Will the VA Provide Better Service to Veterans?

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With much fanfare, Dr. David Shulkin, the new Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), has moved quickly to address some of the recurring problems at the VA.

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

As the first VA Secretary without a military background, Dr. Shulkin appears committed to resolve several pressing concerns:

– Speedier processing of Veteran benefit claims and,

– Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and artificial constraints on “out-of-network” support for Veterans (Choice Program).

Indeed, Secretary Shulkin recently unveiled a 10 Point Plan to modernize the VA:

1. Firing bad employees

2. Extending the Choice program

3. Choice 2.0

4. Improving VA infrastructure

5. ‘World-class’ services

6. Better VA-DoD partnerships

7. Better electronic records

8. Stopping suicide

9. Appeals modernization

10. Internal improvements 

While there is little in these Powerpoint presentation bullet points that anyone would quibble with, implementing these broad goals tends to be far more complicated than listing the goals.   Unless there are rigorous benchmarks to assess progress toward achieving these goals, then this “goal-setting” exercise is rather fruitless.

In fact, it is difficult to reconcile the need for increased hiring within the VA unless one sees clear and conclusive evidence that “bad employees” are being fired.  In fact, the VA is recommending a hiring surge to deal with a backlog of benefit claims, a situation that has persisted for 4 years.

Are more employees needed or does the VA lack the “right” mix of employees to implement Shulkin’s 10 point plan?

For instance, State and Local VA coverage varies radically across the US.  For example, NPR reported in 2015 “that spending is nearly $30,000 per patient in San Francisco, and less than $7,000 per patient in Lubbock, Texas. Nationally, the average is just under $10,000. In places where more veterans are enrolled in VA health benefit plans, spending per veteran did tend to be higher.”   Why?  This is a huge variance that is not well explained.

Aligning the VA to Achieve Measurable Goals

As one looks at Shulkin’s proposed goals, it would be useful to determine their priority and the level of commitment (personnel and capital expenditure) that is required to attain them.  Furthermore, what are the benchmarks to chart progress toward achieving those goals.

For instance, “stopping Veteran suicides” is a goal that would find few naysayers.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to reconcile that goal with the sad fact that 30% of suicide watch calls are not currently attended by the Veteran Crisis Center.  Indeed, I find it disturbing that the Suicide Crisis Line has been centralized under the VA in the name of “efficiency.”

Perhaps, Dr. Shulkin and his staff have some measurable goals.  If so, they should be made public and both the Executive Body and Congressional Oversight Committees should receive regular updates from the VA on progress to date in achieving mutually agreeable goals.

Is this likely to happen?  Most certainly not!  This is an anathema to Big Government.

Is Firing Bad Employees Really Going to Occur?

With 365,000 employees, there are certainly going to be a few “bad eggs.”  While Dr. Shulkin praised the vast majority of VA employees, he told a cheering crowd  that “We’re going to make sure that the secretary has the authority to make sure that those (sic “bad”) employees … are leaving the VA system.”

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Really?  It seems to anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at staffing within the VA, that David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, will be calling the shots rather than Dr. Shulkin.

In most cases, distinguishing between a “bad” employee and an inefficient one is largely subjective.  Given the protection afforded by employees at the VA, it is highly unlikely that both the bad and inefficient employees will be “leaving the VA system” anytime soon.

In effect, this places a greater burden on both ” the good” and the many efficient and competent employees within the VA.  With little say or control on managing the workforce, I find it highly unlikely that Dr. Shulkin will be able to fulfill his promise to fire “bad” employees.

More importantly, it is unlikely that he will be able to realign staffing levels to implement his 10-point plan.

And Speaking of Bad Apples:  How About Dr. David Cifu?

If Secretary Shulkin is really serious about dealing with “Veteran suicides” and providing Veterans with alternative treatment for Veterans with PTSD, he would do well to question the credentials of Dr. David Cifu and others within the VA who continue to block Veteran access to better treatment alternatives.

