Maj. Ben Richards and his HBOT Treatment

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Editor’s Note: Found below is a very moving letter from Maj. Ben Richards and the benefits he received from being treated by Hyperbaric Oxygen from Dr. Paul Harch. The letter is quoted in its entirety.

QUOTE

Maj. Ben RichardsIn the spring and summer of 2007 I (Maj. Ben Richards) had the privilege of leading Bronco Troop, 1-14 CAV, a Stryker-equipped cavalry troop, during intense combat operations in and around Baqubah, Iraq. Bronco Troop was blessed with the deep bench of top- quality Noncommissioned Officers that distinguishes great units from good ones. Five of the six officers in the troop were West Pointers. At one point all six of us were captains and the experience paid dividends in a challenging operating environment.

At the peak of operations a new second lieutenant arrived straight from the basic course to take over a scout platoon. I greeted him shortly after he arrived at our dilapidated combat outpost and told him we would have a Combat Action Badge for him the next day. His face showed that he clearly thought I was joking. By the following evening he had survived an IED hit to his Stryker, been in two firefights and earned his CAB. The rest of us had earned our CABs on our first day in town two months earlier as well. A few weeks later he was wounded by a grenade fragment while leading his platoon in a dismounted close combat assault on an al Qaeda fighting position. The courage, competence and character of these young officers was in every way a credit to our alma mater and a testimony to West Point’s continuing role as the corner stone of our Nation’s defense.

During those several months of combat operations, ninety percent of my men hit at least one IED- often more than one. In May 2007 a suicide-bomber driving a sedan laden with explosives rammed into my Stryker and destroyed it. A few weeks later we hit a second ‘plain vanilla’ IED buried in the road that damaged our second Stryker sufficiently that it was later coded out as not being worth fully repairing. After each hit, we got back up and returned to the fight because we knew that there was going to be a fight and we fight as a team, even when it hurts.

On returning home I, like so many others, began a personal movement to contact battle against an enemy that I could not see, could not anticipate and was neither trained nor equipped to combat. Six months after arriving back at Fort Lewis, I was diagnosed with PTSD. To be honest, I only sought help after being ‘command directed’ by my wife. At that time, I was not intimidated by PTSD. I had every confidence that it was something I could beat. I was surprised and not a little embarrassed that I had it all. I gave it a year, tops. By then I would be fully back in the saddle. The extent of damage to my brain caused by the pair of mild traumatic brain injuries was not recognized until over three years after the injuries and not fully diagnosed until yet another year had passed.

While I was serving in Iraq, I was extremely fortunate to be selected by the History Department at the Academy to return for a tour as an instructor. I arrived in the summer of 2010 in pretty rough shape. Less than a year into the assignment I collapsed under the weight of disabling chronic pain, memory problems, cognitive deficits, sleep deprivation, drugs (the legal kind), emotional problems and all the detritus that often accompanies invisible injuries. At one point, heavily under the influence of prescription medications, I even seriously considered taking my own life.

West Point was up to the challenge. The History Department leadership kept me in the department so that they could personally oversee my care. My fellow instructors, both civilian and military, took on the burden of my workload without complaint, as they would have carried me, my rifle and my ruck to the CASEVAC point. I’m sure theirs was a long, hard walk out. It was real leadership, at real personal cost and sacrifice.

The Department’s Colonels breached every administrative and bureaucratic obstacle to ensure I literally received the best care available in the Department of Defense for my injury profile. When it turned out that the best care was not enough, and after they had done everything within their power to assure my future well-being, they fare welled me with honors and fanfare well beyond those merited by a junior major.

The day I took off my uniform for last time was one of the saddest in my life. I saw only an empty husk of the new cadet who had marched in the rain on R-Day eighteen years earlier and so full of the potential that enables a Firstie to sit with generals and presidents while a second lieutenant hides from majors in the motor pool. I was permanently broken. The natural processes of neural plasticity had run their course and come up wanting at the end. Medications could only partially mitigate the pain while causing new problems of their own. The results of evidence-based psychotherapies became part of the new canon of evidence that those therapies, so promising for victims of rape and traffic accidents, are disappointingly much less effective against combat-related PTSD. Acceptance and accommodation were all that was left to aspire to.

It was at that moment of hopelessness that the Long Gray Line extended its hand to drag me back from the edge. John Batiste, class of ’74 , a retired general officer and president of the veteran-serving non-profit Stand for the Troops founded by the legendary COL David Hackworth (SFTT.org), hunted me down to deliver a life-changing message.

We will help you, he told me, and by that I mean really help you and not in the sense of providing a palliative weekend retreat or the cathartic commiseration of other wounded warriors.

Had John not been a grad and a soldier of such well-known reputation, I would have hung up the phone. I did not have the hope left to waste on vain promises with unlikely outcomes, but because John was who he was I gave him the time. He gave my life back.

The problem of invisible wounds and injuries was one that merited a Manhattan project. Instead it had the Army medical corps bureaucracy that ran Walter Reed into scandal, regularly abused invisibly wounded warriors exiled to Warrior Transition Units and never seemed to get past the word excuse, so clearly bookmarked in their dictionary, to the word execution. It was a corps of capable and dedicated medical operators who did not deserve their uninspired and ineffective leaders. Their obvious failures were difficult for me to understand after having spent a career in the company of men and women I would follow anywhere. And then there was the VA.

