PTSD and Painkiller Addiction

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SFTT has long  chronicled the abuse by the VA of prescribing painkillers to treat Veterans suffering from PTSD.  Most everyone – except the pharmaceutical companies – recognize the hazards, but few take the necessary steps to do anything about it.

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In a not too surprising development, President Obama “is expected to announce steps on Wednesday that he hopes will reduce an alarming rise in deaths from drug overdoses, including mandating more training for federal doctors and requiring federal health insurance plans to provide treatment for addiction.”  This comes from a New York Times article published today.

While I am sure these measures are long overdue, I was shocked to discover the extent of American addiction to painkillers.   Found below is an extended quote from the New York Times article which chronicles the extent of the problem:

Abuse of painkillers is one of the few major public health problems that have worsened significantly during Mr. Obama’s presidency. More than 20,000 people in the United States die from prescription drug abuse each year, a level that has risen fourfold since 1999, making it the nation’s leading cause of death by injury. Not coincidentally, opioid prescriptions during that time also quadrupled.

A recent federal survey found that 4.3 million Americans had engaged in non-medical use of prescription painkillers, and 259 million prescriptionswere written for opioids in 2012 — enough to give every adult American 75 pills.

West Virginia leads the country in overdose deaths, but other states have suffered as well. Last year, more than 1,000 babies in Tennessee were born addicted to painkillers.

Anyone who has even been remotely interested in the subject realizes that massive numbers of American citizens are overmedicated to the point where drug abuse deaths are reaching epidemic proportions.   Isn’t it surprising that both the FDA and the CDC are now raising alarm bells, when the FDA is largely responsible for approving the drugs that poison our citizens?   Could it be that the big government and big pharma relationship is still working on all cylinders?  The New York Times goes on to report that:

Predatory sales practices by companies such as Purdue Pharma — which in 2007 pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it had misled doctors and patients when it claimed that its painkiller was less likely to be abused than traditional narcotics — have also contributed to the epidemic.

Indeed, the same flawed “pain” treatment methodologies provided to our brave Veterans is now working itself though society.   How much longer are we going to put up with the systematic drugging of our Veterans, when far more effective treatments like Hyperbaric Oxygen exist to treat our Veterans at a fraction of the cost.  Listen to Maj. Ben Richards explain:

Perhaps, we should wait until Perdue Pharma gives permission to the FDA and the VA to use alternative treatment methodologies.

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SFTT Veterans Day Concert in NYC

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We are thrilled to announce that SFTT will be holding a benefit concert for Veterans on November 11 at the NY Society for Ethical Culture in NYC. Featuring talented artists such as Little Anthony, Bettye LaVette, The Manhattan Transfer, Michael Bacon and many more, this concert benefits our heroic veterans, serving soldiers and their families.

With a Special Guest Appearance by Judy Collins, who could ask for more?

Tickets to concert are in short supply, so get your Tickets Now by CLICKING HERE!

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Join SFTT and this talented group of performers on Veterans Day to show support for deserving Veterans.

Again, tickets are going fast so please order your tickets now.

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Veterans with PTSD: Community Support and Treatment Alternatives

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Many military Veterans have long given up home that the VA really care that they suffer from PTSD and can’t get the help they need and, more importantly, deserve!   SFTT has chronicled many stories of Veterans who either can’t get timely treatment or are provided a cocktail of potent drugs to deal with the symptoms that than treat the problem.

While there are many fine physicians and care-givers within the VA, it seems that the size of the organization and its inherent bureaucracy seems to get in the way of providing the support our Veterans need to reclaim their lives.  In the absence of this support, many local institutions and individuals are filling the vacuum to help Veterans deal with these problems within the confines of their local community.  While this may not be the “best” solution, it appears to be considerably better than the level of interest shown directly by the VA.   Found below are just a few of these initiatives:

Local nonprofit helps PTSD sufferers

Bilde25Four Letter Word is a nonprofit with local connections that provides assistance to PTSD sufferers who are members of the military special operations community or are veterans.

Lowell Koppert, an Aiken resident, is on Four Letter Word’s board. He also is a Green Beret and a recipient of multiple Bronze Stars. Four Letter Word provides support in the form of gear, training and travel at no cost to PTSD sufferers who get involved in endurance events as marathons and triathlons.

Four Letter Word’s founders believe intense physical activity can minimize the use of medications to cope with PTSD and prevent substance abuse and/or violence.

Based in the south, this is just one of many grassroots organization that has reached out to touch the lives or our brave Veterans.  Getting the message out to others is a way to help these organizations raise money for Vets

via Four Letter Word, local nonprofit, helps PTSD sufferers

Two New PTSD Treatments Offer Hope for Veterans

A couple of years ago, “60 Minutes broadcast a story about two new therapies being used to treat veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The treatments are called “Prolonged Exposure Therapy” (PE) and “Cognitive Processing Therapy” (CPT). The new treatments were originally designed for attack and abuse victims.”

