Did the VA Hook Veterans on Opioids?

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Recent information suggests that 68,000 Veterans are addicted to some form of opioid (hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine).  The VA argues that “more than 50 percent of all veterans enrolled and receiving care at the Veterans Health Administration are affected by chronic pain, which is a much higher rate than in the general population.”

Oxycontin and PTSD

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting obtained under the Freedom of Information Act,

. . . prescriptions for opioids surged by 270 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to addictions and a fatal overdose rate that was twice the national average.

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.”

The American Society for Addiction Medicine reports these startling facts on the opioid epidemic currently sweeping the U.S.

– Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.

– From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate.

While evidence provided by the Center for Controlled Disease and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the use prescription opioid painkillers has fallen some 41% since its peak in 2010, some 33,000 Americans died last year from addiction to opioids.  The addiction to prescription painkillers like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and Percocet (oxycodone) are rampant in the U.S.

The VA and Prescription Drugs for PTSD

For well over 5 years, Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”) has been reporting on the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) fascination with potent prescription drugs to treat Veterans with PTSD.

Despite the VA’s dismal record in effecting any meaningful change in patient outcomes, a cocktail of prescription drugs (generally opioids) are often the last resort since the VA’s Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) treatment programs have proved largely unsuccessful.

In what continues to be standard SOP, the VA perseveres in treating the symptoms of PTSD without offering any compelling life-changing treatment alternatives.  In effect, the VA is tacitly admitting “we don’t have a clue,” while arguing that they are providing the best therapy available and to seek funding for new “clinical” studies that address symptoms and not causes (i.e. cannabis, for instance) of PTSD and TBI.

In our research (mostly anecdotal but with those “in the know”), SFTT discovered that many Veterans treated with prescription opioids for PTSD would become violent and often suicidal.  In fact, they would often either discard these potent drugs (“flush them down the toilet”) or sell them on the black market to civilians.

One former Veteran explained that his colleagues would often grind up oxycontin pills into a powder and sell it on the black market for approximately $500 a month.  So prevalent was this behavior, that the government forced a large pharmaceutical company to produce oxycontin only in gel.  The result:  sales at the pharmaceutical company dropped 60% once the black market disappeared.

Personally, I think the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry effectively colluded into turning many Veterans and a large percentage of our population into junkies.

The Rationale?:  The level of addiction in the U.S. and easy access by the public to potent prescription drugs is simply unprecedented if compared to other countries.

How to Fix the VA’s Opioid Credibility Problem

It is sad to read the daily stories of spouses and loved ones deal with ravages of PTSD.  A few days of reading the Facebook page of “Wives of PTSD Vets and Military” will give you some idea of the ravages of the silent wounds of war.

Sure, we can continue to medicate these Veterans and military personnel with prescription drugs to deal with the symptoms, but I would far rather see an attempt to reverse the causes of debilitating brain injury rather than mask the symptoms.

There are several noninvasive solutions used by other countries.  First and foremost is hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT that is widely used by the IDF.  For reasons that seem incomprehensible, the DoD claims that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that HBOT is effective.

Gosh, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that suggests that prescription opioids, Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) are effective either.  Yet, the VA continues to push it’s stale and misleading agenda that it is providing our Veterans with the best available treatment programs.

Surely, we can do better than “talk the talk.”  Let’s look for real solutions.  If it can’t be found in the VA, let’s give the private sector an opportunity to help our brave Veterans.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Jul 7, 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.

New Russian AK-12 Assault Weapon Passes Field Tests
The AK-12 assault rifle has passed military field tests and meets all of the Russian armed forces’ design and operational standards, gunmaker Kalashnikov Concern says, according to Jane’s 360. The AK-12’s success in military trials sets it up to become the standard weapon for soldiers in Russia’s Ratnik — or Warrior — future weapon system. Work on the AK-12 began in 2011 with the AK-200 as a base model. Kalashnikov Concern presented prototypes in early 2012, and the first generation of the weapon was also successful in military tests.  Read more . . .

