Opioids: Unanimous Bipartisan Incompetence in DC

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Just when one was beginning to wonder whether politicians could agree on anything comes the CBS/Washington Post story that shows that the Senate unanimously passed H.R. 471 – Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2015, which stripped the DEA of any enforcement capability and greatly fueled the opioid epidemic in our country.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia voices his outrage in an interview with MSNBC:

Sadly, the wake up moment for me occurs at about 4 minutes and 20 seconds into the video when Senator Manchin explains the “vetting” process used by Congressmen and Senators to approve legislation.

Basically, the take away from Senator Manchin’s interview (and several others he gave) are the following:

  • U.S. Legislation is written by lobbyists;
  • Politicians don’t read the legislation that is enacted into law unless one of their constituents or a government agency raises a “red flag;”
  • Complex laws are enacted by Congress and the Senate without anyone really understanding the consequences of the proposed legislation;
  • Government enforcement agencies are simply a training ground for future lobbyists who march to a different drummer.

Mind you, I doubt whether anyone (other than a paid lobbyist) has the tenacity to sit through 33,000 pages of regulations covered by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

Without getting into the merits of which party has the moral high ground, I think it is fair conclude that our system of government is out of control.

Honesty, how can Congress unanimously pass flawed legislation which directly contributed to the deaths of over 60,000 Americans last year?

Stand for the Troops has long argued that the employment merry-go-round between government and lobbyists destroys the very foundations of our democracy.   Wasn’t it President Eisenhower who warned against the evil of the military industrial complex?

Nowhere is criminal collusion any more evident than the dreadful story which documents The Drug Industry’s Triumph Over the DEA.

Over the years, SFTT has highlighted this lethal yet symbiotic relationship between government officials and lobbyists in the following areas:

  • military body armor;
  • military helmets;
  • psychotic drug testing;
  • agent orange coverup;
  • the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (almost everywhere you turn);
  • opioids and PTSD/TBI programs by the VA

I could list another dozen or so conflictive programs, but the fact remains that no one is likely to be held accountable for his or her actions. Furthermore, our government will merrily provide the culprits that fueled the opioid crisis – or stood on the sidelines watching it evolve – with additional money to “fix the problem.”

This closed loop of collective incompetence and culpable negligence is a self-sustaining blight on the lives of so many brave men and women who have served our country so valiantly.   I would like to tell you that the public is fed up, but who do you turn to?

Most sad!

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The VA and Opioids: Finger-pointing Begins

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

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

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

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

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

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

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

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

How the VA Fueled the Opioid Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Oct 13, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

North Korea Steal Military Documents from South Korea
A South Korean lawmaker says North Korea computer hackers stole hundreds of secret military documents from South Korea. The documents are said to include plans for destroying the North Korean leadership if a war takes place. The South Korean official, Lee Cheol-Hee, is a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the National Defense Committee. He said on Tuesday that defense officials talked about the stolen documents. Officials believe North Korean hackers were able to see classified military documents stored at a South Korean defense data center. The attackers reportedly gained control of the documents in September 2016.  Read more . . .

Vast Majority of Americans in their 20s Unfit for Military Service
The military is facing a growing recruiting crisis: 71% of Americans between 17 and 24 can’t meet the minimum criteria for service, which places the burden of service on an ever-small and shrinking pool of troops with a family history of joining the military. At an Oct. 12 Heritage Foundation panel in Washington, D.C., Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican and former Air Force one-star general told attendees “the single most important ingredient to readiness is the constant flow of willing volunteers.”  Read more . . .

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

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

Treating PTSD with Artificial Intelligence (AI)
There is a real appeal to shouting into the void: the ubiquity of Google search as confessional, the popularity of PostSecret, the draw of confiding in a trusted friend with the hope verging on understanding that our secrets won’t be shared all point to this. A group of researchers from the University of Southern California, with funding from the DARPA wing of the Department of Defense, believe that desire might drive a preference among veterans with PTSD to anonymously discuss their symptoms with a computerized avatar.  Read more . . .

service dogs for Veterans

Veterans Advocate for Congressional Action on Service Dogs
Veterans’ advocates are urging Congress to make the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) support organizations that provide service dogs to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. The Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans held a press conference Tuesday with members of Congress to advocate for the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers Act (PAWS Act), which would provide $25,000 grants for eligible organizations to train and pair service dogs with a veteran. The bill would also prompt the VA to launch a pilot program looking at the links between service dogs and mental health.  Read more . . .

