Department of Veterans Affairs: Wish List for 2018

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David ShulkinAs 2017 draws to a close, SFTT is delighted with the early initiatives undertaken by Dr. David Shulkin to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

While SFTT still believes that the VA is “too large to succeed in its mission,”  we applaud the Herculean effort by Dr. Shulkin to regain management control of this large rudderless ship.

Our brave Veterans simply need a far more responsive system.

Found below are SFTT’s 2018 recommendations for Secretary Shulkin:

Continue Efforts to Purge the VA of Incompetent Staff

It is hardly surprising that reforms within the VA continue to be hampered by J. David Cox, President of the American Federation of Government Employees.  In fact, the President was obliged to create by Executive Decree the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the Department of Veterans Affairs to protect “whistleblowers” from unfair retribution for reporting abuses within the VA.

VA Secretary Shulkin has the backing of the President, Congress and Veterans to weed out the “bad apples” within the VA, but will it be enough to overcome the stalling tactics of David Cox and the government labor union.  A responsive management structure focused on providing healthcare to Veterans is the goal, but will special-interest groups succeed in derailing Secretart Shulkin’s initiatives?

Focus on Improving the VA’s Core Competency

There are many areas within the VA that are providing outstanding care to Veterans.  Those areas – which need to be identified and nurtured – should be considered the core competency of the VA.  Invest in those are areas which are providing the needed health services to Veterans and question all others that may not be fulfilling that goal.

While Dr. Shulkin closed many underutilized facilities, it may be only the tip of iceberg.  Certain functions within the VA may have already outlived their usefulness and perhaps could be  better performed in the private sector.   Ridding the VA of peripheral activities will permit management to focus on its core competency.

Aggressively Partner with Private Sector

One of the major criticisms of the VA is its penchant for attempting to manage everything in-house.   While this would be wonderful if it worked, the sheer size of the VA and its inability to react quickly and efficiently fails Veterans in their time of need.  The Choice Program is clearly a response to this dilemma.

Indeed, there are plenty of areas where Veterans would be better served through partnerships with the VA.  The VA should seize the initiative to partner with “stronger” local institutions in the private sector who can provide defined services to Veterans.

Distinguish Between “Managing Symptoms” and Therapy

The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis is a clear wakeup call to those who believe that “treating symptoms” is therapy.   It is hard to escape the Commission’s damning indictment that “the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system.”  More to the point are the following observations from the Commission:

“Unsubstantiated claims: High quality evidence demonstrating that opioids can be used safely for chronic non-terminal pain did not exist at that time. These reports eroded the historical evidence of iatrogenic addiction and aversion to opioids, with the poor-quality evidence that was unfortunately accepted by federal agencies and other oversight organizations.

Pain patient advocacy: Advocacy for pain management and/or the use of opioids by pain patients was promoted, not only by patients, but also by some physicians. One notable physician stated: “make pain ‘visible’… ensure patients a place in the communications loop… assess patient satisfaction; and work with narcotics control authorities to encourage therapeutic opiate use… therapeutic use of opiate analgesics rarely results in addiction.”

Indeed, the use of opioids to treat pain and depression symptoms is hardly therapy for Veterans with brain trauma.  While VA studies on the benefits of “medicinal marijuana” may provide Veterans with a less dangerous method to cope with the pain of traumatic brain injury, it doesn’t seem to offer much benefit as a long term solution to PTSD and TBI.

The VA should clearly distinguish between medical programs which simply “manage” symptoms and those programs that offer clearly therapeutic benefits without drug dependency.

Improve Responsiveness and Administrative Efficiency

The VA is regularly criticized – and often quite rightly – for its lack of responsiveness and administrative inefficiency.  While no doubt these criticisms will continue, one must applaud Secretary Shulkin’s decision to scrap the VA’s VistA system and replace it with the Department of Defense MHS Genesis to manage electronic records.

Sure, there are many who will not be happy with this decision, but the fact remains that it is far better to upgrade and improve the efficiencies in one BIG system rather than two.  While some Veterans may be concerned about the breach in confidentiality, one system to manage healthcare records should – over time – dramatically improve efficiencies.

