Latest Developments on Treating PTSD

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Much has been written about the terrible long-term consequences of Post Traumatic Stress or “PTSD,” but there appears to be no clear way of treating PTSD.  Some argue that PTSD is best treated using “psychological” methods to treat the trauma while others argue that certain war-related events (i.e. IEDs) cause physiological changes in the brain.

treating ptsd

This dilemma makes diagnosing and treating PTSD so difficult.  Based on SFTT’s experiences, we have found that Veterans with symptoms of PTSD respond differently to various forms of therapy.   In short, there seems to be no definitive solution to a very serious problem which is now reaching epidemic proportions.

In a recent article published in the New York Times, medical scientists now believe that traumatic war-related events may actually cause physiological changes in the brain.

Quoting Dr. Daniel P. Perl, a neuropathologist who led a study for Lancent Neurology, evidence now exists that changes brain patterns:

Less understood is how the blast wave — the pulse of compressed air that shoots in all directions faster than the speed of sound and arrives before the wind — affects brain tissue after crashing through the helmet and skull. Blasts are also believed to compress the sternum and send shock waves through the body’s blood vessels and up into the brain. . .

The researchers examined the brains of the five veterans who had been exposed to blasts, and compared samples with those of 16 other veterans and civilians with and without brain injuries from military service or other activities. Scar tissue in specific locations of the cerebral cortex, which regulates emotional and cognitive functioning, was found only in the blast-injury cases.

Dr Perl and fellow researchers discovered the following changes in the brain following concussion like events:

Perl and his lab colleagues recognized that the injury that they were looking at was nothing like concussion. The hallmark of C.T.E. is an abnormal protein called tau, which builds up, usually over years, throughout the cerebral cortex but especially in the temporal lobes, visible across the stained tissue like brown mold. What they found in these traumatic-brain-injury cases was totally different: a dust-like scarring, often at the border between gray matter (where synapses reside) and the white matter that interconnects it. Over the following months, Perl and his team examined several more brains of service members who died well after their blast exposure, including a highly decorated Special Operations Forces soldier who committed suicide. All of them had the same pattern of scarring in the same places, which appeared to correspond to the brain’s centers for sleep, cognition and other classic brain-injury trouble spots.

Then came an even more surprising discovery. They examined the brains of two veterans who died just days after their blast exposure and found embryonic versions of the same injury, in the same areas, and the development of the injuries seemed to match the time elapsed since the blast event. Perl and his team then compared the damaged brains with those of people who suffered ordinary concussions and others who had drug addictions (which can also cause visible brain changes) and a final group with no injuries at all. No one in these post-mortem control groups had the brown-dust pattern.

Dr. Perl on Treating PTSD

While it will takes years of analysis and research to determine whether these neurological changes can be reversed, many Veterans will continue to suffer the “invisible wounds of war.”  Dr. Perl is justifiably worried:

 After five years of working with the military, he (Dr. Perl) feels sure, he told me (author Robert Worth), that many blast injuries have not been identified. “We could be talking many thousands,” he (Perl) said. “And what scares me is that what we’re seeing now might just be the first round. If they survive the initial injuries, many of them may develop C.T.E. years or decades later.”

This is not hopeful news, but at least we as a society are beginning to take PTSD seriously.  Hopefully, we will not try and bury the research in the way the NFL has sought to hide the effects of CTE on NFL players and downplay its significance to football fans who seem addicted to the violence of the spectacle.

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SFTT News: Week of June 10, 2016

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

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

Tricare Fraud
A reported Tricare scheme in which users’ DNA was collected in exchange for gift cards and used to order expensive, unneeded lab tests could be the latest example of Tricare fraud — and a lesson in why beneficiaries should not give out their ID card or Social Security numbers in exchange for payment. A salesman working with a Texas-based laboratory that conducts genetic and drug screening enticed service members to be screened for a variety of illnesses and drugs by setting up makeshift clinics at strip malls near Fort Hood, Texas,   Read more . . .