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

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

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The Department of Veterans Affairs and Service Dogs

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) receives considerable public criticism for its failure to provide service dogs to Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

As reported earlier by SFTT, the VA provides service dogs to blind Veterans, but has balked at providing service dogs to Veterans who are less than totally physically disabled.  The recurring argument from VA spokespeople is that there is a lack of “clinical evidence” to support the benefits of service dogs.

service dogs for Veterans

Consider this testimony by Dr. Fallon of the VA:

“I would say there are a lot of heartwarming stories that service dogs help, but scientific basis for that claim is lacking,” said Michael Fallon, the VA’s chief veterinary medical officer. “The VA is based on evidence based medicine. We want people to use therapy that has proven value.”

The argument is a brief synopsis of Dr. Fallon’s testimony to the House Subcommittee and Government Reform provided in April, 2016.

Dr. Fallon’s testimony and defense of the VA’s status quo is similar to the testimony of Dr. David Cifu on PTSD therapy and Dr. Alvin Young (aka Dr. Orange) on the lethal side effects of Agent Orange used on the deforestation of Vietnam.

The VA has set itself up as “judge and jury” to determine what range of medical services it will provide to Veterans.  Any “new” therapy that has not been blessed by “evidence based medicine,” is summarily dismissed by the gatekeepers at the VA.  In fact, the VA often uses spokespeople and expensive long-term clinical studies to avoid providing much needed therapy to Veterans.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence to suggest that the DoD purposely manipulated testing procedures on hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”) to produce clinical outcomes more to their liking.

As reported earlier,  Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) have been largely ineffective in reversing brain damage to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.   And yet, the spokespeople steadfastly defend these therapies and argue that other therapies “lack evidence” to justify their endorsement, read “funding.”

“The VA has very little evidence to show that PE and CPT therapy programs have done much to reduce the incidence of PTSD symptoms among Veterans against the “gold-standard” standardized PCL-M tests currently used by the VA.   The chart below illustrates the point (50 is considered base level):

Veterans Affairs Fails at PTSD

Aside from being very expensive to administer, the “evidence based medicine” supporting the effectiveness of PE and CPT programs currently administered by the VA is SADLY LACKING.”

While the general public and Congressional leaders may buy the pitch from VA Spin Doctors, Veterans are seeking other forms of therapy outside of the VA.  The problem is that few can afford to do so.

The Case for Service Dogs for Veterans

Training a service dog is relatively expensive.  Most estimates suggest that the cost of training a service dog to be in the neighborhood of $20,000.  The training of a dog can last some five months after the dog reaches maturity (about six months) to another 18 months depending on the rigorousness of the training.  In addition to training the dog, the Veteran needs to spend a considerable amount of time with the service dog to develop an effective relationship.

As we reported earlier, Maj. Ben Richards spent seven weeks in intensive training with his new service dog, Bronco.  According to Ben, it was about 4 hours of training a day (generally in the morning) and a few weekend sessions.  Taking into account “training the Veteran” could add considerably more to the overall cost.  For those interesting in learning more about the steps involved in training a service dog, I refer you to this excellent FAQ provided by Psychiatric Service Dog Partners.

While the VA currently does authorize the use of service dogs for Veterans, many State and charitable organizations have sprung to the support of Veterans.  In addition to Ben’s heartwarming story, many other Veterans have benefited from the companionship of service dogs.

Several organizations like 4PawsforAbility and Train a Dog and Save a Warrior,- SFTT Rescue Coalition Partner – are actively training and providing service dogs to Veterans.  These organizations and several others rely on the generous contributions of others to support our Veterans.

While the VA continues to study the benefits of service dogs, new results are not expected until 2019.

One might justifiably ask why it takes the VA 9 years to study the benefits of service dogs for Veterans with PTSD (yes, Congress mandated a study in 2010), but Dr. Fallon and the VA spinmasters will provide you a compelling answer if you are naive enough to buy it.

Based on the sound work of many charitable organizations training service dogs, it is beyond reasonable for the VA to soft-peddle its failed therapy programs and help these struggling organizations provide service dogs to Veterans.  Wouldn’t it help provide “real” evidence to support their long overdue study?

