The Unknown Soldier

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Released in 1968 by the Doors, the Unknown Soldier was considered an antiwar song and banned on many radio stations. The song, however was more of dig at the American media and the way that the Vietnam conflict was televised into our homes and became a part of our daily lives. The lyrics “Breakfast where the news is read/ Television children fed/ Unborn living, living dead/ Bullets strike the helmet’s head” portrays how the news of the Vietnam War was being presented to ordinary people.

Jim Morrison sings about how in the late 60’s American families stared at violent television images, watching a world far away where the unknown soldier is shot, yet life at home went on as usual.  The entire scenario seems to normalize the war. People were numb and continued to live their normal lives while their soldiers were dying. The fact that the soldier has no identity is also a strong message to the ignorance and lack of emotion that people had towards the men who were fighting ‘for them.’ And as we all know, the soldier who had no name came home to an unwelcoming party.

Today, military conflicts continue to play out daily on our televisions, our cell phone news feed and throughout social media.  This time those who are called to duty are welcomed home but soon forgotten by an overwhelmed VA and by the very people they serve. Today our veterans are faced with homelessness, mental health issueseducational hurdles, long waits and scandalous policies at the VA, and a military suicide rate of 22 a day.

It’s true that today’s veterans have never been more respected, unlike those who returned from Vietnam. But unlike Vietnam veterans many Americans have no personal connection to anyone who has served or is serving in the Armed Forces.  Many organizations have hit the media and social outlets to drum up support for Veterans in need but again, America’s eyes have glazed over to the  issues faced by our Veterans.  Even when it was discovered that a nonprofit claiming to help veterans at risk was misappropriating funds, there was little or no public reaction. And so, it seems the numbness prevails.

Forty years later the unknown soldier is the one struggling with PTSD. The unknown soldier is the one whose life was a daily pill that is now an addiction.  The unknown soldier is homeless. The unknown soldier is the one who suffers in silence. The unknown soldier is one of 22 each day that takes his own life.

Perhaps it’s time the unknown soldier had a name and America a plan to support those who served.

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Vietnam Combat Veteran Brian Delate Goes Back to Move Forward

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The post that follows comes from my dear friend Brian Delate who I first met in 1996. We were at a party at my daughter’s house, as Brian’s late wife Karen and my daughter were in graduate school together. I was immediately taken with both Brian and Karen, it was hard not to be. They were attractive and warm, funny and smart and they both loved movies, a passion we shared. Brian and I soon realized that we shared another passion, a commitment to helping veterans heal from the invisible wounds of war. As a Vietnam veteran, Brian knew, respected and came to love my late husband Hack and he always told me that if SFTT ever needed support, he would help us — and the veterans we strive to heal — in any way he could. In honor of Treatment of Ten, I asked Brian to write a piece for us. And he did. Beautifully and poetically. Thank you, Brian.  ~ Eilhys England Hackworth.

It is January 2013 and I am back in Vietnam as both an American Combat Veteran and a writer/performer of MEMORIAL DAY (when remembering makes you want to forget… and being forgotten makes you want to die…), a one-man show I enact.  In each performance, I must step into the limits of human experience, which for me is my time spent as a warrior in a specific war during a specific year: 1969-70.

I had visited Vietnam the year before.  In 2012, I stood on the hallowed ground, where death once danced wildly with (my) life, realizing that my invisible wounds of PTSD needed deeper exploration. I broke away from the group I was traveling with in Hanoi to spend 24 hours in Chu Lai – my area of operation where thousands of my fellow American soldiers were also stationed.  To “go back” was a challenge because as we all know Life Goes On. Or tries to. Once in Chu Lai, I saw some old hangars that are dormant, but now resemble something out of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. The runways that were vibrantly active in 1969 are now barely discernible. In another few years they won’t be visible at all.

