Suggestions for Veterans to Maintain a Stress- and Relapse-Free New Year

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The holiday season and New Year’s bring many stressful situations that can be difficult to handle, especially for veterans who are recovering addicts or those suffering from another mental health disorder.

stress free holiday for VeteransOld triggers, family encounters, large parties, or loneliness can be enough to push a veteran with an addiction toward a relapse. With a healthy game plan, you can get through the holiday season with your sobriety intact and make it a positive experience. The first step is to avoid situations which may increase stress to insure that you can enjoy the holidays with friends and family. But of course, this time of year that can be easier said than done. Whether you are trying to avoid family conflict or struggling with substance abuse, veterans may benefit from these simple suggestions:

One Day at a Time for A Stress Free Holiday 

Focus on today when you wake up each morning and how you want to stay sober. Think about what types of environments you need to navigate and make plans to handle those specific situations. Tell yourself that you can resist any temptations and will stay sober.

Start by taking care of your body, eating regular healthy meals, and getting in exercise whenever possible. This will keep your body’s blood sugar regulated, boost mood and confidence, help you avoid irritability, and resist impulses.

Have realistic expectations for the holidays. Expecting everything to run perfectly can set you up for an emotional let down. You can only control yourself, so focus on maintaining your sobriety when confronted with hostile or emotional situations.

Family Events and Parties

Attending family get-togethers and holiday parties can be stressful. Know which situations or people might set off your triggers and avoid them. Arrive early so that you can leave earlier, if needed. Drive yourself if you might need an easy way to leave when you want to. Time spent with people that do not respect your boundaries or elicit temptation should be limited or avoided altogether depending on your level of recovery.

Holiday food and drinks may have unwanted alcohol in their recipes. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, being handed drinks or desserts with alcohol in them could trigger relapse. Make your own snacks and drinks to bring with you to parties. Having your own preferred drink or snack in hand will help avoid the possibility of being handed things you will need to decline.

Have a few simple responses ready for awkward questions from relatives regarding your recovery. Do not feel the need to go into long explanations, or to answer every single question. Change the subject or let them know that you have some other things to do.

Help plan activities instead of just sitting around and drinking. Suggest some board games, sporting events, holiday movies, or building a snowman. Keeping yourself busy will nix cravings, alleviate stress, and help you steal some joy from the holidays.

Handling Stress or Cravings

When stress and cravings start to creep up on you, take a minute to remind yourself why sobriety is better and healthier for you. Recognize possible triggers and move to a different spot or find someone you trust to strike up a conversation with. You can also find someone to help with tasks that they need done, or find a game or activity to do.

Support systems are especially helpful and important during this time of year. Call a trusted friend, family member, or sponsor to talk with when feeling stressed. Attending extra AA or NA meetings during the holidays can give you extra confidence to get through the holiday season. Plan ahead to find meetings even if you will be in another city for the holidays.

Give Back to Others

Many just like you are battling temptations of relapse during this time of year. Make an effort to reach out and help other recovering addicts by attending parties with them to further their sobriety. Reaching out to others during the holidays can have a healing effect on you just as much as them. It can make you more confident in your own sobriety.

Selfless acts remind you of the things for which you can be grateful. Positive interactions will bring love and joy back into your life, and remind you that you can successfully avoid relapse and have a joyful holiday season.

Constance enjoys sharing stories of hope with those feeling lost, and encourages them to believe that there is a healthy, fulfilling life on the other side of whatever path they’re currently traveling.

Photo by BookBabe

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SFTT News: Week Ending Dec 23, 2016

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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.

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

Putin:  Russia Wants to Strengthen Its Nuclear Arsenal
Russia’s military today can overpower any potential foe but should strengthen its nuclear arsenal, President Vladimir Putin told an annual end-of-year meeting Thursday with defense chiefs. “We can say with certainty: We are stronger now than any potential aggressor,” he told the meeting. “Anyone!” His comments come at the end of a year when tensions between Russia and the West have remained on edge over the civil war in Syria.  Read more . . .

