the notable anomalies in the data, some of which is highlighted below from PBS news:

  • Suicide among military veterans is especially high in the western U.S. and rural areas;
  • Suicide rates in Montana, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico averaged 60 per 100,000 individuals compared to the national average of 38.4 (overall in the West was 45.5);
  • Women veterans had a suicide rate 2.5 time higher than for female civilians;
  • A VA study (last year) found that veterans who received the highest doses of opioid painkillers were more than twice as likely to die of suicides than those receiving the lowest doses;  
  • 65% of Veteran suicides were age 50 or older. 

It is difficult to generalize from this somewhat dated report other than to say that Veteran suicide rates are considerably higher than the national average.

Furthermore, it would appear that the VA’s propensity to dispense potent prescription drugs – primarily opioids – may have contributed to high suicide rates among Veterans.

Just who is to blame for the opioid epidemic sweeping the United States?  Finger-pointing suggests that many are to blame for the epidemic, but new candidates emerge daily.

For instance, the New York Times recently reported that insurance companies may need to shoulder part of the blame for opioid abuse.  Why?

“Opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive.

“Drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies and doctors have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but the role that insurers — and the pharmacy benefit managers that run their drug plans — have played in the opioid crisis has received less attention. “

Nevertheless, some institutions took measures far earlier to stem addictive drug treatment.   For instance, Mother Jones reports that: “Partnership HealthPlan, the main public insurance provider for Medi-Cal patients in rural Northern California, discovered an alarming trend: Many counties where Partnership operated had among the highest rates of opioid prescribing and overdose in the state. Hydro­codone was the top-prescribed medication among Partnership patients, who include more than 570,000 Medi-Cal recipients from the vineyards of Sonoma County to the redwoods on the Oregon border. In Lake County, a poor, rural area bordering Sonoma, enough opioid painkillers were prescribed in 2013 to medicate every man, woman, and child with opioids for five months, according to a report by the California Health Care Foundation.”

Unfortunately, the VA is largely unaccountable to anyone and Veterans have few affordable choices other than to rely on treatment options provided by the VA.  With a dismal track record in providing treatment for Veterans with PTSD, it is hard to see how any meaningful progress will be made by the VA in curbing VA suicides.

More disturbing is the thought that Veterans with PTSD incurred from the Gulf Wars and continued deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq will soon be approaching their 50th birthday.   If the VA statistics are credible that “65% of Veteran suicides are over the age of 50,” then we may actually see an uptick in suicide rates among Veterans.

Despite repeated assurances to Congressional Committees, Dr. David Cifu and his cronies at the VA don’t have a clue on how to treat PTSD.   Cocktails of lethal prescription drugs are clearly not the answer, but the VA’s blind insistence that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy are the only effective treatment programs is simply ludicrous.

Whatever the reasons, Veterans with PTSD and TBI may not really have a viable financial alternative outside the treatment barriers currently erected by the VA.

Even though the information is dated, the VA has done a good job illustrating the extent of the problem.  While one can draw many inferences from the data, it would be totally wrong to suggest that the VA has a handle on the problem and absurd to think that they have answers!

No wonder Veterans with PTSD and TBI have lost faith in the VA.

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SFTT Military News: Highlights for Week Ending Sep 15, 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 Reportedly Seeks Military “Equilibrium” with the U.S. 
North Korea said on Saturday it aims to reach an “equilibrium” of military force with the United States, which earlier signaled its patience for diplomacy is wearing thin after Pyongyang fired a missile over Japan for the second time in under a month. “Our final goal is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S. and make the U.S. rulers dare not talk about military option,” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was quoted as saying by the state news agency, KCNA.  Read more . . .

