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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Kris Kristofferson and HBOT

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After we recently learned that “the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system,” it is reassuring to note that many misdiagnosed individuals are benefiting from alternative therapies.

Kris Kristofferson and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

A prominent figure that recently came to our attention was Kris Kristofferson, who had been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s when it was actually Lyme disease.    According to his wife, the 79-year old singer “suddenly came back,” after 6 “dives” in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Chamber (“HBOT”).   Says his wife, Lisa, in an article published in the UK Daily Mail:

“We were driving back from his sixth HBOT treatment and he looks over at me and says, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m back.’ And I looked right in his eyes and I said, ‘OH MY GOD, HE’S BACK! It was like, WHOA!'”

As readers of SFTT are aware, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) has done everything possible to discredit the use of hyperbaric oxygen in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  More to the point, the VA has been pushing its own failed treatment programs (Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Treatment) in the name of “evidence-based” medicine.

When people in the medical profession argue on the basis of “evidence-based” medicine, it has much the same ring as the doctrine of “religious infallibility.”  Let’s take everything with a grain of salt, since there is still much to discover, even for those wedded to the orthodoxy of “evidence-based” medicine.

SFTT is thrilled that Kris Kristofferson is on the road to recovery.  Furthermore, we are not surprised to learn of the benefits of HBOT in treating the “real” cause of his ailing mental health.

While Mr. Kristofferson has a choice in seeking “a second opinion” and the type of therapy he prefers to treat his condition, most brave Veterans do not.  Sadly, the VA does not provide Veterans with a “second opinion.”  Also, the Va’s narrow treatment programs referred to as the “McDonaldisation of mental health care” offer no tangible benefits to Veterans or their families.

We sincerely hope that – in the not too distant future – our brave Veterans will be able to avail themselves of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and other “old” and emerging treatment programs through the VA.

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Points of View: Al Jazeera on Treating Veterans with PTSD

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There was a time when many considered Al Jazeera to be a voice of Middle Eastern terrorists.   Whether it was or not is a matter of conjecture, but most would now agree that Al Jazeera has morphed into a credible news organization.

In an era of conflicting points of view, “alternative facts,” political agendas and outright lies; it is difficult to find common ground or agreement on any issue.  As such, it is surprising that Reem Shaddad of Al Jazeera has written such an insightful article on the plight of US Veterans entitled:  “The Battle Within:  Treating PTSD in Military Veterans.”

Department of Veterans Affairs

While one could nitpick some of her conclusions, it is difficult to refute the argument that within the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) “the McDonaldisation of mental healthcare is a problem.”

” . . . if you go to any VA in the country, you’re going to probably get cognitive processing therapy or cognitive behavioural treatment (actually, prolonged exposure) because those are the evidence-based practices that they use. It’s like if you go to any McDonald’s, a cheeseburger is going to be the same.”

Yep, the VA only serves two flavors of milkshakes (chocolate and vanilla) to treat Veterans with PTSD:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy, and
  • Prolonged Exposure Treatment.

More to the point, if the VA’s two PTSD therapy programs don’t work, its doctors are likely to prescribe a cocktail of potent drugs to keep the Veteran’s symptoms in check.   This is hardly the outcome our brave warriors and their families should expect.

For an organization that prides itself on providing “evidence-based” medical treatment to Veterans, the GAO and the Rand Corporation have found that these programs resulted in negligible benefits for Veterans with PTSD.   In effect, “evidence-based” medicine seems to apply to every “alternative” therapy program other than the failed programs mandated by the VA.

As distinguished members of medical profession talk about “evidence-based” medical programs to treat PTSD, one can only wonder how warriors with the symptoms of PTSD in the distant past coped without the benefit of clinical trials.

Mind you, acupuncture seems to be have successful for some 2,000 years without the benefit of clinical trials.    The benefits of oxygen therapy programs have been around for centuries and there have been many documented therapy programs listed since as early as the 1930s.    Nevertheless, the folks at the VA – headed-up by chief spokesperson, Dr. David Cifu – still dispute the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in treating Veterans with PTSD.

Despite efforts by Reem Shaddad and many others to expose the hypocrisy within the VA,  Veterans with PTSD and TBI will need to seek help outside the VA.

SFTT is not convinced that there is a “silver bullet” to cure PTSD and TBI, but it is abundantly clear that the two PTSD therapy programs mandated by the VA are not effective.  For this reason, SFTT endorses a far wider use of alternative therapy programs to provide Veterans with a “real” choice over the VA’s failed programs.

