SFTT News: Week Ending August 12, 2016

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

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

Three U.S. Troops Injured in Afghanistan
Three U.S. soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan Monday evening when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives in eastern Nangarhar province. The soldiers suffered minor injuries, NATO’s Resolute Support mission said. They were conducting a force-protection patrol at the time of the incident.  Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for Nangarhar’s governor, said the suicide bomber struck a military convoy in Surkh Rod district near Jalalabad.  Read more . . .

ISIS Propaganda Photo

ISIS “Collapsing on All Fronts”
The outgoing commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria said Wednesday that “the enemy is in retreat on all fronts” as local forces backed by U.S. and coalition airpower press offensives.  “You don’t hear the world ‘stalemate’ anymore” to describe the anti-ISIS campaign, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a briefing from his Baghdad headquarters to the Pentagon. Read more . . .

Pentagon Looks to Israel for New Missile Shield
American defense contractor Raytheon and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, who worked together developing Israel’s Iron Dome—the highly-acclaimed mobile air defense system that has become critical to Israel’s national security—are now collaborating on an American prototype.  Read more . . .

Second Skin to Protect U.S. Troops from Chemical Weapons?
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is working on using carbon nanotubes to create a barrier that would be impenetrable to chemical and biological agents, but still water-permeable. The result could make suits designed to protect against chemical and biological threats more comfortable—and effective—for long-term wear.  Read more . . .

Turkish Military Officer Seeks Asylum in the U.S.
A Turkish military officer on a U.S.-based assignment for NATO is seeking asylum in the United States after being recalled by the Turkish government in the wake of last month’s failed military coup, U.S. officials told Reuters. The asylum bid is the first known case involving a Turkish military officer in the United States as Turkey purges military ranks after mutinous soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks in an unsuccessful attempt to oust President Tayyip Erdogan.   Read more . . .

Ending Veteran Homelessness: City Update
Since 2010, when President Barack Obama launched a five-year national campaign to end homelessness among veterans, the number of former servicemembers living on the streets has dropped from over 76,000 to below 50,000. In early January, officials in New Orleans declared that their city was the country’s first to find permanent housing for all of its homeless veterans, who numbered 227 at the start of last year. Here’s a look at efforts in a handful of other U.S. cities, based on figures provided by federal, state and local agencies.  Read more . . .

Women in Combat at Risk for PTSD
Women in the military who experience combat have a much greater risk than those who don’t of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues, a U.S. study suggests. Compared to their peers without any combat exposure, enlisted women who had just one combat experience were over four times more likely to screen positive for PTSD in post-deployment exams, the study found. With three or more combat experiences, the PTSD risk was more than 20 times greater.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

An All Too Common Story of a Veteran with PTSD
Coming home as a civilian with PTSD was challenging and confusing. I experienced crippling depression, anxiety, night terrors and debilitating flashbacks. I grew increasingly isolated, spending day and night alone in my dark basement, self-medicating and contemplating suicide. At my lowest point, I was taking 32 medications — including a dozen narcotics — and drinking three six-packs a night to fall asleep. I had no external wounds, but inside, I felt broken.  Read more . . .

 

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

Department of Veterans Affairs: Flawed Models Yield Flawed Results

Like many, I am both encouraged and a little frightened at the pace of genetic research. It is one thing to map the human genome, but it is quite another to begin “editing” genes or genetic material to promote healthier patient outcomes.

Mind you, I am in favor of reversing or eliminating alzheimer’s, MS, cancer, diabetes and many other terrible diseases, but pushing the boundaries of scientific experimentation often produces unexpected and potentially catastrophic outcomes.
DNA Research

The Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) insists on recommending therapy for treating PTSD and TBI based on “rigorous science,” according to Ms. Schnurr who heads the VA’s National Center for PTSD.

At first glance, Ms Schnurr’s position seems most sensible, but what if the scientific model is flawed?

I recently came across this powerful six-minute Ted Talk on genome sequencing. While Keolu Fox is eloquently arguing for more diversity in genetic research, he is indirectly suggesting that research based on skewed samples may not always produce the same results across all genetic and ethnic types.

I am always wary of people who argue from the basis of scientific knowledge as flawed models can often yield flawed results.

The overwhelming evidence suggests that the VA doesn’t have a clue when it comes to treating PTSD and TBI. So why does the VA leadership continue to insist on scientific certainty? We owe our brave men and women so much more.