Assessment of Russian Zapad Military Exercise
The large-scale Russian military exercise known as Zapad, which started in Belarus on Thursday, is already a propaganda success: It has alarmed Russia’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization neighbors and garnered so much Western media coverage that one might think it was an actual combat operation. But it has also provided an important insight into the fears of the Russian and Belarusian rulers, fears that are not necessarily groundless. To Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, the exercise is meant to “frighten” her country. To Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinisto, it’s about “information warfare” (“Western countries have taken the bait completely, they’ve plugged the exercises so much,” he said recently). To military experts, the quadrennial exercise is a chance to see how much the Russian army has progressed since 2013, when the last Zapad was held. To me, the most intriguing part of the exercise is its storyline.   Read more . . .

North Korea Kim

Is there a “Military Option” for North Korea?
President Trump’s top national security aide said Friday there is a military option for handling North Korea’s missile and nuclear testing, even though it’s an option the Trump administration does not want to employ. White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said at the White House that the administration again wants new sanctions against North Korea to work. But he warned that the regime’s stepped up testing means that “we’re out of time.”  Read more . . .

Secretary James Mattis Warns on Budget Stopgap Measures
Defense Secretary James Mattis is warning Congress that a long-term continuing resolution to fund the government will lead to irrecoverable lost training time, delayed ship maintenance and critical personnel gaps. In a letter to defense committee leaders obtained by CNN, Mattis detailed the effects of a continuing resolution, which Congress frequently uses to keep the government funded at the previous year’s spending levels.  Read more . . .

Veteran Suicides Higher in the West and Rural Areas According to VA Study
Suicide among military veterans is especially high in the western U.S. and rural areas, according to new government data that show wide state-by-state disparities and suggest social isolation, gun ownership and access to health care may be factors. The figures released Friday are the first-ever Department of Veterans Affairs data on suicide by state. It shows Montana, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico had the highest rates of veteran suicide as of 2014, the most current VA data available. Veterans in big chunks of those states must drive 70 miles or more to reach the nearest VA medical center. The suicide rates in those four states stood at 60 per 100,000 individuals or higher, far above the national veteran suicide rate of 38.4. The overall rate in the West was 45.5. All other regions of the country had rates below the national rate.  Read more . . .

Vietnam War Documentary by Ken Burns May Be Too Intense for Some
“The Vietnam War” documentary – produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick – is being billed as a rare cultural milestone. The filmmakers have been planning the series since 2006, meaning their production process was about as long as America’s involvement in the war. The series is designed to be intense. Each episode if preceded by a warning about strong language and graphic violence. But people who work with veterans say the documentary may be too intense for some of those who fought in Vietnam. “Some are going to watch it. Few will,” said Henry Peterson, a chaplain at the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego. He counsels people with PTSD.  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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New Study Suggests that Blood Test Can Detect PTSD

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According to a recent Dutch study involving military personnel deployed to Afghanistan, there is evidence to suggest that blood-based miRNAs (Micro RiboNucleic Acids) may serve as “candidate biomarkers for symptoms of PTSD.”

Image from Biochemistry for Medics

A research group from the Netherlands collected blood samples Dutch soldiers before, as well as 6 months after deployment.

Author of the study, Dr. Laurence de Nijs (Maastricht University), states the following:

“We discovered that these small molecules, called miRNAs, are present in different amount in the blood of persons suffering from PTSD compared to trauma-exposed and control subjects without PTSD.

“We identified over 900 different types of these small molecules. 40 of them were regulated differently in people who developed PTSD, whereas there were differences in 27 of the miRNAs in trauma-exposed individuals who did not develop PTSD.

“Interestingly, previous studies have found circulating miRNA levels to be not only correlated with different types of cancer, but also with certain psychiatric disorders including major depressive disorders. These preliminary results of our pilot study suggest that miRNAs might indeed be candidates as predictive blood markers (biomarker) to distinguish between persons at high and low risk of developing PTSD. However, several steps need to be performed before such results can really have an impact on the larger field and in clinical practice. In addition to working towards biomarkers, the results may also provide novel information about the biological mechanisms underlying the development of PTSD”.