Sure, there will be some “snake-oil” peddlers and charlatans that seek to take advantage of Veterans, but it is unlikely to be nearly as severe as the opioid epidemic perpetrated by the “evidence-based” healthcare system.

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GAO to Investigate VA Over Treatment and Therapy of Veterans with PTSD

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At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the Government Accountability Office (“the GAO”) agreed Sept. 27 that it “will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions.”  In particular, the GAO will focus on “how heavily the VA relies on powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients.”

OxyContin - Veteran Addiction

As reported in the Armed Forces News, “this decision is a victory for combat veterans everywhere who are suffering from PTSD and who have been prescribed a cocktail of very powerful drugs to mask their symptoms in lieu of other forms of interactive therapy that work to bring down the stress levels of PTSD to a point where they are no longer debilitating,” said Coffman.

While this new GAO study may come as a big relief to many Veterans with PTSD (and their families), the tragic findings will surprise few who monitor the shoddy treatment procedures provided to Veterans with PTSD at the VA .

For those expecting that this “new” GAO study will result in any improvements in the treatment our Veterans receive, I refer you to the December, 2014 GAO study of the VA with the title of “Improvements Needed in Monitoring Antidepressant Use for Major Depressive Disorder and in Increasing Accuracy of Suicide Data.”

Here is a brief summary of the conclusions reached in this GAO audit as reported by SFTT in March, 2015 in an article entitled GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for VA Suicides:

– 10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
– 86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
– 40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
– 63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

With data integrity breaches like this, it is no wonder GAO cited the suicide data VA relies on as “not always complete, accurate, or consistent.”
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

If Representatives Coffman or McLane Kuster expect different patient outcomes, they are likely to be as disillusioned as Kimi Bivins, the wife of Veteran Eric who tragically committed suicide earlier this year.    There is little need to request a GAO study to find out how dysfunctional the VA has become.  Simply listen to Kimi describe how her husband was treated at VA facilities.
Even as far back as 2012, the VA knew that opioids were not appropriate for treating PTSD, and yet, the VA continued to provide Veterans with lethal prescription drugs knowing full well the consequences.
While SFTT could point out many similar government studies on inefficiencies at the VA, it seems to be far easier for politicians to request new studies, since they never bothered to read the existing studies or insist on much needed reforms.
Sadly, the VA has become a “law unto itself” and no amount of well-intentioned “studies” or GAO audits will do anything to turn the VA around unless politicians on both sides of the aisle take a sledgehammer to break up the VA into manageable components.   As of today, the VA is simply too large to succeed in its mission.
We can continue to study the problem, but for the sake of our brave Veterans and their families, it is time to take action!
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SFTT Military News Highlights: Week Ending Oct 27, 2017

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Found below are a few military 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 at info@sftt.org.

Tensions Continue High Over North Korea Threat
Vice President Pence told U.S. troops to “stay sharp” and “be ready” on Friday in the face of an increasing threat from North Korea.  “Now more than ever your commander-in-chief is depending on you to be ready. Stay sharp, mind your mission,” Pence said at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.  “Anyone who would threaten our nation should know that America always seeks peace, but if we are forced to defend ourselves or our allies, we will do so with military power that is effective and overwhelming. And those gathered here at Minot Air Force Base will play a critical role again,” he said.  The base would play a critical role in the face of an attack, as it houses 26 B-52 bombers and 150 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites.  Read more . . .

Public Support for US Military Remains High, but  . . .
In the 21st century, America has lost its trust in institutions. A quick perusal of Gallup’s data shows that trust in every major national institution has been on the wane since 2000. Except, of course, for the military. As of this year, Gallup reports that 72 percent of Americans polled had a lot of confidence in America’s armed forces.   Read more . . .

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

VA Studies PTSD and “Brain Bank”
The brain-tissue biorepository (the VA National PTSD Brain Bank) supports research on the causes, progression, and treatment of PTSD. The bank is responsible for tissue acquisition and preparation, diagnostic assessment, and storage. It’s currently storing tissue from 168 brains, most of which are from people once diagnosed with PTSD. Many of the other donors had major depressive disorder. Other brains are from healthy controls. More than 40 of the brains are those of veterans, about 75 percent of whom had PTSD. Most of the veterans who donated brains to the bank served in the Gulf War.  Read more . . .