Throwing Snowballs at the Department of Veteran Affairs

Many years ago I was reading a biographic sketch of the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.   According to the biography, teenager Trudeau was arrested by the Chinese police for throwing snowballs at a statue of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square.

Chairman Mao

He was released by Chinese police after explaining that “it was a Canadian tradition to throw snowballs at statues of famous people.”    I have no idea if this story is true, but it would not surprise me as the brilliant and iconoclastic Trudeau had a glib answer for most everything.

As readers of Stand For the Troops (“SFTT”) news are aware, we are not satisfied with how the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) treats Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As reported last week, Maj. Ben Richards cites numerous internal and external studies demonstrating that VA protocols in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI have not been effective.

For the well-being of our Veterans and their loved ones, we can only hope that our well-meaning “snowballs” will ultimately have some effect on breaking through the entrenched bureaucracy at the VA.

Sadly, this is unlikely to be the case.  But if hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of concerned Americans were lobbing snowballs at the VA through their elected officials in D.C., “a thousand flowers might bloom.”   I apologize to Chairman Mao for misquoting him.

If you listen to Dr. Xavier Cifu’s moronic defense of the VA’s “evidence-based” PTSD therapy programs to a Congressional committee, you get the sense that his “own personal opinion” is far more important than any scientific evidence.

Needless to say, not everyone within the VA is as oblivious to its shortcomings  as Dr. Cifu.  For instance,  Paula Schnurr, who heads the National Center for PTSD, which is part of the VA, says

. . . she’s “not concerned about veterans seeking alternative strategies in addition to effective strategies,” as long as the alternative doesn’t replace a method with more evidence behind it.

Schnurr says 90 percent of VA centers across the country do offer some sort of alternative treatment for PTSD. And many have been studied through clinical trials — some, like meditation and yoga, with promising results.

Schnurr also points out one approach to trauma, once approached with broad skepticism, is now on the VA’s list of approved treatments. EMDR — devised in the late 1980s — uses bilateral eye movement, looking side to side, during cognitive behavioral therapy. Only after about a dozen clinical studies did Schnurr feel comfortable recommending it.

“I’m convinced the treatment works; I’m not sure why,” she says.

But as long as the treatment is based on rigorous science, she says, that’s evidence enough.

Ah, there are those magical words again:  “rigorous science.”  What do those words actually mean?   Could the “observational model” be flawed?  At least, Ms. Schnurr has an open mind.

Is the Department of Veterans Affairs too Big to Succeed?

As we have seen last week, the VA continues to use flawed procedures to treat PTSD and TBI yet insists that the “treatment is based on rigorous science.”  Gosh, if the VA’s own internal and external audits demonstrate that standard therapies are not effective in helping Veterans with PTSD and TBI to achieve better outcomes, why not explore other alternatives?

Some weeks ago, we analysed the VA under the microscope of Nassim Taleb’s theory of Antifragility.   Even a superficial analysis of the VA suggests that the organization is Fragile and, in my opinion, far too big to succeed in its mission.

Veterans Cartoon by Gary Varval

Cartoonist Gary Varval

As if on queue, the New York Times asks the question:  Did Obama’s Bill Fix Veterans’ Health Care? Still Waiting.

When President Obama signed a sweeping $15 billion bill to end delays at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals two years ago, lawmakers standing with him applauded the legislation as a bold response that would finally break the logjam.

It has not quite worked out that way.

Although veterans say they have seen improvement under the bill, it has often fallen short of expectations. Nowhere is the shortfall more clear than in the wait for appointments: Veterans are waiting longer to see doctors than they were two years ago, and more are languishing with extreme waiting times.

According to the agency’s most recent data, 526,000 veterans are waiting more than a month for care. And about 88,000 of them are waiting more than three months.

What we are seeing, is increasingly discouraging outcomes for Veterans no matter how much money we allocate to “fixing” the problem.  In economics, one simply refers to this as “decreasing marginal returns on investment.”  This is not to say that some Veterans have not benefited with this new taxpayer largesse, but we should have received far better results if the VA were not so big!

So, if you are wondering what to do on this warm summer day, just pick up a few snow balls and gently lob them in the direction of our Congress and Senate in D.C.    Facing up to the realities that the VA is failing our Veterans is at least the first step toward helping these brave warriors reclaim their lives.

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