The VA and Veteran Suicides: Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up

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Only a cynical person could look with amusement on the recent self-serving announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) that it is taking “additional steps” to address Veteran suicides.   I realize that it is somewhat difficult to get a $180 billion a year bureaucratic behemoth to focus on an issue that has been front-page of every major media outlet, the DoD and even the VA for well over 10 years.

In fact, many legislators and many grieving families are simply scratching their heads and asking the question that most any sane American would ask:   Hasn’t the VA been focused on Veteran suicides all along?   I guess the simple conclusion is this:  Yes, the VA is aware that approximately 22 Veterans commit suicide each day, but our management believes that these “additional steps” will help stem the tide:

Several changes and initiatives are being announced that strengthen VA’s approach to Suicide Prevention. They include:

  • Elevating VA’s Suicide Prevention Program with additional resources to manage and strengthen current programs and initiatives;
  • Meeting urgent mental health needs by providing Veterans with the goal of  same-day evaluations and access by the end of calendar year 2016;
  • Establishing a new standard of care by using measures of Veteran-reported symptoms to tailor mental health treatments to individual needs;
  • Launching a new study, “Coming Home from Afghanistan and Iraq,” to look at the impact of deployment and combat as it relates to suicide, mental health and well-being;
  • Using predictive modeling to guide early interventions for suicide prevention;
  • Using data on suicide attempts and overdoses for surveillance to guide strategies to prevent suicide;
  • Increasing the availability of naloxone rescue kits throughout VA to prevent deaths from opioid overdoses;
  • Enhancing Veteran Mental Health access by establishing three regional tele-mental health hubs; and
  • Continuing to partner with the Department of Defense on suicide prevention and other efforts for a seamless transition from military service to civilian life.

Veteran Suicides

While I guess we should all take some solace from the fact that these “additional steps” may help reduce suicides among Veterans, many of us wonder why it has taken so long for the VA to recognize that its current treatment process has proved to be inadequate.  Indeed, the VA seems more intent on throwing cold water on alternative therapy programs than doing much at all to help get Veterans in help they need for PTSD and TBI.   More prescription drugs is not the answer according to the F.D.A., but I suppose it will be difficult for the VA to radically change its modus operandi.

Having been in business for many years, I am suspect when people tell me they are “taking steps.”   To paraphrase the late British columnist Bernard Levin, I have no idea whether these are “fast steps,” “double-time steps,” or as is often the case for bloated government bureaucracies: “marching in place and hoping for a better outcome.”

Judging from the VA’s record, I am not at all convinced that these “additional steps” – even if implemented – will improved the outcome so fervently desired by Veterans and their loved ones.  For the most part, these “additional steps” seem more like a public relations initiative rather than something will bring about a major change in the way PTSD and TBI are diagnosed and treated by the VA.  I hope I am wrong.

Accountability and responsibility is a theme well understood by the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces.  Sadly, accountability and responsibility seem to be in short supply at the VA.  We should all be outraged!

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News Highlights – Week of March 6, 2016

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Found below are few military news items that surfaced during the last week that caught my attention. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that interest them.

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

Wounded Warrior Project (“WWP”) attracts attention of Doonesbury
It was only a matter of time before the scathing humor of Gary Trudeau captured the tragedy unfolding with Wounded Warrior Project which appears to place the financial interests of its administrators in front of the needs of Veterans.  Such a shame!   Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Legislation would halt bad military discharges due to PTSD, TBI
Last week, a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan introduced legislation to ensure that military discharge review boards must consider troops’ mental health issues, and must accept a PTSD or TBI diagnosis from a professional as an acceptable rebuttal to a dismissal.   Read more . . .

House approves bill to consider PTSD as circumstance when sentencing veterans
The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a bill that will “expand current law to enable judges to consider a diagnosis of PTSD as a mitigating circumstance when sentencing veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD, prior to being charged with a crime”.  Would be nice to see this type of legislation in all states.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Service dogs aid veterans with PTSD
The service dog is trained to wake Sergeant Petz from his nightmares. Bosko is the first service dog provided by the Paws Forces, a new program of the Maumee-based the Arms Forces that helps veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries get services.  Read more . . .