While more studies are required to confirm the results of this study, it does suggest that blood-testing could help identify risk factors for susceptibility to PTSD for troops scheduled for deployment.

It is difficult to generalize from such a limited test sample but clearly, evidence based markers seem to be a far better way to test the incidence of PTSD and brain trauma than the simplistic PTSD screening questionnaires currently employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

There continues to be much promising research into preventing and curing PTSD and TBI, but sadly the VA continues to insist on failed therapy programs while sponsoring research studies than focus on helping Veterans cope with the symptoms of brain trauma rather that provide meaningful solutions.  The cannabis and ecstasy studies suggest that the VA feels far more comfortable dispensing prescription drugs rather than provide Veterans with a meaningful path to full recovery.

While thousands of Veterans continue to suffer from combat-related brain trauma, the VA has done precious little to help these Veterans and their families cope with this debilitating problem.  While the VA insists that they are doing everything possible to help Veterans with PTSD and TBI, the story of Eric Bivins and countless other brave warriors paints a far different picture of what Veterans can really expect at the VA.

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SFTT Military News Highlights: Week Ending Sep 8, 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.

China Sends Military Warning to North Korea
As tensions continue to mount following North Korea’s latest nuclear test, the Chinese military has conducted another drill near the Korean Peninsula. According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), a Hong Kong-based publication, on Tuesday a Chinese ground unit practiced shooting down simulated low flying missiles over Bohai Bay. Bohai Bay is “ the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea between China and North Korea,” the report noted. Although few details were given, including which defense systems were used, Chinese websites indicated the test sought to simulate a surprise attack in a realistic, warfighting scenario.  Read more . . .

U.S. “Military Options” for North Korea are all “Terrible”
Despite President Donald Trump’s continued talk of military options in the North Korean standoff, his national security chiefs told lawmakers that they are trying to tighten the diplomatic and economic noose around the Hermit Kingdom, because there are no good offensive military options—and the defensive measures are far from foolproof. “It was a sober discussion,” said one person briefed on the closed-door session of senators with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense chief Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. “Military options were just described as ‘terrible,’” he said.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

GAO Finds VA Insurance Enrollment Standards Lacking
The Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the largest healthcare organizations that provides health benefits, but their enrollment standards and processes lead to delays and errors, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO analyzed veteran enrollment in VA medical centers (VAMCs) across the country and found that enrollment staff frequently did not process veterans’ enrollment applications within the timeliness standard of 5 business days. These issues were found both at VA’s Health Eligibility Center (HEC), the VA’s central enrollment processing center, and within local VAMCs that also process enrollment applications. The HEC experienced an enrollment error rate of 12 percent. The VAMCs analyzed in the report had a 27 percent error rate.  Read more . . .

Top Military Officials Cite Troubling Problems in Dealing with TBI
Top current and former officials in the U.S. Military are raising the alarm over the disturbing combination of high rates of Traumatic Brain Injury in the armed forces and a lack of public policy solutions to adequately address the problem. Researchers are only now getting their arms around the magnitude of the class of injuries that are difficult to treat and have affected an estimated 400,000 service members since the September 11th attacks in 2001.  Read more . . .

Congress Debates “Exit Oath” to Curb Veteran Suicides
Congress is currently debating a bill that attempts to curb high rates of veteran suicide by giving military members the choice to take an “Oath of Exit.” In this oath, veterans would state that they won’t take their own lives after leaving their post. The Oath of Exit Act is a section of the proposed 2018 version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which has already passed through the House of Representatives. The oath is a voluntary pledge for exiting service members in which the veteran promises to “not bring harm to [themselves] without speaking to [their] fellow veterans first.” Mast believes that because integrity and honor are significant to servicemen and women, if they pledge to do something, they will follow through. However, suicide and military mental health experts like Craig Bryan, an assistant professor in clinical psychology at the University of Utah, think the bill could do just the opposite. In Bryan’s study, “Effect of crisis response planning vs. contracts for safety on suicide risk in U.S. Army Soldiers: A randomized clinical trial,” published in the January 2017 “Journal of Affective Disorders,” he found that “contracts for safety” do not lower suicide risk among U.S. soldiers, but “crisis response plans” do.  Read more . . .