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Oct 6, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

Turkey Takes More Aggressive Military Posture Toward Syria
Turkish military vehicles crossed the Syrian border into Idlib on Sunday, a local resident and a local rebel said, after Ankara announced an operation by rebel groups in the area, which is controlled by rival jihadist alliance Tahrir al-Sham. Both sources said the vehicles travelled under escort from Tahrir al-Sham, whose fighters accompanied them along a road. However, the jihadists and the Turkish military had earlier exchanged fire in a nearby area. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Syrian rebels backed by Turkish forces would launch an operation in Idlib and warned that Turkey would not allow “a terrorist corridor” near its borders.   Read more . . .

Chinese Military Expansion into Africa
China’s first overseas military base in the small African country of Djibouti is “probably the first of many” the country intends to build around the world, which could bring its interests into conflict with the U.S., according to American intelligence officials. “China has the fastest-modernizing military in the world next to the United States,” according to insights provided Thursday by U.S. intelligence officials, who asked not to be identified discussing the information. That will create “new areas of intersection — and potentially conflicting — security interests between China and the United States and other countries abroad,” according to the officials.  Read more . . .

Russian military leadership with Putin

Russian Military “Prowess” Suggested in Recent War Exercise
A recent major exercise by the Russian military revealed significant strides in its ability to conduct the sort of complex, large-scale operations, using drones and other new technology, that would be part of any all-out war with the United States in Europe, according to American and allied officials. Preliminary Pentagon and NATO assessments of the exercise, one of the largest of its kind since the end of the Cold War, are classified and will take months to complete. But Western officials said the military maneuvers, known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” far exceeded in scope and scale what Moscow had said it would conduct, and tracked more closely to what American intelligence officials suspected would unfold, based on Russian troop buildups in August.   Read more . . .

The VA Moves Forward to Extend “Telemedicine”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) is taking a significant step towards expanding needed services to Veterans by proposing a rule to preempt state restrictions on telehealth. Most states currently restrict providers (including VA employees) from treating patients that are located in that state if the provider is not licensed there. As a result, the VA has had difficulty getting a sufficient number of providers to furnish services via telemedicine for fear that they will face discipline from those states for the unlicensed practice of medicine.  Read more . . .

VA “Choice Program” to Run Out of Funds Soon
In a statement to the Associated Press on Sept. 26, VA officials confirmed that the Choice program is expected to exhaust the last of its funding yet again between December 2017 and March 2018. The VA’s statement came as representatives for the House Veterans Affairs Committee told AP that they suspected the program would run out of money before year’s end.   Read more . . .

Brain and PTSD Studies

105 Question to Predict PTSD Risk
Scientists and physicians have tried countless methods to treat the nightmares, anxiety, and flashbacks of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers, from talk therapy to drugs designed to press the “delete” button on specific memories. Now, one group of researchers proposes another solution: Prevent the condition in the first place by predicting who is most likely to get it. In a new study, they say a 105-question survey already given to all U.S. soldiers may be able to do just that. “It’s a very important study,” says Sharon Dekel, who studies PTSD at Harvard Medical School in Boston, but was not involved in the new work. Only a minority of people exposed to trauma develop the disorder, and the new work may lead to better screening methods for this “vulnerable population,” she adds.   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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Veterans with PTSD: The VA Way or the Highway

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

Department of Veterans Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

FAKE NEWS from the VA on Veterans with PTSD

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

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

– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”)and,

– Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PET”).

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

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

REALITY CHECK at the VA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a Middle Ground for Veterans with PTSD?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Sep 22, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

DIA Report Suggests that Russian Military Has Modernized
The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency has released a new assessment of Russian military power—reviving a Cold War-era practice. The agency concludes that the modern Russian military builds upon its Soviet heritage but has modernized its capabilities and doctrine for the present day. “The Russian military has built on the military doctrine, structure, and capabilities of the former Soviet Union, and although still dependent on many of the older Soviet platforms, the Russians have modernized their military strategy, doctrine, and tactics to include use of asymmetric weapons like cyber and indirect action such as was observed in Ukraine,” the DIA report states.  Read more . . .

Russian military Putin

North Korean Ground Forces are Formidable
As Washington ratchets up the pressure on North Korea—or potentially launches a preemptive strike—the Kim regime in Pyongyang has options to strike back hard at the United States and South Korea using purely conventional means.  While analysts often focus on the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s arsenal of ballistic missiles, the real threat emanating from the North comes in the form of heavy artillery and special operations forces, which could wreak havoc on the South. In the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang’s ground forces are the greatest threat to the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the U.S. forces stationed there—short of nuclear weapons.  Read more . . .

Sweeping Changes in Tricare for 2018
A series of sweeping Tricare changes could have a big impact on some of the military health care system’s users — including an extra three months of deductible-free coverage.  Read more . . .