Found below is a summarized description of these therapies:

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

“Dr. Kevin Reeder is the man behind the VA program. He explains that the idea is to relive the story of the attack at least five times in a single session, and then listen to your voice on tape re-telling the story. The belief is that hearing the traumatic memory repeatedly will neutralize its power from bubbling up from your subconscious memory and catching you off guard.

“Reeder said that Prolonged Exposure Therapy is designed to help people see “the impact and the meaning that these stories have on their lives.” He also said that these therapies were originally developed for abuse victims, and the symptoms are often similar for post-war PTSD.

“If you have PTSD, with the help of your therapist, you can change how you react to things that trigger traumatic memories. In PE, you work with your therapist to relive the trauma-related situations and verbalize the memories in a safe place and at a comfortable pace.

“Usually, you start with things that are less distressing and move towards things that are more distressing. A round of PE therapy most often involves meeting alone with a therapist for about 8 to 15 sessions. Most therapy sessions last 90 minutes.

“With time and practice, you will be able to see that you can master stressful situations. The goal is that you can learn to consciously control the ‘explicit’ memories and learn how to harness the ‘implicit’ memories when they surface from your subconscious mind. If you have PTSD, Prolonged Exposure Therapy can help you get your life back after you have been through a trauma.”

Cognitive Processing Therapy

“The VA is offering a second experimental therapy called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). Dr. Reeder said that repeated trauma can leave veterans feeling like the world at large is a dangerous place. This therapy method begins with writing an impact statement, which is shared with the group in which veterans talk about “how their lives are still held in the grip of war.”

According to the VA, there are four components to CPT:

  1. Learning About Your PTSD Symptoms. CPT begins with education about your specific PTSD symptoms and how the treatment can help. The therapy plan will be reviewed and the reasons for each part of the therapy will be explained. You will be able to ask questions and to know exactly what you are going to be doing in this therapy. You will also learn why these skills may help.
  2. Becoming Aware of Thoughts and Feelings. Next, CPT focuses on helping you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. When bad things happen, we want to make sense of why they happened. An example would be a Veteran who thinks to himself or herself, “I should have known that this would happen.” Sometimes we get stuck on these thoughts. In CPT you will learn how to pay attention to your thoughts about the trauma and how they make you feel. You’ll then be asked to step back and think about how your trauma is affecting you now. This will help you think about your trauma in a different way than you did before. It can be done either by writing or by talking to your therapist about it.
  3. Learning Skills. After you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, you will learn skills to help you question or challenge your thoughts. You will do this with the help of worksheets. You will be able to use these skills to decide the way you want to think and feel about your trauma. These skills can also help you deal with other problems in your day-to-day life.
  4. Understanding Changes in Beliefs. Finally, you will learn about the common changes in beliefs that occur after going through trauma. Many people have problems understanding how to live in the world after trauma. Your beliefs about safety, trust, control, self-esteem, other people, and relationships can change after trauma. In CPT you will get to talk about your beliefs in these different areas. You will learn to find a better balance between the beliefs you had before and after your trauma.

via Two New PTSD Treatments Offer Hope for Veterans

Clearly, these alternative treatment methodologies are proving to be quite helpful for many Veterans, but does the VA have the capabilities to properly diagnose all Veterans and determine that CPT and PET are viable treatment alternatives.

 

 

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Veteran Suicides: Will it Never End?

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In yet another disturbing article by the New York Times, entitled “In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans try to Save One Another,” author Dave Phillips chronicles the benign neglect of the VA in helping our brave Veterans to cope with the aftermath of war. With no disrespect to Mr. Phillips, a similar article could be written every week detailing the chronic neglect of the VA for warriors at risk of suicide.

While I suppose that there will be much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” over the New York Times article, but will any meaningful change come for the 300,000 to 400,000 Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. Based on the evidence, sadly one must conclude that no meaningful reform will occur within the VA.

The experience of one Veteran in dealing the VA is not uncommon from the countless other stories SFTT has heard from other Veterans,

After the eighth suicide in the battalion, in 2013, Mr. Bojorquez decided he needed professional help and made an appointment at the veterans hospital in Phoenix.

He sat down with a therapist, a young woman. After listening for a few minutes, she told him that she knew he was hurting, but that he would just have to get over the deaths of his friends. He should treat it, he recalled her saying, “like a bad breakup with a girl.”

The comment caught him like a hook. Guys he knew had been blown to pieces and burned to death. One came home with shrapnel in his face from a friend’s skull. Now they were killing themselves at an alarming rate. And the therapist wanted him to get over it like a breakup?

Mr. Bojorquez shot out of his seat and began yelling. “What are you talking about?” he said. “This isn’t something you just get over.”

He had tried getting help at the V.A. once before, right after Mr. Markel’s funeral, and had walked out when he realized the counselor had not read his file. Now he was angry that he had returned. With each visit, it appeared to him that the professionals trained to make sense of what he was feeling understood it less than he did.