Putin

Hacking of DNC Tied to Russian Military Intelligence Unit
A hacking group tied to the incursion on the Democratic National Committee has been linked to Russian military intelligence, according to a new report by the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. This finding is just the latest indication the Russian government was directly involved in the hack, which led to the release of thousands of emails among Democratic officials. That assessment has been echoed by the US intelligence community. Last week, a US official told CNN the intelligence community assessed the hack could only have been carried out with the involvement of the “highest levels of government, including (President Vladimir Putin) himself.”  Read more . . .

Veterans Face Uphill Battle for College Credits for Military Service
Steve Mayou was dumbfounded when he was told he’d have to take courses in introductory physics and basic math on his path to a bachelor’s degree in sustainable building science and technology. Over a 14-year career in the Navy, Mayou had already worked as a nuclear reactor operator on three submarines. Yet just about the only thing his college offered in exchange for that experience was one credit for physical education. “Not only did I do a physics class as part of my training, I had the ultimate lab,” he said, the anger still evident in his voice. “I was splitting atoms every day.”  Read more . . .

U.S.A. Sidelined as Russia, Turkey and Iraq Plot Syria’s Fate
The U.S. was reduced to the role of concerned bystander Tuesday as NATO-ally Turkey met in Moscow with Iran and Russia to plot Syria’s fate following the fall of Aleppo and the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey.  “We weren’t invited,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said of the Moscow meeting of foreign ministers, but Secretary of State John Kerry made follow-up phone calls to his Russian and Turkish counterparts for readouts of what was discussed.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD Turn to Yoga to Combat Stress
An estimated 8 million people in the United States suffer from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. In Indiana, as many as 50,000 Hoosier veterans could be dealing with it. But a new program is exploring a novel treatment, yoga. U.S. Navy veteran Larry Dodd has had multiple surgeries.  He deals with poor circulation; he’s a recovering alcoholic; and he and his wife are raising their two young grandchildren because his son is dealing with addiction.  Read more . . .

PTSD Research Highlights Early Intervention Strategy
Intrusive memories of a traumatic event and the associated physiological reactions to those memories in the acute period after the event appear to play a central role in the development of post traumatic stress disorder, suggests findings published in JAMA Psychiatry.   Read more . . .

Overhaul of VA Key to President-Elect Trump’s Pick for Secretary
President-elect Donald Trump may be preparing to ring in the drastic shakeup of the Department of Veterans Affairs he promised during his campaign for president.The incoming president is “not inclined” to keep the department’s current secretary Bob McDonald in his administration, a senior transition official told CNN on Monday. Instead, Trump is considering several potential successors who would align more with the sweeping VA overhaul Trump championed on the campaign trail as he railed against what he called the “most corrupt” and “most incompetently run agency in the United States.”  Read more . . .

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

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The VA Semantics of Treating Veterans with PTSD

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While watching the “Talking Heads” address the Russian hacking scandal through the prism of partisan politics, it struck me that much the same language is used by the VA when discussing the treatment of Veterans with PTSD.

PTSD Support Veterans

While I have always thought that the proper use of language should be celebrated rather than used as a divisive instrument, I am very much bothered by the implications of blurring the meaning of words to suit one’s political ends.

Specifically, hacking DNC or private servers is very much different than “intervening” in the election process.  Most, if not all, governments (including our own) hack foreign and often their own domestic communication’s networks.

While one can endlessly debate the ethics of hacking, it has been going on for centuries.  It is simply a derivative of spying.

Using that purloined information to disrupt or interfere in our own or any other election process can most certainly be construed as an aggressive act.

The point here is that the act of “hacking” and “weaponizing the information” from that hack are two very different subjects.    Blurring the meaning and intent of these two very separate activities is cause for alarm. Specifically, it introduces a number of conflicting and non-related elements into the equation that cannot be properly analyzed.  Formulating an “appropriate response” will even be more difficult.

The intent here is not to discussing Russian hacking, but to show how the use of language can be used to create a distorted view of the efficacy of various VA programs to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Specifically, there is huge difference between the following statements:

The VA is treating Veterans with PTSD;

The VA is treating Veterans for the symptoms of PTSD.

