Don’t be Duped by Charitable Organizations for Veterans

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It seems like every year we have a major scandal involving a charitable organization that claims to support Veterans.  Last year, the largest Veteran charitable organization, the Wounded Warriors Project (“WWP”), came under scrutiny after it was discovered that a significant percentage of funds raised by WWP served as compensation or incentives for the WWP staff rather than being channeled into programs that truly benefit Veterans or their loved ones.

IAVA  -  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

WWP was not the first Veteran charitable organization to show its feet of clay, but now the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (“IAVA”) is coming under intense public scrutiny.  Jonah Bennett, a reporter for the Daily Caller, notes the following:

Former employees of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, one of the largest veterans’ advocacy organizations in the country, allege that the charity’s CEO has abused staff and pressured employees to lie about grant funds and project success to mislead donors.

Seven former employees of IAVA spoke to The Daily Caller News Foundation and said among other things that CEO Paul Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq as an Army first lieutenant, has fostered an environment that puts pressure on employees to aggressively fiddle with numbers so that grant finances and grant project goals can be listed as complete.

Needless to say, CEO Paul Rieckhoff has “denied allegations that he had pressured the staff to misuse grant money and mislead donors.”   Nevertheless, it represents yet another blemish on fund-raising efforts by charitable organizations that claim to support Veterans.

Problems within the IAVA date back several years when a 2014 letter from a former employee to the IAVA Board “asks for Rieckhoff to step down as CEO, citing a long history of poor relations with donors, high staff turnover and misspending grant funds.”   Calls by the Daily Caller to “Rieckhoff’s personal cell phone went unanswered.”

 

While it is difficult to know which – if any – of the allegations by former employees of IAVA are true, hints of discontent within the organization have been widely known for several years.  Whether these allegations are true or not,  the repercussions will likely be severe for both IAVA and many other charitable organizations focused on supporting Veterans.

Sadly, many charitable organizations that seek to support Veterans are strapped for cash to fund even the smallest programs.  Well-intentioned efforts fail because the principals simply don’t have the experience or capabilities to raise funds for Veteran programs.  Others fail because they simply don’t have the “right” infrastructure to attract charitable funding.

With large organizations like IAVA and the WWP, the pursuit of funding tragically becomes far more important than the causes they support.  This may well be an over-generalization, but  funding becomes critical to support the many deserving Veteran programs that require an almost constant supply of fresh financial resources.

It is not surprising that the leadership of so many well-meaning Veteran organizations gets trapped by the dilemma of balancing the needs of Veterans and their ongoing fund-raising efforts.   As we have seen in the case of WWP and now IAVA (apparently), the lure of attracting additional resources appears to outweigh the needs of Veterans they claim to support.

What to Look for in a Veteran Charitable Organization

There are no hard and fast rules for determining which charitable organization(s) is/are most effective in meeting the needs of Veterans, but there are certainly a few common themes:

– The integrity of the Administrators and Board Members;
– Projects clearly segregated for direct contributions by donors;
– Clear (and auditable) guidelines on how contributions will be allocated;
– Annual audit reports and regular project updates to donors to let them know how funds are being deployed;
– Independent advisory board consisting of charitable organizations to supervise and administer grants.

Tell-tale Signs of Abuse in Veteran Charitable Organizations

It is difficult to generalize on the “signs of abuse” within a charitable organization, but if it looks “too good to be true” the program is probably a sham.   Found below are just a few tell-tale signs that the “hype” is greater than “real” programs to support Veterans:

– Public outings with Veterans (baseball games or other sporting events) is a sure sign that   it is a staged PR event with little or no lasting benefit to the Veteran or his/her family;
– Lack of distinction between general purpose funding ($19 a month, for instance) and funding for specific identifiable programs for Veterans (i.e. Hyperbaric Oxygen, PTSD research, defined occupational training program, etc.);
– Does the charitable website intelligently focus on specific Veteran support programs or does it focus instead on pulling the donor’s heartstrings?
– Who are the Board Members and do written guidelines of corporate governance exist?
– Are audited financial statements and charitable organization credentials easily found on the website?

SFTT takes no great pleasure in commenting on problems of a prominent Veteran charitable organization, but if these allegations ring true, it gravely affects the funding of all organizations that seek to support our brave Veterans.

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SFTT News: Week of Feb 24, 2017

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage 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.