He threw a chair across the room and stomped out, vowing again never to go back to the V.A.

Indeed, the article goes on to point out the following:

  • – Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.
  •  – A 2014 study of 204,000 veterans, in The Journal of the American Psychiatric Association, found nearly two-thirds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans stopped Veterans Affairs therapy for PTSD within a year, before completing the treatment. A smaller study from the same year found about 90 percent dropped out of therapy.
  • – Mr. Gerard’s experience shows, however, that the system is only as good as the V.A. treatment it is intended to connect to. The night he went to the psychiatric ward at the Indianapolis veterans hospital, he said, he waited and waited for a doctor to see him. After 24 hours, he gave up and checked himself out.
  • – After surviving an ambush in Afghanistan where several Marines were injured, Mr. Gerard said, he was treated for PTSD by the Marine Corps. But when his enlistment ended in 2011, so did his therapy. He tried to continue at the V.A., but long delays meant it was two years before he got any treatment, and even then, he said, he found it ineffective.

Earlier this month, SFTT reported the heart-wrenching personal story of Maj. Ben Richards and What I should have said about Veterans with PTSD and TBI.    His story is not dissimilar to the experiences encountered by the Marine Veterans at the VA and recounted in the New York Times article.  How much more will the American public continue to endure the systematic abuse by the VA and the inability of Veterans to seek alternative treatment outside the VA:

While the New York Times, SFTT and other organizations can continue to highlight the chronic problems in the care given to Veterans, we sadly cannot influence results in a positive direction given the stranglehold that the VA has on the care of Veterans.  We can only encourage the VA to “think outside the box” and allow Veterans the option of seeking alternative forms of treatment not currently prescribed by the VA.

 

 

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What I Should Have Said About Veterans with PTSD and TBI

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Not long ago I had the opportunity to represent the warrior-run non-profit One Mind for Research at a Hollywood Telethon to raise money for Veteran charities. My role in the production was a live, 90-second interview on stage with actor and host Alan Alda. We talked very briefly about my experience as a wounded warrior with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mr. Alda asked me: what did I expect when I returned home from a combat tour with TBI and PTSI? Perhaps because I was a little intimidated by the Hollywood venue, the big stars, and the brief time allotted, I didn’t deliver the message I would have liked, so I’d like to share with you now what I should have said then.

Actor Alan Alda played the irreverent trauma surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television comedy MASH.

Actor Alan Alda played the irreverent trauma surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television comedy MASH.

Alan Alda played the iconic character Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television series MASH. Alda’s character was an irreverent army doctor serving in a forward Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or MASH) during the Korean War. The opening credits of every episode included footage of medical evacuation helicopters bringing in a load of wounded warriors from the front. Amidst the pranks and comedy, MASH did a good job of telling the story of what happens once those helicopters landed. I would like to tell you about what happens before those helicopters land.

Two “laws” govern that space. The first is the law of the “Golden Hour.” We believe that if we can get a seriously wounded comrade to the MASH alive and within one hour, then our buddy will make it. In the show, sometimes soldiers didn’t survive after arriving at the MASH and that is also true today, although due to better medical tools the survival rate is much higher today than during the Korean War. As warriors, we can’t control what happens in the MASH. But our responsibility is to get the wounded to the helicopter on time. When one of us is hit, every all can feel the timer begin its count down towards the end of the “Golden Hour.” They are the most unforgiving of minutes.

The title screen and opening credits of MASH featured a pair of H-13 medical evacuation helicopters transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the surgical hospital. Note the wounded soldiers on the litters placed on sponsons above each landing skid.

The title screen and opening credits of MASH featured a pair of H-13 medical evacuation helicopters transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the surgical hospital. Note the wounded soldiers on the litters placed on sponsons above each landing skid.

The second law is recorded in a line in the Warriors Creed: “I Will Never Leave a Fallen Comrade.” To some this may be just another phrase from the canon of military tradition, but among warriors it is a sacred covenant that we make with each other that forms the foundation of a unique and special honor-bond.

Units that have this bond win. Units that do not, don’t.

As a student of the profession of arms, I had read and heard hundreds of accounts of these laws in combat. Many of these tales came accessorized with citations for valor like bronze and silver stars, even Medals of Honor. Remarkably, a large number did not simply because heroism is a daily duty and often goes unrecognized beyond the range of the last rifle round fired.

I would like to share how I learned about the persistent reality of these laws for myself.

My education began as a young lieutenant leading one of the reconnaissance platoons of the Brigade Reconnaissance Troop in the First Brigade (Ready First!) of the 1st Armor Division during a training rotation at Combat Maneuver Training Center (now the Joint Multinational Readiness Center) near Hohenfels, Germany. The brigade had tasked my platoon to conduct a recon and surveillance mission deep into Opposing Force territory. The mission was only part of a training exercise in the good ole’ pre-war days when a faithful warrior could look forward to a painless simulated death that would bring the Valhallan pleasures of a MRE and a nap before administratively resurrecting to roll out again in few hours. Levity aside, I was concerned about the level of risk the mission would have had we been executing in real combat conditions. If any of my troopers were wounded, it would be nearly impossible to evacuate them to a MASH.