When one looks at Secretary Shulkin’s complex agenda, one should focus on the signs that change is actually occurring.  Personally, I don’t expect to see much change over the next couple of years, unless there are clear bookmarks to measure that change.  Sadly, it seems likely that we will be looking at the same litany of complaints a couple years down the road.

Dr. Shulkin, I admire your bravado and enthusiasm, but question whether you have the right tools and authority at your disposal to bring about a much needed reform within the VA.

Veterans should be hopeful, but not too optimistic.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Mar 24, 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.

Does President Trump’s Military Budget Help “Grunts?”
Trump, who positions himself as the champion of the working class, has promised to pump billions more into the military. Yet the initial numbers suggest those who really benefit will be the ones who always benefit: the big defense contractors and their enablers at the Pentagon and Congress. The last people to see that flood of spending will be the ones most likely to fight and die: the grunts.   Read more . . .

All Laser Military by 2025?
Lasers have been a mainstay of sci-fi battles for decades. But making them practical for the battlefield has proven difficult. Now, private contractors and government agencies have developed weapons systems that are making science fiction a reality. This was made evident when Lockheed Martin and the US Army recently announced, a successful test of a 60-kilowatt (kW) laser. This one was twice as powerful as one they assessed in 2015.  Read more . . .

Changes in Tactics Required for “Megacity” Warfare?
Speaking at the Future of War Conference 2017 hosted by New America in Washington, D.C., Gen. Mark Milley said that the character of warfare will likely go through a fundamental shift over the next decade. The world’s population is steadily moving toward living in megacities. Currently, there are about a dozen of these huge urban areas with populations of more than 10 million. By mid-century, “we are going to have at least 50 or more,” Milley said.  Read more . . .

Nato Logo

Assessment of New NATO-Russia Balance
Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the military balance between NATO and Russia, after years of inattention, has again become the focus of intense concern and even alarm in some Western quarters. From NATO’s vantage point, Russia poses a serious military threat to its eastern flank—and to Euro-Atlantic security more broadly—for three reasons.  Read more . . .

VA Recommends Hiring “Surge” to Deal with Disability Claims
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is warning the backlog for veterans appealing decisions involving disability benefits will grow if the Trump administration goes ahead with its harsh budget cuts. Waiting times could grow to as much as eight-and-a-half years. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Veterans Affairs Disability Benefits released on Thursday found staff resources at the agency had not kept pace with increased pending appeals, and concluded that additional staff were needed.  Read more . . .

Criticism of VA Suicide Hotline
The VA suicide hotline is still sending nearly a third of calls to outside back-up centers despite pledges by Veterans Affairs officials to stop the practice last year after a scathing report found the centers had routed veterans to voicemail, an inspector general investigation found. The VA opened a new call center and hired more staff to answer phones, but as of November, 30% of calls — or 14,600 that month — rolled over to backup centers.  Read more . . .

Refugees with PTSD Handle Stress Differently
PTSD is a mental health disorder that makes a person re-experience a traumatic event. “What we discovered was that a gene associated with a person’s mental health became overactive in refugees with PTSD and wasn’t able to respond the right way when working with the body’s stress defense system,” said Bengt Arnetz, a professor of family medicine who led the study. The methyl CpG binding protein 2 gene, or MECP2, helps control the normal function of nerve cells and plays an important role in mental health and the body’s ability to handle stress. The findings are being presented at the American Psychosomatic Society’s annual meeting on March 18.  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 Military News: Week Ending Mar 17, 2016

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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.

Kim - North Korean

Military Action in North Korea on the Table?
The US has said its policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea is over and suggested it might decide to take preemptive military action. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the option was “on the table” if the threat from the North’s weapons programme reached a level requiring it. During a visit to South Korea, he also said the US was exploring a range of new diplomatic and economic measures. And he defended the deployment of a US missile system in South Korea. The move has angered China, but South Korea and the US say the system is needed as a defence against North Korean aggression.  Read more  . . .