Federal Hiring Freeze Confuses Military Parents
On Wednesday, the base commander informed parents that all part-day Child and Youth Services (CYS) programs at the garrison would end March 1 because they couldn’t replenish employees. That night, the Pentagon granted exemptions from the freeze, according to a Defense Department spokesman. But the exemptions come with disruptions. “This closure is a result of staff shortages due to the Federal Hiring Freeze,” said the Wiesbaden memo from Col. Todd J. Fish. “This hiring freeze prevents CYS from replacing staff who depart for any reason to include normal rotation.”  Read more . . .

Grow the Military the Smart Way
There are real demands for resources across the military, and many personnel and readiness challenges that need fundamental fixes — indeed, these challenges would be masked or even exacerbated by the infusion of more money, people, and platforms. The political debate is focused on quantity but more uniformed personnel is not a solution in and of itself, and lack of money isn’t the only obstacle to smart growth. Troop numbers make for easy talking points, but advocates for rebuilding the military must be able to explain why, what choices come first, and how to sustain it over time.  Update to personnel and readiness practice ought to come as part of this investment — otherwise, we could end up with a large force that isn’t formed to tackle America’s real threats, and undercut needed reforms.  Read more . . .

VA to Scrap Veteran Applications?
A whistleblower in the Atlanta office of the Department of Veterans Affairs warned President Trump on Tuesday that the VA is preparing to throw out hundreds of thousands of benefit applications due to an error the VA itself made during the Obama administration. Scott Davis, a well-known whistleblower who has testified before Congress, wrote an open letter to Trump saying that more than 500,000 of these applications might be scuttled in March unless he intervenes. “I am sending this whistleblower disclosure to your office due to the urgent need for executive intervention,” he wrote. “VA is planning on declaring over 500,000 Veteran applications for VA health care as incomplete and abandoned at the end of March 2017.”  Read more . . .

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

Dr. David Shulkin Pledges to Rid VA of Abuse
Dr. David Shulkin used his first public statement as the new Veterans Affairs Department secretary on Thursday to pledge management reforms that would remove the VA from a government agency’s “high risk list” for waste, fraud and abuse. “We will implement a plan that directly addresses these risks by building on the progress we have already made,” Shulkin said in response to a Government Accountability Office report naming the VA as a “high risk” agency in its treatment of veterans, handling of claims and efforts to lower wait times.  Read more . . .

Opioid Addiction a Problem for Many Veterans
Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald said veterans are 10 times more likely to abuse opioids than the civilian population, which likely drives Fayetteville’s numbers up. Jacksonville, another military city in North Carolina, ranks 12th on Castlight’s list of worst locales for opioid abuse. While the military is taking steps now to attack addiction, many veterans question why the military took so long to address a problem the veterans say it created.  Read more . . .

Marijuana PTSD

Clinical Trial for Marijuana to Treat PTSD
The first participant in a clinical trial designed to evaluate the effectiveness of smoking marijuana to treat PTSD in veterans was given cannabis on Monday, according to the organization conducting the study.  The study is the first such trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of using marijuana to manage symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder in U.S. veterans, officials with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies said in a release on Tuesday.  MAPS is a California-based non-profit research organization focused on “the careful uses” of marijuana, according to its website. The study is funded by a $2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  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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Partner Support Resources for Veterans with PTSD

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While Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) primarily focuses on making sure Veterans with PTSD receive the therapy and support they deserve, we would be remiss in not acknowledging that Veteran families also suffer grievously from the “silent wounds of war.”

Caregiver for Veteran with PTSD

Indeed,  social media is inundated with heart-wrenching stories of partners of Veterans seeking advice and support of other Veteran partners on coping with the day-to-day problems of Veterans with PTSD and TBI.   In many cases, these partners (primarily wives) have benefitted from support groups in which they exchange advice and provide comfort to others as their husbands combat the demons of PTSD.

In fact, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (“the VA”) has a “caregiver support line for partners of Veterans with PTSD.    That caregiver support line is 1-855-260-3274.

Indeed, the VA provides some useful advice on the advantages of joining a “peer support group” and how to locate them:

Joining a peer support group can help you to feel better in any number of ways, such as:

– Knowing that others are going through something similar

– Learning tips on how to handle day-to-day challenges

– Meeting new friends or connecting to others who understand you

– Learning how to talk about things that bother you or how to ask for help

– Learning to trust other people

– Hearing about helpful new perspectives from others

Peer support groups can be an important part of dealing with PTSD, but they are not a substitute for effective treatment for PTSD. If you have problems after a trauma that last more than a short time, you should get professional help.