I shared my concerns with my troop commander, Captain Jerry Turner. CPT Turner admitted that he had shared the same concerns with his boss, the brigade commander, then-Colonel Michael Tucker. Jerry Turner and Michael Tucker were both men I had learned to trust and respect. They cared deeply about their soldiers. In our middle-of-the-night discussion across a humvee hood in the dark German woods, CPT Turned shared with me the promise COL Tucker had made to us: if we got into trouble, he would roll the entire brigade– some 150 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles and thousands of soldiers– to come and get us.

That mission was a great success and the platoon contributed to the Brigade crushing the opposing force in simulated combat …and I “died” towards the end of the fight with just enough time left to eat an MRE and take a nap.

When a small team of Army special operations soldiers was forced down in their helicopter during a night-time raid into al Qaeda- controlled portion of Anbar province in Iraq, Air Force F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert was on station to provide emergency close air support. As a large al Qaeda force was closing with the isolated Special Forces team,  Gilbert brought his F-16 to tree-top level to strafe the insurgent force with his aircraft's cannon- an extremely high-risk maneuver, but one that Gilbert felt he needed to make to save the US soldiers on the ground. In the darkness, he lost too much altitude during his strafing run and his plane crashed.

When a small team of Army special operations soldiers was forced down in their helicopter during a night-time raid into an al Qaeda- controlled portion of Anbar province in Iraq, Air Force F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert was on station to provide emergency close air support. As a large al Qaeda force was closing with the isolated Special Forces team, Gilbert brought his F-16 to tree-top level to strafe the insurgent force with his aircraft’s cannon- an extremely high-risk maneuver, but one that Gilbert felt he needed to make to save the US soldiers on the ground. In the darkness, he lost too much altitude during his strafing run and his plane crashed.

COL Tucker’s promise remained tucked away in the recesses of my memory until the end of November 2006. I was about to take command of a Stryker-equipped Cavalry Troop in 3rd Brigade (Arrowhead!), 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq. We were in the process of moving from Tal A’far to Baghdad. While we were on the march, an Air Force F-16 providing close support to an Army special forces unit securing a downed helicopter in a sparsely populated section of the nearby Anbar province crashed during a low-level night strafing attack. The pilot was unaccounted for and possibly still alive. Just as COL Tucker had promised, we rolled an entire brigade (the Stryker infantry battalion I was attached to, an Airborne infantry battalion and a heavy cavalry squadron) to find and rescue him. Thousands of soldiers to save one.

Unrested, the battalion paused only enough to unload baggage and take on fuel before heading out along roads so infested with IEDs that US forces had up to that time effectively abandoned the road network and relied almost solely on helicopter air assaults. We spent three days scouring the area. My Troop searched every structure and vehicle within a hundred-square kilometers. We even forced the dump trucks traveling from a nearby quarry to dump their loads to ensure no body could be concealed in them. In the end we were able to confirm that the pilot had died in the crash. His name was Major Troy Gilbert. He left behind a wife and five children. We didn’t know that at the time. All that mattered was that he was one of us and we were going to get him back, one way or the other. It was not the ending we had wanted, but we had fulfilled our covenant to each other that we would never leave a fallen comrade behind.

We paid a price to do so. During the mission one of our Strykers hit an IED. Specialist Billy Farris was killed and several others were seriously wounded. Inspired by his stepfather who had served in a Ranger Company in Vietnam, Billy had joined the Army immediately after graduating from high school in Phoenix, Arizona. His consistently superior performance had earned him a coveted position in the battalion scout platoon, and he had been recently honored as the Soldier of the Quarter. Billy also left behind a young son.

To a bureaucrat, who measures value with a financial ledger, the mission was a waste of resources. To a warrior, who understands both the true value and the true cost of the honor-bond, the mission was a necessary sacrifice.

Members of Bronco Troop, 1-14 Cavalry, search for Major Troy Gilbert in Anbar Province Iraq.

Members of Bronco Troop, 1-14 Cavalry, search for Major Troy Gilbert in Anbar Province Iraq, November 2006.

A few months later it was my turn to make and keep that promise. My Troop had just redeployed to the city of Baqubah, at that time the center and proclaimed capital of al Qaeda in Iraq. During a fiercely contested mission to search for weapons caches in a suburb of the city, al Qaeda ambushed one of my scout platoons and the platoon of combat engineers clearing the attack route through the city. At a narrow bend in the road, an IED built into the exterior wall of house exploded and disabled the lead engineer vehicle. As the platoon moved to recover the damaged vehicle, a large force of insurgents engaged them with RPGs, machine guns and AK-47s in the fiercest ambush we had experienced. Five of the combat engineers were wounded, some of them severely. The countdown toward the Golden Hour had begun.