Unwilling to accept defeat at hands of inefficacious bureaucracies, John and SFTT recruited a team of medical experts and began scouring the country for new and more effective approaches to treating TBI and PTSD. Their rescue mission had led them to Doctor Paul Harch, a practitioner of Hyperbaric Medicine at the Louisiana State University Medical School in New Orleans. Harch, John said, would treat me.

Dr. Harch had become the point man for league of medical practitioners and researchers using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy to treat brain damage caused by TBIs. By the time I arrived in New Orleans, these practitioners had already treated over a hundred invisibly wounded warriors as well as several well-known NFL football players to include the legendary quarterback Joe Namath. Harch had personally completed a research study with 20 soldiers and marines whose brains had been damaged by combat TBIs. The results were unprecedented.

When I was being evaluated by the military’s top neurologists in 2011, the prevailing medical wisdom was that modern medicine could do very little, if anything, to help a brain heal after being damaged by a mild TBI. There was a period of natural healing of up to several years, but at four years post injury, they had no expectation that my brain would improve and many reasons to suspect that it would instead begin to degrade. I arrived in New Orleans with repressed expectations.

I found Dr. Paul Harch to be a dedicated and innovative professional. He exhibited a reserved persona that I soon found to be a façade masking a burning passion for healing and especially for healing those that hope had passed by. Harch is a man of great moral courage, conviction and compassion. A classical gentleman endowed with the noblesse oblige of an heir of a great inheritance of character and natural capacity.

 Harch and his colleagues had pioneered a protocol for using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to treat brain injuries. The medicinal effects of oxygen at higher the atmospheric pressure have been recognized empirically for over a century. It is perhaps best known as a treatment for diving injuries. It is also widely used for healing hard-to-treat wounds and is approved by the FDA for over a dozen different medical conditions. Using HBOT to treat brain injuries, like most of the prescription medications I had been prescribed by the DOD and VA, is considered off-label but its safety has been recognized by Institute of Medicine.

Treatment consisted of 40 one-hour ‘dives’ in a Plexiglas tank that I would describe as similar to a torpedo tube at a rate of one dive, sometimes two, a day. The tube is filled with 100 percent oxygen which is then pressurized to 1.5 atmospheres. Protocols for wound healing and dive injuries use higher pressures. The pressure loads oxygen into the blood stream like carbonation in an unopened can of soda. The introduction of the extra oxygen into the brain initiates a cascade of chemical interactions that my star-man roommate could probably explain but that I would struggle to elucidate here. The end result is the creation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and the repair or regrowth of brain cells.

Before I began treatment, we did a SPECT neuro-imaging scan of my brain. A SPECT scan uses an injective radioactive agent to image blood flow in the brain. It is one of the more sensitive imaging tools for detecting brain damage caused by mTBIs and in many cases is superior to CT or MRI scans, especially if more than a few months have elapsed since the time of injury. The images showed the poor blood perfusion typical of a brain damaged by TBIs- not unexpected as previous scans of other types had verified multiple points of structural damage. The image meant that my brain wasn’t using the amount of oxygen that a normal brain would have been. That difference was apparent not only in the scans but in the neuropsychological testing and other measures of cognitive and emotional impairment with which I had been evaluated.

By the time I had completed 20 ‘dives’ the changes I was experiencing were becoming undeniable. Nearly every facet of my injury profile began to improve. Pain levels dropped. Sleep improved. Memory improved. Attention span lengthened. Irritability decreased. I started feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. Good things. Happy things. I was able to sustain a light workout program for the first time since 2008. We scanned my brain again. The amount and extent of blood perfusion had increased significantly, matching the subjective results that even my guarded skepticism was compelled to recognize. The SPECT image is one of the most reliable predictors of the long-term prognosis of brain injury and mine had just changed radically.

The Harch’s covered the cost of my treatment from their own pockets, as they have for dozens of other veterans before me at no small sacrifice. John and SFTT rallied donors, mostly West Pointers, to help cover living expenses for four months of care. Gulf coast alumni quickly assumed an overwatch position and contributed several thousand dollars. I couldn’t have covered the costs alone. Even a 100% VA disability rating only matches the pay of a private first class. Not enough to maintain dual household with four kids at home.

HBOT has not completely healed my wounds, but it has given me more back than I thought possible. More than five years after leaving Iraq, a husband and a father finally come home to his family. The treatment that Dr. Harch provided unquestionably saved my marriage. It has enabled me to participate in and experience life in ways that I, and my DOD and VA doctors, had assumed were gone for good. I have even been able to contribute a little bit back. I am no longer a husk. Looking back on those dark days, I don’t think it would be unfair to say that Paul Harch and SFTT probably saved my life.

UNQUOTE

Editor’s Note:  This very moving story by Maj. Ben Richards highlights the benefits of HBOT in treating PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.    Shouldn’t we be doing more for our brave veterans.

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Equine Therapy and Service Dogs for Vets

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There are countless stories of Veteran men and women who suffer from PTSD who receive substantial benefits from the companionship and care of animals.  Many charitable programs have sprung up around the country to help Vets deal with the “silent wounds of war.”  SFTT is proud of its association with the EquiCenter in Rochester, New York which offers several types of programs for Veterans, including its acclaimed therapeutic equestrian training.

Similarly, Train a Dog – Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”) provides for the training of a Medical Alert Service Dog for any Active Duty or Veteran suffering from PTSD.  The goal of TADSAW is to restore and improve the warrior’s quality of life with a canine “Battle Buddy”, at no charge to the warrior.