Blood Test Suggests Combat-Related PTSD 
Individuals affected with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) demonstrate changes in microRNA (miRNA) molecules associated with gene regulation. A controlled study, involving military personnel on deployment to a combat zone in Afghanistan, provided evidence for the role of blood-based miRNAs as candidate biomarkers for symptoms of PTSD. This may offer an approach towards screening for symptoms of PTSD, and holds promise for understanding other trauma-related psychiatric disorders. Limitations of the study are that this was a small pilot study, and the findings need to be validated, extended and confirmed. First results will be presented at the ECNP conference in Paris.  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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Marijuana and Veterans with TBI

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Thomas Brennan, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, is the founder of The War Horse, a veterans’ news site, and a co-author of “Shooting Ghosts: A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back from War,”  makes an impassioned plea to “make pot legal for Veterans with TBI.”

Cannabis for Veterans with PTSD and TBI

In an “Opinion” piece for the New York Times of September 1, Mr. Brennan states to following:

“Most of the major veterans groups, including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, support regulated research into the medical uses of cannabis . . .

“What I know is that it works for me. If I hadn’t begun self-medicating with it, I would have killed myself. The relief isn’t immediate. It doesn’t make the pain disappear. But it’s the only thing that takes the sharpest edges off my symptoms. Because of cannabis, I’m more hopeful, less woeful. My relationship with my wife is improving. My daughter and I are growing closer. My past is easier to remember and talk about. My mind is less clouded. More than anything, it feels good to feel again. My migraines and depression don’t control my life. Neither do pills.

“But I live in fear that I will be arrested purchasing an illegal drug. I want safe, regulated medical cannabis to be a treatment option. Just like the sedatives and amphetamines the V.A. used to send me by mail. And the opioids they still send to my friends.”

Personally, I am delighted that Mr. Brennan feels better and is recovering his life, but one man’s (or woman’s) experience with “alternative medication” hardly makes a compelling argument to justify universal endorsement.

Superficially, one could argue that pot is far less “addictive” than opium and the opioid variants currently endorsed by the FDA and the AMA, but I suggest that Mr. Brennan compelling argument touches on a far more important issue:

Officially sanctioned / LEGAL therapies to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI are not working! 

No one should be surprised that Mr. Brennan and many other brave warriors are seeking alternative therapies – either not sanctioned or “illegal” – because the limited treatment options provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) are tragically failing the needs of our heroes and their families.

Last week, Maj. Ben Richard’s commented on a disturbing series of videos that trace a widow’s tragic quest to seek help from the VA for her husband who committed suicide when denied alternative therapy.

The tragic suicide of Veteran Eric Bivins is just another example of the abuse of power at the VA that literally makes “life and death” decisions based on a long history of failed treatment programs:  Cognitive Process Therapy (“CPT”) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”).

If the only choice for Veterans with PTSD and TBI is institutional abuse and lethal prescription drugs, why not run the risk (illegal or unsanctioned) and seek help that works?  In the case of Mr. Brennan, cannabis might be the answer, but SFTT seeks out programs that may offer life-changing therapies rather than medication that simply deals with the symptoms.

Personally, I don’t think that potentially addictive drugs are the long term answer for PTSD and TBI, but I can certainly understand why many Veterans seek relief outside the limited number of options and callous disregard currently shown by the VA.

Perhaps Secretary David Shulkin can bring about much needed reform at the VA, but the odds are firmly stacked against him.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Sep 1, 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.