Now, in 2013, I am back in and around Chu Lai, with a driver, a translator and a cameraman. We drive around kind of hit-and-miss on different roads to see what I could remember. I forgot how very beautiful the beaches are. And for whatever reason, they are completely empty of people and development.  This absence intrigued me; what was I expecting? Wanting? Looking for, exactly? Life going on, perhaps?

We are on a mission of sorts. I had brought with me a snapshot of myself standing on a particular beach in a very striking cove-like area where I and another soldier saved a drunken infantry guy from drowning. In so doing, we all almost drowned. Very scary. I never imagined one of my near-death experiences during the Vietnam War would involve drinking and the ocean.

 

Having found the cove, my companions give me some time near to reflect and pray for all those who did not survive — and now, to my own surprise, I include the former enemy, the Vietnamese, their families, and their communities.

Believe me when I say how totally unthinkable this sentiment was at one time; I am surprised at my own compassion and ability to forgive.

At the end of this particular day in 2013, I stayed at a beautiful old Inn near Chu Lai for the night where I met an older, very fragile and very friendly Vietnamese man, who was one of the few Vietnamese I have met who admitted to fighting the communists. He expressed in very broken English the horrible aftermath for him and his family.  We connected emotionally, and at one point, he held my hand firmly, wept a little and thanked me for visiting. He then sent “good wishes” to the Americans.  This was just one “memorial moment” I experienced on my MEMORIAL DAY trip.

Days later, I complete two performances of my show with a singular astonishing result.  Once was at the University of Hanoi — college kids are college kids — meaning that they really do not care about the war. As they say repeatedly, “We’re tired of hearing about that war.”

In the other instance, we visited the Veterans Association of Vietnam (VAV) which is a high-level government agency with a new leader who can veto my performance in a second. In short, the stakes were high for me to knock their socks off.  The head of this agency was a Lt General (one of their war heroes) and he had three other senior officials with him along with our central government ‘minders’ and a couple of important representatives from the USA/Vietnam Society.

I got to do about 12 minutes of MEMORIAL DAY and it landed pretty powerfully on these men and women — they really got it. When I first met the General, we shook hands politely and we nodded. After I finished the piece, he immediately stood up, came over to me and, with great vigor, shook my hand hard. He then looked me in the eye and kept touching first his heart and then my heart with his fist, saying, through the translators, ‘We identify with the humanity.’

This surprised everybody. The other officials followed suit and the formalities disappeared and a load of personal sincerity and even some humor dropped into the room. My new friend on this trip, Pete, a former infantry captain, gave me a single line review — ‘You’ve got balls, man.’

A day or two later, we are at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, where we would interact with a combination of their psychologists, veterans and students. Initially, there was the time-consuming formality of introductions and translations back and forth. Then Dr. Edward Tick (our leader and author of War and the Soul) gave a smart and informed speech, addressing what is known and has been gathered from both sides, with regard to the aftermath of the Vietnam War that took place here so long ago.

I sat next to one of their psychologists, also a Combat Veteran from circa 1970. He made very clear that everybody in his world (family, friends, immediate community, et al.) was involved with the fight against America. What really got my attention was how they dealt with returning soldiers. The family and the community shared the burden even more than the government.

There was an instance during the talk where one of the students questioned Dr. Tick’s assertion of the value of bringing American Veterans back to Vietnam — returning them to the scene of their trauma.

Dr. Tick has had tremendous success with helping hundreds of Veterans trust the healing benefits of one’s community and spirituality along with these kinds of “going back” visits.

I spoke up at this point because I was here last year in 2012, and at that time, instead of feeling some immediate kind of transformation, relief or release, I fell back into re-living many of the fears I had had during the war. I ended up re-experiencing some of the trauma versus working through it or purging it.

Let me explain.

While I was in the city of Hoi An in 2012, I was sitting in a very beautiful dining room at a very elegant hotel with my wife Karen.  We were having breakfast and a young waiter walked by.  He and I made eye contact. Immediately, an emotional tumor (as I have come to call them) erupted and I couldn’t stop it wailing. I had to get outside of the hotel in order to regroup.