As reported earlier by SFTT, the VA does not provide and financial assistance to Veterans with PTSD for equine or dog therapy.    As such, it is vital that we continue to support these grass-roots programs which are helping many Veterans reclaim their lives.  Found below are samples of two such programs which are doing just that.

Equine therapy helping veterans deal with anxiety and PTSD

Equine service for Heroes is just one example  of a successful program designed to help our Veterans suffering from PTSD who believe that they face rejection from society and, in some cases, their military friends.

The Rocking Horse Ranch in Pitt county has a new therapy program helping veterans connect with their emotions. The program is called The Equine Service for Heroes and pairs military vets with horses at the ranch.

Ashley Bonner spent 10 years in the Air Force as a medic. She joined after 9-11 and was deployed to Turkey and became a Staff Sergeant. In 2012, she left the service and came back to Greenville. “A lot of times when you get out of service, for medical reasons or because your time is up, coming home from a deployment there is a lot of anxiety, depression and self-doubt. “ says Bonner.

Staff Sergeant, Adam Harrod, spent 12 years in the Army Reserves in Kentucky with two tours of duty in Iraq. “I left because of back problems, PTSD and I decided to get a job in education, can’t do that in the military” says Harrod. To help treat his PTSD, He says he heard about the new 12 week equine therapy program from the V.A. and joined.

Malaika Albrecht, the Executive Director of the Rocking Horse Ranch, says the horses can sense anxiety in people. “There’s a lot of research out there, yes anxiety reduction, how is it happening,” Albrecht says, “I don’t personally know if I care how it happens, I only care that it does.” Both Bonner and Harrod are volunteers at the ranch as well as participants and attributes working with the horses with finding purpose and a plan for their lives.

This program has been funded by the Grainger Foundation to allow veterans to participate for free. The Rocking Horse Ranch depends on donations to keep programs, like this and others, available to participants for free of for low costs. The Equine Services for Heroes is free for this year. Read more at : Equine therapy helping veterans deal with anxiety and PTSD

This equine therapy program for Vets is not inexpensive to administer and requires generous contributions from charitable foundations and individuals to help provide the brave young men and women the support they need to help reclaim their lives.

Service dog helps veteran service officer cope with PTSD

More common than equine therapy are the vast number of programs featuring service and/or companion dogs for Veterans.  Clearly, there are many theories to explain the benefits of using a dog to help a Veteran, but quite simply a dog is a trusted companion that is there for you 24/7.  The bonds formed in this process are mutually beneficial.   Found below is one such story.

When Tony Tengwall returned from deployment in Baghdad with the Minnesota Army National Guard in 2005, he struggled to readjust to civilian life. Tengwall got a job and went back to school, but it was “tougher than it should have been,” he said. He was losing touch with family and friends. He didn’t socialize.

It wasn’t until he started working with other veterans that he noticed similar traits: anxiety, frustration. “It helped me understand that there are things not working here,” he said. It was post-traumatic stress disorder.

A colleague, who also works with veterans, saw how Tengwall would interact with one of her foster dogs, Fitz. The 4-year-old English cocker spaniel would calm Tengwall and “brought him to the present,” said Lauri Brooke, a county veterans service officer in Becker County.

Fitz is a psychiatric service dog who has helped Tengwall, 35, a veterans service officer in Anoka County, with his PTSD. The pup, who also goes to work with Tengwall, provides the same comfort to other veterans when they visit the office. “I haven’t had an angry vet since I got Fitz,” he said. “They come in, sometimes angry, sit down and start petting him. And then their mood completely changes.”

“People remember me as the guy with the dog,” Tengwall said. “It started with the little things,” he said. Fitz got him out of the house for exercise and conversations with neighbors. Fitz can predict Tengwall’s mood shifts. If Tengwall starts to feel road rage, for example, Fitz puts his head on Tengwall’s shoulders, as if to say “Hey buddy, calm down,” Tengwall said.

Tengwall served 11 years with the Minnesota Army National Guard and was in Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for about a year. The hardest time for him, he said, was when his unit deployed and he was back home, no longer in the service.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s first piece of legislation in Congress was the Service Dogs for Veterans Act. This bill paired about 200 veterans with service dogs that help them mentally or physically. Most veterans cannot afford service dogs. The cost to train each one and place it with the proper veteran is about $25,000.

But the benefits, Brooke said, are great. She has seen firsthand what they can do for people like Tengwall. “The Tony Tengwall I first met and the Tony Tengwall now are completely different people,” Brooke said. “The Tony after Fitz is a much calmer, happier person.” Read more: Service dog helps Anoka County veteran service officer cope with PTSD

Indeed, the cost of providing support to Veterans like Tony Tengwall are often beyond the financial resources of most Veterans.  Can’t you help.  If so, please consider supporting the SFTT Rescue Coalition to support grass-roots therapy programs around the country.

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Genetics to Cannabis: Implications for Treating PTSD

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Severe depression and a heightened sense on anxiety tend to be symptoms of PTSD in returning Veterans from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Nevertheless, these symptoms and how veterans cope with these issues in their everyday life vary significantly.    In fact, many returning veterans (see video below) can be oblivious to the problem until friends and family point out that their reactions to everyday frustrations seem well out of proportion to the circumstances.