“Gut Microbe” May be an Indication of PTSD
Researchers have known for a while that stress can play a major role in the gut microbiome, affecting bacteria growth and eventually leading to inflammation and mental-health issues like depression and anxiety. But a new study took things a step further, discovering a bacteria trio that might also function as a diagnostic tool for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Our study compared the gut microbiomes of individuals with PTSD to that of people who also experienced significant trauma but did not develop PTSD,” said lead researcher Stefanie Malan-Müller, PhD, in a press release. “We identified a combination of three bacteria—Actinobacteria, Lentisphaerae, and Verrucomicrobia—that were different in people with PTSD.” In the study, those with PTSD had much lower levels of the three bacteria varieties than those who experienced trauma but didn’t develop the disorder. Additionally, those who dealt with trauma in their younger years had low levels of two of the three types as well.  Read more . . .

GAO to Study VA Treatment and Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
The Government Accountability Office will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions. At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the government’s top watchdog agency agreed Sept. 27 to study how heavily VA relies upon powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients. Both Coffman and Kuster have received numerous complaints from veteran constituents, who contend that VA relies upon psychotropic medications far too often. Both lawmakers, and their colleagues on Capitol Hill as well, are concerned that use of the medications could be a contributing factor to the alarming rate of suicides among veterans. They cite the cases of two Colorado veterans who were prescribed the drugs by VA. One later committed suicide and the other was reported missing for several days.  Read more . . .


How Does Your VA Medical Facility Rank?
Many of the worst VA hospitals in the country last year remain among the worst this year, according to internal rankings released Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly a dozen of the medical centers who received one out of five stars in quality ratings this year received the same low score in 2016. They include three veterans’ hospitals in Tennessee — in Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Memphis, where threats to patient safety have skyrocketed in recent years. Also among them is the Phoenix VA, where veterans died waiting for care touching off a national scandal in 2014.  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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The VA and Opioids: Finger-pointing Begins

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SFTT has been reporting for a number of years the abuse at the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) for prescribing addictive prescription drugs to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Despite repeated messaging by VA officials that it applies “science-based evidence” to prescribe treatment for Veterans, it would appear that the VA has been sadly duped into believing that painkilling opioids is a “science-based” solution to treat Veterans with PTSD.

The Washington Post reports tonight (Oct 15, 2017), that 60 Minutes will provide an expose on how the drug industry triumphed over the DEA.   While I have no idea how CBS will spin the narrative,  it has been evident for many years that the pharmaceutical industry “owned” Congress and government authorities who “regulated” their business practices.

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

The fact that we have an opioid epidemic in the United States should be of no surprise to anyone who has watched this tragedy unfold.    What is a surprise, is that the same groups who enabled this tragedy are now sounding the alarm bells to curb the excesses they themselves created.

In an earlier blog, SFTT cited a few organizations that should have the decency to admit that their “science-based evidence” completely underestimated the effect that easy prescription practices would contribute to addiction.

I do not doubt that corporate greed has played a large role in this terrible prescription drug epidemic, but let’s not forget their important enablers:

More to the point, politicians of both parties deserve a large measure of culpability in providing pharmaceutical companies with the breathing space and easy access to peddle their lethal drugs to the medical profession and naive end users.

How the VA Fueled the Opioid Crisis

Just this last week, Newsweek describes in detail how the VA fueled the opioid crisis by prescribing potent prescription drugs to Veterans suffering from the effects of PTSD and TBI.

In 2011, veterans were twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdoses as non-veterans. One reason, as an exhaustive Newsweek investigation—based on this reporter’s book, Mental Health, Inc.—found, is that for over a decade, the VA recklessly overprescribed opiates and psychiatric medications. Since mid-2012, though, it has swung dangerously in the other direction, ordering a drastic cutback of opioids for chronic pain patients, but it is bungling that program and again putting veterans at risk. (It has also left untouched one of the riskiest classes of medications, antipsychotics—prescribed overwhelmingly for uses that aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as with post-traumatic stress disorder.)

The Newsweek article, written by Art Levine, goes into great detail how the VA let our Veterans down by prescribing prescription drugs to Veterans with PTSD with little – if any – required approvals from the FDA.

Like most other pseudo-science arguments spun by VA spokespeople, our brave Veterans did not receive proper therapy for PTSD and TBI but rather were served a concoction of addictive drugs that simply mask the symptoms rather treat the problem.