Quick back story: As a young sergeant in 1969, after coming off of a rough night with my squad and not having slept for some time, I got into it with a young Vietnamese man.  We called them Cowboys. They were really just thugs — he spit in my direction and I went into a berserk rage and proceeded to beat him, almost to death. At one point, I left my body and felt like I was watching somebody else commit this violence. Finally, I could not pick up my arms to punch anymore, but this Cowboy kept trying to spit in my direction, even with one eye unattached and literally coming out of his head. After my maniacal behavior, I experienced another layer of deep self-loathing.

Anyway, back to 2012 and the hotel in Hoi An: After I was able to regroup, I went back into the dining room, sat back down with Karen and spoke about what had happened. As we continued to sit there, the same young waiter came by, smiled and asked me if I wanted more tea. This time nothing happened — we made eye contact once again, but in this instance a guilt-ridden memory was rapidly evaporating. It was like that scene in the film The Mission, where the DeNiro character endlessly drags his armor around as a form of punishment or penance, for having killed his brother. A native cuts the rope connecting him to the armor and he is free.

In that moment, after being triggered, re-living my trauma and then returning to breakfast, I experienced a significant purging that, in my opinion, would not or could not have taken place had I not been actively seeking more Meaning and Truth or Seeking what was Missing. I was replacing an old memory with a new memory, an important component to Healing.

In one of my last days in Vietnam 2013, I get to present a sample of my play at a Writer’s Conference with over a hundred Vietnamese writers and veterans in attendance. Some of what I present in the play does not need translation — it is a combination of specific movement with music that shapes a narrative of what it is like to prepare for combat, engage in that combat situation and then recover from combat. I use the overture from Tannhauser by Wagner, the music representing the sacred and the profane aspects of what Combat Warriors endure.

I want to mention that PTSD is a collective wound and a soldier/Veteran cannot carry that wound alone. If they try to, they will either collapse or the damage to the individual will never be healed and the casualties and hurt will continue to accumulate, affecting their family, friends, colleagues and community.

And lastly, the Greeks had this interesting insight on the — ‘Definition of Happiness – which is making full use of your powers along the lines of excellence.’ That does not mean living in any kind of perfection, but it is about living and living fully. That is what I am doing now and I am here to help my fellow Combat Veterans do the same thing.

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The VA and Shulkin: “It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country”

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Dr. David Shulkin has been pushed aside (read fired) as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).  Without taking sides in what appears to be yet another partisan issue, Dr. Shulkin did a reasonably good job in bailing water in a sinking ship:  the VA.

David Shulkin

As such, it was with regret that we read Dr. David Shulkin’s self-serving departure editorial in the New York Times “it should not be this hard to serve your country.”   Indeed, many Veterans poorly served by the VA have felt the same.  But these Veterans, with a legitimate claim were rarely afforded space in the editorial section of the New York Times to discuss their grievances.

The title of the New York’s editorial says it all:  “David J. Shulkin:  Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans“.   I am not sure that Dr. Shulkin would have titled his departure editorial this way, but clearly, the New York Times, David Shulkin and J. David Fox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, agree that privatizing the VA will harm Veterans.

SFTT is unaware of any compelling evidence that providing “privatized” care to Veterans would jeopardize the mission of the VA or add to the difficulties of Veterans.  Indeed, J. David Fox, seems more concerned about the rights of unionized VA employees than he does about Veterans.

While it is easier to frame the discussion as a debate about the merits of public or private healthcare,  SFTT has long argued that the VA is simply Too Big to Succeed.  It never has been a question of “ownership” or “control,”  it is simply a case of an institution that has become too large to manage effectively.  With over 18 million Veterans, it is unlikely that an overwhelming majority would agree that the VA is provides services that are “second to none.”

In fact, Dr. Shulkin claims that “the percent of veterans who have regained trust in V.A. services has risen to 70 percent, from 46 percent four years ago.  This is not exactly a ringing endorsement on how well the VA is fulfilling its mission.