While many Veterans are receiving treatment for PTSD, recent studies by the GAO suggest that the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) is failing our Veterans and their loved one. A recent GAO report points out that “10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants.” Sadly, VA protocols have not changed much over the past several years as anti-depressant medication seems to deal with the symptoms of PTSD rather than provide any meaningful therapy for those Veterans at risk.

Do Genes Play a Role in Depression?

While the VA has been glacially slow to accept new treatment protocols, a number of scientific studies suggest that the genetic makeup of human beings could play a factor in recurring depression. For instance, Healthline reports that a British Research team:

” . . . recently isolated a gene that appears to be prevalent in multiple family members with depression. The chromosome 3p25-26 was found in more than 800 families with recurrent depression. Scientists believe as much as 40 percent of those with depression can trace it to a genetic link. Environmental and other factors make up the other 60 percent.

Research has also shown that people with parents or siblings who have depression are up to three times more likely to have the condition. This can be due to heredity or environmental factors that have a strong influence.”

Scientists at Stanford recently concluded that “This could mean that in most cases of depression, around 50% of the cause is genetic, and around 50% is unrelated to genes (psychological or physical factors). Or it could mean that in some cases, the tendency to become depressed is almost completely genetic, and in other cases it is not really genetic at all. We don’t know the answer yet.

While it is still far to early to draw any conclusions from these initial studies, the treatment of PTSD could become far more targeted and hopefully, effective, if it is determined that our genetic makeup plays a major factor in one’s propensity for depression.

Citing this and other studies, Dr. Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, concluded in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times:

Recent neuroscience research explains why, in part, this may be the case. For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a genetic variation in the brain makes some people inherently less anxious, and more able to forget fearful and unpleasant experiences. This lucky genetic mutation produces higher levels of anandamide — the so-called bliss molecule and our own natural marijuana — in our brains.

In short, some people are prone to be less anxious simply because they won the genetic sweepstakes and randomly got a genetic mutation that has nothing at all to do with strength of character. About 20 percent of adult Americans have this mutation.

Dr. Friedman then goes on to make a compelling case why marijuana or cannabis might be useful in treating PTSD.   As SFTT has argued many times, there is a vast difference between “treating the symptoms” of PTSD and “treating PTSD.”   As the most recent GAO Report suggests most Veterans diagnosed with PTSD are served a cocktail of prescription anti-depressants drugs which in some cases may have led to suicide.    While “prescription” cannabis in a controlled environment may reduce anxiety disorders, it is impossible to predict how well those symptoms may be masked if ingested with other anti-depressants.

SFTT’s own findings have suggested that well over 80% of Veterans suffering from PTSD suffer from substance abuse.    As such, clinical studies focused on one variable should be rigorously questioned before reaching any conclusions.  Nevertheless, found below is some recent research into using cannabis to treat PTSD.

Cannabis for Treating PTSD?

Citing research published in the Journal Neuropsychoparmacology, the Huffington Post reports the following:

” . . . administering of synthetic cannabinoids to rats after a traumatic event can prevent behavioral and physiological symptoms of PTSD by triggering changes in brain centers associated with the formation and holding of traumatic memories.

 ‘While cannabinoids occur naturally in the cannabis plant, this research was done with WIN 55,212-2, a synthetic cannabinoid that produces a similar, effect to that of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive compound. The researchers specifically looked at the effect of this synthetic cannabinoid on exposure to trauma reminders. Among individuals who suffer from trauma, it is common for non-traumatic events (for instance, sirens going off) to evoke the memory of the traumatic event, thus amplifying the negative effects of the trauma.

“The findings of our study suggest that the connectivity within the brain’s fear circuit changes following trauma, and the administration of cannabinoids prevents this change from happening,” the researchers concluded. “This study can lead to future trials in humans regarding possible ways to prevent the development of PTSD and anxiety disorders in response to a traumatic event.”

Dr. Friedman, quote previously in his New York Times article titled “The Feel Good Gene,” goes on to comment on the use of cannabis in treating anxiety disorders:

“The endocannabinoid system, so named because the active drug in cannabis, THC, is closely related to the brain’s own anandamide, is the target of marijuana and has long been implicated in anxiety . . .  We all have anandamide, but those who have won the lucky gene have more of it because they have less of an enzyme called FAAH, which deactivates anandamide. It is a mutation in the FAAH gene that leads to more of the bliss molecule anandamide bathing the brain.

“People with the variant FAAH gene are less anxious and are thus less inclined to like marijuana. They actually experience a decrease in happiness when smoking marijuana, compared with those with the normal FAAH gene, who find it pleasurable. If you naturally have more of the real thing you understandably have little use for marijuana.

“Studies show that those without the variant gene suffer more severe withdrawal when they stop using cannabis. Here, at last, is an example of a mutation that confers an advantage: lower anxiety and protection against cannabis dependence — and possibly to addiction to some other drugs, too.”

Sadly, Dr. Friedman engages is some wishful posturing to help those that “are genetically disadvantaged” due to “a random and totally unfair assortment of genetic variants.”

The fact is that we are all walking around with a random and totally unfair assortment of genetic variants that make us more or less content, anxious, depressed or prone to use drugs . . . But psychotropic medications, therapy and relaxation techniques don’t help everyone, so what’s wrong with using marijuana to treat anxiety? . . . The problem is that cannabis swamps and overpowers the brain’s cannabinoid system, and there is evidence that chronic use may not just relieve anxiety but interfere with learning and memory. What we really need is a drug that can boost anandamide — our bliss molecule — for those who are genetically disadvantaged.