New Combat Boots for Marines?
The Marine Corps is counting on honest feedback from troops who will wear and test four different tropical combat boot prototypes this summer at the Marines’ Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan.  Officials with Marine Corps Systems Command told Military.com that about 400 Marines from the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Regiment would test out the boots during a two-to-three week period of jungle combat training that will start within the next two months.  Read more . . .

motorcycle

Stealth Motorcycles for US Special Forces
Earlier this week, at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, two prototype stealth bikes were on full display. One bike — The Silent Hawk — was developed by Logos while the other bike –dubbed Nightmare — was developed by LSA Autonomy. Not surprisingly, both are hybrid bikes. The Silent Hawk in particular weighs 350 pounds, has a range of 170 miles, can reach a top speed of 80 mph and can store as much as 75 pounds of equipment. More importantly, when the bike is in “quiet mode”, the noise it emits is less than 55 decibels, which is to say about as loud as a normal conversation.  Read more . . .

VA Reform In the Air?:  Private Healthcare for Veterans
A Washington state lawmaker has proposed placing all Veterans Affairs Department medical facilities under a nonprofit entity and giving all new veterans access to private health care. Under the plan, current enrolled veterans would be able to choose where they get care while all new veterans would be automatically enrolled in the new VetsCare Choice, giving them access to private health care. Read more . . .

Russia Could Overrun Nato Forces in 60 Hours
RUSSIA could steamroll NATO forces in just 60 hours, a leading US defense official has warned amid rising tensions with the west. The alarming claim comes as Russia has deployed troops westward as part of its ongoing stand-off with NATO. US Deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Michael Carpenter told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the West and NATO were currently not ideally prepared to deal with a Russian threat.  Read more . . .

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid

 

President Obama Gives More Authority to Target Taliban
President Obama has given U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan new authority to target the Taliban. Pentagon officials say the president is authorizing commanders to order airstrikes to support major Afghan offensives, NPR national security editor Phil Ewing reports, adding that the airstrikes must be “the deciding factor” in helping an offensive succeed.  Read more . . .

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Veteran Charities in Context

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Active Duty military personnel that I know generally despise being used as “poster-boys (or girls)” for political campaigns.  In fact, anyone who has served in the Armed Forces is well aware of DoD Directive 1344.10 which prohibits members of the Armed Forces from engaging in “partisan political” fundraising or actively campaigning on behalf of a political party, candidate or political cause.

While these regulations do not apply to Veterans, it has been my experience that most Veterans tend to avoid the limelight of partisan politics and, instead, pursue causes to support fellow Veterans that do not tend to attract much media attention.   Like Active Duty personnel, Veterans tend to avoid serving as “props” for political campaigns.

Donald Trump Veterans

As SFTT and others reported earlier when a Donald Trump fundraising event was announced during the Republican primaries:

. . .several Veteran groups accused Donald Trump of using Veterans like political pawns in his dispute with Fox News over the moderators of the last debate.    In many respects, I agree with Veterans that don’t want to be used as pawns in contentious posturing by politicians.  Sadly, every four years or so, most politicians tend to embrace Veteran causes as they might disingenuously cuddle a puppy dog to encourage voters to look favorably on them.

While it is completely understandable that some, many or all Veterans may not wish to be seen to embrace the policies of Donald Trump, it is most disingenuous – read dishonest – for the media to skew fund-raising efforts by anyone (including Donald Trump) to support Veterans.  

Yet, that is precisely what happened.  In a ridiculous article published on June 2 in the New Times entitled “Putting Donald Trump’s $1 Million to Veterans in Context,”  the author, Peter Eavis, argues that Mr. Trump’s contribution “to veterans’ charities is small compared with those of some fellow billionaires . . .” and that, “Mr. Trump’s $1 million gift to veterans not only came later than some expected, but it is also small for the plutocrat class.”

How silly to judge the merit of candidates on the amount of money they donate to charitable causes, but this is the insane world of partisan politics that dominates media channels rather than constructive solutions to the many issues faced by Veterans.