AK-12 Kalashnikov

Russia May Deploy Military in Syria Buffer Zones
Russia may deploy its military to police the borders of planned de-escalation zones in Syria within two to three weeks after finalizing an agreement with Turkey and Iran, Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said on Tuesday. Moscow hopes to sign the final documents with Ankara and Tehran on Wednesday, he told reporters after a series of meetings in the Kazakh capital, Astana.  Read more . . .

DIA Analysis on Russian Military Capabilities
The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency has released a new assessment of Russian military power—reviving a Cold War-era practice. The agency concludes that the modern Russian military builds upon its Soviet heritage but has modernized its capabilities and doctrine for the present day. “The Russian military has built on the military doctrine, structure, and capabilities of the former Soviet Union, and although still dependent on many of the older Soviet platforms, the Russians have modernized their military strategy, doctrine, and tactics to include use of asymmetric weapons like cyber and indirect action such as was observed in Ukraine,” the DIA report states.  Read more . . .

VA “Choice Funding” Requires Congressional Action
When they return from legislative recess next week, lawmakers will have only a few days to address financial problems with the Veterans Affairs Choice program before users start to see significant problems.  Last month, in testimony before the Senate, VA Secretary David Shulkin warned lawmakers that money in the Choice program funds was being spent at a faster rate than officials expected, threatening to bankrupt the program before the end of the fiscal year. Available funds dropped from about $2 billion to less than $850 million in three months.  Read more . . .

VA “TBI Model” to Determine Long Term Care Policy
“The VA TBI Model System is uniquely positioned to inform policy about the health, mental health, socioeconomic, rehabilitation, and caregiver needs following TBI,” write Guest Editors Risa Nakase-Richardson, PhD, of James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, Tampa, Fla., and Lillian Stevens, PhD, of Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Richmond, Va. The special issue presents initial reports from a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)-specific database of patients representing all traumatic brain injury (TBI) severity levels. The findings will play a critical role in VA’s efforts to meet the long-term needs of veterans with TBI.  Read more . . .

5 Common Misconceptions about PTSD
June 27 is National PTSD Awareness Day, an opportunity to bring to light a disorder that affects millions of Americans every day. The distinction of this day was granted by the United States Senate in 2010. In 2014, the Senate upgraded the cause by designating the full month of June toward raising awareness for PTSD. These efforts are critical to providing opportunities to educate the public about PTSD and how it affects those with the disorder.  Read more . . .

Electromagnetic Brain Pulse Study Underway for PTSD
A study by the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD will test whether PTSD can be treated with electromagnetic pulses to the brain. The study, beginning this summer, will treat 100 military members and veterans with PTSD at the Laurel Ridge Treatment Center in San Antonio. There, a robot will guide an electromagnet pulse across each subject’s scalp during 20 days of treatment. If it seems like science fiction, the therapy, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), has a genealogy going back all the way to Galvani’s frogs, said Peter Fox of UT Health, the study’s primary investigator.  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 Affairs On The Fence for Service Dogs

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Almost every day one hears a moving story of how Veterans with PTSD and other debilitating injuries are provided comfort and support by service dogs.

Service Dogs for PTSD

Photo via Pixabay by Skeeze

Nevertheless, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) continues to argue that there is little  scientific or clinical evidence to confirm that service dogs benefit Veterans in a meaningful way.

“I would say there are a lot of heartwarming stories that service dogs help, but scientific basis for that claim is lacking,” said Michael Fallon, the VA’s chief veterinary medical officer. “The VA is based on evidence based medicine. We want people to use therapy that has proven value.”

The argument is a brief synopsis of Dr. Fallon’s testimony to the House Subcommittee and Government Reform provided in April, 2016.

In his written testimony, Dr. Fallon goes on to state the following:

The VA/Department of Defense Clinical Practice Guideline recommends trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy [such as Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)], Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, stress inoculation, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and venlafaxine, a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, as primary treatments for PTSD. PE and CPT are among the most widely studied types of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. Evidence demonstrating their effectiveness is particularly strong.

As SFTT has reported on numerous occasions, Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) have been largely ineffective in reversing brain damage to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Specifically, the VA has very little evidence to show that PE and CPT therapy programs have done much to reduce the incidence of PTSD symptoms among Veterans against the “gold-standard” standardized PCL-M tests currently used by the VA.   The chart below illustrates the point (50 is considered base level):

Veterans Affairs Fails at PTSD

Aside from being very expensive to administer, the “evidence based medicine” supporting the effectiveness of PE and CPT programs currently administered by the VA is SADLY LACKING.