Energy Efficiency Now a Military Priority
The US military sees climate change as a national security threat. So, it’s finding ways to adapt to global warming, to make the armed forces stronger and more flexible.  The US military burns over 1.25 billion gallons of fuel a year, and the Department of Defense is the country’s single largest consumer of fossil fuels, according to Goudreau. “When you talk climate issues, you can talk mitigation or adaptation. Every single gallon of fuel that we burn is carbon going into the atmosphere,” he says.   Read more . . .

Big Increase Proposed in Military Spending
As US president Donald Trump was proposing a $54 billion defense spending hike on March 16, something rather different was happening in Russia. With its economy sputtering, there are reports that it could slash its military budget by 25%. The actual figure is actually more likely to be around 5%, explains Mark Galeotti, a Russian security expert at the Institute of International Relations in Prague. And it comes after several years of rapid growth in Russia’s defense spending. But that still reveals a stark discrepancy. Trump wants to bolster America’s military with an amount not far short of Russia’s entire 2016 defense budget of $65.8 billion (3.8 trillion rubles).  Read more . . .

1,000 Ground Troops to Syria?
The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter. The deployment, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria and increase the potential for direct U.S. combat involvement in a conflict that has been characterized by confusion and competing priorities among disparate forces.   Read more . . .

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

VA Budget to Grow by 6%
The Department of Veterans Affairs, the second-largest federal agency with 313,000 civilian employees and a far-flung hospital system, is one of the few corners of the government that would see its budget grow in the next fiscal year — by 6 percent. During his campaign, President Trump promised dramatic reforms at an agency he said was filled with a culture of “fraud, coverups and wrongdoing” after a 2014 scandal over coverups of patient wait times for medical care. His first spending plan would boost VA’s budget by $4.4 billion, to $78.9 billion, with much of the new money dedicated “to improve patient access and timeliness of medical care” for the more than 9 million veterans who use the system.  Read more . . .

South Carolina Discussion on Veterans with PTSD Stereotypes
There are many stereotypes surrounding veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many of them are negative and paint those living with PTSD as violent. However, the Student Veteran Association at the University of South Carolina is aiming to change that perception. “PTSD, it is the normal reaction of human beings who experience extraordinary events,” says Dr. Nancy Brown with the College of Social Work at USC. On Wednesday night, six panelist, with different military backgrounds, all living with PTSD in their own way are hoping to educate and knock down perceptions.  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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Dr. David Cifu: Do Veterans with PTSD Want Him in Their Corner?

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Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”) has written extensively about treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  Sadly, much of the publically available literature for brain-related injuries deals with identifying the symptoms and helping Veterans – and their loved ones – cope with terrible consequences of living with PTSD and TBI.

The issue(s) – at least in my mind – are these:

– Is treating the behavioral symptoms of PTSD and TBI enough for Veterans?  

– Have we given up hope in helping Veterans permanently reclaim their lives?

Sadly, treating the symptoms of PTSD/TBI is generally confused with actually providing Veterans with a meaningful long term solution to overcome the debilitating impact of a war-related brain injury.  

Now we learn that the VA is again studying the medicinal benefits of marijuana in treating Veterans with PTSD.   As many Veterans have been experimenting with marijuana for quite some time, I believe that the study will conclude that “medicinal marijuana, if used wisely, can mitigate anxiety, wild mood swings and suicidal thoughts among Veterans suffering from the effects of brain-related injury.”

The phrase in quotes are my words, but I suspect that conclusions of the multi-million dollar clinical study will not differ significantly.

The use of mind-altering drugs – whether medicinal marijuana or opioids – will most certainly help Veterans cope with the debilitating pain and anxiety of PTSD and TBI, but will prescription drugs meaningfully contribute to curing brain injury among Veterans?  

While the Department of Defense (“DoD”) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) have largely agreed that prescription drugs is not the answer, there is little evidence that the DoD or VA are clearly committed to provide Veterans with a clear path to full recovery.

Dr. David Cifu

Dr. David Cifu

In fact, the VA, represented by its spokesperson, Dr. David Cifu, 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 and,

– Prolonged Exposure Therapy.

