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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VA Doctor’s Hard Line on HBOT Leads to Veteran Suicide

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As a military veteran with PTSD and TBI, I encounter many brave warriors who have had difficulties getting proper treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

All of these conversations have been disturbing and caused me to relive the terrible ordeals I faced when dealing with the VA.  Nothing quite compared to the disturbing letter I received from Debbie Lee, the founder of America’s Mighty Warriors (“AMW”).

Eric_Bivins

Veteran Eric Bivins serving his country.

In her open letter (summarized and slightly edited below), Debbie describes the heart-wrenching conversation she had with Kimi Bivins, whose husband Eric (a Marine Veteran), had committed suicide after the callous indifference shown by doctors at the VA to his PTSD and TBI.

Several weeks ago Veteran Eric Bivins reached out to us via email for help with his PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) and getting into Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy treatments. We replied to his email and told him we would be glad to help. He was scheduled to start Aug 2nd at Rocky My Hyperbaric.

I didn’t hear anything back until Wednesday when his wife called. She informed me that her husband had committed suicide. She was calling to try and get HBOT for her husbands friends he had served with. We are working to connect with them to provide HBOT to provide healing and hope.

Over the last 4 years our foundation, America’s Mighty Warriors (“AMW”) has been an advocate to make this standard of care at the VA and with Tricare. We have paid for over 30 Veterans to receive this 2 month treatment. Every Veteran we sponsored who received treatment has received improvement with their symptoms for PTSD/TBI .

We spoke for about and hour and she shared that her husband was super excited about getting the treatment and had hope for his future. He had numerous problems with the VA in Tennessee.

Long story short, his last visit at the VA was with the Chief of Staff, Dr. John Nadeau to at that facility. When Eric shared his excitement for getting the HBOT treatment Dr Nadeau told him several times that HBOT was a waste and that people were just trying to scam him for his money. 

His wife said he left a defeated man and had his hope crushed by that doctor. We both agree that her husband’s blood is on that doctor’s hands. They had numerous botched surgeries and doctors who disrespected and misdiagnosed or wouldn’t diagnose his medical problems.

Eric had been sober for about 18 months and that next day started drinking and ended up taking his life after several days of abusing alcohol and prescription drugs.

I am working with her to expose this atrocity. She has two daughters who are 12 and 10. I spent about an hour on the phone with her tonight just listening and providing comfort. While we were talking I asked when social security would kick in for her kids and she said hopefully August. I asked about insurance and she said none. I asked how she was doing financially, and she said they are struggling. Then she shared that her roof caved in a few days ago and that they had their roof replaced two years ago and it wasn’t done correctly and they insurance will only cover $2000 in “rot” damage, not the replacement costs.

AMW did a Random Act of Kindness for Kami and her children to help during this difficult time and sent a check for $5000.00. This program was started in response to my sons amazing last letter home. He mentions that Random Acts of Kindness could change our world and I know when I shared with Kami what our board had approved her life was changed, and she was deeply moved.

Please help us to expose another VA that is responsible for killing a Veteran and the help and healing that HBOT is providing for our Veterans struggling with TBI and PTSD.

I have worked with Veterans who have shown me a gallon size baggie of prescription drugs that they were prescribed to take and 2/3rd’s of them say “may cause suicidal tendencies” and we wonder why our suicide rate is so high. Then they find alternative therapies that are helping and have their hope ripped from them by doctors who are not familiar with HBOT and the success our Vets have seen who have received this. How many more lost lives are these Doctors responsible for?

It is hard to fathom the reasons why any qualified VA doctor would rob a patient a moment of hope, particularly when the VA has been demonstrably incompetent in providing an alternative.

Kimi’s story, as reported by Debbie of AMW, serves as a daily reminder that we all need to take action to expose the lies, hypocrisy and arrogance of the VA.  For many Veterans, the VA is a failed institution that treats our brave heroes with disdain.

How can let this young woman’s desperate plea go unheeded?