It is not unusual in the scientific community that promotes the effectiveness of the VA to apply fuzzy logic to alternative treatment programs.   In fact, there is a propensity among advocates to search for pharmacological solutions rather than embrace alternative therapy programs.

As one who has watched this charade play itself out on the big stage of public opinion, it is difficult for me to accept the argument that new pharmacology alternatives outcomes will be any different than the VA’s embrace of OxyContin to deal with the symptoms of PTSD.

Whether it is dog or equine therapy or hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”), Veterans are seeking out alternatives that are largely discredited by the VA.   In fact, one NIH researcher suggests argues that

Research also suggests further opportunities for the VA and other health care systems to develop new and innovative ways to overcome barriers to treating veterans with PTSD. With veterans and their families increasingly seeking care outside of the VA system, community providers play a key role in helping to address these challenges. It is critical they receive the education, training, and tools to improve their understanding of and skills for addressing the needs of this unique population.

It is difficult to understand that it should take 10 years to test the efficacy of using service dogs to help Veterans with PTSD.  Similarly, I recently learned that suspect test conditions used by the DoD to evaluate HBOT several years ago have prevented the VA from offering Veterans this life-changing service.

The VA continues to be its own worst enemy in helping provide Veterans with a lasting solution to their brain injuries.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending June 30, 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.

How Much of a Threat Does Russia Pose?
Nato defence ministers are reviewing progress in what’s known as the alliance’s “enhanced forward presence” – its deployment of troops eastwards to reassure worried allies, and deter any Russian move west. “Russia would like us to think that its current militarization and preparations for conflict are a response to Nato doing the same, but it’s simply not true.”That’s the view of Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Centre, and probably Britain’s leading watcher of Russian military matters. “Russia’s enormously expensive reorganization and rearmament program,” he told me, “was already in full swing well before the crisis over Ukraine, while Nato nations were still winding down their militaries.  Read more . . .

Kim - North Korea

President Trump Provided Military Options for North Korea
President Donald Trump has been given revised options on how to handle the growing threat of North Korea, at least one of which includes a military response in the event of a nuclear or ballistic strike against the U.S., two military experts told CNN.  U.S. National Security Adviser HR McMaster confirmed that the U.S. military was ready and said the threat from North Korea was far more urgent than in the past. “What we have to do is prepare all options because the President has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population,” McMaster said Wednesday, CNN reported.  Read more . . .

“Bad Paper” Veterans to Receive Mental Health Support from the VA
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that it would begin offering emergency mental health services starting July 5 to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges – following through on a departmental change that VA Secretary David Shulkin promised in March. The change acknowledges the population of veterans has been denied needed care, but it doesn’t go far enough, according to a report released last week from Brown University and a statement from Vietnam Veterans of America, which has advocated for years on behalf of “bad paper” veterans.  Read more . . .

Service Dogs and Veterans

VA Policy on Service Dogs Remains a Study in Process
“I would say there are a lot of heartwarming stories that service dogs help, but scientific basis for that claim is lacking,” said Michael Fallon, the VA’s chief veterinary medical officer. “The VA is based on evidence based medicine. We want people to use therapy that has proven value.” Yet the VA’s efforts to study the possible benefits of service animals have been plagued with problems. Congress mandated a study in 2010, but the VA suspended it just months after it began, when two of the dogs in the study bit the children of veterans. The study restarted in 2012 but was again stopped because of issues with the dog’s health and training. A new study is underway and the VA is now recruiting veterans to participate. But it isn’t expected to be finished before 2019.  Read more . . .

Objective Test to Diagnose PTSD?
Australia’s Medibio, which is working on an objective test for the diagnosis of mental health disorders, reported promising results for a noninvasive diagnostic tool for post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But this figure jumps dramatically in veterans, to anywhere between 11% and 30%, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD diagnosis, like that of other mental health disorders, depends on patient-reported and physician-observed symptoms. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a patient must experience four different types of symptoms for at least one month. Medibio seeks to “revolutionize” the diagnosis and treatment of mental health with noninvasive, quick, and objective diagnostic tests for PTSD and other disorders.  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 NFL and Military Helmets Have In Common?: Not Much!