Last week, I noted Sebastian Junger‘s hope that we have a more united country to deal with  this nation’s many problems.   Even though SFTT has no political affiliation, it is very discouraging to see both the media and our politicians engage is such polarizing propaganda.  Mr. Junger clearly has his finger on the pulse of a huge adjustment problem facing returning Veterans when they see such a dysfunctional society.  It is certainly not comforting.

ZVets

Should the VA be Privatized?

With its colossal $180 billion annual budget, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) is in the focus of those who say this giant institution should be privatized.  Everyone knows the VA is not functioning properly and there have been countless GAO studies suggesting that something be done to address these problems.

When issues like the privatization of the VA surface during an election year, it immediately becomes politicized.  SFTT doesn’t have an answer let alone a position on this issue; however, SFTT has seen enough to know that the VA does not provide adequate care to a large number of its constituents on a timely basis.

The Libertarian Party and several others are suggesting that the VA should be privatized.    Why not take off our partisan political armbands and have a look at the implications.  Maybe some elements now administered by the VA could be handled more competently in the private sector.  If so, it could be a major benefit for underserved Veterans?

If charitable contributions to Veterans can become politicized, imagine the outcry in entrenched political sectors when the VA comes under serious scrutiny.   From the perspective of the SFTT, if it ain’t working properly we might as well look at different approaches; however unappealing they may be to certain entrenched interests.  After all, it is the Veteran who is the focus of our attention and these brave warriors deserve better than what they are receiving

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SFTT News: Week of June 3, 2016

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

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

Donald Trump Announces Contributions to Veteran Organizations
On Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that he’d given away the last of the $5.6 million that he raised four months ago, at a benefit for veterans’ causes in Iowa. In a bitter, combative press conference, Trump made clear that he’d been pressured into giving up these details by the news media, including The Washington Post.  Read more . . .

special forces

US Special Forces Wage Secret War
President Barack Obama is increasingly calling upon Special Operations forces to carry out so-called “small wars” across the Middle East and Africa to challenge both ISIS and al Qaeda in places where the U.S. maintains a footprint beyond Syria and Iraq.  Read more . . .

Why is the U.S. Arming Vietnam?
President Barack Obama’s announcement Monday that he was lifting the ban on the sale of weapons to Vietnam sent one message to the former U.S. wartime foe and another to the region. By ending the ban, the U.S. is signaling its desire to leave behind decades of tense post-war relations with Vietnam and start a new phase of closer economic and military ties — one facet of the “rebalance” toward Asia that’s central to the president’s foreign policy legacy.  Read more . . .

Homeless Veteran with PTSD

Work to Help Homeless Vets Continues
In 2010, federal officials launched an unprecedented plan to end veterans homelessness by late 2015. Now, six months after that deadline was missed, advocates are working to make sure the goal isn’t forgotten altogether.  This week, more than 500 community leaders joined with state and federal leaders to discuss progress and challenges in getting veterans off the streets as part of the annual National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.  Read more . . .

Justice Department Backs Fired VA Official
The Justice Department is siding with a legal argument by a fired Veterans Affairs Department official at the center of a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and secret lists covering up the delays.  Sharon Helman, the former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, is suing the VA to win back her old job. Helman argues in court papers that a key portion of a 2014 law passed in response to the wait-time scandal is unconstitutional and denies her an important step to appeal her firing.  Read more . . .

New Study Finds More Veterans Suffering from PTSD
In a new study published today in the Journal of World Psychiatry, researchers from Yale say an alarming number of veterans are suffering from PTSD and specifically examines a condition known as sub-threshold PTSD.  Researchers studied 1,484 U.S. Veterans. Of those, 8% were diagnosed with PTSD. Another 22% met criteria for sub-threshold PTSD.  Read more . . .

Libertarians:  Congress Should Privatize the VA
Libertarian presidential and vice presidential candidates Gary Johnson and Bill Weld into which MSNBC interjected a telephone interview with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Clinton protests (starting at 4:20) that Congress should not privatize the VHA, while Bill Weld, a former two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts, gives one of the best explanations I’ve seen of why it should (10:00).  Read more . . .

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider becoming a member of Stand For The Troops.

