Major Ben Richard’s at Bacon Brothers Concert

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Dear Friends,

Major Ben Richards New York Times

This is to reintroduce the amazing Major Ben Richards, a true hero for our time and an amazing American.  He led his men bravely and nobly in Iraq, then returned home only to have to continue fighting for his mental, physical and emotional health.  Which leads to my painful confession:  I read the NY Times – and first encountered Ben in a powerful op-ed piece by Nick Kristoff that spoke to the terrible truth:  22 Vets commit suicide every day.  I beg you to stop and think about it.  We are talking over 7300 American heroes a year killing themselves as a direct result of their service to our country.

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I read about Ben Richards; I quickly reached out to Ben as soon as HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen) expert Dr Paul Harch agreed to pro bono treatment for Ben; based upon the miracles I’d read that Dr Harch achieved in his self-financed clinical trials treating Vets, I had a very strong feeling he could and would help.

Ben wisely went off to New Orleans for immediate treatment – thanks here to both Dr Paul Harch and his wife Juliette Licarini as well as a group of New Orleans area West Pointers who answered our SFTT President General John Batiste’s plea for housing and ancillary support donations.

After two sets of 40 HBOT dives (plus about 8 more on an as need basis), Ben, as a result,  has begun to reclaim his function and his life to the point he can write about it below.

And in fact, he is joining John and me in Washington, DC on stage at GWU’s Lisner Auditorium next Saturday, March 22, at 7pm where General Pete Chiarelli, former Army Vice Chief of Staff, will present him with the Purple Heart for his invisible TBI wound at the beginning of an incredible show headlined by  the wonderful bluesy rock of The Bacon Brothers (Kevin and Michael Bacon) Band, super comic Jim Breuer’s zany lovable humor, and the talented gifts of Buskin (my adopted bro and show-runner) & Batteau, Bucky Pizzarelli & Ed Laub and Tom Prasada-Rao.

All volunteering to benefit SFTT’s lifesaving work!

Tickets are purposefully very reasonable – we want all our present and future friends and supporters and those who might need our help to join us.  And if price is an issue, please do get in touch with Maura at sftt.org and we’ll try to help.

Over,

Warrior’s Widow

An Update from Major Ben Richards

It is dark outside now. Farrah and I have completed another evening’s bedtime ritual of teeth brushing and story reading. Our four children are finally all in bed. I am in the room in our home appropriately labelled as a den. It is dark in here, too. The lights in the room are off. My computer screen is dimmed so that I can just make out the words as I type them. There is a lamp, but I only turn it on when necessary and then only as long as needed.

The most proximate reason this self-imposed blackout is necessary is the three windows on one wall of the room. In daytime these windows offer a therapeutic vista of the trees and flowering bushes that accessorize the front lawn, the fluttering American flag that garrisons a post over-watching the driveway and farther on the ubiquitous Iowan cornfields and the few houses and outbuildings on our semi-rural lane– a location where we selected to live because of its paucity of windows compared to a typical neighborhood. As daylight retreats, each evening the windows abandon their therapeutic role to assume a more pernicious part, picking at the lock to a disordered part of my mind where my demons lurk. The doctors call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTS). I call it Fear.

The problem is that at night I cannot see out of the windows but “they” can see in. “They” are sighting in for a headshot that will snuff out my life so quickly that I may never realize that I am dead. “They,” of course, do not exist. At least not today.  Not here.  The ordered part of my mind knows that, but there is a disordered part of my mind that I cannot convince. I have spent years working with professional assistance to persuade it, but that disordered part of me is still afraid.  Really afraid. A few times I have forced myself to stand in front of the window at night with the lights on in the room, silhouetted in the light for anyone to see, in a kind of self-imposed experimental exposure therapy. Like a game of chicken against myself. I always lose.  The sweat bears testimony.

They may not be here now, but I can assure you that years ago in a different place, they definitely were there.  It was a place where firefights were part of the daily commute, where there were more IEDs than STOP signs, more suicide bombers than taxi cabs, and wanna-be snipers pursued you with the persistence of a hunter stalking a prize buck.

I am not a particularly tough or brave person. A few years ago, I might have gone to great lengths to convince you otherwise, but I have had the privilege of knowing too many tough and brave men and women to now claim otherwise. One was my neighbor Vinny. A great man with a Puerto Rican heritage and a New York name, Vinny had served as a Force Recon Marine in Vietnam. Our adjacent homes backed into a few acres of woods. The occasional rain storm over the woods loosed the disordered, dark places in Vinny’s mind– unhealed by the decades– where the memories of mortal danger and survivor’s guilt mingled with images of monsoon-soaked woodlands.