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Like many, I am moved by the tributes paid to military Veterans and active service members at NFL games.  Nevertheless, both the NFL and the military have come under sharp criticism regarding the number brain injuries suffered on both the playing field and battlefield.

chronic_traumatic_encephalopathy

Both the NFL and military have stonewalled the problem for many years, but it now appears that the NFL is taking action to introduce a “safer” helmet in the hope that they can reduce concussions and permanent brain injuries for professional athletes. Hopefully, better protective gear will work its way through college and high school football programs.

The Vicis Zero1 helmet has now been purchased by 25 NFL teams and will be introduced during the 2017 season. According to initial press releases:

In testing against 33 other helmets to measure which best reduces the severity of impact to the head, the Vicis ZERO1 finished first. Included in the study were helmets from Schutt and Riddell, which currently account for approximately 90 percent of helmet sales.

Vicis was founded by neurosurgeon Sam Browd and Dave Marver, former CEO of the Cardiac Science Corporation, with the goal of reducing the high rate of concussions in football. While it would take years of play and further studies to conclusively prove that they’ve been successful, the studies show that they’re on their way to making an impact.

Found below is a video explaining how this helmet helps provide additional protection to football professionals:

While the safety requirements for battlefield and football helmets differ significantly, it does appear that the NFL has acted a lot quicker than the military to protect its professionals.

Reducing brain injuries at their point of origin is far preferable to treating neurological damage to sensitive brain cells in the aftermath.

The US Army – and other DoD components – have long been aware that current helmets offer battlefield personnel little protection against IED devices typically found in Afghanistan and in the Middle East.  Indeed, SFTT has been reporting on various studies by the military embedding sensors into military helmets.

According to my calculation, the US Army has over 10 years of sensor data to draw on.  Surely, this is sufficient to draw some conclusions and develop a better-designed helmet capable of providing additional protection against concussive brain injury.

While the military continues to “study” the issue, it is encouraging to see the NFL to take action.  Frankly, I don’t buy the NFL sales pitch that the league rushed in to protect the health and safety of its players.  If true, they would have done so long ago when the NFL first started studying brain injuries.

As the New York Times reported earlier, the NFL leadership buried extensive “concussion” evidence collected between 1996 and 2001 to deflect potential claims by former NFL players who had suffered brain damage.

As we have seen in the case of body armor,  DoD leadership and the NFL have much in common:  a strong propensity to hide the facts from their employees and the public at large.

While one can find many faults in the way the NFL leadership has acted “to protect the safety of its players” and the integrity of their franchise, NFL teams are now treating brain injuries far more seriously than the DoD.

In addition to helmets, several NFL teams are now treating players with suspected brain injury with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).    Sadly, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to block the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Could it be that DoD personnel charged with evaluating HBOT therapy failed to employ the proper protocols in 2010 clinical testing procedures?  If so, why?

SFTT remains hopeful that both the VA and the DoD will act quickly to introduce helmets that afford more protection to battlefield personnel and approve HBOT as an acceptable treatment procedure for PTSD and TBI.

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SFTT News: Week Ending June 23, 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.

Canadian Sniper Hits Target 2 Miles Away
The Canadian Special Operations Command can confirm that a member of the Joint Task Force 2 successfully hit a target from 3,540 meters,” the force said in an email to NPR.  For operational security reasons and to preserve the safety of our personnel and our Coalition partners, we will not discuss precise details on when and how this incident took place. The elite sniper was using a McMillan TAC-50 sniper rifle while firing from a high-rise during an operation that took place within the last month in Iraq,” the paper reports. “It took under 10 seconds to hit the target.  Read more . . .

Uniform Snafu in Afghanistan Costs US Taxpayers
A watchdog report issued Tuesday in Washington criticized the Defense Department’s spending of nearly $94 million to buy more than 1.3 million uniforms for Afghan military forces between 2008 and early 2017.  The 17-page report, written by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, says the Pentagon overpaid by about 40 percent for uniforms bearing a green woodland camouflage pattern chosen by the Afghan Ministry of Defense from a catalog.  Read more . . .