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Equine-Assisted PTSD Therapy Study Seeks Veteran Volunteers

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The New York Presbyterian Military Family Wellness Center at the Columbia Veterans Research Center is currently conducting a Trauma-Focused Equine-Assisted Therapy for Veterans with PTSD study.  See details below:

equine2

Through the NYP Military Family Wellness Center we offer veterans and family members evidence-based treatments at no cost in the context of a research study. Essentially, patients are periodically assessed during and after treatment so that we can learn more about the needs of the veteran population.

Equine Therapy Program

In the equine study we’re investigating the efficacy of an alternative treatment for PTSD that has not been thoroughly studied in the past. The treatment does not involve riding horses, but instead focuses on ground activities such as grooming and leading horses.

It is a group treatment with each group consisting of 4-6 veterans. Treatment sessions will take place at the Bergen Equestrian Center in Leonia, NJ (about 15 minutes away from our office in Washington Heights).

Veterans or their loved ones who seek more information, please contact Anne Hillburn at (646) 774-8042.

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Veterans with PTSD: Can We Unite As a Society?

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As one who watched a largely unappreciative nation heap scorn on returning Veterans from our war in Vietnam, I am struck by the contrived efforts to celebrate Veterans who have now served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.   In particular, I shed a tear for Veterans with PTSD who have difficulty coping with an unsympathetic society that seems far different from the camaraderie they experienced while serving in a war zone.

While I do not doubt that many Americans genuinely honor the sacrifices of young men and women who have served in these wars;  the American flag pin in one’s lapel or tributes to Veterans at major sporting events fall well short of the support these brave heroes deserve.

This point was made abundantly clear by Sebastian Junger in a recent MSNBC interview. Sebastian Junger, an acclaimed war-correspondent and author, has just published Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In his book, Mr. Junger suggests that Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find a deeply divided and “alienated society” and argues passionately that our society may be as much to blame for Veteran suicides and depression as a Veteran’s war experience.

Mr. Junger articulates his views in a very moving Ted Talk that was filmed late last year.


As an anthropologist, Mr. Junger’s arguments are quite persuasive. It is hard to argue with his premise that the incidence of “suicides and depression” tends to decrease during periods of great stress: he cites 911, the bombing of London in WWII and many other similar situations. Junger suggests that people’s behavior tends to become “more tribal” during periods of great stress and that this provides a level of support and comfort that many returning Veterans do not presently encounter when they return home to our “alienating society.”

Mr. Junger concludes that many problems for Veterans with PTSD would be greatly diminished if we “can unite as a society.”

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As we watch an increasingly hostile and bitter presidential race unfold, it is not hard to understand Mr. Junger’s premise.  Imagine a young man or woman serving their country in a hostile and dangerous environment returning home to see a dysfunctional society at war with itself. How discouraging.

Indeed, if the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) doesn’t have your back, who does?

In an unfortunate analogy, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald stated “‘When you get to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?'” McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. ‘And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.'”

This is not the first time, Secretary McDonald has been embroiled in a controversy, but I am quite sure that Secretary McDonald wished he hadn’t been quite so candid.  Nevertheless, his “misspeak” provided plenty of fuel to other politicians.

House Majority leader Paul Ryan correctly pointed out that Veterans had lost their lives while waiting in line for someone at the VA to pickup the phone.

This is precisely the type of dysfunctional dialogue engaged in by “tribal leaders” that Veterans – and many others – find so frustrating and largely disingenuous.

Most everyone knows that the VA is not functioning properly.  Rather than simply point fingers to gain personal political leverage, let’s harness our efforts and begin solving the many problems faced by the VA.

One man or woman’s political advantage pales in comparison to the suffering of the many brave men and women who have placed their lives at risk for a society that seems hellbent on tearing itself apart.  How tragic.

Mr. Junger, your heartfelt appeal is noted and I sincerely hope that we as a nation can embrace the challenge.  I pray that our tribal leaders will unite to provide our country with the inspirational leadership that our brave men and women in the military service deserve.  Anything less is tragic.