It remains to be seen if the “wait times” often cited in IG reports can be significantly reduced.

Summary

SFTT remains hopeful that Dr. Shulkin will continue to push his staff in 2018 to provide Veterans with the care they deserve.

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Celebrate Christmas with a Toast to Our Brave Warriors

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Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” is an entertainment staple of the holiday season. In the story, a wealthy and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by a procession of three ghosts who accompany him through scenes of Christmases past, present, and future.  It is a story that resonates with us.

A Christmas Past

In a Christmas past, I found myself searching house to house through a Baghdad neighborhood for hidden  weapons and explosives being used by various insurgent groups to conduct a brutally violent civil war. As we were moving between houses, a single shot rang. One of my soldiers was knocked backwards by the impact of a high-powered sniper’s bullet.  The soldier’s body armor stopped the round and saved his life. The round had hit the extreme edge of the ballistic plate. A quarter inch higher and it would have punctured his chest close to a number of vital organs.

Within a few minutes, with a new armor plate insert and very bruised chest, this incredible soldier was again leading his men in operations. However, that Christmas morning his family erroneously received a call from an Army casualty notification team informing them that their son had been shot in the chest. We did not discover the error until the operation concluded several days later and the soldier was able to call him. In intervening days three more of my soldiers were nearly killed by a skilled, but very unlucky sniper. One soldier’s sleeve was ripped by near miss. A shot intended for another soldier’s head was stopped by a slab of bullet-proof glass. A third bullet actually entered another soldier’s helmet, grazed his head, and exited without causing harm.

We were truly blessed that my unit’s Christmas Past so narrowly avoided deaths of serious injury, but the ghosts of such Christmases past spent so challenged continue to haunt our present.

A Christmas Present

Since returning home, I have tried to stay in contact with many of the incredible men that I served with. Some of them are doing well. More of them remain haunted by the past in the form of brain damage from IED-caused traumatic brain injuries and from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder for the prolonged exposure to danger and violence we collectively experienced.

In the last few months I have watched the hope for a merry Christmas Present of one of these soldiers vanishing. His wife  was overwhelmed by  caring for him and the rest of their family. And, frankly, people struggling with the effects of the invisible wounds of war are hard to live with. So he is alone, in pain, both physical and emotional, and dreading the reminders the Christmas season brings of all that he has lost as a consequence of serving his country for more than a decade.  It is a scene too often repeated that tears at my heart.

A Christmas Future

In spite of the hope this season brings, the prospects for Christmases Future are dim and discouraging. As we have repeatedly reported, the Department of Veterans Affairs, paralyzed by bureaucratic inertia, divided by competing interests, and anxious to avoid accountability for negligence and squandered billions, is unable to provide effective care for the roughly one-million veterans currently disabled by the invisible wounds of war. Many non-profit organizations allegedly dedicated to helping these veterans instead deliver large paychecks to their staffs, voluminous “educational” fund-raising material, and branded blankets, ball caps and backpacks. There is a lot of talk about hope, but little action to help.

At Stand for the Troops, we believe strongly in the hope of Merry Christmases Future for the combat-disabled veterans struggling through this Christmas Present. Our world-class medical advisory board has identified a range of effective treatments based on an extensive and growing body of scientific evidence and clinical experience.

We invite you to join us this Holiday Season in delivering a future of Merry Christmases to  those who have given up their past and present Christmases for us.

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Sham Veteran Charities: What You Should Know

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There are few things more shameful than dishonest hucksters taking money from unsuspecting donors for what appears to be a worthwhile cause.  Our small staff at SFTT goes “ballistic”  when we learn that telemarketers and “spin-masters” use deceptive and misleading advertising to raise money for Veterans.

telemarketing scams

Just this week, Sarah Kleiner of Politico wrote an article for Politico entitled “Veterans Charity Raises Millions to Help Those Who’ve Served. But Telemarketers Are Pocketing Most of It.”