Putin

Russia to Shoot Down US Airplanes in No-Fly Zone Over Syria
Russia has warned that its military will begin targeting U.S. planes in Syria after the U.S. shot down a fighter jet belonging to the Moscow-backed Syrian government. In a statement issued Monday, Russia’s defense ministry announced it had severed a so-called “deconfliction line” previously maintained between Russia and the U.S. in order to avoid accidents occurring between the two armed forces waging separate campaigns against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in Syria. Russia and Iran support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has recently made significant gains against insurgents and jihadists nationwide that began claiming territory in 2011, but the U.S.’s anti-ISIS efforts are mostly being carried out via local militants and rebel groups. As ISIS collapses, the U.S. has become eager to secure its influence in Syria against Russia and Iran.  Read more . . .

Secretary Shulkin on VA Accountability Law
Within the first few months of David Shulkin’s tenure as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, he’s made several big plays: the plan to redesign the Veterans Choice Program, the decision to abandon VistA and adopt the same commercial, off-the-shelf electronic health record as the Defense Department and a promise to close underutilized or vacant VA buildings. “I am not looking for the same old practices and behaviors that led us to where we are now,” he told reporters during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington on June 20. “I am looking for a different type of leadership style from the people in my organization, and inherently, that’s going to be associated with risks, as long as it’s measured and we can determine when and if we need to adjust course on those decisions.”  Read more . . .

Brain size and PTSD Therapy

New Brain Analysis Could Differentiate Brain Injuries
Considering the brain’s network of activity, rather than just individual regions, could help us understand why some brain injuries are much worse than others, according to a study published PLOS Computational Biology by Maxwell B. Wang, Julia Owen, and Pratik Mukherjee from University of California, San Francisco, and Ashish Raj from Weill Cornell Medicine. The displays an astonishing range of responses to injury, depending on its location. This is conventionally considered a result of the fact that each region has a specific functional role. However, there is increasing evidence that the brain’s regions do not operate in isolation but as a network or ‘connectome.’ Therefore, to understand the effect of injury, we must look not just for localized changes but network-wide changes caused by the disruption of network connections.   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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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) by Grady Birdsong

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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy HBOT Grady BirdsongGrady Birdsong, a USMC Veteran from Vietnam, has co-authored a book with Col. Robert Fisher (USMC – Ret) that deals with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”) entitled “The Miracle Workers of South Boulder Road:  Healing the Signature Wounds of War.”

The book is a 2016 Best Book Awards finalist and details how HBOT helps reverse the damage of traumatic brain injury.   In a must-hear interview, Grady Birdsong explains his experience with HBOT (and now his advocacy)  to Jerry Fabyanic on his “Rabbithole” program at KYGT in the Idaho Springs/Denver area.

Grady Birdsong spikes up interest in hyperbaric oxygen therapy with a down-to-earth radio interview with KYGT Radio with the following introduction:

In our advocacy campaign to make this clinic and treatment known, I had the good fortune of being interviewed on KYGT Radio over the weekend by Jerry Fabyanic on his “Rabbithole” program in a mountain town close to Denver. He has so graciously provided me with a link to that interview about our book. We most gratefully appreciate his voice and his audience at KYGT in the Idaho Springs/Denver area. Likewise my close friend and veteran Marine, David T. “Red Dog” Roberts, 1st Bn, 4th Marines, Delta Company in Vietnam and his Doc, Corpsman, Kenneth R. Walker produced two songs that are complementary to this advocacy of healing the signature wounds of war. You will hear them in the interview.

CLICK HERE for the entire and very educational 50+ minute podcast.

SFTT has long recommended the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT to treat Veterans with the symptoms of PTSD and TBI.  There are many studies that prove conclusively that the supervised application of HBOT helps improve brain function and restores cognitive abilities.

While Mr. Birdsong points out the many restorative benefits of HBOT, follow-up supervision is recommended to help deal with some of the symptoms of PTSD.

Sadly, in many online forums dealing with the ravages of PTSD, most military families are unaware of the benefits of regular supervised “dives” in HBOT chambers.  I would argue that the Department of Veterans Affairs has purposely discredited the use of HBOT in treating PTSD and TBI to promote their own failed agenda and the prevalent use of addictive prescription drugs.