The thundering explosions and rattle of automatic weapons fire brought silence to the Troop radio net as the routine reporting and chit chat between crews disappeared to clear the net for the inevitable contact report. The scout platoon leader was experienced, aggressive and cool-headed but his report was not good. The two platoons were surrounded and out-numbered. They had casualties, some seriously wounded. The outcome was in doubt.

“Hold on. We will come for you.”

My quick fragmentary order to the rest of the Troop was redundant before it was issued. Everyone had heard the report. Everyone knew what had to be done. Everyone was already moving.

As we reached the beleaguered platoons, my First Sergeant, who had already earned a Purple Heart earlier in the tour, moved his armored medical evacuation vehicle into the kill zone. In a scene worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, the scout platoon leader, Captain Aaron Tiffany, with his vehicle’s gunner, Sergeant Josiwo Uruo, and the platoons’ trusted Iraqi interpreter, Monroe, ran under heavy fire to the severely wounded soldiers and dragged them to the waiting evacuation vehicle.

The Medical Evacuation Vehicle, now escorted by a pair of Strykers, raced to the helicopter landing zone fifteen kilometers away. Medical evacuation helicopters had been called and were enroute. Inside the armored, eight-wheeled Stryker ambulance one of the wounded soldier’s heart stopped beating. The young medic in the vehicle, SPC Brian Mikalanis, beat the soldier’s heart for him, almost forcing him to live through the precious minutes to the door of the waiting helicopters. Before the Golden Hour ticked away they reached the medevac helicopters with five wounded soldiers still alive. A few minutes later the pair of helicopters landed at a real-life MASH where a real-life Hawkeye Pierce finished saving those soldiers’ lives.

Sergeant Josiwo Uruo willing exposed himself to heavy enemy fire that had already wounded five soldiers to rescue our wounded comrades. He was later killed while again exposing himself to enemy fire in order provide covering fire for members of his team.

Sergeant Josiwo Uruo willing exposed himself to heavy enemy fire that had already wounded five soldiers to rescue his wounded comrades.

Bronco Troopers had fulfilled their covenant. We had come for our fallen comrades. But again, not without a price. All five of the wounded combat engineers made it home alive, but Sergeant Josiwo Uruo, a courageous young man from Guam with an ubiquitous grin, did not.

So to answer your question, Mr. Alda, when I returned home from Iraq as a wounded warrior with TBI and PTSD, I expected to be treated with the same commitment and urgency by the medical providers at home in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs that we expected from each other in any and all combat zones.

Unfortunately, my expectations and the expectations of thousands of other wounded soldiers and veterans like me have not been met.

They have not been met because the organizations responsible for caring for our wounded warriors not only do not share, but likely do not even comprehend, the honor-bond between warriors. Their creeds are written on their walls, not in their hearts.

This reality was brought to public attention in 2007 when journalists revealed the terrible living conditions and treatment being inflicted on Army wounded warriors by ambivalent Army Medical Corps bureaucrats– many of them superficial soldiers covered in warriors’ uniforms with hearts concealed beneath the camouflage fabric but bereft of any warrior honor-bond. Army leaders found the organizational ethos of the medical corps so antagonistic towards the warrior values espoused by the Army’s own creed that they made the unprecedented decision to bring in a combat arms officer – a warrior – to fix the problem. They brought in my old commander Mike Tucker, by then a major general, to take charge of and fix Walter Reed. I suspect Tucker knew as much about hospital administration as I do, which is very little. But he knew what he had taught me a few years earlier- that warriors do not leave their fallen comrades behind.

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Saying Goodbye to a Brave Soldier: First Sgt. Andrew McKenna

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Recently, while visiting friends in Bristol, Rhode Island and “discovered” a town covered in American Flags to say goodbye First Sgt. Andrew McKenna, a 17-year Army Ranger, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan after 6 tours in the Afghanistan and Iraq.

While we continue to mourn the loss of these brave heroes, the citizens of Bristol poured out to extend their gratitude to Sgt. McKenna and many veterans showed up to attend the funeral that had traffic tied-up for several hours. Found below are a couple of photographs that exemplify this heartfelt tribute to a brave young warrior:

Sgt. McKenna Bristol, RI

Sgt McKenna - Flag Tribute

While the war in Afghanistan continues to grind on, the citizens of Bristol – and Americans everywhere – realize the tremendous sacrifice our young men and women in uniform make each day to defend our freedoms. Thank you Sgt. McKenna. Our thoughts are with your family and the many friends you leave behind.

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ARCHI’s ACRES – Sustainable Employment for Veterans through Sustainable Agriculture

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COLIN AND KAREN ARCHIPLEY ARE TWO-TIME NATIONAL TREASURES!