It is hard for me to watch this video, but Kimi’s experience is not unique. How many more Veterans need to suffer such indignity?

For those wishing to know more about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or HBOT, please CLICK HERE:

And please, take the opportunity to visit our website where we have many resources and articles devoted to helping Veterans find alternative therapy programs for PTSD and TBI.

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SFTT Military Highlights: Week Ending Aug 11, 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.

Tensions High over North Korea
“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” President Trump said on Friday, in his latest salvo in the exchange of rhetoric with the isolated regime. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”  The statement, made via Twitter, comes one day after Trump wondered whether he had been stern enough in talking about North Korea earlier this week, when he promised to meet Pyongyang’s threats with “fire and fury.”  Read more . . .

Military Food Rations Amazon

Food Rations May Become a Military Profit Center
Amazon is using everything at its disposal to take on the grocery and food delivery business. The online retailer purchased Whole Foods Market in June for $13.7 billion, announced new meal-prep boxes that challenge Blue Apron in July, and now it’s turning to the military for its next move. According to a CNBC report, Amazon wants to use military food technology to create prepared meals that don’t need to be refrigerated. This would allow the company to store and ship more food more efficiently and to offer ready-to-eat, (hopefully) tasty meals at a lower price.  Read more . .

Is the VA Planning to Close Incomplete Healthcare Applications?
A well-known whistleblower in the Department of Veterans Affairs warned Wednesday that the VA appears to be getting ready to close tens of thousands of incomplete healthcare applications, even though it’s been clear for more than a year that the VA was failing to give veterans a chance to complete these applications. Scott Davis is a public affairs officer for the VA’s Member Services in Atlanta who has testified before Congress about problems within the VA.  Read more . . .

Deja Vu All Over Again at the VA
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been forced to employ the former Washington, D.C., medical center director for the time being after the employee was fired for failing “to provide effective leadership at the medical center.” Brian Hawkins was fired in July after it was revealed he had sent sensitive information to his wife’s personal email account. However, Hawkins appealed the termination and the federal Merit Systems Protection Board issued a stay on the decision on Aug. 2, allowing Hawkins to build a defense that he was wrongfully let go. VA Secretary David Shulkin pushed back against the stay and has prohibited Hawkins from working around patients.   Read more . . .

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

Tighter Controls Over Opioid Prescriptions at the VA?
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 . . .

Link Between PTSD and Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?
More and more evidence is suggesting that developing post-traumatic stress disorder early in life can raise the risk of dementia in old age. New research finds a molecular link between the two conditions, which paves the way for new therapies. An increasing number of epidemiological studies have suggested that people who develop a neuropsychiatric condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in childhood are also likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life.  Read more . . .

How Combat Vet’s PTSD Affects Families
Soldiers who experience the horror and terror of conflict often return home far different people than they were when they left. Many are angry, suffer from depression, harbour suicidal thoughts or attempt to isolate themselves from the world, hoping to avoid triggers that can instantly force them to relive their experiences. While increasing attention has been paid in recent years to helping armed forces members cope with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), not as much attention has been paid to the experience and grief of intimate partners and families who experience trauma in trying to deal with the changes a loved one, coping with PTSD, goes through.  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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Veterans Account for 20% of U.S. Suicides

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Military suicides, particularly among Veterans, show no signs of abating.  Despite recent efforts by Secretary of Shulkin of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), the “silent wounds of war” follow our Veterans into civilian life.

Veteran Suicides

(U.S. Army photo by Stephen Baker)

In a most informative report published by CNN, Veteran suicides account for roughly 20% of all suicides in the United States.

SFTT has reported on this disturbing trend for several years, but little has been done to curb Veteran suicides. Our analysis of this dreadful situation – covered amply in previous articles – may be summarized as follows :

1. PTSD and TBI are the Smoking Guns of Veteran Suicide

Veterans with complex PTSD or PTSD and TBI are more than 25 times more likely to commit suicide than their veteran peers, according the National Center for Biotechnology Information (“NCBI”).