In this most disturbing article, Ms. Kleiner reports that telemarketers raising funds for the Center for American Homeless Veterans kept the vast majority of funds:

  • Outreach Calling, the telemarketer representing the Center for American Homeless Veterans, kept $3.7 million, or 90 percent, of the $4.1 million it raised for the nonprofit in the 2014 and 2015 tax years, according to the charity’s annual IRS tax filings. Records filed by Outreach Calling in Utah claim the telemarketer has kept $7.9 million out of $8.7 million it raised for the charity from 2011 to 2015.
  • Since 2015, Outreach Calling has raked in $2 million from the Put Vets First! PAC, the political action committee Hampton runs out of the same Falls Church office as his nonprofits. That’s 89 percent of the $2.3 million in donations the PAC has received in the same time period, according to Federal Election Commission filings. 
  • Charitable Resource Foundation, the telemarketer working for Circle of Friends for American Veterans, kept $6.4 million, or 85 percent, of the $7.5 million it raised from donors between the 2011 and 2015 tax years, according to IRS filings.

This is just another disturbing example of how unscrupulous operators pocket a good percentage of the funds raised for Veteran causes.   The mother of Veteran con jobs was perpetuated by the Wounded Warriors Project, but they are back in business some 18 months later raising money by pulling “heart-strings” with their traditional splashy infomercials featuring celebrities on behalf of WWP.

While some might argue that any residual amount that gets through to Veterans is a good thing, it would be nice to know that a large part of YOUR CONTRIBUTION will find its way to a needy Veteran and his or her family.

Make Sure Your Contribution Goes to a Worthy Veteran Cause

  1. Money is fungible and there is little one can do to monitor your funds once it is surrendered to a third party.  As a rule of thumb, THINK LOCAL and do what you can to support Veterans in your community before contributing to National fundraising efforts for Veterans.
  2. HANG UP ON ANY TELEMARKETER.   Their goals and yours probably don’t coincide.
  3. Don’t be swayed by flashy infomercials such as those regularly sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project.   They are rarely genuine.
  4. While Veteran charitable organizations need an active membership to fund ongoing administrative expenses, seek to contribute (or co-invest) in specific projects sponsored by the Veteran charity.  Focus on charities which channel your funds to specific Veteran programs:  education, homelessness, job search, substance abuse, vocational training, etc. are a far better use of funds than a “media-hyped” day at the ballpark.
  5. Sure, due-diligence is important, but many fine people lack the financial resources to run through the regulatory hoops to become an accredited charity.  In fact, the sheer size of the charity may be an inhibiting factor in getting your funds to the right Veteran cause.  THINK SMALL and LOCAL to channel your funds in the “right” direction.
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Military Helmet Sensors: Big Contracts but No Findings?

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Many years ago (perhaps 10), the US Army started began installing sensors in helmets to track the impact of IED events on brain trauma among combat troops.

HEADS

SFTT reported in 2010 that BAE Systems unveiled its latest concussion sensor for soldier helmets, named Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic System (“HEADS”).  Apparently, BAE and the military have been tracking military “concussive” events for some time since the press release refers to an earlier version already installed in military helmets.

As reported in a 2010 post entitled “New Helmet Sensor to detect Traumatic Brain Injuries”:

“The HEADS smart sensor is also designed to provide medical professionals with important data that may help determine the severity of a possible traumatic brain injury (“TBI”). The second generation HEADS sensor reportedly provides medical teams with a valuable diagnostic tool that utilizes radio frequency technology.   Spokesperson Colman claims that “With our new ‘smarter’ sensor, if a soldier is exposed to a blast, possibly sustaining a concussion, not only will the HEADS visual LED display be triggered at the time of the event, but once the soldier enters a specified area, such as forward operating base or dining facility, a series of strategically placed antennae will scan all available HEADS units and send data to a computer, identifying any soldiers who may have sustained a blast-related brain injury.”

Two years later, SFTT followed up with another post asking the next logical question:  “Military Helmet Sensor Data: What does it show?”

Today, some five years later, SFTT is asking the same question:  Where is the data and what does it tell us about concussive events suffered by men and women on the battlefield?

As SFTT speculated earlier:

“As recent history shows, the US Army and DOD are unwilling to share relevant data with the public that might suggest that the equipment provided to our brave warriors is deficient.   In fact, Roger Charles, the Editor of SFTT, was obliged to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to obtain forensic records of troops killed with upper torso wounds to evaluate the effectiveness of military-issue body armor.   A  federal judge in Washington, D.C. recently ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it.  For Roger Charles and those in SFTT who have followed this issue for several years, it is unlikely that the US Army will open their kimono and confirm what most already know:  the body armor issued to our troops was not properly tested and is most likely flawed.”