As the SFTT and others have pointed out, the VA has little – if anything – positive to show in having treating tens of thousand of Veterans with PTSD and TBI with these therapy programs.  You don’t have to be a brain surgeon (sorry for the very poor pun) or even Dr. David Cifu to recognize that currently recommended VA therapy programs have failed Veterans miserably.

Nevertheless, Veterans, the public and countless Congressional committees continue to listen to the same irresponsible dribble year-after-year and buy the same stale argument that Veterans are getting the best treatment possible.  To use a popular phrase, a little “fact-checking” would go a long to way to dispelling this insipid myth.

Dr. David Cifu represents what is wrong with the VA:   A lack of willingness to consider other alternatives.   As Judge and Jury on what constitutes “authorized therapy programs,” the VA has effectively precluded thousands of Veterans from seeking “out of network” solutions that appear to provide a far better long-term outcome.

The VA claims otherwise as we have seen in a long battle over the efficacy of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  Dr. David Cifu stands behind questionable studies that suggest that there is insufficient clinical evidence to support the thesis that HBOT can improve brain function.   In fact, Dr. Paul Harch, cites plenty of evidence in an academic study for the National Library of Medicine (Medical Gas Research) that conclusively demonstrates the lack of substance to Dr. Cifu’s bland and misleading opinions.

It is difficult to know whether new leadership within the VA will lead to more openness in providing Veterans with PTSD/TBI the support they require in finding therapy programs that work, but unless gatekeepers like Dr. David Cifu can be shown a quick exit, it is unlikely that much will change.

Our brave Veterans deserve far better than the sad and tragic delusional claims of Dr. Cifu.

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SFTT News Highlights: Week Ending Mar 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.

Does President Trump’s Military Budget Add Up?
“. . . as Trump invokes former President Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine, few in the military policy community know what Trump really wants to do with the proposed 10% annual budget increase or what vision he holds for the armed forces. Though Trump repeatedly has called for a military buildup, he spent much of his campaign promising to pull back from the type of expensive commitments and endeavors that would require such a large expansion. He pledged an “America First” policy and complained bitterly that trillions of dollars spent fighting wars in the Middle East could have been used to rebuild the homeland.”  Read more . . .

Sweden Reinstates Military Draft
Sweden is reinstating the military draft — for men and women — because of dwindling volunteers and growing concerns over a more assertive Russia in the Baltic and Ukraine. “The security environment in Europe and in Sweden’s vicinity has deteriorated and the all-volunteer recruitment hasn’t provided the Armed Forces with enough trained personnel,” the Swedish defense ministry said Thursday. “The re-activating of the conscription is needed for military readiness.”  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

VA Reportedly Not “Truly” Tracking Health Care Delays in Two States
Government inspectors say actual delays in delivering medical care to military veterans remain far worse at Veterans Affairs medical facilities in North Carolina and Virginia than internal records showed. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said Friday the new report by the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general found 90 percent of the vets eligible to see private doctors because of long VA delays weren’t getting the help they were due.   Read more . . .

Reported Unease Among Turkish Military Prompts Dismissal of Newspaper Editor
According to Turkish media reports, the headline angered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government, leading to the removal of Sedat Ergin, Hurriyet’s veteran editor. Ergin, a journalist and political commentator, was appointed as the editor-in-chief of Hurriyet in August 2014.  Saturday’s news story, filed by Hurriyet’s Ankara bureau chief Hande Firat, was focusing on how the General Staff, the highest military body in the country, evaluated the criticism and speculation directed at the Turkish armed forces following last year’s failed coup attempt.  Read more . . .

Missing Chemical for Veterans with PTSD?
Dr. Lynn Dobrunz is a Neurobiologist and U.A.B. Associate Professor who has studied the human brain for years. Dr. Dobrunz explained, “Many people experience a traumatic or frightening experience and have a fear response at the time. That’s normal and appropriate.” In normal brain function, a release of the chemical Neuropeptide Y, or NPY, produced anxiety-relieving effects to trauma. Dr. Dobrunz said traumatic flashbacks replace reality for these people. Her new research now helps explain why. “I was not surprised to find that Neuropeptide Y was altered in this PTSD model,” said Dr. Dobrunz. “I was surprised to find that Neuropeptide Y seemed to be completely absent.”  Read more . . .