2.  The VA is Currently Not Able to Effectively Treat Veterans with PTSD

Like the NFL’s denial of culpability, the VA continues to insist that Cognitive Process Therapy (“CPT”) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”) help reverse the trends of PTSD and TBI.  This is patently untrue as described in more detail below.

The VA’s top-tier Specialized Intensive PTSD treatment Programs (“SIPPs”) failed to achieve clinically significant improvement in PTSD symptoms after an average 46-day program of treatment at an average cost of $23,578 per veteran. Average change in PCL-M scores was 5.7 points and “most program graduates met the criteria for clinically significant PTSD after discharge….” according to Institute of Medicine of the National Academies or IOM 2014 study, p.100.

“However, the outcomes from RCTs suggest that only a minority of veterans can be expected to lose their PTSD diagnosis as a result of getting CPT or PE, arguable administered in an ideal fashion…” (p.49) 2/3s retain PTSD diagnosis.

“In the RCTs conducted to date, with one exception, mean symptom scores at the end of treatment or at the latest follow-up (when available) indicated that PTSD symptoms were still substantial .” (p.49)

“Attaining high end-state functioning may be the exception rather than the rule.” (p.49)

The VA continues to treat the symptoms of PTSD and TBI with potentially lethal prescription drugs rather than use other proven therapy programs.  In fact, many current programs (i.e. cannabis) funded by the VA focus on treating symptoms rather than the underlying causes of PTSD and TBI.

3. The VA has Shown Little Inclination to Understand the Causes of PTSD

The “evidence-based” treatments currently deployed by the VA and DOD have little actual evidence supporting their efficacy in treating combat trauma and the existing evidence shows these treatments are generally ineffective.

The IOD concluded in 2014 that “[N]either department [DoD and VA] knows whether it is providing effective, appropriate, or adequate care for PTSD.

The VA insists that this is not the case, but many other studies have reached similar conclusion regarding the standard therapies used by the VA.

Specifically, in randomized controlled trials of “evidence-based” treatments in military PTSD “. . . mean post-treatment scores for CPT and prolonged exposure therapy remained at or above clinical criteria for PTSD, and approximately two-thirds of patients receiving CPT or prolonged exposure retained their diagnosis after treatment.  Symptom remission was rare.”   (Steenkamp, et. al., p. 489)

4.  SFTT has Assembled a World Class Medical Task Force to Identify and Deploy Effective Treatment for TBI and PTSD

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the VA continues to march to a drummer of its own choice insisting that Veterans are receiving the best care possible.  As SFTT will demonstrate in the next couple of weeks, support for Veterans diagnosed with PTSD (and their supportive families) is abysmal.

Veterans recognize the limitations of the VA and are seeking alternative therapy programs.  SFTT has assembled a world class Medical Task Force to identify promising new technologies and recommend proven treatment programs.

While some of these therapy programs have been around for years with proven success stories, others are more experimental in nature.  There is no “silver bullet” and each Veteran may respond differently to a specific program.  Nevertheless, it seems far better than the hype rather than substance of VA programs.

Visit the SFTT website for more information on promising new therapies to treat PTSD and TBI and do consider supporting the SFTT mission through a kind DONATION.

Veterans and those who serve our country need a helping hand.

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SFTT Military News: Highlights for Week Ending August 4, 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.

With Eye on Russia, US Military Focuses on Global Exercises
The U.S. military is moving toward more global exercises to better prepare for a more assertive Russia and other worldwide threats, a senior officer said in an interview with Reuters. Air Force Brigadier General John Healy, who directs exercises for U.S. forces in Europe, said officials realized they needed to better prepare for increasingly complex threats across all domains of war – land, sea, air, space and cyber. Some smaller-scale war games with a global focus had already occurred, but the goal was to carry out more challenging exercises by fiscal year 2020 that involved forces from all nine U.S. combatant commands – instead of focusing on specific regions or one military service, such as the Marines.  Read more . . .