In the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, one can only conclude that the military has discovered serious structural flaws in the designs of the “standard-issue” combat helmet, but doesn’t want to alarm combat troops (or their families).  Presumably, the “mad scientists” at the Soldier’s System Center at Ft. Belvoir are fast at work trying to build a safer helmet, but one must question how this invaluable data is being shared with those who study brain injuries.

It is alarming to think that even the secretive and misleading NFL leadership has been far more forthcoming about brain injuries than our military leadership.   It is both sad and frustrating that the DoD and VA have not been more proactive in sharing this information with scientists and the medical community so that we can take responsible action to help brave young men and women protect themselves from harm and assist those with brain trauma recover their lives.

Frankly, hiding under traditional military fallback position of “we don’t want the enemy to know the vulnerabilities of our equipment” rings a bit hollow when 22 Veterans are committing suicide each day.

 

 

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HBOT for Veterans: Infrastructure Largely in Place

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As SFTT reported earlier, the VA will soon be providing a limited number of Veterans with access to hyperbaric oxygen therapy or “HBOT” at the VA’s Center for Compassionate Innovation (“CCI”) facilities in Texas and Oklahoma.

SFTT has yet to learn when these programs will begin or how many Veterans will be enrolled in these initial programs.  As important, SFTT and the HBOT community at-large is interested in learning how “test protocols,” “metrics,” and “clinical trials” will be set by the VA and DoD to determine the benefits of HBOT.

As one sorts through the often nasty exchanges between proponents of HBOT and the VA gatekeepers like Dr. David Cifu, one cannot be oblivious to the fact that the VA does not want to encourage the adoption of HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

The VA’s claim is that “patient outcomes’ using HBOT are inconclusive based on VA and DoD trials.

Could it be – as many have suggested – that the test protocols were flawed to produce “inconclusive” test results?   From SFTT’s experience in monitoring the DoD, it would NOT BE THE FIRST TIME that test procedures have been deliberately modified to produce outcomes more to the liking of current military dogma.

Since the VA has no experience in using HBOTin treating Veterans with PTSD, it seems to make sense to use established experts in the industry like Dr. Paul Harch, members of the International Hyperbarics Association or The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel which provides HBOT treatment to 120 patients a day and to the Israeli Defense Force (“IDF”) to agree on standardized test protocols and monitor results.

Many will argue that further HBOT tests are not required given the wealth research currently available.  In fact, found below is an extract from a Jan, 2017 report:

Xavier A. Figueroa, PhD and James K. Wright, MD (Col Ret), USAF Hyperbaric Oxygen: B-Level Evidence in Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trials. Neurology® 2016;87:1–7 “There is sufficient evidence for the safety and preliminary efficacy data from clinical studies to support the use of HBOT in mild traumatic brain injury/ persistent post concussive syndrome (mTBI/PPCS). The reported positive outcomes and the durability of those outcomes has been demonstrated at 6 months post HBOT treatment. Given the current policy by Tricare and the VA to allow physicians to prescribe drugs or therapies in an off-label manner for mTBI/PPCS management and reimburse for the treatment, it is past time that HBOT be given the same opportunity. This is now an issue of policy modification and reimbursement, not an issue of scientific proof or preliminary clinical efficacy.”

While Secretary Shulkin is wise to proceed slowly, he must exercise extreme caution in allowing the naysayers within the VA any authority over the initial CCI HBOT trial programs.

HBOT Infrastructure in Place to Help Veterans

Assuming the VA leadership can get beyond the hurdles they largely created, Veterans with “mild TBI” and “persistent” PTSD should be able to quickly access hundreds of HBOT facilities across the United States.  With equipment already in place around the country in hospitals and private health clinics, there is no need to hold up treatment for Veterans to wait for the VA to outfit its facilities.

Follow this link to see a directory of currently active HBOT treatment centers around the country.