As Maj. Ben Richards eloquently points out, there is no evidence that VA-prescribed therapies have  “healed” or resulted in any significant improvement to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

 

Clearly, treating the symptoms of PTSD and TBI is quite a bit different than restoring brain function and permanently improving the physical and mental condition of military Veterans suffering from PTSD.

In effect, current VA programs seem to be designed to help Veterans cope with the side-effects of PTSD and TBI (i.e. depression, suicidal thoughts, alienation, etc.) rather than cure the underlying problem.    In many cases, we have seen that lethal combinations of prescription drugs have had the opposite effect.

The semantics of VA administrators stating that they are “treating PTSD” rather than “coping with the symptoms of PTSD” is not a trivial distinction.  In fact, there seems to be little evidence that the VA has provided Veterans with a clear path to restore some level of normalcy in their everyday life.

Clearly, with VA consultants like Dr. David Cifu suggesting unorthodox practices to deal with “concussive events” that no one in the medical profession seems to support, it is not surprising that the Veteran treatment outcomes have been so poor.

While there is clearly a need to help Veterans cope with the myriad of frightening symptoms that emanate from PTSD and TBI, we urgently need benchmarks to help provide Veterans with a path to recovery.

As long as a disproportionate amount of money is spent by the VA on drugs and ineffective therapy programs to deal with the behavioral symptoms of PTSD and TBI, then Veterans will be shortchanged by the organization responsible for their care.

With new leadership on the horizon at the VA, SFTT remains hopeful that Veteran trust in the VA will be restored and that the organization will be purged of the toxic leadership of Dr. David Cifu and others who defend the status quo.  Our Veterans and those in the military are not well served by these corrosive and divisive administrators.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Dec 16, 2016

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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.

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

US Research Submarine Seized by Chinese
A Chinese ship has seized an underwater, unmanned U.S. research vessel, the Pentagon said Friday.  China seized the submarine midday Thursday after pulling alongside the USNS Bowditch, a U.S. oceanographic survey ship, as it was stopped in international waters of the South China Sea, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The ship was near the Philippines about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay when the submarine was seized, Davis said.  Read more . . .

Nuclear Risk Higher with Strained U.S.-Russian Relations
It’s not quite Cold War II, but the collapse of U.S. military relations with Russia could prove to be one of the most consequential aspects of President Barack Obama’s national security legacy while presenting an early test of Donald Trump’s hope for friendly ties to Moscow. Beyond the prospect of the two militaries accidentally brushing against each other in Europe or the Middle East, there is concern that a near-complete absence of military-to-military communication could enable a miscalculation or escalation leading to a nuclear confrontation. The United States and Russia possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Some are continuously on high alert.  Read more . . .

Abram A1 Tank

U.S. Tanks Redeployed to Eastern Border with Russia
The U.S. and its NATO allies are taking no chances amid a build-up of military force on Europe’s eastern frontier with Russia. Three years after the last American tank left Europe, they are being brought back “as part of our commitment to deterrence,” Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges told NBC News. Hodges, who is commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, welcomed a batch of tracked and wheeled support vehicles to a depot in the Netherlands on Thursday.  Read more . . .

EU Plans To Increase Military Spending in Response to Trump
European leaders approved plans aimed at stepping up military spending, which officials said is partly a response to pressure by the incoming Trump administration to shoulder more responsibility for the continent’s defense. Still, reaching final agreement on the details in coming months could be tricky. Divisions remain within the bloc about how a new defense purchasing group would work, how costs would be divided and who would be able to use the new defense capabilities that emerge. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Europe knows “we have to do more and better” on military spending.  Read more . . .

Telemedicine Effective for Treating Veterans with PTSD?
Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have difficulties making it to in-person therapy sessions may be able to get treatment that’s just as good by videoconference. Researchers compared home-delivered prolonged exposure therapy – which helps patients confront memories and situations that trigger their symptoms – to the same treatment given in U.S. Veterans Affairs clinics, and found no difference in effectiveness. “The best treatment for PTSD, with the most empirical support, can be delivered at no loss of effectiveness, directly into a veteran’s home, rather than having the veteran come into clinic,” lead study author Ron Acierno told Reuters Health by email.  Read more . . .