Unlike Vinny, most of my traumatic experiences were set in the large cities of Baghdad and Baqubah. Woods and rain have no effect on me, but I struggle with windows. Every day for months I was surrounded by hundreds of windows, each a possible firing position for an al Qaeda or Jaysh al Mahdi terrorist. Almost every day we engaged in firefights with the often unseen insurgents behind those windows. So at night, safe in my own home, I still feel compelled to slink around the windows, often standing aside while closing a blind or curtain before moving across a room.

I admit to having been afraid before. There have been times when the my higher brain functions have been laid under siege by the nearby buzz of an angry swarm of AK near misses intermixed with the drumming staccato of machine gun fire against my Stryker’s armor and punctuated by the occasional sharp cracks of the high velocity bullets from Russian-made sniper rifles. Fear would begin to immobilize my limbs and freeze my ability to think.  For weeks after a suicide bomber exploded a sedan filled with explosives against my Stryker armored vehicle, I felt my knees weaken to the point of failure every time we drove past the site where the attack took place. Too many times I watched one of my troopers consumed within an explosive mushrooming pillar of burning black smoke and flame and been seized by the nauseating dread transmitted by the silence on the radio as I prayed for just one more miracle.

I was surprised to discover shortly after returning from Iraq that fear had found a way to follow me home. Fear had visited so often in Iraq that it had secured a foothold in my mind by disordering a part of my brain. The disordered parts of my brain still wanted me to be afraid of things– like windows– that the more ordered parts of my brain knew were no longer a threat. It didn’t help that a suicide bomber followed by another IED hit a few weeks later and had blown holes in my brain, severed neural pathways and substantially degraded my brain’s ability to deescalate the continuous onslaught of phantom threats.  A damaged brain left my mind unable to processes and evaluate the myriad of people and activities of daily life going on around me that the disordered part of my brain insisted were still threats.

Worse than the fear that accompanied personal danger was the terror I felt every time I heard the explosions of IEDs or rocket-propelled grenades followed by a rapid crescendo of small arms and machine gun fire indicating one of my platoons was in yet another firefight. I stare at the radio dreading a radio call reporting another one of my soldiers killed or wounded. The memories keep me awake late into the night when my non-visual senses come alert to intercept and evaluate every noise on guard against a threat lurking in the dark or the distant sound of battle.

My Troop occupied a small combat outpost. The concrete protective walls were not tall enough to block direct fire from every angle. The door of our home-made, plywood outhouse had several bullet holes in it. Mortar rounds occasionally landed inside the compound (fortunately the post was so small, most of them missed). At times we fought the enemy from our own walls.  We slept with weapons loaded and by our sides.

When fleeting sleep finally releases my mind from the battles of the past, the disordered parts of my mind create new ones to fight in my dreams. The scenery is pixelated by gruesome images I mentally recorded in Iraq. I have seen too many grotesque corpses.

There were the decomposing, decapitated victims of al Qaeda beheadings in Anbar. In Dora, there were the bloated bodies dumped in piles on the roadside and reeking in the summer heat. They were always discolored at the knuckles, knees and joints where the local Shiite militia/terrorists had used power drills to torture their victims in the basements of the neighborhood’s mosques before finally applying the drill to victims’ temples for the life-ending cut. In the upscale Baghdad neighborhood of  Adhamiya, there was a young man on the street in Baghdad with three bullets in his head, delivered only moments before by a US-provided 9mm pistol in the hands of Iraqi Army-uniformed Shia militiamen who controlled many of the Iraqi army and police units with the sanction and protection of Shiite political leaders. The “death breath” — actually the final exhalation as the cessation of life causes the lungs to collapse– makes a distinct sound that I can still hear years later.

In Diyala there was a block of body parts– the human detritus of an air strike I had ordered. Scattered among the homes and school yard were enough unique parts for at least seven people including a pale, lifeless face staring into the air attached to a dismembered torso with one arm and entrails oozing out from  where the hips would have been like a broken jar of grey fruit preserves. A street away I found a lone survivor lying on a floor carpeted with glass shards from the shattered windows  in the front room of an abandoned house. He was shaking and unintelligible from pain.  He was naked. His clothing had burned away revealing the third-degree burns across most of his body. His skin resembled a marshmallow that had caught on fire but then been quickly extinguished before being entirely blackened. I still think that the right thing to do would have been to shoot him in the head to bring a merciful end to his agony, but the law of war required me to subject him to further torture with no prospect of survival under the unskilled and callous hands of the Iraqi army medical evacuation and treatment system (and I am using the word “system” quite liberally here).