It is prophetic talk like this to prescribe “bliss” medications  that create the expectation that there is some “silver bullet” that will help Veterans with PTSD reclaim their lives.  Test and test some more, but don’t promote “bliss” pie-in-the-sky without fully addressing the potential harmful side-effects caused by cannabis, particularly when used in combination with other prescription drugs.

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The 2nd Annual Warriors’ Ball

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The Warrior’s Ball – Friday April 24, 2015 – 7pm
Knights of Columbus, 507 Shippan Avenue, Stamford Ct
WB--Soldier-Art
Dinner Dance
featuring
Billy & The Showmen
To Benefit Stand For The Troops’ PTS Rescue Coalition, An initiative that funds effective treatment programs for at risk Soldiers and Veterans struggling the with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress & Traumatic Brain Injury.
Auction/Raffle
Tickets $75 per person
$140 per couple (any two will do!)
Includes Dinner by Michael Powers Catering, Beer, Wine & Soda


Please choose



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GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for Veteran Suicides

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

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

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

 Improper Processing of Suicides

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

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

10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

With data integrity breaches like this, it is no wonder GAO cited the suicide data VA relies on as “not always complete, accurate, or consistent.”
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

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

Depression and Suicidal Thoughts In Soldiers

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

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

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

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

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

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Stand For The Troops Seeks 50 Veterans For Free And Effective Tbi Treatment

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Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Offers Hope to Vets Bearing ‘Invisible’ Battle Wounds “I got my life back,” Major Ben Richards US Army (Ret), Director, SFTT Warriors’ Task Force

[Greenwich, CT – June 18, 2014) Eilhys England Hackworth, Chair of STAND FOR THE TROOPS (SFTT), announced today that a member of the SFTT PTS/TBI Rescue Coalition has 50 slots available to treat veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that have not responded to the standard counseling and medication. These candidates have an opportunity to receive free hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) as part of an FDA and Army approved study. The treatment protocol, developed by Dr. Paul Harch in New Orleans, is one of the promising and replicable clinical research and treatment options identified and encouraged by Stand For The Troops PTS/TBI Rescue Coalition. For 15 years, SFTT, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit apolitical educational foundation based in Greenwich, CT, has dedicated its resources to safeguarding the physical, mental and emotional well-being of America’s serving and returning frontline troops.

“SFTT salutes Dr. Harch for his innovation and persistence in adapting hyperbaric oxygen technology for his innovative cutting-edge treatment of traumatic brain injury. TBI, with its frequent companion Post Traumatic Stress, is one of the tragic legacies of the Iran and Afghanistan conflicts. Sadly, standard treatment has not kept pace.” said England Hackworth, “Because there is no one silver bullet for treating TBI and PTS, our volunteer Medical Task Force of national and local medical and psychiatric experts is constantly on the lookout for those that, like Dr. Harch’s HBOT, provide positive outcomes.”

In March of this year, Major Ben Richards US Army (Ret.) was awarded the Purple Heart for dozens of blasts, suicide car bombers and exploding IED’s underneath vehicles sustained while leading his Stryker Cavalry troop on missions in Iraq. His ‘invisible’ wounds caused debilitating Traumatic Brain Injury and cut short a promising military career. SFTT intervened to get him the new HBOT treatment with Dr. Harch at no cost. Today, Ben Richards has reclaimed his life and credits that SFTT with helping him regain it.

The free, fully funded HBOT study is being conducted in New Orleans. It is open to the first 50 applicants with mild TBI persistent post-concussion symptoms incurred between 6 and 10 years ago. All participants will receive 8 weeks of HBOT treatment and a 6-month follow up visit in New Orleans. Half of the study group will have a control wait period first. Other than personal living costs while in New Orleans, the treatment is fully funded and SFTT is working to supplement living cosst on a case by case basis. SFTT may be able to provide air transportation options for participants who cannot afford travel to New Orleans.

Veterans interested in applying should contact SFTT at SFTTgrunt@optonline.net or Phone 203-629-0288 (Monday –Friday only between the 9:30AM and 4:30PM EST)

With one in five Soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan affected by combat-related PTSD and a shocking 66 Vets attempt suicide and 23 succeed every day, SFTT’s Rescue Coalition is focused on helping our most at-risk Veterans get the timely treatment they need to survive and transition back to their families, communities and pre-PTS lives. The Coalition works to remove the stigma by raising awareness, promoting awareness of and facilitating access to effective pro bono treatments, supporting other promising treatment protocols and establishing a modular pilot program for replication across the country. To learn more about the TBI and PTS ‘epidemic’ and what SFTT is doing for troubled Vets who ‘survived’ the rigors of war only to lose their way back home, visit www.sftt.org.

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Veterans with PTSD – Insights by Dr. Henry Grayson

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

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

Retired Veterans Seek Help

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

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

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

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

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

Military Suicides and PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bacon Brothers Rock for Veterans in DC

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Bacon Brothers Rock for Veterans and SFTT

 

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

Order your tickets now.

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

 Show your support by registering now.

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

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Major Ben Richard’s at Bacon Brothers Concert

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Dear Friends,

Major Ben Richards New York Times

This is to reintroduce the amazing Major Ben Richards, a true hero for our time and an amazing American.  He led his men bravely and nobly in Iraq, then returned home only to have to continue fighting for his mental, physical and emotional health.  Which leads to my painful confession:  I read the NY Times – and first encountered Ben in a powerful op-ed piece by Nick Kristoff that spoke to the terrible truth:  22 Vets commit suicide every day.  I beg you to stop and think about it.  We are talking over 7300 American heroes a year killing themselves as a direct result of their service to our country.