The VA then felt the need to discredit any other therapy programs for Veterans that might conflict with the limited “approved” VA treatment options.

While there does seem to be a strong effort to curb the use of prescription pain drugs, Art Levine points out that this has forced addicted Veterans to seek other alternatives:

Equally troubling, the crackdown on opiate prescribing—a swing from one dangerous extreme to another—may be contributing to an increase in heroin and illegal opiate medication use among veterans, as well as suicides from pain-wracked veterans going through poorly monitored withdrawal. (Even with new opioid guidelines, the number of veterans with opioid-use disorders increased 55 percent from 2010 to 2015.)

While recognizing the heart-wrenching impact of this epidemic is certainly an important first step, it seems ludicrous to suggest that the same cast of characters who created the problem should be the ones empowered to solve it.

Veterans, Veteran organizations and our political leaders have known for years that the VA is broken.   How many more needless Veteran deaths and suicides do we need to confirm the undeniable fact Veterans are not receiving proper care and treatment at VA facilities?

While 60 Minutes will no doubt cast a dark shadow on the pharmaceutical industry, shouldn’t their partners in crime stand up and admit their undeniable culpability?

Our Veterans deserve far better than the shady dealings between unethical drug companies and their no less reprehensible political benefactors.

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Veterans with PTSD: The VA Way or the Highway

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It is easy to find fault with the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), particularly when it comes to Veterans with PTSD.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, tried to employ body count statistics to assess our progress in the war in Vietnam.  Similarly, the VA has erected a statistical house-of-cards to deceive Veterans and their loved that the VA has the answers for Veterans coping with PTSD and TBI.

Like McNamara, the VA “knows what is best for Veterans” and has erected insurmountable statistical barriers to prop up their failed strategies.  In effect, the VA is telling Veterans:  “It is my way or the highway!

Paraphrasing a joke: “The VA uses statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost — For support rather than illumination.”

Sadly, it is no laughing matter when we consider the thousands of combat Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.  More importantly, reflect on the often tragic consequences for their families and loved ones.

While Congress and the public continue to be seduced by the steady stream of assurances that the VA provides the best possible care to Veterans with PTSD and TBI, the FACTS tell a far different story.

FAKE NEWS from the VA on Veterans with PTSD

Found below is a video of Dr. David Cifu, Senior TBI Specialist at the VA, testifying before a Congressional Committee:

The VA continues to push a stale and failed agenda that states that the only two effective treatment therapies offered by the VA are:

– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”)and,

– Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PET”).

As these “therapy” programs have failed miserably according to independent studies (see below), the VA has “coped” with the problem by prescribing a lethal concoction of prescription drugs which treat the symptoms of PTSD rather than deal with the underlying problem.

And we wonder why we have an opioid epidemic in this country?

REALITY CHECK at the VA

While Dr. David Cifu continues to entertain a Congressional Committee on the efficacy of the VA’s protocols, experience for yourself one woman’s harrowing experience with the VA which eventually led to husband’s suicide:

The story of Kimi Bivins is not the exception to the type of treatment Veterans with PTSD receive at the VA. Based on many similar stories, the VA is failing our Veterans and their loved ones.

I encourage readers to read Kimi’s harrowing description of what actually takes place at a VA facility.

While the folks at the VA casually dismiss anecdotal stories, VA claims that Veterans receive the best therapy possible is simply not supported by the evidence.

No less of an authority that the National Academies of Sciences (Medical Division) reported in a 2014 study entitled “Treatment for POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER in Military and Veteran Populations,” that CBT and PET barely made a statistical dent in providing Veterans with PTSD any lasting improvement in their condition.

Consider Maj. Ben Richards‘ compelling evidence documenting the failed experiments at the VA in helping Veterans with PTSD.

Standing behind a well-entrenched bureaucracy of statistical inaccuracies and dogma, the VA goes out of its way to discredit other treatment alternatives. Consider this bitter “scientific” debate between Dr. Cifu and Dr. Paul Harch on the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT in treating PTSD and TBI.

Finding a Middle Ground for Veterans with PTSD?

With so little known about the brain and how to treat trauma, it seems absurd for the VA to insist that they have all the answers.  The evidence clearly suggests that the VA doesn’t have a clue.