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SFTT News: Week of May 27, 2016

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

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

Military Suicides:  Most Appear Before Combat
“We found the highest rates of suicide attempts were among never-deployed soldiers and those in their first years of service,” Ursano’s team (Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda) wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry. Six months into a deployment is often when they get their first break. “That six-month time is usually the time most soldiers are taking a visit home,” Ursano said. “They are transitioning home and back again.”  It’s not precisely clear why suicide attempts — as opposed to completed suicides — go up at these times. Other research shows the risk for a completed suicide has little to do with whether someone has been in actual combat.  Read more . . .

VA Restores Benefits to Veterans Wrongly Declared Dead
A Florida congressman says the Department of Veterans Affairs cut off the benefits of more 4,200 people nationwide after they were wrongly declared dead.  Rep. David Jolly says these people were “very much alive” and their benefits were resumed after the VA looked into their cases, which happened between 2011 and 2015.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Compares Veteran Wait Times to Lines at Disneyworld 
Critics said Monday that Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald had trivialized the long-standing problem of lengthy wait times for appointments at California’s veterans medical centers by comparing them to waiting in long lines at Disneyland. His comments sparked an angry backlash from California lawmakers who felt that he had dismissed the angst and frustration of their constituents. McDonald made the comments Monday during a roundtable discussion with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Robert McDonald

Five Things to Know about President Obama’s Trip to Vietnam
President Barack Obama is visiting Vietnam, the third U.S. president to do so, for a series of meetings with officials aimed at deepening U.S. ties with the country through new economic and security initiatives. The two governments are expected to announce a host of new agreements. Here are five things to know about Mr. Obama’s trip to the Asian nation.  Read more . . .

Dining with President Obama in Hanoi
Deep in the heart of Hanoi, US President Barack Obama sat down for a $6 meal with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Tuesday. The chef, known for his love of adventurous street food, described the occasion in a series of tweets and an Instagram post.  Read more . . .

Obama Bourdain Hanoi

Former Navy Seal Sheds Light on PTSD
First Sgt. Clint Castro spent 15 months on the front line as a medic in Iraq. When he came home to East Meadow, he faced another kind of battle against post-traumatic stress disorder. He says it led him to drink and lose his temper, and he isolated himself from his family. Castro turned to Northwell Health’s Rosen Family Wellness Center for help. He admits it wasn’t easy initially to ask for assistance.   Read more . . .

Treating Ukranian Veterans with PTSD with Service Dogs

The Coming Changes to the War in Afghanistan
U.S. officials on Monday justified the weekend drone strike that killed Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour by saying the Taliban leader planned to attack American or coalition forces in Afghanistan. But some observers believe the secretive operation that targeted the extremist at a southwest Pakistan hideout represents a shift in how the White House plans to execute the long-running war.  Read more . . .

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider becoming a member of Stand For The Troops.

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VA Dismisses Alternative PTSD Therapies

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In what seems like a broken record, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) continues to dismiss alternative therapies for treating PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.

While not entirely dismissing the efficacy of “Complimentary and Alternative Medicine” or “CAM” for treating PTSD, the VA argues that CAM does not really fit-in all that well in the canons of Western medical practices:

Broadly conceptualized, “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) refers to treatments not considered to be standard in the current practice of Western medicine:

– Complementary refers to the use of these techniques in combination with conventional approaches.

– Alternative refers to their use in lieu of conventional practices.

Many treatments and techniques that are considered CAM within the U.S. are part of conventional medicinal practices in other parts of the world. As Western practitioners and consumers increasingly adopt these approaches, the boundaries between conventional medicine and CAM continue to shift. Please visit The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) for a complete overview of CAM interventions.

For instance, in describing acupuncture,  the VA notes that “. . . five of the six studies examined in that review were conducted in China, where acupuncture is a mainstream treatment. Therefore findings may not generalize to the use of acupuncture as a CAM modality in Western medicine.”

Accupuncture:  Alternative PTSD therapies

In effect, the VA is saying that clinical trials based on “western medicine” practices is the only recognized and authoritative standard to prescribe alternative therapies for treating PTSD.