 

The first occasion was defending the nation as a Marine Corps husband-wife team. Colin was not only a Marine Rifleman, he was a Marine noncommissioned officer. While media pundits and politicians focus on super fighter jets, unmanned drones and the Hollywood virtues of thermobaric Hellfire missiles, combat soldiers know that the most lethal, versatile and effective weapons systems in the American arsenal are sergeants. In combat they are responsible for making the very first tactical decisions, usually before anyone else even knows what’s happening. They can turn a bad plan into a brilliant victory while without them the best plans are often worthless. In my experience, the collective quality of these professional warriors defines a unit’s “elite-ness” more than any other factor. 

 

Former Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife Karen founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to help other veterans achieve meaningful employment in sustainable agriculture.

Former Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife Karen founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training Program to help other veterans achieve meaningful employment in sustainable agriculture.

Sergeant Archipley repeatedly led Marine Infantrymen at the point of contact in Iraq, including through the brutal fighting in Fallujah in 2004. After three combat tours, the Archipleys decided the time was right to serve in other ways and the seeds of what would grow into a second national treasure were literally planted.

 

Before Colin deployed to Iraq for the third time in 2005, the Archipleys purchased a small 200-tree avocado farm, which they christened “Archi’s Acres.” The three-acre farm is nestled in a scenic semi-rural valley near Escondido, California, right behind the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton where Staff Sergeant Archipley was stationed.

The Archipleys might have been content nurturing their avocado trees and growing tomatoes if not for their first month’s $850 water bill – which sent them searching for a more financially sustainable way to run their farm. 

 

Archi's Acres. Two hydroponic green houses and avocado tree orchards framed by the 'Back 40' of Camp Pendleton in the background.

Archi’s Acres. Two hydroponic greenhouses and avocado-tree orchards framed by the ‘Back 40’ of Camp Pendleton in the background.

They discovered a solution to more than just their water-bill problem in hydroponic farming. When Colin returned home from his final deployment, they built a greenhouse and started growing basil. The soilless organic hydroponic system they built uses only one tenth of the water needed for an equivalent crop on a traditional farm and Karen was able to secure contracts to supply their organic produce to local super markets, including several Whole Foods stores.

 

Colin left the Marine Corps in October 2006 but wanted to maintain more of a connection to the Marines than afforded by the view from their home and farm of the hills of Camp Pendleton’s “Back 40.” That desire germinated another place for the Archipleys on the list of America’s national treasures — the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program– VSAT in proper military acronym form.

 

Through the VSAT program, Colin and Karen share their knowledge and experience with transitioning Marines and other veterans and help them replicate the success of Archi’s Acres. The six-week course they developed and teach not only provides veterans with enough knowledge of hydroponic greenhouse agriculture and the technical skills to set up and run their own greenhouse-centered farms, the Archipley team also teaches them the business and marketing skills to succeed as a business as well as a farm.

 

The greenhouses at Archi's Acres feature soilless, hydroponic growing systems and are automated to adjust for weather conditions.

The greenhouses at Archi’s Acres feature soilless, hydroponic growing systems and are automatically adjust to weather conditions.

The program’s title as a ‘training’ program insufficiently describes what the program really achieves. Even a lengthier descriptor such as a “seed-to-market sustainable organic agriculture entrepreneurial incubator” falls well short of the mark because VSAT provides far more than a skillset and post-graduation support.

 

The key to VSAT’s extraordinary potential is how Karen and Colin structured their program. From the outset they teamed with the nearby state university Cal Poly Pomona to get nationally-recognized accreditation. The university awards 17 college credit hours on completion of VSAT. The Archipleys also specifically engineered VSAT to meet the US Department of Agriculture’s experience requirements —  completing VSAT is equivalent to one year of farm management experience or a four-year degree in soil science — and so qualifies for a USDA-guaranteed farm loan. Combined with start-up equipment discounts the Archipleys negotiated with several leading national suppliers of agricultural equipment, meeting the requirements for a government-guaranteed loan provides Vets with the all-important financial resources to go into business as well as the technical know-how.

 

The Archipleys’ foresight enables Vets to take advantage – with their existing educational benefits – to cover the program’s $4,500 tuition. Since VSAT is a college-accredited program, Vets and even active duty service members can use the GI Bill, VA Vocational Rehabilitation or tuition assistance.  Several Veteran-serving nonprofits such as the Marine Semper Fi Fund, DAV and Armed Services YMCA also provide tuition grants for qualifying veterans.

 

Although not exclusively for Vets and transitioning service members, over 80 percent of their students are Veterans and many are struggling with invisible wounds and other service-connected disabilities.

 

“Agriculture is blind to invisible injuries,” Karen told me. And that was what first interested Stand for the Troops in Archi’s Acres— leading them to dispatch me on assignment to visit the Archipleys in the summer of 2014. Karen and Colin where successfully solving some of the biggest challenges of disabled-veteran employment AND healing.  Simultaneously.

