SFTT News: Week Ending Feb 10, 2017

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 SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Service Chiefs Divided on Base Closing to Cut Costs
The Army is adamant: It needs to close bases to save money, and it needs to do it now. The Air Force may also be open to the idea, but other services are not so sure. Before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on readiness Wednesday, the vice chiefs of the military services made well-worn cases to lawmakers for more money and an end to sequestration budget caps that they say have cut into maintenance and efforts to modernize the military.  Read more . . .

Marijuana PTSD

Trial of Marijuana for PTSD Symptoms
Researchers started this week the first-ever clinical trial of marijuana for treating the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. The trial will test four potencies of smoked marijuana and their effects to manage PTSD symptoms in 76 veterans, according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, the study is intended to develop marijuana into a legal prescription drug. “We are thrilled to see this study overcome the hurdles of approval so we can begin gathering the data,” Amy Emerson said in a written statement issued by the association. The nonprofit drives clinical research on the medicinal use of marijuana, LSD and MDMA, known more broadly as Ecstasy.  Read more . . .

Lack of Discernible U.S. Military Strategy Questioned
There is no grand strategy discernible in the multiple and simultaneous global deployments recently ordered, but neither is there a unifying vision for how military forces will be used in the theaters into which they are sent. For example, beginning in 2014 the president authorized the deployment of a small number of troops to Iraq, and the following year gave the order to begin airstrikes in Syria. Since that time, however, the size and scope of both missions have been consistently expanded in small increments.   Read more . . .

Military Widows find Hope and Understanding Together
During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the women seeking help from the group were young, with husbands who had been killed in combat. Today the widows contacting the organization are older, and their husbands aren’t dying abroad — they’re dying on American soil.  “I have to say, I haven’t genuinely laughed as much as I’ve laughed with these ladies, and shared things that … that I know that they understand,” says Erin Murzyn.  Read more . . .

VA Suicide Hot Line

VA Fights Hiring Freeze
As one of his first acts in office, President Donald Trump announced a nationwide federal hiring freeze. The Veterans Administration has thousands of open position across the country that, for the most part, will continue to go unfilled until the freeze is over. Veterans Affairs Secretary Rob Snyder said in a statement,”The Department of Veterans Affairs intends to exempt anyone it deems necessary for public health and safety, including frontline caregivers.” The administration lists a handful of positions that are exempt on their website. Still, Congressman Ron Kind, along with 70 House democrats, are not satisfied with the department’s statement.  Read more . . .

 Drinking to Forget Could Make PTSD Worse
Drinking to forget may make the fearful memories associated with post-traumatic stress disorder worse, not better, experiments with mice suggest. A new study demonstrates that alcohol can strengthen such emotional memories, preventing the rodents from pushing aside their fears, say the scientists who conducted it. “Binge drinking or other attempts to use alcohol to self-medicate could be sabotaging any therapy efforts,” says Norman Haughey, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University.  Read more . . .

Why a Concussion May Raise Alzheimer’s Risk
Researchers have known for more than a decade that people who experience a severe or moderate traumatic brain injury are at greater risk of getting Alzheimer’s later on. However, they are far less is known about how “mild” traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, affect brain health over time, even though they make up more than 70 percent of all head injuries. “People tend to ignore concussion and just shake it off, and don’t follow up with care,” which makes it difficult to study the lifelong impact of such injuries, says Jasmeet Hayes, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.  Read more . . .

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

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

Will Much Change at the VA with David Shulkin as Secretary?

Much was made during the election campaign over the failings of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) to serve our Veterans effectively.  While President-elect Trump had vowed to overhaul the VA, his selection of Dr. David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, as his nominee raises questions over what may change within the VA.

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

Indeed, the initial Senate confirmation hearings suggest a “love fest” according to Quil Lawrence of NPR.  Found below is the complete Senate confirmation hearing of the VA secretary-nominee’s testimony to the Senate committee:

Personally, I would like to think that Dr. Shulkin is the right person for the job – and he may well be – but I find it curious that not one of the questions at the confirmation hearing directly addressed the implementation of the Commission on Care recommendations. While some of these issues were addressed obliquely at the hearing, it seems to me that there should be a regular status report to the respective Congressional committees on how (or whether) these programs are currently being implemented.

While a good deal of the confirmation hearing was an opportunity for Senators to showcase their “genuine” concern for Veterans and pontificate on the silly rumors of “privatizing the VA,”  the hearing covered many of the same issues that continue to plague the VA.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged by some of the remarks by Dr. Shulkin at his confirmation hearing which are summarized below:

- Commitment to moving care into the community were it makes sense for the Veteran.  Currently, some 31% of health services are provided by local communities compared to 21% when Dr. Shulkin joined the VA.

– Expand Choice Program to ensure that Veterans are able to seek care in their community.

– Work to eliminate disability claims backlog (already significantly reduced) and seek legislation to reform the “outdated appeals process.”

– Need to address “infrastructure issues” . . . and explore expansion of public/private partnerships rather that build medical centers that have “large cost overruns and take too long to build.”

The Veteran’s Choice Program (“the VCP”) is the result of the Veteran’s Choice Act that was enacted to address chronic wait times for Veterans seeking care at VA facilities.  To a large extent, “the VCP” is the brainchild of Dr. Shulkin.