Vet with Service Dog

Veterans Train With PTSD Support Dogs
Fear of crowds and loud noises, battles with drugs, alcohol, depression and suicidal thoughts – those are just a few of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  But this week a group of vets is getting to know some life-saving comrades who will help them. People enjoying their dogs is not an uncommon sight. “I was getting a lot of this look, but now they’re coming in with a sparkle in their eyes,” Nicole Lanahan said. Lanahan started the charity “Got Your Six Support Dogs”. In the military, “Got your six” means “I’ve got your back” and that’s what these dogs are trained to do for veterans suffering from PTSD.  Read more . . .

Who Will Lead Department of Veterans Affairs?
Two key Republican senators are weighing in about ongoing problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs as President-elect Donald Trump mulls his choices for a nominee to lead the agency. The chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., wrote a letter Thursday to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is leading Trump’s transition effort. Grassley and Johnson say the VA is still plagued by problems in “urgent need” of improvement, including substandard care and failure to hold employees accountable for misconduct and poor performance.  Read more . . .

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

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SFTT News: Week Ending December 9, 2016

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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.

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

Congress Approves 2.1% Pay Increase for Military in 2017
The U.S. Senate on Thursday joined the House of Representatives in approving a 2.1 percent pay raise next year for troops. The upper chamber passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which included the pay increase, by a vote of 92-7. The House last week approved the legislation by a veto-proof majority of 375-34. The bill now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.  The $619 billion authorization act includes $611 billion for programs overseen by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, including $524 billion for base defense spending, $68 billion for war funding and almost $20 billion for other national security programs.  Read more . . .

special forces

U.S. Military on Brink of Collapse?
Forget about the longtime standard of a military capable of fighting two major wars simultaneously, which the United States abandoned four years ago. The current military would have trouble fighting one major conflict. That is the assessment of some prominent defense experts, who contend the military has degraded to dangerous levels after eight years under President Obama. “We have lost our edge,” said Daniel Goure, senior vice president of the Lexington Institute. “We are no longer technologically superior in a whole list of areas … This is a military that is on the brink of collapse.”  Read more . .

Pentagon “Buries” $125 Billion in Bureaucratic Waste
The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post. The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.  Read more . . .

Tai Chi Could Help Veterans with PTSD
Around 7 to 8 percent of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder in their lifetime, and the condition is even more common among veterans, affecting around 23 percent of those involved in recent conflicts. According to a new study, the ancient Chinese exercise Tai Chi could help veterans manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress.  Read more . . .

Ben Weller - Reuters

Free Guide Dogs for Veterans Available in Florida
Suzy Wilburn’s voice cracked and tears welled up in her eyes when we asked her what her specially trained guide dog Carson means to her. Wilburn says, “I’m allowed to live again. I’m allowed to be in my community and be part of my community and I’m not sitting at home. He saved my marriage. He saved my life.” Wilburn’s dog was trained at Southeastern Guide Dogs which is located in Palmetto where she also works. Spokeswoman Ruth Lando says they provide all of their dogs and services free of charge and receive no government funding.  Read more . .

Equine Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
Those who serve in our military deserve our support, particularly those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to a Rand Corp. studyreleased in 2008, 20 percent of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, but 50 percent of them do not seek treatment because of the stigma associated with mental illnesses. They often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Families are destroyed and communities lose those who could have made valuable contributions. What is more tragic is through 2014 each day some 20 veterans committed suicide.   Read more . . .

Grant to Address Hyperarousal in Treating PTSD
Mathew and research colleagues at Baylor recently received a grant that will provide more than $1.35 million from the National Institute of Mental Health over two years to study and develop a drug that might mitigate hyperarousal in patients with PTSD. At present, there are two Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs to treat PTSD, the antidepressants Zoloft and Paxil (generics: sertraline and paroxetine). Though clinicians say these medications can be helpful, neither of the drugs was specifically designed to treat PTSD. “There’s a big dearth of effective drug treatments, and that’s what the focus of our research is,” Mathew says. “Psychotherapies help a lot of people, but still many will have residual symptoms or incomplete resolution.”  Read more . . .