And then there were the bodies of our Fallen Heroes. They are sacred edifices in the ordered part of my mind. They haunt the other part.

Although the setting and imagery of the dreams changes, the theme is always the same- Fear. I am terrified by the dreams. The dream Fear is worse than the real fear. In Iraq I could control my Fear. In my dreams I cannot. I am not a warrior. I am coward. And I am afraid.

As I said, I am neither especially brave nor especially tough, but I was generally surrounded by men who were, so I often found it necessary to fake those virtues myself. My main ally in this deception, and probably the preserver of my life of on more than one occasion, was Anger. In the chemical pecking order of my mind’s chemistry,  Anger trumps Fear. I didn’t really recognize it at the time, but Anger put me back in charge. It enabled me to move my limbs, stand firm against fear and return fire.

I suppose Anger deserves my gratitude and appreciation, but it has become an unwelcome companion that I cannot persuade to leave.

Years later brain imaging revealed that the part of my brain that regulated emotion had also been physically damaged by the blasts I had survived in Iraq. The damage gave Fear more freedom in my mind at home than it had had in the combat zone. My friend and partner Anger was also on the loose, still ready to faithfully come to my aid whenever I felt I was losing control. The combination of a mind besieged by Post-Traumatic Stress and a brain substantially degraded by the damage from multiple “mild” traumatic brain injuries ensures those times are frequent and humiliating. The physical damage to my brain makes my mind resistant to, perhaps even impervious to, the contemporary “treat the symptoms” medical treatment protocols used by the DOD and VA.

The journey home  is taking much longer for me, and other veterans like me, than the day-long plane ride  that I thought would mark my transition from warrior back to husband and father. Unexpectedly, I have found the journey often feels too much like our combat patrols. I often feel  like I am under persistent and insidious attack by a domestic terror organization supported by our own government.  Like the terrorist I have battled before, the attacks have left a part of my mind disordered and ruled by Anxiety, which as far as I can tell feels awfully lot like Fear. This insurgent force calls itself the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Their personnel champion a perverted ideology best described as bureau-fascism– a belief system focused on preserving the prerogatives and privileges of the bureaucrat to the exclusion of personal and organizational accountability, public service, and competing  values to those of our American society such as the respect and gratitude the rest of our Nation shows to those who have served in uniform. Although mostly a medical organization, members are unbound by values or standards like the Hippocratic Oath– at least not when bureaucratic privilege is on the line.  “Delay, Deny and Hope they Die” are the tenants of their faith– Google it.

They use terror tactics including threats, intimidation and bullying. They operate in semi-autonomous cells that do not share information. They plan and conduct operations without regard to other cells while strenuously working to not give up any information or benefits to veterans without a protracted battle of attrition. They use this structure to ensure that the organization can never be compromised by attempts to make it accountable.  Like the shadowy insurgencies I fought in Iraq, there is no center of accountability where tormentors can be decisively engaged and brought to justice.

Is comparing the VA to terror groups like AQ fair? Perhaps there is an element of hyperbole, but one fairly made in the interest of truth and one which in no way understates the scale or depth of the problem.

I have never been as treated as poorly as I have by the VA. The problem extends beyond that frustrating maze of bureaucracy and paperwork. I left my first benefits appointment literally shaking with rage at how hostile and adversarial the doctor had been towards me. I have been bullied, threatened to have my benefits claims cancelled, denied needed care for wounds received in combat, accused of fabricating combat-related injuries that had been diagnosed by specialists and documented for years (note: the VA does not enter your military medical records into their record system nor does it provide them to your doctors and other health care providers, which in effect is the same as throwing them away). The way I have been repeatedly treated by the VA  has been  such a damaging experience that I can say without the slightest hyperbole that the Anxiety and Fear from contact with the VA is now worse than the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that has ravaged my life. Contact unleashes a chemical barrage that destroys the fragile armistice I have worked weeks using every tool and device six years of therapy, counseling and treatment have provided to attain .  Anxiety, Fear and Anger are unleashed again to stalk each other through the no-man’s land of my mind.