Clear treatment protocols and directives need to be established for each private clinic providing HBOT to Veterans.  HBOT is administered in a series of dives or sessions (usually between 28 and 40) over a 6 week to 2 month time frame.  Supervision by a trained clinician is required at each dive.  Clearly, a larger “dive chamber” capable of offering therapy to a number of Veterans at the same will help bring down the costs of HBOT.

Costs “per dive” or “session” vary significantly around the country.    Some hospitals charge $1,800 per session, but most private clinics offer this service at a cost of between $250 and $350 per dive.  Given the bargaining power of the VA, it seems most likely that a series of battery of dives can be accomplished for well under $10,000, which is less than half of what the VA currently spends on Veterans with TBI/PTSD.

As SFTT has stated on many occasions, HBOT is not the “silver bullet” to eradicate this silent wound of war, but many more Veterans with brain trauma will begin to be able to reclaim their lives with less reliance on VA prescription drugs that simply mask symptoms rather than provide any lasting improvement in brain functionality.

This could be a BIG DEAL for ailing Veterans and family members who provide our Veterans such caring support.

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How Will the VA Offer HBOT to Veterans?

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In a somewhat surprising but not totally unexpected development, the “VA’s Center for Compassionate Innovation (CCI) will offer Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT’) to a small number of selected veterans with chronic PTSD in a pilot program to be run through facilities in Oklahoma and Texas.”

HBOT Chamber

SFTT joins Bethesda Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“Bethesda HBOT’) in applauding this initiative by the VA.  Bethesda HBOT notes that “worldwide research and years of clinical experience has clearly demonstrated that HBOT is not only extremely safe in treating PTSD and head injury, especially when compared with psychoactive and mood altering drugs, but also has been effective in treating thousands of veterans and active duty service members with underlying brain injury.

According to a Press Release by the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs:

“As healthcare leaders interested in innovative approaches to care, the VA Center for Compassionate Innovation (CCI) is facilitating use of HBOT for a subset of Veterans who have noticed no decrease of symptoms after receiving at least two evidenced-based treatments. CCI uses innovative approaches to treat conditions where traditional methods have been unsuccessful. VA will monitor the HBOT clinical demonstration project and the HBOT research study to help inform the potential for HBOT usage to treat a larger number of Veterans with PTSD.”  

As SFTT reported earlier, it seems that Secretary David Shulkin agreed to accelerate the use of HBOT for Veterans with PTSD over widespread opposition within the VA.

In fact, the Stars and Stripes article cites some 32 “inconclusive” studies on the effectiveness of HBOT in treating TBI and PTSD.   Furthermore, it quotes Col. Scott Miller, the lead study author for a 2015 VA study, arguing that there was a “lack of evidence” HBOT helped and that “he didn’t see any value in moving forward with more studies.”  SFTT finds it surprising that Col. Miller was lead on this project when he is reportedly an “infectious disease specialist.”

Several HBOT specialists have suggested that the DoD botched test protocols that let to its “inconclusive” findings.

How does this VA Change in Policy on HBOT Affect Veterans?

It is evident in the Stars and Stripes article that entrenched administrators within the VA are opposed to the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As SFTT has reported many times, the “High Priests” and Gatekeepers at the VA have mounted a vigorous campaign to discredit the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with brain trauma.

In fact, some 3 years ago, Dr. Xavier Figueroa wrote an article titled “What the <#$*&!> Is Wrong with the DoD/VA HBOT Studies?!!” which clearly articulates the case for HBOT and discredits many of the underlying “evidence-based” positions often cited by the VA and DoD.

Frankly, scientific or clinical evidence is not lacking to support the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with brain trauma.  What is lacking is a willingness of the VA to support alternative therapies.

One must hope that the VA will move expeditiously to provide HBOT to “selected Veterans” at CCI facilities in Oklahoma and Texas, but the widespread adoption of HBOT by the VA is still some years away.

Questions for the VA?

  • When will initial “testing” begin?
  • How many Veterans with “chronic PTSD” be including in the program”
  • Who will administer the HBOT test protocols for these Veterans?
  • If “legitimate” test results prove encouraging, how will Veterans gain access to HBOT therapy?
  • Since HBOT Oxygen Chambers (and qualified personnel) are lacking at VA facilities, will Veterans receive this therapy from the private sector?
  • Estimated time frame from evaluating test results to widespread deployment of the HBOT alternative.