Veterans Aware: PTSD primer
I work for the Department of Veteran Affairs, Readjustment Counseling Service at the St. George Vet Center. I work with veterans who have been deployed in areas of active American combat operations, veterans who have traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and folks who have experienced any variety of service-connected traumatic experience that has left them disabled emotionally or physically.  Read more  . . .

Buprenorphine May Beat Opioids for Triad of Pain, PTSD, SUDs
In a retrospective cohort study, investigators found that twice as many veterans treated with the partial nociceptin opioid receptor agonist experienced improvement in PTSD symptoms, beginning at 8 months and increasing over time. In contrast, those treated with opioids experienced a worsening of symptoms.   SFTT is not a big fan of prescription drugs – be careful!  Read more . . .

Join SFTT in helping get our Veterans the support they deserve.

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The Case for Hyperbaric Oxygen

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In normal circumstances, one would simply scratch their head and wonder what all the fuss is about treating Veterans with PTSD and/or TBI with hyperbaric oxygen or HBOT.   Countries all over the world have been using this relatively inexpensive form of therapy to treat their own military, but the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) continues to insist that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to support the benefits of HBOT.

hyperbaric oxygen chamber

In the February, 2016 edition of Veterans of Foreign Wars (“VFW”), author Janie Blankenship rekindles the debate with a provocative article entitled “Alternative Treatment for PTSD, TBI Stirs Debate.”    SFTT strongly believes that many Veterans receiving HBOT have shown dramatic improvement in brain activity and their ability to return to a “normal” life without the side affects of many potent prescription drugs.

In any event, the VFW article suggests that there is enough evidence – both scientific and anecdotal – to refute VA claims that it is simply “black magic.”  In fact, Dr. Charles Hoge with the Center of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research claims that tests for HBOT were “disappointing” and goes on to say in the article that:

Factors such as enhanced expectancy, conditioning, the authoritative context of care and social reinforcement likely contributed as well, perhaps as the prolonged break from the stresses of work.  Hyperbaric Oxygen does not work, but the ritual of the intervention does.”

Indeed, it is quite remarkable that Dr. Hoge could claim that “Hyperbaric Oxygen does not work, but the ritual of the intervention does.”     If I were a Veteran in urgent need of therapy, I would welcome the “intervention” process as much as the treatment.  If the process works but we don’t know why, please sign me up!  Have the often lethal cocktail of prescription drugs prescribed by the VA proved any better?  I think not.

Dr. Paul Harch, who is quoted frequently by SFTT, notes in the article that “my generation of doctors thinks this (sic HBOT) is a fraudulent theory.”   Indeed, Dr. Xavier Figueroa, a recent convert, claims that there is “extreme bias against HBOT in the medical field.”

While the VA, DoD and many in the medical profession continue to try to validate the obvious, many States are taking action into their own hands and approving HBOT treatments for Veterans.

The two-month treatment costs around $4,400, according to the VFW article and States, Insurance companies and charitable organizations are taking action into their own hands to help Veterans.  Found below are some of the recent initiatives:

– At Hyperbaric of Sun Valley in Hailey, Idaho, veterans suffering from TBI and PTSD receive free treatment;

– At Patriot Clinics, Inc. in Oklahoma City, veterans receive HBOT for free;

– Healing Arizona Veterans, based in Tucson, has paid for 20 veterans in that state to receive HBOT;

– Lawmakers in Oklahoma have recognized the benefits of HBOT and signed a treatment and recovery act into law in May, 2014;

– Similar bills (like Oklahoma) are being considered in Indiana, Texas, Kentucky and Arkansas.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the VA would play ball and help States establish effective HBOT programs for Veterans.  I guess that is far too much to expect.

Thank you VFA and Janie Blankenship for this useful article.

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News Highlights – Week of Feb 22, 2016

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Found below are few news items that caught my attention the past week. I trust that some of our readers will click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that interest them.

Is the VA on Automatic Pilot?
The video included in this news clip shows Army veteran Dennis Magnasco trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment at his local VA hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts. But a nearly five-minute phone call became a maddening stream of automated audio messages.  Read more . . .

Crisis over the VA Crisis Line
In a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald on Monday, Kirk, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Veteran Affairs Department spending, said Dr. Mary Schohn should lose her job over problems at the Veterans Crisis Line, which include veterans being placed on hold or sent to voicemail.  Read more . . .