The absurdity of the VA’s position is the assertion that Western medical practices are in some way scientifically better than Asian medical practices which date back over 2,000 years.  Imagine what Asian physicians might think of Western medical practices where:

– The first surgery using anesthesia was only performed in 1846;

Clean and relatively sanitary conditions in U.S. medical facilities didn’t really occur until 1900.  In fact, it is widely believed that President James Garfield died in 1881 because doctors used unsanitary medical instruments.

– The U.S. has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, far behind such countries (cities) as Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

The argument can be made – and should be made – that complimentary and alternative medicine that is non-invasive and has a long history of producing positive results in other countries should be made available to Veterans should they demand it.

As we are now discovering, FDA approved prescription drugs for treating the symptoms of PTSD are producing side-effects and dependencies that were simply not contemplated in clinical trials.  Why shouldn’t Veterans be given the option of determining what treatment alternative works best for their particular circumstances?

I have no idea why the VA has taken such an intransigent position regarding alternative treatment programs if its goal is to provide Veterans with improved outcomes for the many brave warriors who suffer the silent wounds of war.

Indeed, any non-invasive therapy seems preferable to the toxic prescription drugs now considered efficient by “Western medical practices.”

SFTT is not wedded to any particular therapy program to treat PTSD.  In fact, SFTT has been quite supportive of Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”), dog and equine therapy programs, Yoga and many others.

Based on SFTT’s observations, Veterans who suffer from PTSD tend to react differently to alternative therapy programs or conventional drug therapy.  Shouldn’t Veterans be free to choose which program seems to be more effective based on their own personal preferences?

Sadly, it seems that only public outrage and a radical overhaul of the VA will bring about a much needed change to the way Veterans with PTSD are provided effective therapy by “Big Brother” VA.

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SFTT News: Week of May 20, 2016

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

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

Should women register for the military draft?
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that he believed the role of women in the military had expanded so broadly in recent years that they should be required to register for the draft just as men do.  Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, was quick to stress that he did not envision any return to the use of the Selective Service and believed that the volunteer, professional military had been “very successful.”   Read more . . .

Military Draft Women

Can Congress save the U.S. Military?
This week the House of Representatives takes up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2017. Much of the debate and media coverage will revolve around a handful of controversial provisions ranging from nuclear weapons to religious freedom. These debates are important, but the most important question that Americans should ask Congress is this: Will this bill begin to rebuild the U.S. military?   Read more . . .

The U.S. Needs to Revisit PTSD Treatment Guidelines
Organizations from the United Kingdom and Australia and the World Health Organization take the position that trauma-focused psychotherapies such as prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing are most effective when it comes to PTSD treatment. Basically, their stance is that the evidence for meds is just not as strong. A recent study carried out by military and VA researchers, and published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, supports this position.  Read more . . .

Size of Brain Region Associated with Response to PTSD Therapy
A study has found that PTSD patients with a larger hippocampus–a region of the brain key to distinguishing between safety and threat–are more likely to respond to exposure-based therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In this study, the researchers examined the relationship between hippocampus volume, measured with MRI, and response to treatment in 50 participants with PTSD and 36 trauma-exposed healthy controls. The participants were evaluated at baseline and after 10 weeks, during which time the PTSD group had prolonged exposure therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that has been shown to help patients with PTSD discriminate between real and imagined trauma.   Read more . . .

Brain size and PTSD Therapy

Worst Charity for Veterans Run by VA Employee
At first glance, the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is a roaring success. According to its tax filings, the charity has received more than $29 million in donations from generous Americans from 2010 to 2014 for what it calls on its website “aiding, supporting and benefiting America’s veterans and their families.”  But look a little closer on those same filings and you can see that nearly all of those donations have been cycled back to telemarketers, leaving less than 2 percent for actual veterans and veterans’ charitable causes.   Read more . . .