Continued Canine “Research” Encouraged by the VA Leadership
At the Department of Veterans Affairs, part of our mission is to push the envelope constantly in search of medical advancements that will help improve the lives of disabled veterans.  But our ability to accomplish that part of our mission stands at risk as a result of legislation recently added to an unrelated spending bill passed by the House of Representatives that would eliminate a key component of VA’s research efforts: our canine research program. If this legislation passes the Senate, it would stop potential VA canine research-related medical advancements that offer seriously disabled veterans the hope of a better future.  Read more . . .

Equine Therapy to Treat PTSD
In 2008, Retired Army command sergeant major Sam Rhodes found that working with horses helped him cope with these feelings and gave him a new sense of inner peace and purpose ― and he wanted to share that with others affected by PTSD. He now runs a nonprofit called Warrior Outreach, which offers free programs that teach veterans and their loved ones the basics of horse riding and care. He operates out of his ranch in Fortson, Georgia, about 30 miles from Fort Benning Army Base.  Read more . . .

Harvard Study Suggest that Women with PTSD May Develop Lupus Later in Life
A Harvard study of more than 50,000 women over the course of 24 years found that the greater degree of trauma a woman had experienced, the more likely it was that she developed lupus later in life. There is a greater correlation between PTSD and lupus in women than any other risk factor, including smoking and obesity. About five million people worldwide suffer from lupus, a chronic, incurable autoimmune disease that causes kidney inflammation and can affect many organ systems.  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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Vietnam: The Right Side of History?

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Like many readers, I am of a certain “vintage” (sounds a hell of a lot better than “age”) that clearly recalls the war in Vietnam.  The Ken Burns series on Vietnam has resurrected many of these memories and feelings of a war that was _____________________ (readers are invited to add their own phrase).

As a young 2LT in the Pentagon – about as rare as a tick on a spaceship – I “experienced” Vietnam from a privileged penthouse many miles from a bloody battlefield in southeast Asia that cost the lives of many brave warriors.

I struggled then, and I struggle now, with trying to understand the “why” and the “why nots” of a war that took place some 50 years ago.

Like others who were in their early twenties in 1968, I didn’t have much of a choice in choosing to be on the “right side of history.”  In fact, I would argue that most youngsters today would have a difficult time deciding “right” or “wrong” life choices based on such a pretentious and silly litmus test:  i.e. the proper side of history.

There are many strong and well-founded opinions of the Vietnam war.  I have no wish to discredit anyone’s views of this cataclysmic event on the American psyche, but merely to share some of my experiences while serving at the Pentagon from February, 1969 to February, 1971.

I worked in a relatively small group of “analysts” that provided daily intelligence briefs to the Army General Staff.  While my specialty was Latin America, 7 or 8 officers in our 28 person office were focused on Vietnam.   At the time of my arrival, General Harold Johnson was the U.S. Army Chief of Staff.

General Johnson took intelligence briefings very seriously and would often spend an hour or so reading the “Black Book,” which contained summaries of key intelligence analysis from “hot spots” from around the world.     The “Black Book” would often run to 55 pages and featured important intelligence on the Soviet Union, China and the Middle East as well as Vietnam.

General WestmorelandIn March, 1968, President Johnson appointed General William Westmoreland as U.S. Army Chief of Staff.  Instead of the extensive intelligence briefings requested by General Johnson, the Black Book was reduced to 10 or so pages with a heavy emphasis on Vietnam.

As General Joseph McChristian (Westmoreland’s G-2) required, the “Black Book” briefings were to be more like Kiplinger summaries than serious “intelligence analysis.”    For those unfamiliar with Kiplinger:  read “sound bites” rather than “analysis.”

From my perspective, inconsequential minutiae was far more important than the big picture.  For instance, I recall a rather heated debate over the terminology of:   “a drum of kerosene”; or a “kerosene drum” that was dropped from an airplane over the palace in Port au Prince, Haiti.

The fact that the “drum of kerosene” or kerosene drum” exploded seems to have been far more important that the event itself:  An isolated attempt at resurrection against Francois Duvalier or Papa Doc.

While it is relatively easy to find fault in our military and political leadership, the arrival of General Westmoreland at the Pentagon signalled a major change in the way information was used to influence decisions.

Under Westmoreland, intelligence became little more than snippets of information of questionable value designed to help the General Staff respond to the latest media sensation.