 

Invisibly wounded warriors face substantial barriers to achieving full and persistent employment. According to the experienced former military physicians who created the Veteran-serving nonprofit  Military Disability Made Easy, a typical combat Veteran rated at only 50 percent disabled by Posttraumatic Stress Disorder:

 

“… may try to work, but will not be able to hold a job for more than 3 or 4 months because of their inability to remember or follow all directions or other similar reasons based on the symptoms or circumstances described under this rating. (In other words, they wouldn’t lose their job simply because they have anger issues and would regularly get in fights. A person like that could also not hold a job more than 3 or 4 months, but they would still be considered able to work). This individual would only be hired for jobs like cleaning, picking up trash, or other simple-task jobs.”

While the Americans with Disabilities Acts legally obligates employers to make reasonable accommodations for Vets with combat disabilities like PTSD, the reality is that there is little understanding among employers or even among Veteran-employees of how to accommodate invisible injuries with their multiple insidious, inconsistent and difficult to predict mechanisms of disability. In many cases even reasonable accommodations are simply not enough.

 

But where even the best intentioned accommodations fail, Archi’s Acres succeeds. The keys are flexibility and scalability. For a combat Vet functionally impaired by invisible wounds, greenhouse agriculture enables a level of flexibility uncommon in most jobs. While nature dictates that some tasks must be done at certain times, for the most part a Vet can adapt his schedule to his own needs, health and abilities, providing the most effective and timely workplace accommodation. The owner of an Archi’s Acres-style hydroponic greenhouse agriculture business is able to scale both the scope of the business and his or her personal workload. A greenhouse farm as small as one-tenth of an acre can be run profitably. Alternatively, a Veteran with a larger farm or limited in the number of hours he or she can work can hire employees to do the work the Vet cannot. At the time I visited them, the Archipleys employed one full-time and two part-time employees to work their three acres (expanding to six) of avocado trees, tomatoes and greenhouses, freeing Karen and Colin to focus most of their time on running the VSAT program.

 

By June 2014 the Archipleys had coached and mentored 240 graduates through their VSAT program. Two-thirds of the those graduates now either own or manage farms. Impressively, Karen and Colin have been able to do so much for Veterans within the framework of a self-sustaining B Corporation (a special category of for-profit corporation that provides a significant public benefit) instead of a donor-dependent non-profit which means the Archipleys will be able to continue independently serving the Nation’s Veterans for years to come.

 

To learn more about Archi’s Acres and the VSAT program, visit their website at Archisacres.com, and watch this five-minute video and this 24-minute documentary.




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Why Not Hyperbaric Oxygen for Veterans with PTSD?

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SFTT consults with hundreds of Veterans with PTSD each year and many – if not most – are frustrated at the quality of treatment they receive from the VA.  While most Veterans will acknowledge that VA staff members have their heart in the “right place,” the bureaucratic landscape facing Veterans suffering from PTSD are formidable.  Why has it been so difficult to get Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment to Veterans suffering from PTSD?

SFTT reported earlier in the week of a new grant by DARPA to embed sensors in the brains of Veterans to track brain waves to aid in the treatment of PTSD and TBI.  While it is still unclear whether Veterans will volunteer for this new DARPA initiative, there are plenty of active programs in the private sector which have demonstrated considerable success in treating Veterans with PTSD.  One of the most successful programs has been the Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (“HBOT”) promoted by Dr. Paul Harch.  This program has been featured often by SFTT, but remains unappreciated by the folks at the VA.

In a scathing article by Xavier A. Figueroa, Ph.D. published by the Brain Health and Healing Foundation, the author calls to task both the press and malingerers at the VA who sit on the sideline and continue to discredit the benefits of HBOT. Found below are some of his comments and questions which have all of us at SFTT scratching our heads in wonder at the astonishing behavior of the VA:

If the VA and DoD are willing to try anything, why not HBOT?  Why the hesitation?  That is the real question that is lost amid this debate, but seldom asked. Hopefully, now that a few brave souls in the mainstream news outlets have entered the field of HBOT, other journalists might be tempted to ask some of these questions.  I’m not holding my breath on it. If two solid science/medical journalists couldn’t see through the knot, it bodes very poorly for any therapy that cannot push through the noise of life.

The field of hyperbaric medicine has always been viewed with suspicion by outside practitioners. It has been called a “therapy in search of a disease” and ignored or ridiculed. Something relatively simple as breathing a gas just doesn’t seem like a real treatment for such a complex organ as the brain. Yet, the successes continue to pile up and rigorous science continues to show us promising venues for application with this therapy. There is something going on that will not go away with HBOT.