One only needs to listen to the likes of Dr. David Cifu, Senior TBI Advisor to the Department of Veterans Affairs, to see the cynicism and blatant disregard for clinical evidence adopted by the VA against HBOT.   One can only speculate why, but HBOT seems to offer Veterans a far better solution than the cocktail of drugs served up by the VA.

Found below is a very moving and instructional video by Grady Birdsong of a young woman who “recovered her life” from the “signature wounds of war” with the use of HBOT:

Thanks to the effort of Grady and many other dedicated Veterans, we can all join together and help Veterans reclaim their lives. It is simply the right thing to do!

Nevertheless, the benefits of HBOT will not be widespread until the restrictive and self-serving barriers to this treatment are adopted and encouraged by the VA. Secretary Shulkin of the VA wants change to occur at the VA.  What better way to demonstrate his commitment to reducing Veteran suicides than by embracing HBOT to treat PTSD?

If you want to learn more about how HBOT can be used in treating PTSD and TBI, I suggest that you purchase The Miracle Workers of South Boulder Road:  Healing the Signature Wounds of War.  Share it with family and friends to encourage them not to give up hope on our brave Veterans.

For those tired of watching the lives of loved one end in pain, depression and hopelessness; write Dr. Shulkin and members of Congress and ask for action.  Don’t allow naysayers and self-serving bureaucrats like Dr. Cifu block Veteran access to HBOT.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending June 14, 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.

Taliban

Russia Claims to Have Killed ISIS Leader
Russia’s military said on Friday that it was looking into whether one of its airstrikes in the Syrian desert had killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State.In a statement, the Defense Ministry said that the Russian Air Force struck a meeting of Islamic State leaders on May 28 outside Raqqa, Syria, the group’s de facto capital, possibly killing Mr. Baghdadi. The statement offered no explanation for the two-week delay in publicizing the airstrike. And it was also not clear whether the Russian military had known in advance that Mr. Baghdadi was at the gathering, or had learned of this possibility only after the strike was carried out.  Read more . . .

Trump Restrictions on Cuban Trade Said to Hurt Cybersecurity
The prospect of tightened sanctions has many Cubans on edge, concerned about the impact on the economy and overall relations between the countries. For Lt. Col. Rodriguez, it could mean curtailing what the Cubans tout as successful sharing of intelligence, made possible as a result of the diplomatic relations established by President Obama. “The progress that we’ve made could be set back,” Rodriguez said.  Read more . . .

Help on the Way for Military Caregivers?
Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and actor Ryan Phillippe visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify in the first major Senate hearing on veteran caregiver issues in several years. “I’ve heard directly from the military caregivers who are in need,” Phillippe told The Hill. “And those experiences stick with you. They stay with your heart. And I think bringing attention to these issues is huge.” The foundation commissioned a report from the Rand Corporation, also released on Wednesday, which provides a blueprint for necessary research and support for caregivers. “Rand pointed out the number of areas where there were gaps in services, and the current legislation fills those gaps,” Dole told The Hill. “Now we need the research to get ready for the future.”   Read more . . .

How Russia Targets the U.S. Military
In recent years, intelligence experts say, Russia has dramatically increased its “active measures” — a form of political warfare that includes disinformation, propaganda and compromising leaders with bribes and blackmail — against the United States. Thus far, congressional committees, law enforcement investigations and press scrutiny have focused on Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s successful efforts to disrupt the American political process. But a review of the available evidence and the accounts of Kremlin watchers make clear that the Russian government is using the same playbook against other pillars of American society, foremost among them the military. Experts warn that effort, which has received far less attention, has the potential to hobble the ability of the armed forces to clearly assess Putin’s intentions and effectively counter future Russian aggression.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Congress Passes Veterans Affairs Accountability Act
Congress approved long-sought legislation Tuesday to make firing employees easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs, part of an effort urged by President Trump to fix a struggling agency serving millions of veterans. The bill will make it easier for VA employees, including executives, to be fired by lowering the standard of evidence required to “remove, demote or suspend” someone for poor performance or misconduct. It also gives whistleblowers more protections, including preventing the VA from removing an employee with an open whistleblower case.  The House cleared the bill, 368-55, replacing an earlier version that Democrats had criticized as overly unfair to workers. The Senate passed the bipartisan legislation by voice vote last week. It will go to Mr. Trump later this week for his signature.  Read more . . .