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I read about Ben Richards; I quickly reached out to Ben as soon as HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen) expert Dr Paul Harch agreed to pro bono treatment for Ben; based upon the miracles I’d read that Dr Harch achieved in his self-financed clinical trials treating Vets, I had a very strong feeling he could and would help.

Ben wisely went off to New Orleans for immediate treatment – thanks here to both Dr Paul Harch and his wife Juliette Licarini as well as a group of New Orleans area West Pointers who answered our SFTT President General John Batiste’s plea for housing and ancillary support donations.

After two sets of 40 HBOT dives (plus about 8 more on an as need basis), Ben, as a result,  has begun to reclaim his function and his life to the point he can write about it below.

And in fact, he is joining John and me in Washington, DC on stage at GWU’s Lisner Auditorium next Saturday, March 22, at 7pm where General Pete Chiarelli, former Army Vice Chief of Staff, will present him with the Purple Heart for his invisible TBI wound at the beginning of an incredible show headlined by  the wonderful bluesy rock of The Bacon Brothers (Kevin and Michael Bacon) Band, super comic Jim Breuer’s zany lovable humor, and the talented gifts of Buskin (my adopted bro and show-runner) & Batteau, Bucky Pizzarelli & Ed Laub and Tom Prasada-Rao.

All volunteering to benefit SFTT’s lifesaving work!

Tickets are purposefully very reasonable – we want all our present and future friends and supporters and those who might need our help to join us.  And if price is an issue, please do get in touch with Maura at sftt.org and we’ll try to help.

Over,

Warrior’s Widow

An Update from Major Ben Richards

It is dark outside now. Farrah and I have completed another evening’s bedtime ritual of teeth brushing and story reading. Our four children are finally all in bed. I am in the room in our home appropriately labelled as a den. It is dark in here, too. The lights in the room are off. My computer screen is dimmed so that I can just make out the words as I type them. There is a lamp, but I only turn it on when necessary and then only as long as needed.

The most proximate reason this self-imposed blackout is necessary is the three windows on one wall of the room. In daytime these windows offer a therapeutic vista of the trees and flowering bushes that accessorize the front lawn, the fluttering American flag that garrisons a post over-watching the driveway and farther on the ubiquitous Iowan cornfields and the few houses and outbuildings on our semi-rural lane– a location where we selected to live because of its paucity of windows compared to a typical neighborhood. As daylight retreats, each evening the windows abandon their therapeutic role to assume a more pernicious part, picking at the lock to a disordered part of my mind where my demons lurk. The doctors call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTS). I call it Fear.

The problem is that at night I cannot see out of the windows but “they” can see in. “They” are sighting in for a headshot that will snuff out my life so quickly that I may never realize that I am dead. “They,” of course, do not exist. At least not today.  Not here.  The ordered part of my mind knows that, but there is a disordered part of my mind that I cannot convince. I have spent years working with professional assistance to persuade it, but that disordered part of me is still afraid.  Really afraid. A few times I have forced myself to stand in front of the window at night with the lights on in the room, silhouetted in the light for anyone to see, in a kind of self-imposed experimental exposure therapy. Like a game of chicken against myself. I always lose.  The sweat bears testimony.

They may not be here now, but I can assure you that years ago in a different place, they definitely were there.  It was a place where firefights were part of the daily commute, where there were more IEDs than STOP signs, more suicide bombers than taxi cabs, and wanna-be snipers pursued you with the persistence of a hunter stalking a prize buck.

I am not a particularly tough or brave person. A few years ago, I might have gone to great lengths to convince you otherwise, but I have had the privilege of knowing too many tough and brave men and women to now claim otherwise. One was my neighbor Vinny. A great man with a Puerto Rican heritage and a New York name, Vinny had served as a Force Recon Marine in Vietnam. Our adjacent homes backed into a few acres of woods. The occasional rain storm over the woods loosed the disordered, dark places in Vinny’s mind– unhealed by the decades– where the memories of mortal danger and survivor’s guilt mingled with images of monsoon-soaked woodlands.

Unlike Vinny, most of my traumatic experiences were set in the large cities of Baghdad and Baqubah. Woods and rain have no effect on me, but I struggle with windows. Every day for months I was surrounded by hundreds of windows, each a possible firing position for an al Qaeda or Jaysh al Mahdi terrorist. Almost every day we engaged in firefights with the often unseen insurgents behind those windows. So at night, safe in my own home, I still feel compelled to slink around the windows, often standing aside while closing a blind or curtain before moving across a room.

I admit to having been afraid before. There have been times when the my higher brain functions have been laid under siege by the nearby buzz of an angry swarm of AK near misses intermixed with the drumming staccato of machine gun fire against my Stryker’s armor and punctuated by the occasional sharp cracks of the high velocity bullets from Russian-made sniper rifles. Fear would begin to immobilize my limbs and freeze my ability to think.  For weeks after a suicide bomber exploded a sedan filled with explosives against my Stryker armored vehicle, I felt my knees weaken to the point of failure every time we drove past the site where the attack took place. Too many times I watched one of my troopers consumed within an explosive mushrooming pillar of burning black smoke and flame and been seized by the nauseating dread transmitted by the silence on the radio as I prayed for just one more miracle.