Ben Carson on Reforming the VA
The VA is supposed to be the vehicle through which we uphold our promise to our veterans. Providing timely, accessible and high quality support and care isn’t a goal, it’s an obligation, which deplorably, our current VA is unable to meet. That is why I have put forth a plan to reform the VA and its associated health care system to better provide for those who pledged to defend our nation.  Read more . . .

Veteran with PTSD reunited with Military Dog
He endured the trauma of war with man’s best friend. Now a young veteran is hoping a reunion with his canine comrade will finally bring him peace of mind.  Read more . . .

Is President Obama handing Guantanamo back to Cuba?
President Obama wants to finally make good on one of his signature campaign promises: closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to go along, but the debate has raised another question: If the prison closes, what would happen to the naval base itself?   Read more . . .

More Problems for the VA:  Louisiana this time
The former head of Louisiana’s Veterans Affairs Department mismanaged money, covered up crimes at veterans’ homes and lied about his military background, according to a scathing report released Monday (Feb. 1) by the state’s legislative auditor and inspector general.  Read more . . .

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Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD: VA on the Fence

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While much of the world is focused on transformative businesses and technologies, the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) remains oblivious to the needs of Veterans with PTSD.

SFTT and Razoo Support Veterans

Despite a slew of reports from the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) citing the need for major reforms with the VA, it seems like it is business as usual for these entrenched bureaucrats.  Found below is just a few of these GAO reports:

The list is endless, but the bloated VA bureaucracy seems unlikely to change in the near future.

A recent study by the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) concluded that while  VA health care “provided by VHA generally cost less than would equivalent care provided in the private sector.  But, “it has been difficult for these studies to fully explain why VHA care may be cheaper.”

In fact, the CBO study states that the VA “has provided limited data to Congress and the public about its costs and operational performance.  The overarching theme of the study is clear – CBO needs more data in order to make recommendations or be able to come to any credible conclusion.”

With an annual budget of $170 billion, it is unlikely that Congress, taxpayers or Veterans will ever get honest answers.   Far more disturbing is the fact that the VA doesn’t actually know or really give a damn about the needs of Veterans.  A case in point is the VA policy on Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD.

Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

VA Policy on Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

There is no better way to explain the futility of “fighting City Hall” than to examine the VA’s policy on Service Dogs.   While dogs certainly prove useful in combat the VA has decided that it needs a “research study” to determine their value in helping Veterans to recover from the trauma of PTSD.  Found below is the official VA position on Service Dogs Veterans with PTSD.

Research is underway to better understand if dogs can provide a disability service for persons with PTSD. VA has started a research study to determine if there are things a dog can do for a Veteran with PTSD that would qualify the animal as a Service Dog for PTSD. The study is expected to take several years to complete. The National Center for PTSD is not involved in this study, but we will provide results when they become available.

Currently, VA does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD. VA does provide veterinary care for service dogs that are deemed medically necessary for the rehabilitation or restorative care plan of Veterans with permanent physical impairments. If research supports the use of service dogs for PTSD, VA will provide veterinary care for such dogs. Read more information on VA and service dogs.

While the VA continues to provide their lethal cocktails of painkillers supported by clinical research from Big Pharma, the VA insists on a research study to determine if pets are helpful for Veterans with PTSD.   Go figure?

Train a Dog Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”)

Fortunately, people from all walk of life have stepped in to fill the gap left by an unresponsive and brain-dead VA.   Train a Dog – Save a Warrior programs are cropping up all over the United States to provide our Veterans with the help they need. SFTT is proud to support TADSAW.  Found below is a brief description of the TADSAW program from SFTT.

Train a Dog – Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”) provides for the training of a Medical Alert Service Dog, as designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 2010 guidelines, for ANY wounded warrior, Active Duty or Veteran, surviving with PTSD, MST and/or TBI, in order to restore and improve the warrior’s Quality of Life with a canine “Battle Buddy”, at no charge to the warrior.

At SFTT we are hopeful that the VA will soon come to its senses and embrace new treatment alternatives that appear to offer a lifeline to Veterans.   Learn more about these Rescue Coalition programs on the SFTT website.