There are many areas of the VA that fulfill President Abraham Lincoln’s promise:  “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.

But there are other areas in which the VA fell well short of fulfilling President Lincoln’s promise.

Specifically, SFTT has for years called into question the way the VA has treated Veterans with PTSD and TBI:  “the silent wounds of war.”  There is compelling evidence that the VA, through its administrators, has consistently lied to Veterans, their caregivers, Congress and the public on the effectiveness of treating Veterans with brain injury.

More to the point, the VA medical staff has been grossly negligent in providing Veterans with opioids to treat the symptoms of PTSD and TBI rather than offer any real treatment.  Was the VA complicit in fueling the opioid epidemic?

Political posturing on the benefits of public or private ownership doesn’t really help the hundreds of thousands of Veterans suffering from brain injury and their largely forgotten caregivers.

Changing of the guard will do little to fix the VA.  Only a true bipartisan effort to address the problems of the VA will help restore confidence in an institution with far greater promise than the actual results it delivers.

Thank you for your service Dr. Shulkin.

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Leaving No Warriors Behind

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We’ve got great news!

We recently kicked off TREATMENT OF TEN, a very important fundraising campaign hosted by YouCaring, which helps treat Combat War Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I know that my late husband David “Hack” Hackworth would be very proud of our collective good work to “leave no man behind,” as he used to say.

Why TREATMENT OF TEN?

 Because our goal is help 10 Combat War Veterans regain the will to live. Invisibly wounded warriors such as those suffering from TBI and/or PTSD are 25 times more likely to commit suicide than their Veteran peers. So far, the VA and DOD have provided few effective treatment options at the national level for the majority of those afflicted with the physically and emotionally crippling side-effects of either brain trauma or PTSD.

With each $15,000 we raise, we can send ONE soldier to a residential facility in Idaho where each sufferer of TBI and/or PTSD will receive an innovative multi-modality TBI and PTSD treatment program that’s already restored our Director of Veteran Affairs, MAJ Ben Richards to “active duty” as a husband, father, PhD student and community member.

Together, we can send 10 Vets by May 4, 2018, the 13th anniversary of Hack’s death and the 20th anniversary of his legacy foundation, Stand for the Troops (SFTT).

That’s why we’re asking you to take a “stand for the 10 Broncos” who served in Troop 1-14 CAV during combat operations in Iraq under Ben and sustained brain injuries after hitting IEDs (improvised explosive device) or being attacked by IED-laden vehicles.

TREATMENT OF TEN combines most of the medical and alternative therapy protocols that SFTT has vetted and been supporting for years – from hyperbaric (HBOT) to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (iTMS) to equine therapy to Low-Level Light therapy (LLLT). But we hadn’t developed a way to facilitate the treatment plan in one location.

Until now.

Click here for more information on our TREATMENT OF TEN initiative and how you can help us help those who served.

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News for Veterans with PTSD or TBI: Week Ending 2 Feb 2018

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The Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) struggles to provide effective therapy for Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As such, SFTT has will now focus its attention on providing Veterans and their families cope with information on promising new alternative therapies to help brave warriors cope with brain injury.

The devastating effect of brain injury for hundreds of thousands of Veterans and their families cannot be underestimated.  While SFTT will focus primarily on “new” therapy programs, we will occasionally report on the very unsettling problems faced by Veterans and their families as they seek to recover their lives.

Some “alternative” therapies have already proven to be quite successful, but many others are not widely known to Veterans or the medical profession at large.   Even if these programs were endorsed or approved by the VA, treatment is often beyond the financial means of most Veterans.

While SFTT will let the “news” speak for itself, the science of treating brain injury is still in its infancy.  SFTT attempts to provide balanced reporting of the pros and cons of these emerging therapy programs but strongly encourages the reader to make up their own mind as to their efficacy.

Brain Injuries May Start at a Young Age

A recent article in the New York Times entitled, “Hits to the Head May Result in Immediate Brain Damage,” is troubling for families raising children where contact sports is often a way of life.