I was surprised to discover shortly after returning from Iraq that fear had found a way to follow me home. Fear had visited so often in Iraq that it had secured a foothold in my mind by disordering a part of my brain. The disordered parts of my brain still wanted me to be afraid of things– like windows– that the more ordered parts of my brain knew were no longer a threat. It didn’t help that a suicide bomber followed by another IED hit a few weeks later and had blown holes in my brain, severed neural pathways and substantially degraded my brain’s ability to deescalate the continuous onslaught of phantom threats.  A damaged brain left my mind unable to processes and evaluate the myriad of people and activities of daily life going on around me that the disordered part of my brain insisted were still threats.

Worse than the fear that accompanied personal danger was the terror I felt every time I heard the explosions of IEDs or rocket-propelled grenades followed by a rapid crescendo of small arms and machine gun fire indicating one of my platoons was in yet another firefight. I stare at the radio dreading a radio call reporting another one of my soldiers killed or wounded. The memories keep me awake late into the night when my non-visual senses come alert to intercept and evaluate every noise on guard against a threat lurking in the dark or the distant sound of battle.

My Troop occupied a small combat outpost. The concrete protective walls were not tall enough to block direct fire from every angle. The door of our home-made, plywood outhouse had several bullet holes in it. Mortar rounds occasionally landed inside the compound (fortunately the post was so small, most of them missed). At times we fought the enemy from our own walls.  We slept with weapons loaded and by our sides.

When fleeting sleep finally releases my mind from the battles of the past, the disordered parts of my mind create new ones to fight in my dreams. The scenery is pixelated by gruesome images I mentally recorded in Iraq. I have seen too many grotesque corpses.

There were the decomposing, decapitated victims of al Qaeda beheadings in Anbar. In Dora, there were the bloated bodies dumped in piles on the roadside and reeking in the summer heat. They were always discolored at the knuckles, knees and joints where the local Shiite militia/terrorists had used power drills to torture their victims in the basements of the neighborhood’s mosques before finally applying the drill to victims’ temples for the life-ending cut. In the upscale Baghdad neighborhood of  Adhamiya, there was a young man on the street in Baghdad with three bullets in his head, delivered only moments before by a US-provided 9mm pistol in the hands of Iraqi Army-uniformed Shia militiamen who controlled many of the Iraqi army and police units with the sanction and protection of Shiite political leaders. The “death breath” — actually the final exhalation as the cessation of life causes the lungs to collapse– makes a distinct sound that I can still hear years later.

In Diyala there was a block of body parts– the human detritus of an air strike I had ordered. Scattered among the homes and school yard were enough unique parts for at least seven people including a pale, lifeless face staring into the air attached to a dismembered torso with one arm and entrails oozing out from  where the hips would have been like a broken jar of grey fruit preserves. A street away I found a lone survivor lying on a floor carpeted with glass shards from the shattered windows  in the front room of an abandoned house. He was shaking and unintelligible from pain.  He was naked. His clothing had burned away revealing the third-degree burns across most of his body. His skin resembled a marshmallow that had caught on fire but then been quickly extinguished before being entirely blackened. I still think that the right thing to do would have been to shoot him in the head to bring a merciful end to his agony, but the law of war required me to subject him to further torture with no prospect of survival under the unskilled and callous hands of the Iraqi army medical evacuation and treatment system (and I am using the word “system” quite liberally here).

And then there were the bodies of our Fallen Heroes. They are sacred edifices in the ordered part of my mind. They haunt the other part.

Although the setting and imagery of the dreams changes, the theme is always the same- Fear. I am terrified by the dreams. The dream Fear is worse than the real fear. In Iraq I could control my Fear. In my dreams I cannot. I am not a warrior. I am coward. And I am afraid.

As I said, I am neither especially brave nor especially tough, but I was generally surrounded by men who were, so I often found it necessary to fake those virtues myself. My main ally in this deception, and probably the preserver of my life of on more than one occasion, was Anger. In the chemical pecking order of my mind’s chemistry,  Anger trumps Fear. I didn’t really recognize it at the time, but Anger put me back in charge. It enabled me to move my limbs, stand firm against fear and return fire.

I suppose Anger deserves my gratitude and appreciation, but it has become an unwelcome companion that I cannot persuade to leave.

Years later brain imaging revealed that the part of my brain that regulated emotion had also been physically damaged by the blasts I had survived in Iraq. The damage gave Fear more freedom in my mind at home than it had had in the combat zone. My friend and partner Anger was also on the loose, still ready to faithfully come to my aid whenever I felt I was losing control. The combination of a mind besieged by Post-Traumatic Stress and a brain substantially degraded by the damage from multiple “mild” traumatic brain injuries ensures those times are frequent and humiliating. The physical damage to my brain makes my mind resistant to, perhaps even impervious to, the contemporary “treat the symptoms” medical treatment protocols used by the DOD and VA.