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PTSD and the Super Bowl

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As we all settle in to watch the Super Bowl tomorrow, let us reflect on the large number of brave Veterans who have suffered from PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Indeed, there are enough wounded Veterans from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to fill several Super Bowl stadiums.

PTSD and CTE

Nevertheless, I suspect that sports’ pundits will be more focused on CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – found on the brain of former pro quarterback, Kenny Stabler caused by “repeated blows to the head.” Indeed, there is now a list on Wikipedia that lists the number of deceased pro football players that were diagnosed with CTE.

Veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and/or TBI now exceed some 200,000 and they are simply not receiving the treatment they require to reclaim their lives.  The Veterans Administration’s preferred solution is to mask the symptoms of brain trauma with an often lethal cocktail of pharmaceuticals. At the same time the VA blocks other far more inexpensive technologies, like Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy,  used around the world.  Why?

PTSD by the Numbers

Less we forget, please find below a video from the late Navy S.E.A.L, Chris Kyle who explains how difficult it is for some Veterans to adjust after they come home from war.  We now believe that some 20% of Veterans are affected by some form of brain trauma, although many experts believe that the number is far higher.  Listen to Chris Kyle:


via: PTSD by the Numbers: Battling Post Traumatic Stress Video

As we watch the Super Bowl, let us reflect on the conditions of our brave Veterans and the personal demons they face each day.

UK Troops Suffering from PTSD and Depression

Traumatic brain injury is not only prevalent in the US, but the British Armed Forces are also coping with serious problem.  Based on the statistics below, they are probably underestimating the scope of the problem, but it is clear that they see clear evidence of “alcohol-related” behavioral disorders and Veterans try to “self-medicate.”  Substance abuse is rampant among Veterans in the US, particularly with those who suffer from PTSD.   One health specialist suggested it could be as high as 90%.

See what the British say about traumatic stress among their own troops:

Of those, 1,235 have been awarded compensation and discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder. The figures, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, show 718 were discharged for depression, while 130 were suffering from alcohol-related behavioral disorders.

Speaking yesterday Patrick Rea, of the charity PTSD Resolution, said: “Assuming that most of these cases involve the Army, it brings us to a ratio nearing one in 10. Previous figures suggest that around two per cent of troops across all branches are suffering from PTSD. Of course, the problem is that there is a latency about PTSD that may not show up in official figures.Then, five years after they leave, it results in breakdown of their marriage, loss of employment and even criminality.”
via: Rising toll of stressed out troops suffering from PTSD and depression

Mental Health Week: PTSD and Suicide

Jenny Hale, a Public Relations graduate student at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, discusses below the relationship between PTSD and suicide.   While Jenny is right to suggest contacting the CRISIS LINE at 1-800-273-8255 for help, the Veterans Administration has not done a good job in helping Veterans with PTSD.  I would take the advice provided below with a grain of salt.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like war, assault, an accident or disaster. Symptoms can start immediately after an event or can develop years later. These symptoms usually include flashbacks or memories, sleep problems or nervousness. Indicators lasting longer than a month may be related to PTSD.

Since 2002, 128,496 service members have been diagnosed with PTSD after being deployed in post-9/11 wars. The highest numbers reported were in the year 2012, with over 20,000 total cases between deployed and non-deployed soldiers.

If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, there are several outlets for both civilians and military to find help.

  • VA Center—All VA hospitals have care for PTSD. Contact your nearest VA Medical Center for an appointment.
  • Consult a therapist—The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies can help locate a clinic near you. Find a list here.
  • Call the Veterans Crisis Line—Family and friends, as well as veterans, can speak to VA workers 24/7 online or by phone for confidential support. 1-800-273-8255 or chat with a professional here.

Suicide is another serious mental health issue among veterans. A veteran commits suicide every hour, while a service member commits suicide every day. 8,000 veterans commit suicide every year.

24 percent of suicides include veterans with PTSD symptoms and 66 percent of those have been deployed. Over 50 percent of veterans had no sign of behavioral health disorders prior to their death.

Suicide is preventable. If you or someone you know is showing feelings of guilt, saying that life isn’t worth living or expressing failure, seek help through the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.
via: Mental Health Week: PTSD and Suicide

While I too will be sitting around the television watching this great American tradition of the Super Bowl, I will think of our many Veterans suffering from PTSD who don’t have access to the latest therapies available to help them reclaim their lives.  CTE has surfaced as a “big issue” within the NFL.  I only wish Veterans with PTSD and/or TBI would receive the same level of national attention.