Aside from the VA recommendations, many other independent organizations have sprung up to support partners who feel the need to exchange ideas and support one another during a particularly difficult period in their relationship.

Found below in no particular order are online support resources that may help provide a peer support forum to exchange ideas and advice:

Wives of PTSD Vets (Facebook Page)

A useful Facebook Page of engaged partners who seek to provide useful resources to others on helping wives of military Veterans with PTSD

Hidden Heroes

Established by Senator Elizabeth Dole, Hidden Heroes has as its mission to:

– Raise awareness of the issues military caregivers confront every day

– Inspire individuals, businesses, communities, and civic, faith and government leaders to take action in supporting military caregivers in their communities

– Establish a national registry, encouraging military caregivers to register at HiddenHeroes.org to better connect them to helpful resources and support

Family of a Vet

A practical guide, gleaned from contributions by its many members, on how to cope with PTSD and TBI.  More practical and common sense advice than clinical evidence, but certainly a recommended resource for those who require guidance and a helping hand.

PTSD Support Group

Essentially, a forum to exchange ideas and vent.  Clearinghouse for frustrations that emanate from being a caregiver for a Veteran coping with PTSD

Army Reservist Wife (Blog)

Authentic – pulls no punches – blog featuring genuine stories of how caregivers cope with the difficulties of sustaining a relationship with Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

While there are many other notable online resources, local support groups that meet in person are probably far more effective than online advice.  Most base facilities provide programs for spouses of active duty personnel.

Veterans discharged from the military or reservists may find active support groups at religious centers or outreach programs supported by local community activists or charitable organizations.

Veterans suffering from PTSD and/or TBI value companionship.  While it may seem difficult to provide them the support they are seeking, it is a battle worth fighting valiantly.  Support groups may well provide the necessary resources one needs to persevere.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Feb 17, 2017

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage 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.

Theater Saves Lives for Military Veterans
For military veterans, theatre has the potential to be much more than just a pastime or a profession, it can help heal, and even save lives. Acting, Victor Almanzar says, has saved his life on more than one occasion. He gravitated towards the drama program at his high school, and later found a sense of belonging with a local theatre group. In 2000, Almanzar signed up for the Marines to work with heavy artillery—handling shells that were two-feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds each. Serving was tough, both physically and emotionally, but he was thriving. “I was able to swing in those waters, amongst men,” he says. “It gave me a sense of importance and confidence.”    Read more . . .

President Donald Trump

President Trump’s Military Problem
Despite the historically isolationist “America First” theme, President Trump is sticking to his campaign position that the U.S. military has become “depleted,” “obsolete” and too small to protect U.S. interests. The president is planning a “historic” military build-up, adding 80 more Navy ships, 100 more Air Force combat aircraft, and substantially enlarged Army and Marine forces. The price tag, in the hundreds of billions of dollars, may not go down well with the House Freedom Caucus. But squeezing a few hundred billion dollars out of the deficit hawks may prove easier for Defense Secretary James Mattis than dealing with the human side of the build-up.  Read more . . .

One Person’s Argument to Reinstate the Draft 
Our military loses the value of our service, the investment of our families and even social relevance. We ourselves lose the chance to perform one of the highest acts of patriotism and the chance to share the experience of that service with others of our generation. More importantly, the military feels alien to us, irrelevant and unimportant. Disastrously, we have ceded all authority and accountability over it. In light of these problems, and in the spirit of civic engagement, I propose we reinstitute the draft.  Read more . . .

Status of VA Disability Claims Backlog
Officials from the Veterans Affairs Department were pressed Tuesday to explain how the paperless fix to the disability claims process has initially resulted in growing backlogs. The claims backlog stood at about 76,000 last May before the VA solution called the National Work Queue was fully implemented, but the backlog last week was at 101,000 cases, said Rep. Mike Bost, an Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. At a hearing of the panel, Ronald S. Burke Jr., the VA assistant deputy secretary for Field Operations National Work Queue, didn’t dispute Bost’s numbers but said one of the problems is that “this is a relatively new initiative.”  Read more . . .

List of U.S. States that Permit Marijuana for PTSD
More than 20 states — plus Washington, D.C., and two U.S. territories — have an allowance for medical marijuana to be used in treating PTSD. Efforts are underway to add Colorado to that list this year. The state has not amended its list of qualifying conditions since the program was implemented in 2001, and over the years has rejected petitions that sought to include post-traumatic stress disorder — most recently in 2015. The Colorado Board of Health cited a lack of credible scientific evidence.  Read more . . .