Nevertheless, the VA argues that “alternative therapies” that do not pass scientific scrutiny and FDA approval will not be endorsed by the VA.  As we have seen countless times – from body armor testing to hyperbaric oxygen studies – the DoD uses test protocols that deviate from accepted standards.

If the tests are flawed, one is likely to draw the wrong conclusions!

For the vast majority of Veterans with limited economic means, the VA is effectively making life and death decisions based on flawed testing and a reluctance to embrace other treatment alternatives.

This is probably done with the intent of protecting Veterans from charlatans and snake oil peddlers, but doesn’t it also block Veterans from receiving promising therapies from legitimate sources?

When dogma or “approved” therapies become the LAW, then it seems unlikely that much progress will be made to help our brave Veterans recover their lives.  The VA would do well to encourage Veterans to seek alternative therapies and provide an interactive sounding board for Veterans to voice their opinions on these programs.

Honesty and transparency and a willingness to accept mistakes is the sign of a responsive institution.   Today, the VA hides behind a dogma based on self-delusion and falsehood.

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SFTT Military News: Highlights for Week Ending Sep 29, 2017

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Found below are a few military 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 at info@sftt.org.

Millions Allegedly Enlist in North Korean Military
Kim Jong Un’s media machine reported this week that 4.7 million people offered to enlist in the North Korean armed forces in the days after President Donald Trump promised to “totally destroy” the rogue state—and the new recruits would more than quadruple the size of the nation’s already mammoth military.  State-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said the fresh recruits include students and veterans of all genders.  Read more . . .

General Named to Head Puerto Rico Relief Effort
The Pentagon named a senior general to command military relief operations in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Thursday and the Trump administration sent a Cabinet emissary to the island as U.S. lawmakers called for a more robust response to the crisis. The U.S. territory of 3.4 million people struggled through a ninth day with virtually no electricity, patchy communications and shortages of fuel, clean water and other essentials in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit the island in nearly 90 years.    Read more . . .

Russian Ends Zapad Military Exercises in Belarus
Russia finally concluded its quadrennial Zapad-2017 military exercises last week.  The exercises, which were held in Belarus and western Russia for six days, tested Russia’s defensive capabilities against the fictional country of Veishnoriya which had supposedly been infiltrated by western-backed militias. The games were not, as many eastern European leaders and even some US generals feared, used to occupy Belarus, invade Ukraine or for some other deceitful act.  Read more . . .

U.S. Drones Attack ISIS Militants in Libya
Six U.S. air strikes on an Islamic State desert camp in Libya killed 17 militants and destroyed three vehicles, the U.S. military said on Sunday, the first American strikes in Libya since President Donald Trump took office in January. U.S. Africa Command said in a statement that strikes on Friday targeted a camp 150 miles (240 km) southeast of Sirte, a city that was once the Islamic State stronghold in Libya. The camp was used to move fighters in and out of Libya, plot attacks and store weapons, the statement said.  Read more . . .

VA Cited in Controversial Experiments on Dogs
The Department of Veterans Affairs is tightening oversight of controversial medical experiments on dogs after an investigation found surgery failures and canine deaths in research projects at a VA facility in Virginia — findings that spurred a push in Congress to defund the experiments altogether. Nationwide, invasive experiments at three VA facilities are slated to include roughly 300 dogs, including 6-month-old Beagle puppies, and involve surgeries on their brains, spines and hearts by researchers seeking treatments for heart disease and other ailments. All the dogs will be killed when the research is complete.     Read more . . .

VA Report Suggests VA is Lax in Providing Veterans Medical Support
Internal Department of Veterans Affairs data provided by whistleblowers reveals the agency is only filling about half of its capacity to make medical appointments, even as veterans continue to wait an average of at least 30 days before a medical appointment can be scheduled. The VA documents show that between July and September of 2017, the agency only used 51.44 percent of the appointments available across its healthcare system.  Read more . . .

PTSD and Bacteria Link Suggested
There are several factors that influence whether or not people are more likely to develop PTSD. This includes genetics, epigenetics (factors that influence the way genes are expressed into proteins) and the environments that they are exposed to. Newer evidence is showing there may be another factor at play. Studies show that people who suffer from psychiatric disorders have high levels of inflammation in their bodies. Scientists are still unsure of how this inflammation comes about although some studies on animals have suggested the gut microbiome could play a role. They found that exposure to stress changed the gut microbiome of these animals and also resulted in increased levels of immune molecules and inflammation.  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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