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

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week of Dec 2, 2016

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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.

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

General James Mattis

Marine General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis to be secretary of defense, according to people familiar with the decision, nominating a former senior military officer who led operations across the Middle East to run the Pentagon less than four years after he hung up his uniform. To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exception just once, when Gen. George C. Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950.  Read more . . .

Space:  The Next Military Battlefield?
Since man first explored space, it has been a largely peaceful environment. But now US adversaries are deploying weapons beyond Earth’s atmosphere, leading the US military to prepare for the frightening prospect of war in space.”As humans go out there, there has always been conflict. Conflict in the Wild West as we move in the West … conflict twice in Europe for its horrible world wars,” Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, told CNN. “So, every time humans actually physically move into that, there’s conflict, and in that case, we’ll have to be prepared for that.”  Read more . . .

More Troops and Firepower for Trump Military?
President-elect Donald Trump wants a much bigger military. All he needs to do is find the money and political support to make it happen.  Less than two weeks into the Republican businessman’s transition from unlikely presidential candidate to unlikely commander in chief, many details of his plans for the Defense Department remain unsettled. His picks to lead the Pentagon, the individual services and his national security staff are still unsettled. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was named his administration’s national security adviser on Friday, and Trump has been reaching out to potential defense secretary candidates in recent days, including retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who as the head of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013 choreographed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under President Obama.  Read more . . .

VA Exec Running “Shameful” Charity to Retire with Full Benefits
Thomas Burch, a career lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs will retire November 30 with a full pension and lifetime health care, a congressional source told CNN.Burch was in the process of being fired by the VA after an internal investigation and an investigation by the New York attorney general’s office found Burch personally benefiting from donations made to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation.The Foundation, which Burch ran, raised more than $29 million in four years but spent less than 2% of that money on actual veterans causes. The New York attorney general’s office discovered most of the donated funds went to professional fundraising, and that “the fraction that actually made it to NVVF was further reduced by a pattern of abuse, mismanagement and misspending by NVVF’s former president.”  Read more . . .

Gulf War Illness Under the Microscope at the VA
Unless you were an adult in the 1990s, you probably don’t remember that the Gulf War kicked off the decade. Though it lasted less than a year, many Gulf War veterans came home with a mysterious disease that researchers are just now beginning to understand. According to a press release issued by the Veterans Affairs Research Communications, three VA-funded studies found that Gulf War Illness (GWI) is caused by an abnormal immune response. Certain forms of a gene known to play a key role in the immune system may offer protection from GWI. GWI is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that include fatigue, headache, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness and respiratory and memory problems, according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs. It affects about 300,000 veterans—four out of 10 veterans who served in the Gulf War.   Read more . . .

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

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Veterans with PTSD: Why a Dog May be Your Best Friend

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Veterans with PTSD:  Relief may be around the corner.  Practically, every day one sees Veterans with PTSD coming out from under the dark clouds of depression with the support of a canine companion.

Service Dogs and Veterans

I certainly am not qualified to speculate on the benefits that a service dog provides Veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental impairments, but there does appear to be genuine love and understanding between a Veteran and his or her companion dog.

Sadly, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) does not provide “service dogs” to Veterans suffering from PTSD.  In fact, the VA only provides limited benefits to those service members with an approved VA disability:

VA will pay for veterinary care and the equipment (e.g. harness and/or backpack) required for optimal use of the dog. Veterinary care includes prescribed medications, office visits for medical procedures, and dental procedures where the dog is sedated (one sedated dental procedure will be covered annually). Vaccinations should be current when the dog is provided to the Veteran through an accredited agency. Subsequent vaccinations will be covered by VA. Prescribed food will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Veterinary care does not include over-the-counter medications, food, treats and non-sedated dental care. Flea and tick medications are considered over-the-counter and are the responsibility of the Veteran along with over-the-counter dental care products (bones, dental treats, etc.). Grooming, boarding and other routine expenses are not covered.