Form was far more important than substance.  I recall a LTC giving me (a lowly 2LT) instructions on how to properly staple a two page report:  The staple should be at a 45º angle in the seal of the Department of the Army.   Clearly, far too many staffies at the Pentagon looking for something to do.

While I found this amusing at the time, something far more sinister was happening at the Pentagon.  Intelligence was being manipulated to prop up questionable policies and strategies.   In fact, constructive debate within the E-Ring was supplemented by sycophant officers who simply parroted a self-serving agenda, which ultimately proved totally indefensible.

When looking at the war in Vietnam dispassionately – i.e. from the perspective of history – one can see that many mistakes in judgement occurred.

Vietnam leaves lasting scars and those that are so inclined should make up their own mind about the effects of this tragic war after viewing Ken Burns’ documentary.  Personally, I find his narrative riveting and an accurate recreation of a pivotal event in American history.

 

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Veteran Suicides: The VA Releases “New” Statistics

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) recently released a report showing state-by-state disparities in suicide rates among Veterans.  Sadly, the data tracks Veteran suicides rates through 2014 leaving a significant time gap in determining whether the trend in 20+ veteran suicides a day is improving.

Veteran Suicides

(U.S. Army photo by Stephen Baker)

The news media has been quick to seize on some of the notable anomalies in the data, some of which is highlighted below from PBS news:

  • Suicide among military veterans is especially high in the western U.S. and rural areas;
  • Suicide rates in Montana, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico averaged 60 per 100,000 individuals compared to the national average of 38.4 (overall in the West was 45.5);
  • Women veterans had a suicide rate 2.5 time higher than for female civilians;
  • A VA study (last year) found that veterans who received the highest doses of opioid painkillers were more than twice as likely to die of suicides than those receiving the lowest doses;  
  • 65% of Veteran suicides were age 50 or older. 

It is difficult to generalize from this somewhat dated report other than to say that Veteran suicide rates are considerably higher than the national average.

Furthermore, it would appear that the VA’s propensity to dispense potent prescription drugs – primarily opioids – may have contributed to high suicide rates among Veterans.

Just who is to blame for the opioid epidemic sweeping the United States?  Finger-pointing suggests that many are to blame for the epidemic, but new candidates emerge daily.

For instance, the New York Times recently reported that insurance companies may need to shoulder part of the blame for opioid abuse.  Why?

“Opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive.

“Drugmakers, pharmaceutical distributors, pharmacies and doctors have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, but the role that insurers — and the pharmacy benefit managers that run their drug plans — have played in the opioid crisis has received less attention. “

Nevertheless, some institutions took measures far earlier to stem addictive drug treatment.   For instance, Mother Jones reports that: “Partnership HealthPlan, the main public insurance provider for Medi-Cal patients in rural Northern California, discovered an alarming trend: Many counties where Partnership operated had among the highest rates of opioid prescribing and overdose in the state. Hydro­codone was the top-prescribed medication among Partnership patients, who include more than 570,000 Medi-Cal recipients from the vineyards of Sonoma County to the redwoods on the Oregon border. In Lake County, a poor, rural area bordering Sonoma, enough opioid painkillers were prescribed in 2013 to medicate every man, woman, and child with opioids for five months, according to a report by the California Health Care Foundation.”

Unfortunately, the VA is largely unaccountable to anyone and Veterans have few affordable choices other than to rely on treatment options provided by the VA.  With a dismal track record in providing treatment for Veterans with PTSD, it is hard to see how any meaningful progress will be made by the VA in curbing VA suicides.

More disturbing is the thought that Veterans with PTSD incurred from the Gulf Wars and continued deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq will soon be approaching their 50th birthday.   If the VA statistics are credible that “65% of Veteran suicides are over the age of 50,” then we may actually see an uptick in suicide rates among Veterans.

Despite repeated assurances to Congressional Committees, Dr. David Cifu and his cronies at the VA don’t have a clue on how to treat PTSD.   Cocktails of lethal prescription drugs are clearly not the answer, but the VA’s blind insistence that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy are the only effective treatment programs is simply ludicrous.

Whatever the reasons, Veterans with PTSD and TBI may not really have a viable financial alternative outside the treatment barriers currently erected by the VA.

Even though the information is dated, the VA has done a good job illustrating the extent of the problem.  While one can draw many inferences from the data, it would be totally wrong to suggest that the VA has a handle on the problem and absurd to think that they have answers!

No wonder Veterans with PTSD and TBI have lost faith in the VA.

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