While SFTT is delighted that the VA is pressing forward with HBOT, it does seem that it is more of a reaction to public and political pressure rather than any internal VA initiative.  Based on years in observing the VA bureaucracy, it is likely that its administrators will do everything possible to discredit this noninvasive and widely accepted therapy to treat PTSD.

Such a shame, but SFTT will be vigilant.

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VA Reluctantly Agrees to Provide HBOT to Veterans with PTSD

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In a carefully crafted message, “The Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that it would begin offering hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”) to some veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, despite a lack of evidence that it works or being approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for PTSD.”

HBOT Therapy

The news was released by “Stars and Stripes” on November 30 in an article titled “VA to offer unproven hyperbaric oxygen therapy to vets with PTSD.”

The article is hardly a ringing endorsement of HBOT.  More to the point, Secretary Shulkin reportedly said on Wednesday that “the VA must ‘explore every avenue’ and ‘be open to new ideas.’”

Well, HBOT may be “new” to the VA, but this therapy has been around for decades and is used successfully around the world to treat patients with brain trauma.  The VA stigma exists because Dr. David Cifu and many other bureaucrats within the VA continue to push a stale agenda of ineffective and often dangerous therapies that don’t work.

In fact, this is one of the major reasons that Veterans with PTSD and TBI have sought treatment outside the VA.   Talking heads at the VA would like Veterans and the public to believe that HBOT is “snake oil,” but there is a long and detailed clinical trail of evidence that suggests otherwise.

Arguing that HBOT is “not FDA or DoD approved” rings a bit hollow after the President’s Report on Fighting Drug Addiction and Opioid Abuse states that “the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system.”   

Let’s face it:  What do you do when evidence-based medicine is proved wrong?   Well, in this case, the Federal government will provide “the healthcare system” with billions of taxpayer dollars to fix the mess they largely created.   Sounds absurd, but you don’t even have to read the small print.

While SFTT is thrilled that Dr. Shulkin has decided to part ways with the orthodoxy of failed VA therapies to treat Veterans with PTSD, it will be years before all Veterans will receive the lifesaving benefits of HBOT.   Furthermore, it is likely that the VA and DoD will again manipulate test protocols to produce treatment outcomes that produce inconclusive results.

Will HBOT work in all cases?   Of course not, but life-changing outcomes are far more likely with HBOT than the only two failed programs currently offered by the VA:

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”) and,
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (“CPT”)

In any event, we hope that doctors within the VA system will not be so dismissive of HBOT that it leads to another Veteran suicide like Eric Bivins.  For those who want a first-hand look into the travesty of the VA system, follow this painful trail of systemic abuse by Eric’s widowed spouse, Kimi.

Our brave Veterans deserve more and SFTT would like to thank Secretary Shulkin for taking this important first step.

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Veteran Drug Courts Are Now Needed More than Ever

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Over five years ago, SFTT met with Judge John Schwartz,  one of the early pioneers in the Veteran Court system.  Discussing the rationale for Vet Courts, Judge Schwartz stated the following “We offer hope to these troubled veterans who have served our country so valiantly.  It’s simply common sense.”

Today, Vet Courts are needed more than ever to help Veterans recover their lives.   Indeed, when one reads that the “the modern opioid epidemic originated within the healthcare system,” one must be simply oblivious to the plight of Veterans if we choose to penalize them once again.

Homeless Veteran

Drug Courts began to emerge in the nineties to deal more effectively with a growing drug problem in the United States.  As SFTT wrote earlier,

“Since the mid-1990, the US judicial system has recognized the need to deal with drug-related criminal activity and have established some 2,600 Drug Treatment Courts in the United States.  Drug treatment courts are specialized community courts designed to help stop the abuse of drugs, alcohol, and related criminal activity. Non-violent offenders who have been charged with simple possession of drugs are given the option to receive treatment instead of a jail sentence.   These programs have proven to be remarkably successful for reducing the level of recidivism in our prison system.