Kudos to Barry Meier and Danielle Ivory for reporting on the controversy surrounding HBOT, but the real controversy remains to be reported. Why does the VA and the DoD support unproven drug therapies for PTSD and TBI?  If the VA and DoD allow unproven drugs or therapies to be used, why is HBOT singled out for exclusion?  If HBOT is so ineffective, why are so many people demanding access?  Simply ask Retired Army Brigadier General Pat Maney:

 


Now, I don’t have the answers, but when 22 Veterans are committing suicide on average each day you would expect the VA to take more than a second-look at this treatment which offers such promise for Veterans trying to reclaim their lives.  Isn’t it time to DEMAND that our VETERANS receive the TREATMENT they deserve.  If so, why not HBOT?

 

 

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Veterans to Receive Brain Implants to Treat PTSD?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In yet another startling revelation, “the Pentagon is planning to implant veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with small electronic sensors that will map their brains. The project will proceed with the help of a $30-million grant provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”

According to a statement released by Massachusetts General Hospital — the creator of the chip — the “deep brain stimulation (DBS) device … will monitor signals across multiple brain structures in real time.”

“Our goal is to take DBS to the next level and create an implantable device to treat disorders like PTSD and TBI. Together with our partners we’re committed to developing this technology, which we hope will be a bold new step toward treating those suffering from these debilitating disorders,” said Dr. Emad Eskandar, director of functional neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and the project’s principal investigator.

Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research group with experience in the development of “miniaturized smart medical devices,” will partner with Massachusetts General and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in creating the brain implant.  Source:  The New American.

One would hope that DARPA knows what it is doing in partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital and Draper Laboratory to treat PTSD and TBI, but you seldom hear the outcomes of studies conducted by independent contractors.

For instance, where is the data collected by the Department of Defense on at least two studies dating back 7 years on sensors embedded in military-issued helmets?   Did the DoD discover that our military helmets didn’t provide our military personnel the protection they deserved?  While I am not a great believer in conspiracy theories, I find it surprising that sensor data collected for at least 7 years has not been made public.   Is there something the military doesn’t want Veterans and active duty personnel to know?

The American Psychological Association (“APA”) has rightfully concluded “that psychologists should no longer aid the military at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere – in effect reversing more than a decade of institutional insistence that such participation was responsible and ethical.”  This statement by a former President of the APA was printed by The Guardian and is the fallout of a damning report suggesting that the APA endorsed 9/11 prisoner torture policies that even the CIA rejected.

Outside contractors continue to profit through generous grants provided by the DoD and other government resources.  While SFTT applauds the use of scientific research to study PTSD, it would be useful to know whether Veterans will volunteer to be part of this Massachusetts General Hospital study.  Furthermore, how will the results of these studies be communicated with the general public.

After waiting 7 years to see the results of sensor studies on military helmets, the general public is still waiting for information.

 

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Veteran Suicide Hotline Gets Scrapped

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In yet another example of “sending the wrong message,” the Pentagon is curtailing funding for Vets4Warriors which operates a highly regarded Veteran suicide hotline. According to a New York Times article published yesterday, Keita Franklin, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, announced that suicide counseling previously offered by Vets4Warriors will now be taken over by another help line, Military OneSource, “which has more services available.” Ms. Franklin goes on to say that:

“It will still be peer to peer, 24 hours a day, but with more services we can connect callers with,” Ms. Franklin said of Military OneSource (1-800-342-9647), which will take over calls from active-duty troops next month. “Imagine a call center where if you need family support or financial support services, we have that all right there.”

Now, I am not an expert in suicide prevention, but I suspect that dismantling a reasonably successful suicide hotline for Veterans in exchange for what appears to be a supermarket of Veteran services is not going to reduce suicide rates.  Mind you, the VA has not proven to be particularly effective at providing meaningful treatment for Veterans suffering PTSD and other ailments.

While I am hopeful that Ms. Franklin will be proven right in the long-run, past history suggests that “Big Brother’s” approach to providing meaningful treatment alternatives to Veterans suffering from PTSD has not proven to be very successful.  More importantly, big bureaucracies operating under such grandiose names as Military OneSource are generally not very nimble at adjusting their programs to the needs of individual veterans or endorsing new treatment alternatives.   In fact, Military OneSource sounds more like a supermarket than a place where a high-risk Veteran would seek out companionship of a fellow Veteran to work through a particular problem.

Veteran Suicide Rate Still Stands at 22 a Day

In is hard to image that Veteran suicide rates still remain at 22 a day, which is exactly the same number when the US Army released its Suicide Prevention Report some 5 years ago.

Will the consolidation of suicide prevention hot line services under Military OneSource stem the tide? I think not. In fact, most Veterans are vitally concerned about the privacy of their conversations and to convince them to share their problems and concerns with “Big Brother” is probably the last thing they would want to do.  I am stunned that this “privacy” consideration did not deter the bureaucracy from taken a second-look at what appears to be a rush decision to bring third-party services under Big Brother’s umbrella.

While budgetary concerns are most certainly important, SFTT is not convinced that this consolidation effort seems thought out well, particularly where it concerns getting Veterans at “high risk” the treatment they both deserve and need.

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