During the confirmation hearings, Dr. Shulkin agreed that the “mileage” requirement to access private medical services (currently 40 miles from a VA facility) shouldn’t be a deciding factor.  In Dr. Shulkin’s opinion, wait times should be the determining criteria.  Couldn’t agree more.

Furthermore, Dr. Shulkin acknowledged that there was far “too much bureaucratic” red tape involved when a Veteran received the green light to seek private care and the required VA approvals to actually receive it.

While praising the work ethic and dedication of nearly all VA employees, he admitted that he was frustrated by current legal constraints to shed the VA of a few bad apples.  Perhaps, he should enlist the support of government labor leader, David Fox, to join him in helping streamline the VA for the benefit of Veterans.

With 314,000 employees and a VA budget of $180 billion (of which only $76 billion is discretionary), SFTT has long believed that the VA is “too big” to succeed in its mission to provide adequate and responsive care to Veterans in need.

The issue is not the “quality of care” provided by the VA, which according to a recent Rand Corporation study compares favorably with private institutions.   The question remains, who gets access to these quality VA services and when?

During his confirmation hearing, Dr. Shulkin stated that only 61% of interviewed Veterans “trust” the VA (up from 41%).   I am quite sure that as the new VA Secretary, Dr. Shulkin, will seek to improve trust levels among Veterans, but ease of access to urgent medical services – whether at the VA or private facilities – is critical.

Furthermore, Veterans should be provided with a wider range of choices in determining the type of treatment they feel is appropriate for their medical condition.  Specifically, it is simply not acceptable that “gatekeepers” at the VA should determine ALL “eligible” treatment procedures.

Certainly, Dr. Shulkin appears to have the “right” temperament for the job, but in my opinion, far more is needed to turn around this largely non-responsive ship that is currently adrift and aloof from meeting the needs of Veterans.

SFTT News: Week Ending Feb 3, 2017

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 SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

Russian Hackers Allegedly Hit Norway Spy Agency
Nine personal civil-servant email accounts in Norway have been targeted by hackers in “spear-phishing” attacks believed to be associated with Russian intelligence, the Norwegian security service said Friday. It said no classified information has been taken. PST spokesman Martin Berntsen says the agency was warned earlier this year by a foreign agency about “targeted attacks” on the security service, Norway’s Labor Party, the military and government agencies. He declined to name the foreign partner. “The attacks had a signature that indicates those behind the hacking can be identified as APT29,” Bernsen told The Associated Press. “They can be traced back to Russia.”  Read more . . .

cyber warfare

U.S. Military Releases Videos Seized During Yemen Raid
The US military released five brief video clips Friday showing for the first time some of the information seized in Sunday’s counter terrorism raid against al Qaeda in Yemen. Five short video clips show a black-hooded figure in head-to-toe white garb standing in front of a white board and giving a lecture on bomb making. The video is titled “Courses for Destroying the Cross” and features shots of chemistry equipment and hands wearing black gloves pouring powder from one glass beaker into another holding a clear liquid. Subtitles written by US Central Command run below the image as the instructor says, “Now we start with a practical training on how to destroy the cross with explosives. We would like as many people to graduate with this knowledge and expertise as possible.”  Read more . . .

Details on New Military Retirement Implementation Phase Emerge
The Defense Department started to move this week into the implementation phase of the new military retirement system Congress ordered it to set up just over a year ago, including through an exhaustive education campaign designed to make sure service members understand how the new system works. DoD has been rolling out training materials for military leaders and financial managers since last June. But on Tuesday, officials started the training process for the roughly 2 million active-duty and reservist service members who stand to be affected by the changes, which will eventually replace the military’s cliff-vested retirement pension with a combination of defined benefits and government contributions into service members’ Thrift Savings Plan accounts.  Read more . . .

U.S. Military Poised to “Beef Up” According to Mattis Memo
The Defense Department is making a big push for capacity building and to reform its business practices over the next six years. In a memo released Feb. 1, Defense Secretary James Mattis said DoD will focus its 2018 budget on “growing the force structure to the maximum responsible rate.” Mattis explained the 2018 budget will address pressing programmatic shortfalls and rebuild readiness. That includes building programs for advanced capabilities as well as buying critical munitions and funding facilities sustainment at a higher level.  Read more . . .

Iran Put on Notice After Missile Test
The White House has issued a cryptic warning that the U.S. will act against Iran unless it stops testing ballistic missiles and supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen, but declined to say what retaliatory actions the U.S. would pursue. Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, forcefully denounced Iran’s behavior in his first public remarks since Trump took office. He accused Iran of threatening U.S. allies and spreading instability throughout the Middle East while faulting the Obama administration for doing too little to stop the Islamic Republic. “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” Flynn said from the White House podium.  Read more . . .

Veterans Affairs Nominee Vows Not to Privatize VA
President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, David J. Shulkin, vowed at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to reform — but not privatize — veterans’ health care, potentially puDavid Shulkin, VA Secretary tting him at odds with Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to allow all veterans to choose private health care. “V.A. is a unique national resource that is worth saving,” Dr. Shulkin told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He added, “The Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.”  Read more . . .

 

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

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

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