While the nature of brain injuries suffered by Veterans leading to PTSD and TBI are far different, the New York Times article suggests that there is still much to be learned in treating concussive events.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

SFTT has reported on several occasions that the NFL has been investigating a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”) which appears to be caused by repeated blows to the head causing a protein called tau to spread and kill brain cells.

For many years the NFL and the VA has tried to hide the effects of debilitating brain injuries from players and Veterans, but the evidence is now overwhelming that concussive events may cause irreparable damage to sensitive brain tissue and cells.

Many parents are already pulling their children from junior football programs and some soccer leagues now prohibit children below the age of 12 from “heading the ball” to avoid brain and neck injuries.  Just recently, star performer Justin Timberlake who will perform at halftime at the Superbowl announced that “my son will not play football.”

Shouldn’t this be a warning message to all parents?

Ketamine Could Help Veterans with PTSD

Promising “new” drugs materialize daily that claim to help Veterans cope with the symptoms of PTSD and TBI.  Ketamine, approved by the FDA many years ago for sedating people (but not approved for treating traumatic events) has become a popular treatment option for Veterans that have exhausted VA remedies.

The San Antonio Express News, reports that Ketamine “has achieved good results in clinical trials.”  It adds that “the military also is interested in its use . . . and that two health facilities will treat active-duty troops and veterans. The research is funded by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The San Antonio Express News adds that “clinics use the drug off-label, and protocols, staffing and dosing can differ widely from one clinic to the next.   Despite the lack of supporting clinical evidence, many seek ketamine for relief.  “Even at low doses it alters the senses. Critics say the effects of longtime use remain unknown and wonder if ketamine clinics put vulnerable patients at risk.”

SFTT Commentary:  As in all mind or sensory altering drugs, there are risks that are not fully understood by the medical profession.  SFTT continues to support noninvasive therapies, particularly over unregulated and untested drug options.

Army Research Laboratories and Helius Research Neurological Wellness

According to a press release from Aerotech News,

“The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Helius Medical Technologies, Inc., from Newton, Penn., have partnered to expand on early research that could mean new interventions for improving Soldier readiness and resilience, as well as reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“As part of a cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA, ARL and Helius are launching a research program to investigate Helius’ Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator for the enhancing cognitive and psychological readiness and response through mindfulness meditation training. Helius is focused on neurological wellness.

“Researchers from both organizations will combine the use of the neuromodulator with mindfulness meditation training and assess participants’ neurocognitive performance and self-reported symptoms before and after training.”

SFTT Commentary:   While this joint research program seems promising, the Army Research Laboratory has often placed troop “readiness” ahead of troop safety.  SFTT hopes that this study will prove different.

SFTT readers are encouraged to drop us a line if they discover an interesting new therapy to treat PTSD or TBI or would like to share a public interest story.  SFTT can be reached at info@sftt.org.

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Happy 2018!

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Is it too late to wish you all a happy new year? We think not!

Here at SFTT we’ve been busy wrapping up our 2017 initiatives and planning for an even better 2018 with new programs and partners to help Veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD).

During the past year, Stand for the Troops, the Little Organization That Could and Has, hit a major milestone — we turned 20! Twenty, old enough to be a combat soldier which, in many ways we are. SFTT is at war helping American Veterans combat invisible war wounds.

In 2017, we fought for — and aided — our Veterans who suffer from TBI and PTSD by:

  • Securing educational grants 2017 for west coast Veterans wanting to pursue a career in sustainable agriculture and presently, a 2018 grant to continue this program is being reviewed. We’re also working to expand this program to make it available to Veterans on the east coast.
  • Helping fund Attention-Bias Modification Treatment for PTSD research at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute by supporting the Principal Investigator, Dr. Yuval Neria. Dr. Neria’s other related projects establish innovative trauma care for Veterans and their family members, such as Man of War Project & Military Family Wellness Center.
  • Working in concert with the Knights of Columbus on The Frank Robotti Golf Classic where we raised awareness and funds for service dogs. We’ll be awarding money to a local service dog program soon.