BBC Analyses US Military Options for North Korea
President Trump has said “all options are on the table” after North Korea fired a missile over Japan. So what could military action against Kim Jong-un’s regime actually look like? As a ballistic missile passed over the Japanese island of Hokkaido residents were warned to take cover. The launch was a provocative act, which has been followed by warnings from the North Korean regime that it was just a “first step”. The UN and several nations have imposed sanctions on North Korea, while President Trump said he was considering the next steps. But while the US has unrivalled military strength, the range of options it actually has against the hermit country are limited. Read more . . .

North Korea Kim

US Gives Military Assistance to Pakistan with Strings Attached
The Trump administration notified Congress on Wednesday that it was putting $255 million in military assistance to Pakistan into the equivalent of an escrow account that Islamabad can only access if it does more to crack down on internal terror networks launching attacks on neighboring Afghanistan. The dueling messages sent to Pakistan — promising aid but attaching strings if the country’s counterterror efforts fall short — are part of an increasingly confrontational turn in an alliance that has long been strained.  Read more . . .

Sen. Rand Paul Urges Caution in Transferring Military Equipment to Local Police
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is urging President Trump to reconsider his decision to lift Obama-era limits on the transfer of surplus military equipment to local police forces. “To support our local police, we must first realize they aren’t soldiers. But today the line between the two is being eroded,” he wrote. “Given these developments, it’s natural for many Americans — especially minorities, given the racial disparities in policing — to feel like their government is targeting them. Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice isn’t paying close enough attention,” Paul added.  Read more . . .

New Law to Stream VA Appeals
Every major veteran service organization except Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) supported legislation, signed into law last week, to reform a woefully clogged process for deciding appeals of veterans’ disability claims. Even VVA concedes the new “three-lane” option for appealing claims, when implemented via regulation a year or more from now, will produce speedier appeal decisions and begin to reverse what continues to be a steadily rising backlog of appeals, soon to surpass a stunning 500,000.  Every veteran appealing a claim knows something is wrong with a system that, on average, takes three years to get a final decision. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says some veterans are waiting six years or more.  Read more . . .

The Illegal Psychedelic Drug MDMA (aka “Ecstasy”) to Treat PTSD?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated the illegal psychedelic drug MDMA, commonly known to partygoers as Ecstasy, as a “breakthrough therapy” to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. The designation was announced Saturday and provides a fast-track for possible approval of MDMA as a prescription drug. It’s the result of years of trials sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, that have included veterans since 2010. “It doesn’t mean anything is approved or guaranteed, but it does mean this gets special attention from the FDA and allows it to move through the regulatory process more quickly,” said Michael Mithoefer, a clinical investigator who’s involved in the study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.  Read more . . .

Is the VA Undermining Marijuana Study?
marijuanaThe first U.S. study to test marijuana as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, which had been in the works since 2009, finally got under way last February and has enrolled 25 subjects since then. But the lead researcher, Phoenix psychiatrist Sue Sisley, says the study, which needs a total of 76 subjects, has been jeopardized by a lack of cooperation from the local Veterans Health Administration hospital. “Despite our best efforts to work with the Phoenix VA hospital and share information about the study,” Sisley writes in a recent letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, “they have been unwilling to assist by providing information to their patients and medical staff about a federally legal clinical trial happening right in their backyard that is of crucial importance to the veteran community.” At the current recruitment rate, she says, the study will not be completed within the time required by a $2.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  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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How the VA Callously Treats Veterans: A National Disgrace

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As we reported earlier, Veteran Eric Bivins committed suicide after being unable to find the support and care he needed from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

Found below are a moving – AND MOST SAD – series of videos by Kimi Bivins, Eric’s spouse which describes her experiences with the VA in attempting to find the proper care for her husband.

Kimi’s experiences with the VA are not dissimilar from my own and countless of others who have sought care from the VA. I agree with Kimi that it is a “national disgrace,” yet the VA continues to remain largely unaccountable for their callousness and disdain in treating our brave warriors.

I would encourage readers to watch these powerful videos to understand the frustration and agony of a loved-one in dealing with the VA.