Alcohol and Substance Abuse May Worsen PTSD Symptoms
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to a disorder wherein a person may fail to recover after experiencing a terrifying event. It can trigger anxiety and dreadful memories of the incident. Veterans or people from the armed forces may be at a higher risk of developing PTSD as they are often exposed to life-threatening experiences and tough combat. Military services and many other local organisations offer help to veterans to overcome this disorder. However, sometimes they may turn to alcohol and substance abuse to numb distress and ease the anxiety. But a new study, published in the journal of Traumatic Stress, indicates that such risky behaviour may worsen the symptoms of 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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Secretary Shulkin Announces Electronic Health Records for VA

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In a rather unusual setting:  the White House press room – Department of Veterans Affairs’ Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, announced that the VA “will be overhauling its electronic health records, adopting a commercial product used by the Pentagon that he hopes will improve care for veterans and reduce wait times for medical appointments.”

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

While many have been pressing for a complete overhaul of the VA’s inefficient medical record system, Dr. Shulkin has taken on the challenging task of dispensing with the VA’s current VistA system in exchange for the Department of Defense MHS Genesis system.

Without going into too many details, Secretary Shulkin showed courage by selecting the MHS Genesis system without competitive bidding, “citing a ‘public interest’ exception. He noted that when the Pentagon did competitive bidding on its system, it took 26 months.”

While I fully agree with his rationale for accelerating the implementation process, I am quite certain that others will question the bidding process.  After-all, Secretary Shulkin claims that it would be “unrealistic” to assume that the VA’s new electronic health record would cost less than $4 billion.

Congressional approval is required for this supplemental appropriation, but this overhaul of the VA electronic health records was a key recommendation of the June 30, 2016 Commission on Care Report.    I have no doubt that Congress will pass the required appropriation.

Electronic Health Records for Veterans and the VA

On the plus side, a “cloud-based” commercial solution is far preferable to internally-developed and internally-maintained VA legacy systems.  Outdated, clunky and inefficient legacy systems at banks and insurance companies have proved to be rather ineffective at keeping pace with technology.  Systems at the VA are probably not different.

There is no question, that the VA will be able to operate far more efficiently with state-of-the-art electronic health records.  Whether Veterans will benefit from this improved information technology remains a matter of conjecture.

Dr. Shulkin claims that the transition to the MHS Genesis system will take “about 3 to 6 months at the latest.”  Recalling the delays in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act online marketplace, I suspect that this is a very ambitious target.  I hope to be proven wrong.

Furthermore, I recall that it took members of the medical profession about two years to fully implement the transition to electronic health records to receive reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid.

While the technology may be fully deployed and implemented within six months, I suspect that it is highly unlikely that 300,000 plus employees at the VA will easily transition to the new electronic health records.

Realistically, I suspect that it will be about 24 months before the first major efficiencies make themselves manifest at the VA.

Privacy and Electronic Health Records

While it makes sense to use the common elements of the Department of Defense (“DoD”) database to populate and communicate with a similar system at the VA, access to individual records creates privacy issues.

Veterans tell SFTT that they are reluctant to share health information with the VA because of privacy concerns.  Linking the DoD and VA databases seems – on the surface – to raise additional “privacy” issues.

While the VA can use any number of filters and access restriction to protect the confidentiality of electronic health records, it is evident that a human interface will at some point be required to get actionable medical information to “the right” caregiver.

Getting a person on the phone – let alone “the right person” – has always been a problem at the VA.  In fact, SFTT reported late last year that 1/3 of the calls to the VA Crisis Center go unattended.

Is it enough to assume that things will be different this time around?

Conclusion

While the move to electronic health records is yet another great decision by Dr. Shulkin, it remains to be seen whether he has sufficient tools at his disposal to mobilize the staff of VA to reach out to Veterans and help close the divide.

On behalf of our brave Veterans, SFTT certainly hopes so.

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