The VA differentiates between a “guide dog” (for Veterans that are blind) and a “service dog” as follows:  to help those with severe to profound hearing loss by alerting the individual to a variety of sounds or someone with a physical impairment that substantially limits mobility  by assisting in the performance of a wide variety of tasks depending on need and training (e.g. opening doors, retrieving, etc.).

Currently, the VA does not provide Service Dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD because “there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms.”  Studies are now underway to evaluate the benefits of service dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, but these results will not be available for several years.

Nevertheless, many Veterans can attest to the healing benefits of having a service dog regardless of the VA’s propensity to study the issue further.  Found below is a video of a Navy Seal who explains the emotional well-being of his service dog.

While the VA continues its research, many privately-funded organization have sprung up across the United States to provide trained service dogs to many Veterans seeking canine support to help them cope with PTSD and TBI. Found below is a list of just a few of these organizations which provide Veterans with canine support that is still under consideration by the VA.

Train a Dog Save a Warrior:  SFTT’s Rescue Coalition Partner providing service dogs to Veterans dealing with the silent wounds of war.

Paws for Veterans:  A privately-funded program which rescues dogs from shelters and then trains both the Veterans and their service dogs.

Vets Adopt Pets:  A list of several programs across the United States to help pair Veterans with “support” pets.

This Able Veteran:   A service dog program designed to help Veterans cope with PTSD and recover their lives.

Canine Angels USA:  Another program which rescues dogs for animal shelters and trains them to work with Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

As the VA continues to “study” the self-evident benefits of a service dog, many well-intentioned private organizations across the United States are already providing much needed training and support for Veterans seeking a canine companion.

In many cases, these organizations are rescuing dogs for animal shelters to help provide these Veterans with a healing companion.

Thanks to the steadfast dedication of many wonderful people, the lives of countless Veterans have been improved.  On behalf of our Veterans, SFTT thanks you for your continued kindness and generosity!

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SFTT Highlights: Week of Nov 25, 2016

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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.

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

First U.S. Serviceman Killed in Syria Fighting ISIS
The first U.S. service member was killed on Thursday in fighting against the Islamic State in Syria, officials said. The troop died from injuries sustained in a roadside blast near Ayn Issa in the northern part of the country, according to a statement from Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered his condolences after the tragedy.  Read more . . .

ISIS Propaganda Photo

Rebuilding U.S. Military Capability
As a first order of business, we need to review and redefine our strategic objectives and what is vital to our national interest. For example, does our current involvement in Afghanistan make any sense as it relates to our vital strategic interests? Of course not. So why do we continue to expend our national treasure to sustain a corrupt tribal society? Concurrently, in order to restore our world leadership credentials we must reverse the decline of our military capabilities. There is no question that sequestration has decimated our military forces. It will take several years to rebuild the force structure to levels that are required for what we define as a “ready response” force. However, there are actions and programs that can be enacted now that will immediately raise morale and the readiness of our existing forces.  Read more . . .

U.S. Military Celebrates Thanksgiving at Iraqi Base
U.S. troops celebrated Thanksgiving at an Iraqi army base in Qayyara, some 60 km (38 miles) south of Mosul, where a U.S.-led coalition is helping Iraqi forces battle Islamic State. Dozens of soldiers lined up, rifles slung over their shoulders and heads bowed, as one member recited a Thanksgiving prayer. Around 5,000 soldiers are currently in northern Iraq, assisting and advising Iraqi forces participating in the offensive to recapture Mosul from Islamic State. “I want to tell my family now to be thankful that all these people out here and be thankful for being alive… That’s all,” said Joe Hamilton one of the soldiers at the base.  Read more . . .

Grant to Help Match Animals with Veterans
In honor of Rio Grande Valley veterans, The Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center has utilized a Veterans with Disabilities Grant from a private donor which enables veterans with at least a 10 percent disability to adopt any of the pets available at the center for free. Adoption fees are typically $100 for cats, $120 for kittens, $150 for dogs and $170 for puppies. All fees, which are completely waived for veterans, includes spay or neuter operation, microchip for identification, first series of vaccinations and a month of free pet accident insurance. Joel Garza, a United States Army veteran, said he heard about the grant from a friend who knew he had just lost his dog.  Read more . . .