Capitalizing on the infrastructure and success of the Drug Treatment Courts, some 50 or so Veteran Courts (now reportedly 300) have sprung up across the United States to deal with veterans who have committed a crime while suffering from substance abuse.  In many cases, these troubled vets have the support of other Vets (often from the Vietnam era) who “mentor” their military colleagues through the rehabilitation process.

This descriptive video from Justice for Vets provides a useful overview of why our Veterans deserves a better choice than incarceration:

Thanks to Judge Schwartz and other inspired leaders in our judicial and police system, Veteran Courts have expanded all across the United States.  Nevertheless, NPR reported earlier this year that many more Vet Courts are required.  Specifically, NPR noted that some states still do not have a Vet Court and that North Carolina has only 3 when the evidence suggests that we require 17.

As SFTT and others have reported in the past, Veterans with PTSD and TBI have been largely neglected by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).  Veterans suffering from brain trauma often resort to substance abuse to curb pain and many resort to crime to support their habits.  Should we penalize these brave Veterans for our collective failings to provide our Veterans with the support they deserve?

SFTT would like to thank the many Veterans and volunteers in the legal profession who give of their time to support our Veterans through an often confusing legal system.

When communities reach out to help these brave warriors, our society is enriched. From our perspective, it’s simply a matter of doing the right thing!  We owe these brave young men and women big time!

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SFTT Offer “Thanks” to our Brave Military on Thanksgiving

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SFTT joins millions of Americans in offering our thanks this Thanksgiving to the Veterans and active duty personnel who valiantly defend our freedoms.

US military Thanksgiving

As we all sit down to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, SFTT is reminded of those who have sacrificed their lives for our country and the many Veterans who continue to suffer from the silent wounds of war.

While the battlefield war may be over, tens of thousands of Veterans suffer the effects of brain trauma.  The effect of this debilitating injury not only affects the Veteran, but their family and loved ones who act as caregivers.  While one would like to think that we are close to finding a life-changing solution for Veterans who suffer from PTSD and TBI, no credible solution appears imminent.

Some promising new therapies have surfaced in recent years, but the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) seems stuck in a time-warp defending outdated and failed programs.  SFTT remains hopeful that the VA will come to its senses and begin adopting some successful third-party programs that have worked wonders for Veterans.

Hiding behind the mantra of “evidence-based medicine” sounds good, but loses its luster when the evidence strongly suggests that the VA programs have failed.

Our Veterans and their loved ones need solutions now!

As 2017 draws to a close, SFTT would like to thank a few people and organizations that have made a difference in the lives of Veterans this year.  By no means is this an all-inclusive list, but one that offers our Veterans a path to recovering their lives:

Paul Harch and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Dr. Paul Harch is one of the leading practitioners of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or “HBOT.”  HBOT is a commonly used therapy provide patients with oxygen administered under pressure in a series of “dives” in an HBOT chamber.  Used widely around the world for decades, HBOT has been shown to stimulate brain cells and help reverse the symptoms of PTSD and TBI.   While many Veterans have found dramatic improvement in their condition, HBOT is not recommended by the VA to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Colin and Karen Archipley of Archi’s Acres

Thanks to combat-decorated Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife, Karen, a successful fashion industry entrepreneur in her own right, Archi’s Acres provides dedicated Veterans with the skills necessary to run a successful organic farming business  in their community. With meaningful jobs in short supply for Veterans returning from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Archi’s Acres gives Veterans a lifeline to become entrepreneurs in a rapidly growing and eco-friendly business.

Yuval Neria and Equine Assisted Therapy

Dr. Neria is Professor of Medical Psychology at the Columbia University Medical Center and “Scientific Advisor” to Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”).  He is now deeply involved in the Man O’War Project which is the first-ever clinical research study to determine the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy (“EAT”) and establish guidelines for the treatment of military veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).