Secretary of State Tillerson Seeks Talks with North Korea
In the Trump administration’s first serious attempt at a diplomatic opening to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has offered to open negotiations with Pyongyang by assuring “the security they seek” and a new chance at economic prosperity if the North surrenders its nuclear weapons.Mr. Tillerson’s comments came just hours before the United States on Wednesday tested an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, sending it 4,200 miles to a target in the Marshall Islands. The Pentagon said the test was not intended as a response to the North’s launch on Friday of a missile that appeared capable of reaching Los Angeles and beyond.But military officials said the test demonstrated that the American nuclear arsenal was ready “to deter, detect and defend against attacks on the United States and its allies.”  Read more . . .

Telehealth for Veterans Rolls Out To General Acclaim
American Telemedicine Association (“ATA”) has long supported the VA’s vision of expanding veterans’ access to telehealth services, facilitating high-quality encounters between veterans and providers, and ensuring that veterans are equipped with the best tools to monitor their health. This includes innovative models that facilitate cross-state practice and enable consumer choice such as the VETS Act (S. 295 and H.R. 2123). “We applaud Dr. Shulkin for demonstrating the value of telehealth today at the White House.” said Gary Capistrant, Chief Policy Officer, ATA. “We encourage President Trump to issue an Executive Order to eliminate the state-by-state licensure model for all federal and private-sector health professional employees servicing federal government programs—notably agencies (such as the VA and the Department of Health and Human Services), health benefit programs (such as Medicare and TRICARE), federally-funded health sites (such as community health centers and rural clinics), and during federally-declared emergencies or disasters.  Read more . . .

Veteran Choice Options Expanded
Thank bipartisan support for helping veterans, or lingering anger over the previous scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but whatever the reason, Congress is managing to get legislation passed addressing veterans’ needs. First, Congress finally worked out a deal on funding for Veterans Choice. If you believe that veterans should be able to seek out and get the best care wherever they prefer, whether it’s within the VA or from a private health care provider, Veterans Choice is a nice half-step, but hardly a sweeping change. (The booming demand for treatment through the program can be interpreted in veterans’ interest in exploring other treatment options.)  Read more . . .

Brain and PTSD Studies

No Surprise Here:  PTSD May Be More Physical than Psychological
The part of the brain that helps control emotion may be larger in people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after brain injury compared to those with a brain injury without PTSD, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference in Jacksonville, Fla., July 14 to 16, 2017. “Many consider PTSD to be a psychological disorder, but our study found a key physical difference in the brains of military-trained individuals with brain injury and PTSD, specifically the size of the right amygdala,” said Joel Pieper, MD, MS, of University of California, San Diego. “These findings have the potential to change the way we approach PTSD diagnosis and treatment.” In the brain there is a right and left amygdala. Together, they help control emotion, memories, and behavior. Research suggests the right amygdala controls fear and aversion to unpleasant stimuli.  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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SFTT Military News: Highlights for Week Ending Jul 28, 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.

Russia Shows Off Naval Strength in Protest of US Military Exercise with Georgia
US Vice-President Mike Pence will visit this week and is expected to back the plan, which Russia strongly opposes. Georgia and Russia have had fractious relations over two breakaway republics and fought a brief war in 2008. Russia staged its own show of force on Sunday with President Putin joining a naval display in St Petersburg. The US-Georgia military drills, dubbed Noble Partner, involve some 1,600 US and 800 Georgian troops. The US has also deployed M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks and M2 Bradley infantry vehicles for the exercises, which will go on until 12 August.  Read more . .

North Korea ICBM

China Bets the House on US Response toward North Korea
China is betting that U.S. President Donald Trump won’t make good on his threats of a military strike against North Korea, with Beijing continuing to provide a lifeline to Kim Jong Un’s regime. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson singled out China and Russia as “economic enablers” of North Korea after Kim on Friday test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile for the second time in a matter of weeks. While Tillerson said the U.S. wants a peaceful resolution to the tensions, the top American general called his South Korean counterpart after the launch to discuss a potential military response.  Read more . . .