New PTSD Therapy Option for Veterans
Like many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, US Navy veteran Hakim Mathis struggled with anxiety and had trouble trusting others – until he tried Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT.  In CPT, the therapist helps the patient re-examine beliefs that may have changed after combat.  “Beliefs about themselves, beliefs about the world and the level of safety in the world, and concerns about the future and what it may hold,” said Dr. Alan Peterson. CPT is the treatment recently used on hundreds of Fort Hood soldiers and military personnel suffering from combat-related PTSD.   Read more . . .

Equine Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
Animals have a natural ability and knack to soothe and calm those around them without effort. Many types of animals can provide comfort and healing to those in distress, and recent studies show that horses are very special in that ability. The Healing of Our Veterans Equine Service or H.O.O.V.E.S. is a program designed to help veterans with #PTSD or other concerns.   Read more . . .

Veterans Cartoon by Gary Varval

Cartoonist Gary Varval

Will Donald Trump Keep Campaign Promises to Veterans
Donald Trump made a lot of campaign promises, some of which he has retreated from a little more than two weeks after winning the presidential election.  In his “Vision for Veterans Healthcare,” Trump lays out his commitment to ensure veterans “get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it.”  His 10-point plan is an ambitious mixture of accountability, dependability and accessibility in a reformed health care system not bound by a 75-year-old, single-payer, government-controlled model.  Read more . . .

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

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Veterans Affairs: Hope on the Way for Those Suffering from PTSD and TBI?

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With the expected change in the administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), hope could well be on its way to provide more effective and timely treatment for the tens of thousands of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the VA doesn’t seem to have a handle on treating Veterans with serious brain injury.  One hopes that the “new” VA will be more open to alternative therapy provided in the private sector, rather than current dogmatic approaches that have produced few – if any – positive approaches to treating PTSD and TBI. Maj. Ben Richards explains in far more detail below:

I just finished watching an exceptional documentary on PBS by Bob Woodruff entitled Medical Medicine Beyond the Battlefield.   The video, which may be watched below if you can spare 58 minutes – details some incredible medical breakthroughs in helping Veterans recover their lives after they have lost limbs in combat.  Truly miraculous!

Approximately 36 minutes into the video, Mr. Woodruff focuses on how the VA is dealing with brain injury.  Shortly thereafter, he chronicles the issues faced by Elana Duffy, an intelligence Sgt. First Class who suffered traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq (39 minutes).

It is evident that the VA is not making as much progress in treating neurological disorders as they are on other medical rehabilitation fronts.

While concerted efforts are being made to understand and treat PTSD traumatic brain injury, it appears that “progress” within the VA has been impeded by dogmatic positions maintained by Dr. David Cifu and others. In effect, Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI are given few treatment alternatives outside the narrowly defined treatment programs so vigorously defended by VA administrators.

SFTT has long held the view – based on feedback from many Veterans – that the VA is not in a position to provide the necessary care and treatment to truly help Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.   This is a huge problem for Veterans and their families and one needs to “think outside the box” or the confines of VA orthodoxy to embrace new treatment alternatives.

It is terribly sad that the VA has become a political ping pong ball to the chagrin of many Veterans. The release of the Commission on Care report recommending 18 major reforms within the VA triggered an immediate backlash from employees and lobbyists who felt threatened  by the findings.

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Like others, “I was appalled by the outburst of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, who threatened VA Secretary with ‘physical violence.’Cox was ‘prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s a – -,’ he said. ‘He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his a – -, I promise you.'”

Against this particularly toxic background, it is difficult to know whether a new VA Secretary will be able to implement the reforms outlined in the Commission on Care report.

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown to Head Department of Veterans Affairs?

According to recent information, former U.S. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts is apparently a front-runner for the post of Secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs in the new Trump administration.

As reported in the Boston Herald and several other respected media sources, Scott Brown is

 . . . under consideration for the Cabinet post of Veterans Affairs secretary — said he would create a 24-7 manned hotline for suicidal soldiers, take back bonuses and raises awarded to incompetent VA staffers and outsource PTSD and other serious mental health cases to private professionals.