Maj. Ben Richards and Service Dog Bronco

Maj. Ben Richards is the Director of Veterans Operations at SFTT.  Over a year ago, Maj. Richards acquired a service dog, Bronco, which has brought much needed comfort, safety and stability to his life. Sadly, the VA is “studying” the efficacy of service dogs in helping other Veterans with PTSD.  This study will not be available until 2019.

service dogs for Veterans

Dr. Henry Grayson and Neuro Pathways

 Dr. Grayson is co-chairman of SFTT’s Medical Task Force and has provided several day-long training programs to caregivers and clinical psychologists  dealing with veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress (“PTSD”).  The author of Use Your Body to Heal Your Mind,  Dr. Grayson presents a radical view of health and healing based on an equally radical world view that we are all intrinsically connected rather than separate and that our belief in our separateness is a causal source of emotional and physical illness. Positing the body as the recipient of our beliefs, he shows that reading and responding to the body is a reliable path to emotional and physical healing. This is a challenging read with practical help for all willing to explore beyond the borders of traditional beliefs.”

 

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You Can’t Handle the Truth!: Spies and Damn Lies

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I suppose that most everyone recalls Col. Jessup’s (Jack Nicholson) impassioned defense of a “Code Red” in the film A Few Good Men:  “You can’t handle the truth!

For Col. Jessup and many others, the “truth” is an absolute certainty. Every time I hear some “talking head” or “politician” state that “the American public deserves to know,” I can’t help but recall Col. Jessup’s staunch defense of his own “personal” truth or value system.

Many are beginning to realize that discovering the “truth” is – at best – a personal quest. Just when you think you have found that elusive kernel of “truth,” new revelations create additional uncertainties.

For reasons that are not entirely clear (personally, I think it may be intellectual laziness), many of our citizens have created a very simple coping mechanism which I call “tribal politics”. Instead of wearing tribal colors or a tattoo, we simply register for one political party or the other and then cheer loudly to see which party can humiliate members of the other party more viciously.

Civil discourse is now little more than a shouting match, with party supporters cheering on their political gladiators in much the same way that “the mob” cheered on the lions at the Colosseum some 2,000 years ago.

Sadly, our search for the “truth” (even if it could be found) has given way to a whole host of silly slogans and tribal chants that prematurely end any reasonable quest for something close to the truth before it has started. Col. Jessup was probably correct in his assertion that we “can’t handle the truth.”

House of Straw: U.S. Election Meddling and Russia

I understand that people get rattled when they think that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.  While politicians and the media have been beating the “meddling” war drums loudly, I am entirely at ease with the thought that Kremlin spooks, lobbyists and hackers have been seeking to tamper with our election.  Gosh, I would be even more surprised if Russia hadn’t been doing everything possible to gain a political and military advantage over the U.S.

Why?  Well, U.S. clandestine agencies do exactly the same thing in other countries (friends and foes alike).  It is not unreasonable to expect that the U.S. would try to influence or manipulate results in other countries for our geo-political advantage.  I certainly hope that U.S. spies, hackers and “influencers” have been as active as Putin’s shady cast of characters.   In fact, anyone who has played the very popular Online game Sid Meier’s Civilization would attest to the value of spying to gain a competitive advantage over your competitors on the world stage.

It is just plain hypocrisy or stupidity to play the role of a “blushing” democracy when our spy agencies are doing exactly the same thing as Russian spies (or spies of most any other nationality).  

While Congressional Hearings are surely a “big thing,” you simply must laugh if you expect spies to tell the truth.  Spies are trained to lie and the best ones do a very good job of it.  In my estimation, Congress and the Senate and the “American People,” will not be any wiser after this silly political charade plays out in D.C.

Tribal Behavior

When politicians lack the courage to rise above their tribe’s silly rituals, representative democracy suffers.  With tribal behavior lurking behind the sanctimonious sound bites of most politicians, it is the American public that suffers.

It is impossible to determine how the “Special Counsel” charade will play for the electorate, but those who place their lives on the line every day to defend our freedoms must be genuinely disillusioned by politicians who argue that they will get to “the truth” for the benefit of the American people.   If you buy into this silly argument, there is a bridge in Brooklyn that many of these politicians will sell you.

While tribal leaders of both parties continue to posture with meaningless soundbites, real issues like the reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs and opioid abuse (among many serious issues) will continue to be pushed into the background as politicians position themselves at taxpayer expense for the next election.

Maybe Col. Jessup is right, “We can’t handle the truth!”

The views expressed here are those of the author and NOT necessarily those of the members of SFTT.

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