Shulkin Proposes Changes to Veterans Choice Program
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Sunday proposed eliminating a controversial policy that limits veterans from receiving private-sector health care. Speaking to hundreds of people at the Disabled American Veterans annual conference in Arlington, Va., Shulkin laid out his top 10 priorities for the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was his first public address since becoming VA secretary. High on Shulkin’s list was redesigning the Veterans Choice Program into what he called “Choice 2.0.”  Read more . .

stealth destroyer

Stealth Destroyer, not the USS Porter

 

 

Details Emerge on Russian Jets who “Buzzed” US Destroyer
Russian pilots buzzed the guided missile destroyer Porter repeatedly last month, but also had “relatively large number of interactions with” U.S. and NATO aircraft the same day, according to the Defense Department. The DoD shared new details regarding interceptions that took place Feb. 10, “some of which were deemed to be safe and standard and some of which were assessed as unsafe and unprofessional,” according to a statement from the Office of the Secretary of Defense provided to Military.com The USS Porter incident involved Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft and an Ilyushin Il-38, an anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft, near the warship in the Black Sea on Feb. 10.   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 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.

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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 of Jan 27, 1917

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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.

Strong Military Higher Priority than Budget Deficit to President Trump
President Donald Trump said Thursday night that he is willing to subordinate balancing the federal budget in favor of strengthening the military, possibly putting him on a path to clashing with his own pick for budget director. “Our military is more important to me than a balanced budget,” the president declared in an interview with commentator Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel. Prioritizing the military over balancing the budget isn’t at odds with positions Trump expressed during the campaign. While he said on the campaign trail that he did want to balance the budget, he also said that he knew it would take time and that rebuilding the military and America’s industrial infrastructure were equally as or even more important.  Read more . . .

North Korean Missile Threat
The U.S. Army’s top commander in the Pacific region said Wednesday his biggest worry is the missile threat from North Korea but sees his growing relationship with the Chinese military and other countries as a sign that stability is slowly spreading across the region. “The thing I worry the most about is North Korea, the most likely threat to all of us,” Gen. Robert Brown, commander of U.S. Army Pacific Command, told an audience at Asia Forecast 2017, hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies. Brown said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues to display a “belligerent aggressiveness” with his efforts to arm long-range missiles with nuclear weapons.  Read more . . .

Federal Hiring Freeze Could Hurt Vets
Veterans already in the pipeline for job openings in the federal workforce could have their employment opportunities scrapped under the hiring freeze announced Monday by President Donald Trump. “There’s no preference if there’s no job,” said Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense for personnel in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. Veterans make up about 30 percent of the more than 2.8 million employees in the federal workforce — many of them at the Defense Department. Vets have traditionally received preferences in testing and hiring and also in retention during reductions of the workforce, according to the White House Office of Personnel Management.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

ISIS Drone Capability May Constitute New Threat
In a new threat to the West, the Islamic State on Tuesday debuted on social media a commercially available drone dropping small bombs with pinpoint accuracy onto Iraqi targets in and around Mosul. The new capability raises the specter that the Islamic State one day could attack urban areas from the air, not just on the ground. The U.S. military is alarmed by the terrorist army’s quick technological advances and is evaluating more than 20 systems to detect and destroy its drone air force. Other systems already have been rushed to the war. The attacks were depicted in a lengthy Islamic State propaganda video showing its terrorists in intense street battles to hold the city of Mosul. Included is aerial footage of a Chinese Skywalker X8 drone, which is available on Amazon, striking clusters of Iraqi soldiers, tanks and buildings.  Read more . . .

Link Found between PTSD and Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease
Increasing evidence shows a bidirectional relationship between psychological stress and physical disease, as underscored in studies linking posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to cancer as well as acute cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to two articles published in the Lancet. 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.  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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