In 2018 we plan to continue this good work while introducing a program that focuses on our co-founder, Col. David “Hack” Hackworth’s commitment to safeguarding frontline soldiers with more than lip service. Our new treatment plan, unveiled in the next few weeks, integrates proven medical and wellness therapies to effectively treat combat-related traumatic brain injury.

We’d love to hear from you so please drop us a line at info@sftt.org!

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Latest News for Vets with PTSD & TBI: 26 Jan 2018

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The Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) continues to struggle to provide effective therapy for Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As such, SFTT has decided to focus most of its attention on helping Veterans and their families cope with the ravages of the silent wounds of war.

The devastating effect of brain injury for hundreds of thousands of Veterans and their families cannot be underestimated.  While SFTT will focus primarily on “new” therapy programs, we will occasionally report on the very unsettling problems faced by Veterans and their families as they seek to recover their lives.

Some “alternative” therapies have already proven to be quite successful, but many others are not widely known to Veterans or the medical profession at large.   Even if these programs were endorsed or approved by the VA, treatment is often beyond the financial means of most Veterans.

While SFTT will let the “news” speak for itself, the science of treating brain injury is still in its infancy.  SFTT attempts to provide balanced reporting of the pros and cons of these emerging therapy programs but strongly encourages the reader to make up their own mind as to their efficacy.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or “HBOT”


Among the most promising therapies is hyperbaric oxygen therapy or “HBOT,”   Essentially, HBOT consists of a series of controlled dives in a compression chamber where Veterans receive oxygen under pressure.  Many independent research studies have confirmed the efficacy of HBOT, but the VA and the DoD have consistently claimed that there is limited evidence to sustain the assertion that HBOT helps to improve brain function.

Despite the VA’s policy, many countries use HBOT to treat brain injury.  In fact, the Israel Defense Forces (“IDF”) use HBOT to treat any concussive event for its military personnel.  SFTT has written often about the efficacy of HBOT.

Nevertheless, VA spokesperson Dr. David Cifu continues to claim that current VA program are more effective than HBOT.  The clinical evidence strongly suggests that Dr Ciful is misleading Veterans, Congressional subcommittees that oversee the VA and the public about the lack of efficacy of HBOT.   SFTT will fully address Cifu’s “misspeaks” and “questionable” scientific evidence at a later date.

Combat Veterans Coming Home with CTE

Not all news is “good news” for Veterans suffering from brain trauma.  There is now evidence that some Veterans suffering from PTSD may have CTE or  chronic traumatic encephalopathy .  The 60 Minutes Video which accompanies this article, highlights the painful story of one Veteran’s “discovery” that he had an incurable brain injury.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

SFTT has been reporting for months how the NFL has been dodging the nasty public relations surrounding CTE, but now (unsurprisingly) evidence suggests that this terrible degenerative disease of the brain may also be affecting Veterans who have been exposed to a series of concussive events.

MDMA for PTSD Enters Final Trials

According to an article published in Newsweek, the final round of clinical trials for MDMA assisted psychotherapy could lead the way for the United States to approve the drug for therapeutic use as early as 2021.

The third and final phrase of trials gets underway after the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) designated MDMA as a “breakthrough therapy” for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in August 2017, ensuring that it will work with advocates to complete the last phase quickly.

MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, is an empathogen, meaning that it stimulates togetherness and trust among users. It also inhibits activity in the brain that treats fear and stimulates hormones that make people feel more connected. While some may refer to MDMA and ecstasy interchangeably, MDMA is the pure form of the drug, while ecstasy can be cut with unknown adulterants.

SFTT Commentary:   SFTT has written several times about the use of MDMA (aka “Ecstasy”) in treating PTSD.  While final trial results for MDMA will not be known for several years, it is worth remembering that drugs that treat behavioral or pain symptoms but produce no long-lasting improvement in brain function may not be cause for celebration.  Let’s face it, the President’s Final Report on Combating Drug Addiction (page 20) states quite clearly that “the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system.”    Will another drug prove more effective?