The “Noise of War Under” Scrutiny by U.S. Military
U.S. military units have long used technology like night vision goggles to enhance their sense of sight. Now they’re trying to get a battlefield edge with their ears, too. The Marine Corps is experimenting with quieted-down weapons and electronic hearing enhancements that could reshape the soundscape of warfare. They want to minimize some sounds and amplify others to get more control over what they and their enemies hear. About 2,000 Marines have been testing carbines fitted with sound suppressors. The devices have long been used by special operations units, and the Marines want to expand their use into the mainstream infantry.  Read more . . .

Fresh Ideas Needed in Afghanistan?
President Trump is frustrated about the lack of progress in Afghanistan and seems to be skeptical about his military advisors’ proposal for the deployment of up to another 4,000 U.S. trainers, advisors and counter-terrorism forces to join the 8,500 now stationed there. “We’ve been there for now close to 17 years, and I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s going, and what we should do in terms of additional ideas,” he told reporters recently.  Read more . . .

House of Representatives Votes Unanimously to Support Veteran Choice Program
The House overwhelmingly approved a $3.9 billion emergency spending package to address a budget shortfall at the Department of Veterans Affairs that threatens medical care for thousands of veterans. The bill provides $2.1 billion to continue funding the Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans to receive private medical care at government expense. Another $1.8 billion would go to core VA health programs, including 28 leases for new VA medical facilities. The bill was approved 414-0 Friday and now goes to the Senate.  Read more . . .

PTSD Disability Claims Triple in Last Decade
More than one in five veterans receiving federal disability payouts suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a figure that has spiked in the last decade. Veterans Affairs officials told lawmakers Tuesday that the number of disability cases related to PTSD has nearly tripled in that time, from around 345,000 cases in fiscal 2008 to more than 940,000 cases today. Service-connected PTSD payouts now make up 22 percent of all veterans receiving compensation benefits from the department. That includes all age groups, not just veterans from the recent wars. But lawmakers still worry that current VA rules may still be excluding thousands more veterans eligible for the disability payouts, which are tied to injuries suffered during military service.  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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What do the NFL and the VA Have in Common?

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Like the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), the NFL has eloquently side-stepped the effects of brain trauma caused my massive or repeated concussive events.

In a most disturbing study, the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded that “110 of 111 NFL players were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.”

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

This should come as no surprise to most anyone who has followed repeated denials by NFL officials and team owners that repeated concussive events on the field of play lead to permanent brain damage.

Why?  The liability is simply too great and public outcry might hurt the lucrative revenue stream of the NFL, which is currently exempt from antitrust laws thanks to the largesse of Congress.

Personally, I don’t believe that the risk of brain injury will deter rabid fans from attending college or NFL games anymore than residents of Rome passed up an opportunity to attend a bloody spectacle at the colosseum.

Nevertheless, there is a strong grassroots effort to cut back on football programs for young children.  A recent news report from Tampa, Florida highlights the dilemma faced by parents whose 9 and 10 year-old children want to play contact football.

NFL Players and our Military Heroes

While NFL players have the opportunity to walk away from the sport they dearly love, the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces don’t have quite the same options.

More to the point, Veterans suffering from from PTSD and TBI have few possibilities given the VA’s limited menu of therapy options: Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).   As the VA acknowledges, neither of these therapies has produced significant improvements in the well-being of Veterans.

To mask the their failure in treating PTSD and TBI, the VA has resorted to potent prescription drugs with unsettling side-effects.   In effect, treating PTSD and TBI has largely been a “loss loss” for Veterans with equally devastating results on their families.

What the VA and the NFL have in common is a culture of arrogance and denial based on a concerted and prolonged effort to hide the truth from those it purports to serve and protect.   In effect, the VA has told Veterans that “it is the VA way or the highway.”