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Wounded Warrior Project Has Feet of Clay

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What quite a few of us have known for some time – and many more have suspected -The Wounded Warrior Project (“WWP”) appears to place the financial interests of its administrators over the needs of wounded Veterans. In a damning article recently published by The New York Times, The Wounded Warriors Project comes across as an organization built on the hypocrisy and greed of its administrators rather than truly helping wounded Veterans.

Others in the media like CBS (see video above and read the CBS news coverage) continue to follow this story and it seems likely that changes will occur within WWP to redress the balance of contributions that actually go to Veterans rather than its organizers.  I certainly hope so.

I take no great pleasure in continuing to flog WPP in the media, but I was upset by a comment I read in The New York Times suggesting that the WWP organizers should be properly compensating for raising this much money for Veterans and that it is “better than nothing.” In fact, I was more than upset, I was pissed off by this silly rationalization. Let me explain why?

– Most of the contributions raised by WWP came from people over 65 (Viet Nam Vets?).  If a contributor to a “good cause” feels that they have been betrayed by its fundraisers, won’t they be less inclined to support other Veteran programs with integrity?
– The Wounded Warrior Project sucked all of the air out of the room for other organizations that had a similar mission to help Veterans.  In other words, many Veterans were deprived of much needed support since a large percentage of the money went to WWP administrators rather than Vets.
– Many small and worthwhile organizations are financially struggling to support our Veterans and disclosures like the greediness within WWP will only make if more difficult for these organizations to raise funds.
– While I am delighted that some Veterans received support from WWP, I shed a tear for the many Veterans that were not served because of the greed and self-interest of its administrators.

Which brings us to the news that several Veteran groups accused Donald Trump of using Veterans like political pawns in his dispute with Fox News over the moderators of the last debate.    In many respects, I agree with Veterans that don’t want to be used as pawns in contentious posturing by politicians.  Sadly, every four years or so, most politicians tend to embrace Veteran causes as they might disingenuously cuddle a puppy dog to encourage voters to look favorably on them.

My question is quite simple:  What have these “touch-feely” politicians done to overhaul the Veterans Administration with its $170 billion annual budget during the time they spend in office?   Far too little in my estimation.  Over its brief history, WWP has raised under $1 billion ($750 million, but my estimate) – THIS IS LESS THAT 0.6% OF THE ANNUAL BUDGET OF THE VA.

Talk about “too big to fail,”  the VA is simply “too big” and “too bureaucratic” to provide the services our brave Veterans require.  Personally, I would like to see Veteran organizations take on the “big elephant” in the room – the VA – rather than quibble about how they feel “used” by political candidates.  This is the “fight” that our elected leaders need to embrace if they want to truly help our Veterans.

In my opinion, the VA needs to be radically repurposed and decentralized to provide meaningful support to our Veterans.  Big Pharma and politicians who feed at the trough of lobbyists will probably be opposed, but if you want to solve the problem, you need to deal with the corruption and self-interest groups within the VA first!

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A Drug to Cure PTSD, Really?

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The folks at the Veterans Affairs Administration and the pharmaceutical industry must be drooling over the recent “Opinion” piece by Richard A. Friedman entitled a “A Drug to Cure Fear,” which was published in the New York Times on January, 24th, 2016.   In fact, Dr. Friedman believes a new prescription drug might be useful in helping Veterans with PTSD.

In this “Opinion” article, Dr. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and the Director of Psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, argues that prescribing a beta-blocker called propranolol may decrease anxiety according to recent tests.  He goes on to assert, “If we could treat our pathological anxiety, why wouldn’t we?”

Interesting choice of words by Dr. Friedman, “. . . why wouldn’t we?”   I much prefer “. . . why shouldn’t we?”   With no disrespect to Dr. Friedman, the cocktail of drugs currently prescribed by the VA to Veterans suffering from PTSD are lethal.   In fact, Veterans provided VA recommended pharmaceuticals have been known to flush them down the toilet because of their physiological and psychological side-effects.   Should we experiment with another prescription drug loosely supported by a limited number of clinical trials that may place the well-being of countless brave young men and women at risk?