How Congress and the VA Left Many Veterans without a ‘Choice’
NPR — together with member stations from across the country — has been reporting on troubles with the Veterans Choice program, a $10 billion plan created by Congress two years ago to squash long wait times veterans were encountering when going to see a doctor. But as we reported in March, this fix needs a fix.  Around the nation, our joint reporting project — called Back at Base — has found examples of these problems. Emily Siner of Nashville Public Radio reported on troubles with overcrowding in Tennessee. And Monday, we reported on hospitals and doctors not getting paid in Montana and veterans getting snarled in the phone systems trying to make appointments in North Carolina.  Read more . . .

If you want to support our brave Veterans reclaim their lives, do consider a donation to SFTT

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Prescription Drug Abuse Hits Center Stage

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Veterans have known for quite some time that something was amiss at the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA’) with their “go-to” promotion of prescription pain-killers to treat PTSD.

There are countless well-documented stories of extreme behavior changes – including suicide – of “over-served” Veterans that were provided a lethal cocktail prescription drugs by VA doctors.

A number of Veterans interviewed by SFTT indicated that they simply “flushed the drugs down the toilet,” while many others reported that there was a thriving black market for pain medication.    In quite a few cases, Veterans were reported to sell VA-prescribed pain medication to others to feed other substance-abuse habits or simply to support their family.

Homeless Veteran with PTSD

Using US government statistics, CNN provides these alarming statistics on prescription drug abuse for the general public:

Death from prescription opioid overdose has quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that in 2014, about 15 million people in the United States older than 12 were non-medical users of pain relievers. On the agency’s website, it offers a behavioral health treatment services locator where individuals can type in their ZIP code and get directions to treatment centers in their community.

In fact, the CNN article goes on to suggest that Veterans should call  the Veterans Crisis Line which directs veterans and their loved ones to “qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hot line”: 1-800-273-8255, option 1.

Stand for The Troops (“SFTT”) has featured this Veteran Hot Line number prominently on its website for quite some time as well as other useful treatment options that Veterans or their loved ones may wish to consider.

In fact, I found it somewhat surprising that the CDC (Center for Controlled Diseases) should announce that “medical errors are the third largest cause of death in the U.S.” after cancer and heart disease.    The timing of this release over the public uproar of prescription drug abuse seems suspicious.

If we add “medical errors” and deaths attributed to “prescription drugs” together, one could argue that visiting a doctor is hazardous to your health.

It would be totally unreasonable and a specious assault on the integrity of the medical profession to suggest that malpractice and an undo reliance on prescription pain-killers is evidence of a medical profession that is out of control.

Clearly, more “good” is being done by the medical profession than “bad,” but it seems clear that individuals need to take more responsibility for the drugs they are ingesting.    In fact, our school system seems to have it right with their “Just Say No” campaign to cut back on drug addiction and substance abuse in general.

Just Say No

Veterans with PTSD and Treatment Alternatives

While the VA has often been singled out by SFTT and others – most notably by the GAO – for chronic mismanagement of Veteran care, most would acknowledge that this huge organization does a reasonable job to support our Veterans.

Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that the VA has been over-reliant on prescription drugs to treat Veterans with PTSD and publicly dismissive on other alternative treatment therapies recommended by third-party providers that conflict with their own treatment methodologies.

With substance abuse now rampant throughout the United States and fueled by a lackadaisical approach by an unsuspecting public and unscrupulous medical practitioners, it seems high time that the VA begin to encourage Veterans to seek alternative treatments that seem to provide better patient outcomes.

Indeed, SFTT lists a number of alternative treatments under its Rescue Coalition that provides community-based programs to Veterans without the dependency on addictive pain-killers.  Isn’t this the way forward?

The VA should take the lead in both nurturing and encouraging the  growth of these programs rather than rely on dated and stale practices which continue to rely on prescription drugs.

Samples of alternative treatments abound.  In fact, in a recent New York Times report, Dr. Denzil Hawkinberry, an anesthesiologist and pain management consultant for Community Care in West Virginia, imposes very rigorous standards on who should be prescribed opioids.  Perhaps, the VA could take a page out of Dr. Hawkinberry’s book and dial back the use of prescription drugs in favor of other treatment methodologies.

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