Written Exposure Therapy “WET”

According to a press release by Marilynn Larkin for the Psych Congress Network, “Written Exposure Therapy (“WET”) is noninferior to first-line cognitive processing therapy (CPT) for treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can be delivered in fewer sessions, researchers say.”

WET involves writing about a traumatic experience under clinical guidance, using a structured format.

“Our study has important implications for clinicians, as it suggests that PTSD can be effectively treated using a much shorter, less burdensome intervention – i.e., five sessions, minimal face-to-face time with the therapist, no between-session homework assignments – than what is typically used in clinical practice,” Dr. Denise Sloan of National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, told Reuters Health.

SFTT Commentary:  The suggestion that WET is “noninferior to first-line cognitive processing therapy (“CPT”) is hardly a ringing endorsement.  Despite VA propaganda to the contrary, CPT has been largely unsuccessful in treating Veterans with PTSD.

SFTT readers are encouraged to drop us a line if they discover an interesting new therapy to treat PTSD or TBI or would like to share a public interest story.  SFTT can be reached at info@sftt.org.

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How Will the VA Offer HBOT to Veterans?

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In a somewhat surprising but not totally unexpected development, the “VA’s Center for Compassionate Innovation (CCI) will offer Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT’) to a small number of selected veterans with chronic PTSD in a pilot program to be run through facilities in Oklahoma and Texas.”

HBOT Chamber

SFTT joins Bethesda Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“Bethesda HBOT’) in applauding this initiative by the VA.  Bethesda HBOT notes that “worldwide research and years of clinical experience has clearly demonstrated that HBOT is not only extremely safe in treating PTSD and head injury, especially when compared with psychoactive and mood altering drugs, but also has been effective in treating thousands of veterans and active duty service members with underlying brain injury.

According to a Press Release by the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs:

“As healthcare leaders interested in innovative approaches to care, the VA Center for Compassionate Innovation (CCI) is facilitating use of HBOT for a subset of Veterans who have noticed no decrease of symptoms after receiving at least two evidenced-based treatments. CCI uses innovative approaches to treat conditions where traditional methods have been unsuccessful. VA will monitor the HBOT clinical demonstration project and the HBOT research study to help inform the potential for HBOT usage to treat a larger number of Veterans with PTSD.”  

As SFTT reported earlier, it seems that Secretary David Shulkin agreed to accelerate the use of HBOT for Veterans with PTSD over widespread opposition within the VA.

In fact, the Stars and Stripes article cites some 32 “inconclusive” studies on the effectiveness of HBOT in treating TBI and PTSD.   Furthermore, it quotes Col. Scott Miller, the lead study author for a 2015 VA study, arguing that there was a “lack of evidence” HBOT helped and that “he didn’t see any value in moving forward with more studies.”  SFTT finds it surprising that Col. Miller was lead on this project when he is reportedly an “infectious disease specialist.”

Several HBOT specialists have suggested that the DoD botched test protocols that let to its “inconclusive” findings.

How does this VA Change in Policy on HBOT Affect Veterans?

It is evident in the Stars and Stripes article that entrenched administrators within the VA are opposed to the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As SFTT has reported many times, the “High Priests” and Gatekeepers at the VA have mounted a vigorous campaign to discredit the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with brain trauma.

In fact, some 3 years ago, Dr. Xavier Figueroa wrote an article titled “What the <#$*&!> Is Wrong with the DoD/VA HBOT Studies?!!” which clearly articulates the case for HBOT and discredits many of the underlying “evidence-based” positions often cited by the VA and DoD.

Frankly, scientific or clinical evidence is not lacking to support the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with brain trauma.  What is lacking is a willingness of the VA to support alternative therapies.

One must hope that the VA will move expeditiously to provide HBOT to “selected Veterans” at CCI facilities in Oklahoma and Texas, but the widespread adoption of HBOT by the VA is still some years away.