Veterans with PTSD and Drugs

Dr. Friedman concludes by saying “I see nothing wrong with doing all we can to rid ourselves of pathological anxiety, including using drugs to alter our painful emotional memories.”  Really?  With a test lab of several hundred thousand Veterans suffering from PTSD and a drug lobby anxious to promote another “miracle drug” on these brave heroes, Dr. Friedman’s facile recommendation seems self-serving at best.

Dr. Friedman goes on to cite several studies in treating PTSD:

How effective this new memory-disrupting approach will be in treating more serious anxiety disorders like PTSD or panic is unclear. A few preliminary studies using propranolol in PTSD showed mixed results. Some found no effect, but a 2015 review of PTSD treatment studies published in Biological Psychology found that propranolol administered with six brief trauma reactivation sessions significantly improved PTSD symptoms compared with a placebo.

This is hardly an encouraging list of lengthy clinical studies required by the FDA to approve prescription drugs, but if I read Dr. Friedman correctly, he is suggesting that we give it a go.  Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the VA and Big Pharma will do just that.

 Say No to Miracle Drugs to Treat PTSD

Stand for the Troops has long been suspect of using drugs to treat PTSD.  While the use of prescription drugs is certainly necessary in many cases, there is clear evidence that the continued use of prescription drugs to deal with symptoms can lead to addiction and may cause suicide.  In fact, one must question the efficacy of using psychopharmacology drugs that create dependencies and appear to offer no longterm solution.

Indeed, there are many therapies that should be considered before prescription drugs.   Sadly, very few of these programs receive funding from the VA and most rely on efforts by other Veterans supported by the contributions of concerned citizens and local businesses and institutions.

We can do a much better job supporting our brave Veterans, but psychotic drugs that impair or interdict a brain’s normal response doesn’t seem to me to be the right solution.

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Veterans with PTSD and the VA

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In today’s New York Times, there was an editorial written by Nate Bethea, an Army Infantry Officer from 2007 to 2014, entitled “Sarah Palin, This is What PTSD is All About.”  (Editor’s Note: Actually, the original NYT’s article was “The Truth About PTSD,” but presumably the spin-masters at the New York Times felt that by channeling Sarah Palin they would attract more readers).

Ms. Palin raised more than a few eyebrows recently during a rally speech for Donald Trump when she invoked her son Track’s problems in a domestic violence case that she attributes to PTSD. Mr. Bethea takes exception with Ms. Palin’s position:

Mrs. Palin seemed to suggest that the policies of President Obama had somehow worsened her son’s condition. And by explaining away domestic violence as the “ramifications of PTSD,” she intimated that her son’s actions are logical consequences of what he experienced while deployed. This is, of course, a disingenuous argument from a career opportunist. However, in a roundabout way, Mrs. Palin reignited a valuable discussion of combat and its psychological effects. Her portrayal of her son’s condition seems aligned with enduring renditions of veterans as ticking time bombs, as damaged beings primed to harm.

In fact, Mr. Bethea argues that he has has benefitted from the Department of Veterans Affairs program which provided him disability coverage for “mental health care:”

In what I decided would be my final year in the military, I sought out mental health care. I received a PTSD diagnosis in June 2013 and left the military a year later; in 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs rated me at 60 percent disability. I will have access to at least some kind of mental health care for the rest of my life, for which I am immensely grateful. Many veterans who did not seek care before leaving the military (or who were expelled from it) do not have this privilege.

While Mr. Bethea’s “Opinion” is no doubt genuine and heart-felt, I keep wondering if it is more genuine than Ms. Palin’s clearly staged political posturing.

Whether it is Ms. Palin’s son Track or Mr. Bethea’s mental health issues, PTSD is a very serious problem that affects tens of thousands of military Veterans and countless civilians who have been subjected to some form of traumatic event and/or brain injury. Personally, I believe it wrong to trivialize or politicize PTSD or TBI since it deprives many suffering Veterans and civilians of the much needed therapy and answers to their own personal demons.