Kimi’s YouTube videos are presented in a more or less chronological order, with limited commentary by me other than to clarify certain expressions.

Published on March 23, 2016. Kimi’s Initial PRIVATE Appeal for Help.

Published on March 10, 2016. Kimi’s Frustration on Getting VA Paperwork

Published on March 18, 2016. Eric in a VA Facility

Published on March 23, 2016. Eric is Coping, but Life is Still Very Difficult

Published on April 13, 2016. Eric at Independent Treatment Facility.

Published on May 15, 2016. Eric is Better, But Seeks Therapy Outside the VA

Published July 11, 2017. After Eric’s Suicide

While many will be shocked by these series of videos, it is far too commonplace within the VA.

Before Eric’s suicide he had been accepted into a program to receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT.  I credit HBOT with saving my life and enabling me to begin the long road to recover my life.

It is sad that some uninformed doctor at the VA would shatter Eric’s dream of life-changing therapy by parroting the VA’s institutional bias against HBOT.

Dr. David Cifu and his cronies at the VA and the DoD have done their upmost to discredit HBOT and other alternative therapies to support the failed VA programs of Cognitive Process Therapy (“CPT”) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”).

Failed VA therapy programs to treat PTSD have been documented numerous times by credible independent studies.   And yet, VA spokespeople still parrot the same stale party line.  Veterans with PTSD and TBI are not deceived and have abandoned the VA in droves.

It sickens me to watch these tragic videos of Kimi documenting her fruitless attempt to navigate the uncaring bureaucracy of the VA.  In my estimation, Kimi’s videos should be mandatory training for all employees at the VA.

While the VA provides much needed comfort to thousands of Veterans, those Veterans with PTSD and TBI need to look elsewhere for REAL therapy.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Aug 25, 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.

US Military Collaborates with West Virginia University over Opioid Abuse
As the opioid epidemic continues to have a substantial impact on the state, leaders from WVU reached out to USU’s Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management, aware of their efforts to successfully combat opioid misuse in the military over the last several years with the idea that lessons learned in the military would be applicable to their state’s current crisis. Earlier this year, leaders from both universities developed a cooperative research and development agreement allowing them to formally share pain management resources developed by DVCIPM.  Read more . . .

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

Pot Advocate Argues that VA Cannabis Study for PTSD is Useless
Cannabis advocates are criticizing the Department of Veterans Affairs for wasting time and resources on recently published research that produced inconclusive results on the effects of medical marijuana in treating pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. “I find the funds spent on regurgitating these studies to be worthless,” said Sean Kiernan, a veteran and advocate for the Weed for Warriors Project. VA researchers last week published two studies that reviewed previous analyses and evaluations of the effects of marijuana on treating chronic pain and PTSD. Read more . . .

Telehealth May Help Thousands of Veterans
Imagine the day that you can see your medical provider from anywhere in the country, including from the comfort of your own home. You wouldn’t have to take a full day off of work, travel long distances or spend hours in a hospital waiting room. Thanks to the age of smart phones and other advanced technology, that day has come. And it couldn’t have come at a more critical moment. Across the nation, wait times in the private sector for new patient appointments have increased 30 percent in the last three years, including in major cities such as Seattle, Boston, Denver and Los Angeles, according to a recent survey. Telehealth technology is revolutionizing how Americans access health care.  Read more . . .

Parents of Veteran Who Died of Drug Overdose Cite VA Apathy
Standing in the crowd at a rally calling for a royal commission into the Department of Veterans’ Affairs were the parents of Jason Grant, a veteran of Afghanistan who died of a suspected drug overdose at his Ferny Creek home just a month ago. Ross Grant was a quiet but powerful presence at the rally on Tuesday, holding a placard reading “DVA Killed My Son” as well as photos of Jason in uniform, in recent years and also as a child.   Read more . . .