“People are hurting and they need some real help,” Brown said last night, hours after he spoke with President-elect Donald Trump. “There are some great angels working in the VA right now and they need a morale boost.”

If true, this could very well accelerate outsourcing the treatment of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI to private healthcare providers.   Sen. Brown is quoted as saying, “The VA’s trying to do it all — they can’t. We need to outsource that and get those people help right away.”

There is no way of knowing whether Sen. Brown will be offered the job of VA Secretary or will be confirmed to this “cabinet-level” position, but implementing the steps recommended by the Commission on Care would be a major step forward in getting Veterans the help they deserve.

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SFTT News Highlights: Week of Nov 18, 2016

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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.

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

Poll of U.S. Military Shows Mixed Reaction to Trump Presidency
Despite overwhelming support for President-elect Donald Trump among active-duty troops, one in four service members worries he may issue orders that violate military rules or traditions, according to a new Military Times/Institute for Military and Veterans Families Poll.  The poll surveyed 2,790 active-duty troops. Among those who voted, 51 percent said they supported Trump. Many expressed optimism at his election, predicting a stronger military and better quality of life for service members.  Read more . . .

Changes Needed in U.S. Military to Keep America Safe?
Throughout the year, news organizations have feasted on stories of terror attacks, saber-rattling provocations and outright wars. Is the world really as dangerous as all that? And is the military’s ability to protect us against these dangers really on the decline? Unfortunately, the answers to both questions are: “yes.”  The adequacy of U.S. military power must be assessed in terms of what our troops must be prepared to deal with: the “bad actors” that threaten our vital interests.  Read more . . .

Concerns Expressed about U.S. Military Awareness
There are “significant concerns” about the U.S. military’s strength and its ability to combat global threats, according to a report released Wednesday by a leading conservative think tank.“Clearly, the takeaway on this … is that the military is too small,” said Dakota L. Wood, editor of the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Military Strength. “It’s much too small to handle the tasks being assigned to it.”This is the foundation’s third annual report on U.S. military strength in the context of global threats and opportunities. And as with the first two, it blames the military’s perceived decline on reduced funding — the mandatory spending caps known as sequestration.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Resigns Citing Retaliation
A Department of Veterans Affairs employee who told Congress the agency was using unauthorized wait lists for mental health care in Colorado has resigned, saying he was subjected to retaliation for speaking out. Brian Smothers told The Associated Press Wednesday the VA had opened two separate inquiries into his actions and tried to get him to sign a statement saying he had broken VA rules. He said he refused. Smothers also said the VA reassigned him to an office with no computer access, no significant duties and no social contact.  Read more . . .

PTSD Support Veterans

PTSD as an Excuse for Illegal Behavior
I’ve written about post-traumatic stress disorder dozens of times over the past seven years. I’ve discussed specific topics such as effective, ineffective and alternative treatments. I’ve opined about the benefits (or lack thereof) of changing the name by dropping “disorder” from the title. I’ve even railed against bureaucratic obstacles that get in the way of helping veterans gain quality care.  However, one aspect of PTSD that I’ve yet to spend much time on is one that’s rather controversial and rarely talked about — using PTSD as an excuse for illegal behavior. Read more . . .

Online Resources for Military Veterans
We’re lucky to live in a country that cares for its veterans. We can all level criticism at the VA, but it is getting better and there are plenty of good-hearted people willing to pick up the slack by offering their time, patience, and expertise. I’ve written previously about job training and mobile applications that are just for veterans, and today I want to cover online resources. These five websites offer a lot for veterans of the US armed forces: Whether you need job training, a home loan, emergency help, or info on how to use your well-earned benefits, it’s all right here.  Read more . . .

10 Good Reasons to Hire Military Veterans
Companies take note: hiring a veteran of the U.S. Military comes with a host of benefits.  A number of Quora users responded to the question “What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the U.S. Military?” Of the responders, retired Marine sergeant and current hiring manager Jon Davis outlined ten key reasons employers should hire military veterans.   Read more . . .

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

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