Frankly, I wish Mr. Bethea had not written this article since he is arguing that his way of dealing with PTSD – and the support he received from the VA – is better than the how Ms. Palin’s son Track dealt with his problems. In fact, many Veterans refuse to seek treatment for brain-related trauma because they feel it makes them look “less of a warrior” to colleagues serving on the front line. It is this type of attitude which deprives Veterans – and active duty personnel – of the support and therapy they need to deal with this serious problem.

Thumbs Down for Ms. Palin and Nate Bethea on PTSD

Many Veterans interviewed by Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”) will argue that the treatment they receive at the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) is shameful and in many cases detrimental to their ability to reclaim their lives.  A cocktail of prescription pharmaceuticals is not the solution to treating Veterans with PTSD.  Nevertheless, the VA dogmatically insists that they have the “right” answers for helping Veterans.  If so, how can one explain the 22 Veteran suicides that occur each day?

While Mr. Bethea may collect his “disability” check each month from the VA and joyfully broadcast his ability to cope with PTSD, others like Maj. Ben Richards are doing something to reclaim their lives.

Who would you rather be?  I know that most Veterans would trade their disability check in a minute to reclaim their life.  Wouldn’t you?

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IDF and VA Part Ways on Efficacy of HBOT in Treating PTSD

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Treating Veterans and Active Duty personnel suffering from TBI or PTSD with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) has always been regarded as “black magic” by both the VA and the DoD.   In fact, earlier this year, the VA concluded their trial “study” with the following observations:

“To date, there have been nine peer-reviewed publications describing this research,” Dr. David Cifu, VA’s national director for physical medicine and rehabilitation recently told the Oklahoman. “All the research consistently supports that there is no evidence that hyperbaric oxygen has any therapeutic benefit for symptoms resulting from either mild TBI or PTSD.”

Conversely, the Israel Defense Forces (“IDF”) uses HBOT as a matter of course in treating personnel for traumatic shock.  Roughly 120 patients a day are treated at the The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel.    In fact, many U.S. military veterans are now seeking treatment at the Sagol Center since they cannot receive treatment from the VA.

Daniel Rona, who has fought with both the IDF and US military states that in Israel:

“In essence, our mental attitude is that we must take care of ourselves and through that process little Israel has become a blessing for the rest of the world…we treasure our soldiers, young and old. They are our only defenders….no one else will fight our battles. You can imagine that every concussive event will be treated with HBOT !” . . .“the policy of the IDF is that life has the highest value and they are committed to use any treatment, in any case, to save a life”.

It is hard to imagine that the VA and DoD don’t have the same commitment to the life and well-being of military Veterans as the IDF, but the facts suggest otherwise.

Should Vets Have Access to HBOT from the VA?

I suppose that the overriding question is how two nations at the forefront of international terrorism with state-of-the-art medical capabilities have widely different views on the efficacy of HBOT in treating Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Equally disturbing is the growth of HBOT treatment facilities in the United States which are attached to private clinics and hospitals.    In fact, HBOT is currently reimbursed under Medicare Part B for certain conditions.  It remains unclear whether this treatment is approved for reimbursement for Vets suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Despite VA and DoD “tests” to the contrary, there is an abundant of evidence worldwide that HBOT is effective in treating brain injury and restoring brain function by administering concentrated oxygen under controlled conditions.  To argue otherwise is just plain foolish and self-serving.

Many have argued that the adoption of HBOT in treating Veterans would cut into the earning of Big Pharma, who continue to insist (read lobby) for a cocktail of opioids and antipsychotic medication.    As a former military officer, I find it difficult to accept this premise; however, I now feel compelled to accept the obvious:  the VA procurement process and treatment of Veterans is seriously flawed and, perhaps, criminally negligent.

In my opinion, the only way to destigmatize the use of HBOT for treating Veterans is for the VA to approve reimbursement for Veterans seeking treatment outside of the VA.  Will this happen?  Probably not. I would argue that it is highly unlikely that Vets with receive HBOT given the entrenched position of Big Pharma within the FDA, VA and Federal government.

For those who need more evidence on the efficacy of HBOT, please listen to this very informative video clip by Maj. Ben Richards, a U.S. Military Academy graduate, who underwent the HBOT treatment with Dr. Paul Harch:

Can we deprive our Veterans of this effective and relatively inexpensive treatment? If the answer is “No,” then contact your Congressman and Senator demanding action.

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