PTSD:  A Cause for Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease?
In the first study, researchers outline the evidence supporting the role of PTSD as a potentially causative factor as well as a consequential factor in cardiovascular disease. “We conclude that post-traumatic stress disorder is a risk factor for incident cardiovascular disease, and a common psychiatric consequence of cardiovascular disease events that might worsen the prognosis of the cardiovascular disease,” the authors, led by Donald Edmondson, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center, New York City, write.  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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SFTT Mourns Retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore

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LTG Hal Moore

Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”) is mourning the passing of Lieutenant General (ret.) Hal Moore. Every generation shares its own greatest men and women and LTG Moore was one of them. He is best known for his combat leadership as the commander of 1-7 Cavalry in 1965 Battle of Ia Drang memorialized in the movie We Were Soldiers where Moore was played by actor Mel Gibson. LTG Moore spent his life in the service of his Nation and the the men and women who served with him.

He was a member of the SFTT advisory board and we will continue honor him through serving in our mission to help our service members and veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of TBI and PTSD.

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Gun Control and Veteran Suicides: Is Research Lacking?

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Like most everyone, the gun control debate is front and center on both sides of the political spectrum.  Sadly, very few – if any – of proposed changes to existing gun control laws would have a major impact on Veteran suicides.

ptsd

I recently came across an interesting article published in the Washington Post entitled “The reasons we don’t study gun violence the same way we study infections.”    The gist of the article is that well over half (actually 62%) of gun-related deaths in the United States reported by CDC are suicides.  Sadly, very little money is allocated to the study of suicides.  Some of these reasons stem from restrictions on gun research, but a chronic lack of funding suggests that other topics receive the lion’s share of research money.

The article, written by Carolyn Johnson,  states the following:

There are a few reasons for the gun violence research disparity. First, there are legislative restrictions on gun research. For two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been prevented from allocating funding that could be used to advocate for or promote gun control. Although that doesn’t explicitly exclude all research on gun violence, it is said to have had a chilling effect on funding.

Aside from political pressure, there is a more philosophical one in which injuries are treated differently than disease. Injuries are a public health issue, but the debate over gun research often becomes mired in a debate over whether a person who intentionally wants to hurt himself or another person will do so, with or without a firearm. Research is also often driven by where researchers see the biggest scientific opportunity to come up with a cure or therapy, and infections or cancer may simply be easier to study than gun violence using traditional tools.

One of the complications of a study like this is that it uses broad categories to look at spending trends. For example, if the majority of gun violence is suicides, it might make more sense to study suicide, regardless of whether it involves a firearm. But suicide, too, has been chronically underfunded compared with its health burden. The number of deaths annually from breast cancer are now about the same as suicide. But breast cancer research received $699 million in NIH research funding in 2016; suicide and suicide prevention received $73 million.

While it is difficulty to draw too many conclusions from Ms. Johnson’s article, it would appear that cure or therapy-related research “may simply be easier to study than gun violence using traditional tools.”   In other words, simple evidence-based studies seem to attract more funding rather than complex studies, such as suicide prevention.

Using Ms. Johnson’s analysis, it is not surprising that the VA feels more comfortable funding marijuana studies which help Veterans cope with the symptoms of PTSD rather than treat brain injury.  In fact, over the last 15 years, the VA has done little – if anything – to treat Veterans with PTSD.

Citing a National Institute of Health 2014 study of the VA, Maj. Ben Richards points out that despite the most sophisticated therapy provided by the VA the average PCL-M score to assess Post Traumatic Stress has fallen only 5 points.  In fact, PCL-M scores for “treated” Veterans is still well above the 50 benchmark considered adequate by the military.

Ben Richard's PTSD VA Study

For more of Maj. Ben Richard’s analysis of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs costly and rather futile effort to help Veterans with PTSD, please CLICK HERE.

While the VA embarks on yet another study to combat the symptoms of PTSD, tens of thousands of needy Veterans are deprived of necessary research to help them reclaim their lives rather than simply cope with their problems.

A well-tested program, Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy (“HBOT”) has allowed Maj. Ben Richards to recover much of his cognitive function.  Yet, Dr. David Cifu and others at the VA still refuse to fund HBOT for Veterans with PTSD.