The journey home  is taking much longer for me, and other veterans like me, than the day-long plane ride  that I thought would mark my transition from warrior back to husband and father. Unexpectedly, I have found the journey often feels too much like our combat patrols. I often feel  like I am under persistent and insidious attack by a domestic terror organization supported by our own government.  Like the terrorist I have battled before, the attacks have left a part of my mind disordered and ruled by Anxiety, which as far as I can tell feels awfully lot like Fear. This insurgent force calls itself the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Their personnel champion a perverted ideology best described as bureau-fascism– a belief system focused on preserving the prerogatives and privileges of the bureaucrat to the exclusion of personal and organizational accountability, public service, and competing  values to those of our American society such as the respect and gratitude the rest of our Nation shows to those who have served in uniform. Although mostly a medical organization, members are unbound by values or standards like the Hippocratic Oath– at least not when bureaucratic privilege is on the line.  “Delay, Deny and Hope they Die” are the tenants of their faith– Google it.

They use terror tactics including threats, intimidation and bullying. They operate in semi-autonomous cells that do not share information. They plan and conduct operations without regard to other cells while strenuously working to not give up any information or benefits to veterans without a protracted battle of attrition. They use this structure to ensure that the organization can never be compromised by attempts to make it accountable.  Like the shadowy insurgencies I fought in Iraq, there is no center of accountability where tormentors can be decisively engaged and brought to justice.

Is comparing the VA to terror groups like AQ fair? Perhaps there is an element of hyperbole, but one fairly made in the interest of truth and one which in no way understates the scale or depth of the problem.

I have never been as treated as poorly as I have by the VA. The problem extends beyond that frustrating maze of bureaucracy and paperwork. I left my first benefits appointment literally shaking with rage at how hostile and adversarial the doctor had been towards me. I have been bullied, threatened to have my benefits claims cancelled, denied needed care for wounds received in combat, accused of fabricating combat-related injuries that had been diagnosed by specialists and documented for years (note: the VA does not enter your military medical records into their record system nor does it provide them to your doctors and other health care providers, which in effect is the same as throwing them away). The way I have been repeatedly treated by the VA  has been  such a damaging experience that I can say without the slightest hyperbole that the Anxiety and Fear from contact with the VA is now worse than the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that has ravaged my life. Contact unleashes a chemical barrage that destroys the fragile armistice I have worked weeks using every tool and device six years of therapy, counseling and treatment have provided to attain .  Anxiety, Fear and Anger are unleashed again to stalk each other through the no-man’s land of my mind.

The VA is an organization where “Thank you for your service” is a taunt, not an expression of gratitude. As far as I can tell, no one is responsible for helping you. Chains of responsibility form an impossible-to-unravel Gordian Knot that protects employees not only from any obligation to help but also from any accountability for negligence, misconduct  or unacceptable behavior. Those employees that may be willing are not empowered to help you. One VA-employed “patient advocate” told me the only thing she could do for me was give the address and phone number of my congressperson. The VA works in secret and denies patients any access to the people making decisions about their disabilities and benefits. I feel like the VA is as much my ally as the Iraqi police unit my unit was “partnered” with in Baghdad that regularly ambushed our patrols with IEDs they emplaced next to their checkpoints, or the Iraqi Army unit I shared a Combat Outpost with that was controlled by the Shiite insurgent group Jaysh al Mahdi. I had to emplace a machine gun position directed within our combat outpost  just to protect my soldiers from our “friends.”

According to my wife:  “When Ben has contact with the VA, I notice immediate and continued emotional and behavioral effects.  He becomes noticeably agitated and emotionally distressed in the days leading up to appointments at the VA.  After appointments he is physically and emotionally drained as well as having heightened PTSD symptoms.  When representatives from the VA contact him for any reason including scheduling appointments, discussing treatment or to discuss/determine benefits, he also becomes emotionally distressed.  After contact with the VA, it often takes days, sometimes weeks for these symptoms to decrease.  As his spouse, it is very discouraging and frustrating to recognize that an agency that claims to help veterans is actually causing emotional distress and acerbating Ben’s PTSD symptoms.   It makes the process of getting benefits tiresome, frustrating and hopeless.  After witnessing Ben’s reactions to the VA and our struggle to get his deserved benefits, I clearly understand how so many veterans end up living on the streets or committing suicide.  The system brings on feelings of frustration and despair.”

Are there any good people at the VA dedicated to helping veterans? Yes. I know a few. I suspect there are many more of them, but I have seen no evidence that any of them can do anything about the sick organizational culture that rules the VA.

The battle to keep the disordered part of my mind in check has been a costly campaign, costly not only to me but also to the non-combatants that are closest and most important to me – my wife and family.  With PTSD there is still an ordered part of my mind that knows the moment of danger has passed. That part of my mind gives me hope. I can make myself stand in front of a window at night – at least for a little while – because that part of my mind knows that no one is out there sighting in on my head. I can wake up from a nightmare and ground myself to the present reality of my wife sleeping peacefully beside me. There is no grounding technique for the VA, however. The nightmare is the reality.

I have already had to fight al Qaeda. In some ways, I am still replucating fighting that battle – and my family and I take a little more damage each and every day that I do.

I do not understand why I have to fight the VA as well.

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Kevin & Michael Bacon Stand For The Troops On March 22 in Washington DC

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Kevin and Michael Bacon and The Bacon Brothers Band will perform at a Washington DC fundraiser on March 22nd to benefit Stand For The Troops (SFTT).  The Show will help support SFTT’s mission to safeguard the physical, mental and emotional well-being of our country’s frontline troops – the young heroes who daily put their lives on the line protecting us and our way of life.

The Bacon Brothers Band will be joined by other musicians of note including Buskin & Batteau, Ed Laub, Gordon Peterson, the eminent jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, – and a high profile comic to be announced.  Tickets will be available shortly.

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