Sadly, far too many Veterans have opted for the highway.

Dr. David Cifu and the Culture of Doom

Nowhere is this arrogance of the VA more manifest than in the pompous and self-serving performance by Dr. David Cifu, a consultant for the VA on PTSD and TBI, at a 2016 Congressional subcommittee:

Scholars in attendance were revolted by Dr. Cifu’s anecdotal and silly justification for why the VA’s policies and procedures for treating PTSD and TBI are so far out of touch with the latest scientific research.

Sadly, Dr. Cifu’s opinions reflect entrenched attitudes at the VA and deprive tens of thousands of brave Veterans the treatment they deserve to combat this debilitating injury.

While Dr. David Shulkin is cleaning house at the VA, he would do well to look at those like Dr. Cifu to determine if they are up to the task in reestablishing the credibility of the VA.

Veterans that talk to SFTT believe that the VA is useless in helping to address their problems with PTSD and TBI.

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Opioid Abuse, Veterans and Mea Culpa

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With 80 people dying each day from overdoses of opioids, it is not surprising that Federal, State and Local authorities are seeking emergency measures and money to treat opioid abuse.

OxyContin - Veteran Addiction

Less surprising is the moral outrage and lynch-mob mentality of those who seek vengeance against those they deem responsible for the epidemic.  Just today, I read in the New York Times that the McKesson Corporation, “the nation’s largest drug distributor . . . finds itself at the center of the nation’s opioid epidemic.”

According to New York Times editor Gretchen Morgenson, McKesson shareholders and investors are likely to question the lavish pay packages earned McKesson executives while promoting the sale of lethal opioids to an unsuspecting public.

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

I realize it is a lot easier to blame some Colombian or Mexican War Lord for our nationwide drug addiction, but it seems undeniable that the U.S. government and trusted private and public associations have colluded with drug companies to create this “semi-legal” drug epidemic.

The consequences are heart-wrenching for many families who have lost loved-ones to this terrible addiction. Large towns and cities across the country have been devastated. Communities can no longer support themselves due to drug addiction by large segments of their population.

Rather than seek villains from this terrible tragedy, it is an opportunity for all citizens to reflect on the dysfunctional medical and substance control and testing process that enabled privately-owned companies to “legally” hook so many Americans on prescription drugs.  The “mea culpa” has plenty of self-serving enablers who would do well not to point fingers.

Sure, Big Pharma may eventually pay the price, but political party operatives have had their hands out at every stage of the addiction process to accept  “political contributions” to keep the regulatory process well lubricated.

The Veterans and Opioids

As SFTT has reported on numerous occasions, the VA has regularly resorted to using opioids and other toxic prescription drugs to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  The VA and the Department of Defense (the DoD) have long known of the side-effects of opioids, but both have cited the FDA and “clinical trials” as evidence that their treatment procedures have strong support from the medical community.

According to the VA (whose numbers are generally suspect), some 68,000 Veterans are addicted to opioids:

“The Center for Investigative Reporting, using data provided under the Freedom of Information Act, said prescriptions for four opioids (hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine) surged by 270 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to addictions and a fatal overdose rate that was twice the national average.

“In 2014, the VA said it issued 1.7 million prescriptions for opioids to 443,000 vets to be taken at home.

“Citing a VA Office of Inspector General’s report, the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL) said: “Between 2010 and 2015, the number of veterans addicted to opioids rose 55 percent to a total of roughly 68,000. This figure represents about 13 percent of all veterans currently prescribed opioids.”

Even by the VA’s own admission, these numbers are staggering.  More to the point, the use of these opioids may have helped Veterans cope with their pain, but it has done little if anything to help treat Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.  In fact, many Veterans will argue that the use of these prescription opioids has led to deeper depression and anxiety and, in some cases, suicidal tendencies.

Frankly, the use of opioids in treating PTSD and TBI has been largely unsuccessful.  There are many less invasive treatment alternatives for PTSD and TBI, but the VA seems reluctant to pursue them.