Canadian VA Service Dog Study for PTSD Doesn’t Please All
Some veterans advocates aren’t pleased with the results of the first phase of a federal study intended to assess the effectiveness and safety of psychiatric service dogs used by people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder. The study, commissioned by Veterans Affairs Canada through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, found nine positive effects of service dogs on symptoms of PTSD and two “major undesirable effects.” The positive effects include the detection, prevention and control of crisis, improved sleep, reduction of nightmares, better concentration, improved self-confidence and increased social participation. The undesirable effects are difficulty accessing public spaces and knowing how to react when faced with that difficulty, and stigmatization.  Read more . . .

War of Words Continues over North Korea
North Korea had more harsh words for the US on Wednesday, strongly condemning US-South Korean joint military exercises and criticizing President Donald Trump’s “weird” and “ego-driven” social media posts just hours after Trump claimed the rogue nation’s leader is “starting to respect us.”  Read more . . .

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann/Released)

Thousands of More Troops to Afghanistan
President Trump’s speech this week announcing his decision to extend the U.S. war in Afghanistan provided no detail on exactly what new American troops will do when deployed. Trump went out of his way during his announcement at Fort Myer, Va., to say, “we will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.” Trump’s decision not to telegraph his plans was in keeping with his frequent assertion on the campaign trail about the need to maintain battle plan secrecy — a stance that was intended as a rebuke of former president Barack Obama’s 2009 announcement in which he provided a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.  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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Can Secretary David Shulkin Fix the VA?

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Can Secretary David Shulkin fix the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”)?  The answer is an emphatic NO!

Department of Veterans Affairs

This is not a commentary on Dr. Shulkin’s inspired leadership or his vision for a vastly improved VA, but a consequence of competing ideologies and a dysfunctional institution.

As Stand for the Troops has stated several times over the past year: “THE VA IS SIMPLY TOO LARGE TO SUCCEED IN ITS MISSION.”

As suggested in last week’s article by Maj. Ben Richards, the care provided by the VA is far different than the “happy talk” its administrators disseminate to a gullible public and Congress.   The disturbing suicide of Veteran Eric Bivins can clearly be laid at the doors of the VA, but does anyone in authority really care?

Will the desperate pleas Eric’s spouse Kimi resonate in the corridors of power in DC?  Probably not.  And yet, Kimi’s description of the troubling treatment provided by the VA is far more accurate than the self-serving assurances that VA “change agents” dispense to the press.

Veterans are giving up hope daily and seeking treatment outside the VA.  If Congress truly wanted to know the extent of the problems in the VA, they would surely spend far more time seeking out the views of Veterans than blindly accept the assurances of its administrators.  Will this occur? Not likely – and even if it were to occur, not much is likely to change.

The VA is like an old automobile that is falling apart.  Sure, we can try fixing it with the same failed strategies that have been used in the past OR how about trying a different approach? Scrap the dysfunctional VA and build a responsive institution that truly attends to the needs of most Veterans?

How Can the VA be Fixed?

With an annual budget of over $180 billion and nearly 350,000 employees, things can easily get off-track.  More to the point, impassioned administrator can run about putting their fingers in the holes of a leaking dyke, but another leak will surface almost immediately.

As I stated previously,

NO AMOUNT OF MONEY or CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP or ENACTMENT OF NEW LEGISLATION will bring about A MORE RESPONSIVE VA.

The VA has become a bureaucracy that answers only to itself and is not responsive to the needs of Veterans.  Frankly, the VA has lost its way and very little will change unless the VA is broken down into far smaller manageable components.

While smaller components of the VA will invariably fail, A SMALLER AND LESS CENTRALIZED VA WON’T COMPROMISE THE FULL MISSION.  

The public seems relieved that Veterans now have a choice of service providers because the Choice Program has been extended by Congress, but for many thousands of Veterans like Eric Bivins and his family, there really is NO CHOICE!

Where the VA is Today

Personally, I believe that Dr. Shulkin has done a remarkable job in addressing some of the more urgent problems at the VA.  While one can argue whether he has done enough, the task he has been given is like being assigned to captain the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.