Questions for the VA?

  • When will initial “testing” begin?
  • How many Veterans with “chronic PTSD” be including in the program”
  • Who will administer the HBOT test protocols for these Veterans?
  • If “legitimate” test results prove encouraging, how will Veterans gain access to HBOT therapy?
  • Since HBOT Oxygen Chambers (and qualified personnel) are lacking at VA facilities, will Veterans receive this therapy from the private sector?
  • Estimated time frame from evaluating test results to widespread deployment of the HBOT alternative.

While SFTT is delighted that the VA is pressing forward with HBOT, it does seem that it is more of a reaction to public and political pressure rather than any internal VA initiative.  Based on years in observing the VA bureaucracy, it is likely that its administrators will do everything possible to discredit this noninvasive and widely accepted therapy to treat PTSD.

Such a shame, but SFTT will be vigilant.

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Points of View: Al Jazeera on Treating Veterans with PTSD

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

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

Department of Veterans Affairs

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

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

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

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy, and
  • Prolonged Exposure Treatment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Nov 3, 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 Korean Defector Warns of “Massive” Military Counterstrike
North Korean military officers have been trained to trigger a devastating counterstrike if their country is attacked by the United States, according to a high-profile defector. Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho’s comments to U.S. lawmakers suggest that military action on the Korean peninsula — a course of action repeatedly raised by President Donald Trump — would almost certainly result in a catastrophic number of civilian casualties. “North Korean officers are trained to press the button without any further instructions from the general command if something happens on their side,” Thae said Wednesday. “So if there is any sound of fire or bombs or strikes from Americans, the [North Korean] artillery and short-range missiles will fire against South Korea.”  Read more . . .

Kim North Korea

First U.S. Airstrikes Reported Against ISIS in Somalia
The U.S. military for the first time has conducted two airstrikes against Islamic State group fighters in Somalia, where the group is a growing presence in a country long threatened by the al-Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab. The U.S. Africa Command said the two drone strikes killed “several terrorists” in northeastern Somalia, with the first around midnight local time and the second later Friday morning. The U.S. said the strikes were carried out in coordination with Somalia’s government.   Read more . . .

Syria Claims that Last ISIS Outpost in Syria Falls
The Syrian government declared victory over Islamic State in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Friday, a big blow to the jihadists as their last stronghold in Syria crumbles. Deir al-Zor, on the west bank of the Euphrates River, is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria, and is the center of the country’s oil production. “The armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces, liberated the city of Deir al-Zor completely from the clutches of the Daesh terrorist organization,” the military source said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.  Read more . . .

VA Plea for New Drugs to Treat PTSD
Reported cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are increasing, and trends indicate that growth will continue as more military men and women return from overseas service. But treatment help doesn’t appear to be coming quickly. So far in 2017, six dermatology drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but no drug has been approved for treatment of PTSD since 2001. At this point, two drugs — Paxil and Zoloft — have been given FDA approval for PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs created a PTSD Psychopharmacology Working Group, which has issued an urgent plea for the development and approval of new drugs for PTSD as part of a national mental health priority.  Read more . . .

Ecstasy in the Loop to Treat PTSD?
In July, the Food and Drug Administration took the important step of approving two final-phase clinical trials to determine whether a party drug that has long been on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I list of banned substances could be used to treat a psychiatric condition that afflicts millions. The drug is MDMA, a psychedelic commonly known as Ecstasy, previously deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use.” The trials aim to determine whether the drug is, as earlier trials have suggested, a safe and effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, when combined with psychotherapy.  Read more . . .

Eye Movement Desensitization Reduces PTSD
In a meta-analysis of clinical trials published in PLoS One, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing was shown to reduce the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with a longer duration of treatment correlating with better outcomes. The study authors evaluated 26 randomized controlled trials that evaluated the use of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in patients with PTSD. Outcomes included the effects of treatment on PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, and subjective distress.  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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