Why?  Has the insatiable greed of corporations and their government enablers blocked the pursuit of new treatment alternatives?

I certainly hope not, but I remain sceptical.

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Military News Highlights: Week Ending Jul 21, 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.

Turkey Releases Secret Sites of US Troops in Syria
In the latest display of Turkish anger at U.S. policy in Syria, the state news agency has divulged the locations of 10 U.S. military bases and outposts in northern Syria where the U.S. is leading an operation to destroy the so-called Islamic State in its self-styled capital of Raqqa. The list published by the Anadolu news agency points to a U.S. presence from one end to the other of the Kurdish self-administration region—a distance of more than 200 miles. The Anadolu news agency even listed the number of U.S. troops in several locations and in two instances stipulated the presence of French special forces.  Read more . . .

South Korea Proposes Military Talks with the North
South Korea on Monday proposed holding military and humanitarian talks with North Korea, its first visible split with the Trump administration, which has said it will deal with North Korea’s continued missile tests by stepping up sanctions and military pressure on the country. If the talks take place, they will be the first military-to-military dialogue since 2014. It is an attempt to ease tensions along a heavily armed border, and perhaps to arrange the resumption of reunions of families divided decades ago by the Korean War. But North Korea did not immediately respond, and such conversations have a dismal history since military officials on both sides are usually not empowered to negotiate significant agreements.  Read more . . .

French Military Chief Resigns Over Defense Cuts
A public fight between President Emmanuel Macron and France’s chief military officer over proposed cuts in military spending led Wednesday to the first high-profile resignation of a public servant since Mr. Macron was elected in May. In an unusual move, the military chief, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, offered his resignation after Mr. Macron said publicly that he would be the one to determine military policy and implicitly criticized General de Villiers for questioning the government’s proposed budget cuts. The president’s seemingly unshakable confidence in his judgment, and his reluctance to brook any dissent, could signal potential difficulties ahead as Mr. Macron tries to shrink government spending.  Read more . . .

Major IT Contract at Department of Veterans Affairs in Danger of “Catastrophic Failure”
Internal documents obtained by the American-Statesman show that last year, even as government overseers were taking the VA to task for failures in other high-profile IT projects, VA officials worried that the department’s $543 million contract with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services to implement a real-time locating system, or RTLS, was careening off the rails. The system, which consists of tagging and wirelessly tracking everything from catheters to hospital beds, has been hailed as a way to potentially save millions of dollars in lost or misplaced equipment.  Read more . . .

PTSD Brain Details

New PTSD Study Points Way to Future Treatment
A study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—conducted by the VA National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD), National PTSD Brain Bank, and Yale University—has identified a new potential mechanism contributing to the biology of the disorder that may be targeted by future treatments.  The study, led by NCPTSD and Yale psychiatrist Irina Esterlis, is the first to implicate a specific alteration in brain glutamate signaling in PTSD. Glutamate is a chemical messenger of brain signals, and alterations in glutamate levels in PTSD were described previously. The new study reports that positron emission tomography (PET) scans show increased levels of a subtype of glutamate receptor in the brain, metabotropic glutamate receptor-5 (mGluR5), in patients with PTSD. In animals, overstimulation of mGluR5 is associated with fear and stress-related behaviors; drugs that reduce mGluR5 function may reduce these symptoms. Thus, the current study may have implications for the treatment of PTSD, said the researchers.  Read more . . .

Welsh Study on Treating PTSD
Funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) and supported by Health and Care Research Wales, the study is seeking to help veterans who have not responded to current PTSD treatments. The two-year study is investigating the effectiveness of a new therapy known as 3MDR, where patients walk on a treadmill whilst interacting with a series of self-selected images that are related to their trauma, and displayed on a large screen. The aim of this therapy is to help patients learn how to move through their avoidance by, literally, approaching their traumatic memories.   Read more . . .

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

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