Veteran suicide rates are currently 22% than the normal population.  Doesn’t it make sense to provide workable therapy programs to Veterans rather than embark yet again on studies that treat symptoms rather than the problem?  Our Veterans deserve much more.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Feb 10, 2017

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage 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

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

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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.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Feb 3, 2017

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage 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.

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Drs. Paul Harch and David Cifu Spar over Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

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Well over a year ago, Dr. Paul Harch, one of the leading experts in Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) published an authoritative report entitled “Hyperbaric oxygen in chronic traumatic brain injury:  oxygen, pressure and gene therapy” for the U.S. National Library of Medicine (Medical Gas Research).

In this report (a lengthy extract is printed below), Dr. Harch argues persuasively over the many benefits of using HBOT in treating brain injury:

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment for wounds in any location and of any duration that has been misunderstood for 353 years. Since 2008 it has been applied to the persistent post-concussion syndrome of mild traumatic brain injury by civilian and later military researchers with apparent conflicting results. The civilian studies are positive and the military-funded studies are a mixture of misinterpreted positive data, indeterminate data, and negative data. This has confused the medical, academic, and lay communities. The source of the confusion is a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition, principles, and mechanisms of action of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This article argues that the traditional definition of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is arbitrary. The article establishes a scientific definition of hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a wound-healing therapy of combined increased atmospheric pressure and pressure of oxygen over ambient atmospheric pressure and pressure of oxygen whose main mechanisms of action are gene-mediated. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy exerts its wound-healing effects by expression and suppression of thousands of genes. The dominant gene actions are upregulation of trophic and anti-inflammatory genes and down-regulation of pro-inflammatory and apoptotic genes. The combination of genes affected depends on the different combinations of total pressure and pressure of oxygen. Understanding that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a pressure and oxygen dose-dependent gene therapy allows for reconciliation of the conflicting TBI study results as outcomes of different doses of pressure and oxygen.

Not surprisingly, Dr. David Cifu, Senior TBI Specialist in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Health Administration, gave the standard stock answer from the spin doctors at the VA that:

There is no reason to believe that an intervention like HBOT that purports to decrease inflammation would have any meaningful effect on the persistence of symptoms after concussion. Three well-controlled, independent studies (funded by the Department of Defense and published in a range of peer reviewed journals) involving more than 200 active duty servicemen subjects have demonstrated no durable or clinically meaningful effects of HBOT on the persistent (>3 months) symptoms of individuals who have sustained one or more concussions. Despite these scientifically rigorous studies, the clinicians and lobbyists who make their livings using HBOT for a wide range of neurologic disorders (without scientific support) have continued to advocate the use of HBOT for concussion.

To Dr. David Cifu’s stock VA response, Dr. Harch responded as follows:

The charge is inconsistent with nearly three decades of basic science and clinical research and more consistent with the conflict of interest of VA researchers.  A final point: in no publication has the claim regarding effectiveness of HBOT in mTBI PPCS been predicated on an exclusive or even dominant anti-inflammatory effect of HBOT. Rather, the argument is based on the known micro-wounding of brain white matter in mTBI, and the known gene-modulatory, trophic wound-healing effects of HBOT in chronic wounding.  The preponderance of literature in HBOT-treated chronic wound conditions, is contrary to Dr. Cifu’s statement of HBOT as a “useless technology.”

As a layman, Dr. Harch’s detailed rebuttal (see FULL RESPONSE HERE) completely destroys Dr. Cifu’s “non-responsive” comment to the scientific points raised in Dr. Harch’s report.  In my view, it goes beyond the traditional “professional respect” shown by peers:  Dr. Harch was pissed off and, in my opinion, had every right to be.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Cifu has not responded to the irrefutable arguments presented by Dr. Harch.

The discussion of HBOT is not a subject of mild academic interest.  Specifically,  Veterans are being deprived of hyperbaric oxygen therapy because Dr. David Cifu and his cronies at the VA are misrepresenting the overwhelming evidence that suggests that HBOT restores brain function.

Why?  Indeed, that is the $64 question.

It is difficult to forecast how this academic drama will play out.  Nevertheless, I suspect that David Ciful will eventually be viewed by Veterans as performing a similar role within the VA as Alvin Young, aka “Dr. Orange.”

I hope and pray this is not the case.  On behalf of tens of thousands of Veterans who are denied HBOT treatment for PTSD and TBI by the clumsy and sloppy claims of Dr. Cifu and others within the VA, please “do the right thing” and lend your support to HBOT as a recommended VA therapy for treating brain injury.

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