The speed with which the VA will sink further into disrepute may be slowed, but SINK it will.

How many more reports do we need from the Office of the Inspector General (the “IG”) that the VA lacks effective governance and oversight?

How many more times to we have to fire ineffective VA employees when the Labor Union intercedes to protect  employee “rights”?

How many more infection risks do Veterans need to overcome at VA facilities?

These are just the latest “issues” that Dr. Shulkin and his staff need to deal with.  Despite evidence of much needed progress to overhaul the VA, these problems are likely to persist.

In fact, every local incidence of inefficiency or incompetence becomes magnified into a matter of national concern and raises further doubts about the VA’s ability to reform itself from within.  Frankly, there are far too many competing mandates for it to do so.

Sadly, our Veterans and their loved ones will continue to suffer until we stop posturing and enact real reform.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Aug 18, 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 Kim

More Sabre-Rattling from North Korea
North Korea warned Sunday that the upcoming US-South Korea military exercises are “reckless behavior driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war.” Pyongyang also declared that its army can target the United States anytime, and neither Guam, Hawaii nor the US mainland can “dodge the merciless strike.” The messages in Rodong Sinmun, the official government newspaper, come a day before the US starts the Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercises with South Korea.  Read more . . .

Trump’s Military Options in Afghanistan
President Trump on Friday will huddle with his national security team at Camp David in Maryland to discuss the country’s strategy in Afghanistan. The president is being presented with a variety of options, including withdrawing all American troops or adding 3,900 more to the current 8,400 total. Here is a look at the options being considered by the Trump administration for what is now being called the South Asia strategy.  Read more . . .

Cyber Security Becomes More Important
President Donald Trump is boosting U.S. Cyber Command’s status in the sprawling military hierarchy in a move intended to bolster its role defending against hacking attacks and in fighting Islamic State militants in cyberspace. Trump elevated Cyber Command to a “unified combatant command” Friday and directed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to recommend someone to lead the organization. The new command will “strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our nation’s defense,” the president said in a statement. The step helps “streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations by consolidating them under a single commander” with the requisite authority, Trump said. It also will ensure cyber operations are “adequately funded,” he said.   Read more . . .

Veteran Health Care and Opioid Abuse
This veteran — one of 20 who kill themselves every day, a frightening figure — received medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and a non-VA doctor who prescribed opioids for his chronic pain. While psychological factors were the reasons and drugs were the tools, the suicide was facilitated by a hole in a system designed to give vets the choice, in same cases, to obtain outside medical care at government expense. With Patient 1, “there is no evidence in the medical record that any of his VA providers were aware of the new opioid prescriptions,” according to the inspector general.  Read more . . .

VA Study Recommend Tighter Control on Opioids
The U.S. Department Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General released a report Aug. 1 that recommended non-VA health care providers being paid by the VA to provide services to veterans be required to submit opiate prescriptions directly to VA pharmacies. According to the report, veterans are one of the highest risk pools of people to become addicted to opiates and that veterans could receive treatment in the form of opiates from non-VA doctors without regard for the possibility of co-occurring mental health problems. “Veterans receiving opioid prescriptions from VA-referred clinical settings may be at greater risk for overdose and other harm because medication information is not being consistently shared,” said U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General Michael J. Missal. “That has to change. Health care providers serving veterans should be following consistent guidelines for prescribing opioids and sharing information that ensures quality care for high-risk veterans.”  Read more . . .

Yuval Neria

Equine Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
They are each wary and slow to trust others. They each scan their surroundings constantly. And each stays constantly alert for danger. But while horses depend on those characteristics for survival, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder can find them debilitating — traits that interfere with family and work life and can result in disturbed sleep, depression and substance abuse.   Now, researchers are hoping that when man and beast find common ground, through a series of guided interactions such as grooming the horse and leading it around a ring, it will help treat PTSD.  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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