The VA is an organization where “Thank you for your service” is a taunt, not an expression of gratitude. As far as I can tell, no one is responsible for helping you. Chains of responsibility form an impossible-to-unravel Gordian Knot that protects employees not only from any obligation to help but also from any accountability for negligence, misconduct  or unacceptable behavior. Those employees that may be willing are not empowered to help you. One VA-employed “patient advocate” told me the only thing she could do for me was give the address and phone number of my congressperson. The VA works in secret and denies patients any access to the people making decisions about their disabilities and benefits. I feel like the VA is as much my ally as the Iraqi police unit my unit was “partnered” with in Baghdad that regularly ambushed our patrols with IEDs they emplaced next to their checkpoints, or the Iraqi Army unit I shared a Combat Outpost with that was controlled by the Shiite insurgent group Jaysh al Mahdi. I had to emplace a machine gun position directed within our combat outpost  just to protect my soldiers from our “friends.”

According to my wife:  “When Ben has contact with the VA, I notice immediate and continued emotional and behavioral effects.  He becomes noticeably agitated and emotionally distressed in the days leading up to appointments at the VA.  After appointments he is physically and emotionally drained as well as having heightened PTSD symptoms.  When representatives from the VA contact him for any reason including scheduling appointments, discussing treatment or to discuss/determine benefits, he also becomes emotionally distressed.  After contact with the VA, it often takes days, sometimes weeks for these symptoms to decrease.  As his spouse, it is very discouraging and frustrating to recognize that an agency that claims to help veterans is actually causing emotional distress and acerbating Ben’s PTSD symptoms.   It makes the process of getting benefits tiresome, frustrating and hopeless.  After witnessing Ben’s reactions to the VA and our struggle to get his deserved benefits, I clearly understand how so many veterans end up living on the streets or committing suicide.  The system brings on feelings of frustration and despair.”

Are there any good people at the VA dedicated to helping veterans? Yes. I know a few. I suspect there are many more of them, but I have seen no evidence that any of them can do anything about the sick organizational culture that rules the VA.

The battle to keep the disordered part of my mind in check has been a costly campaign, costly not only to me but also to the non-combatants that are closest and most important to me – my wife and family.  With PTSD there is still an ordered part of my mind that knows the moment of danger has passed. That part of my mind gives me hope. I can make myself stand in front of a window at night – at least for a little while – because that part of my mind knows that no one is out there sighting in on my head. I can wake up from a nightmare and ground myself to the present reality of my wife sleeping peacefully beside me. There is no grounding technique for the VA, however. The nightmare is the reality.

I have already had to fight al Qaeda. In some ways, I am still replucating fighting that battle – and my family and I take a little more damage each and every day that I do.

I do not understand why I have to fight the VA as well.

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Duty: The Leadership Question

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ revelations in Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, has served as cannon-fodder for what passes for intelligent political debate in our country.

While I am just now getting into the book, it appears to be a most articulate and considered analysis of how people in leadership make decisions affecting the lives of brave young men and women thrown into battle. While some may see Gates’ pointed commentary as an opportunity to skewer a political opponent, one should be far more interested in what the memoir says about leadership.

In the case of President Obama, former Secretary Gates goes to great lengths to insist that the President made all the “right decisions” (at least from his perspective), but that the President didn’t seem to “buy into the mission” which is critical for a Commander-in-Chief sending men and women into battle.

Paraphrasing what I believe Secretary Gates is saying:  “It  is simply not enough to make the ‘right’ decision, a ‘real’ leader fully embraces that decision and conveys a sense of determination and decisiveness that resonates with those he has been mandated to lead.” Churchill springs to mind, regardless of his many faults and errors in judgement.

I suspect that most military officers would support Gate’s position on the importance of demonstrating leadership when the lives of our citizens are put at risk.   Indeed, one could argue that Gates’ recipe for “owning the mission” is a necessary characteristic for all  leaders.  Sadly, the instructional value of Gates’ memoirs for future leaders will be largely lost on the current generation of politicians who prefer to lead based on the ever-shifting winds of public opinion.

With the War in Afghanistan now entering into its 12th year, the leadership and conviction that sustains and inspires deployed military troops are more important than ever.   Hopefully, President Obama and those in Congress can demonstrate leadership far more pro-actively than they have in the past and – equally importantly – send a message to those who have served so valiantly that they will not be forgotten.

Unfortunately, today’s brand of leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will continue to respond with the same stale and vitriolic political rhetoric that trivializes “real” leadership and personal integrity.    Thank you Secretary Gates for doing your Duty!

 

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Over-Medicated Veterans: Military Abuse and Public Tolerance

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Thomas Catan’s article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “For Veterans with PTSD, A New Demon: Their Meds” is not news. The over-use of drugs as routine part of battlefield medicine has been noted since the first days of our military deployments to Iraq in the spring of 2003.

Over-reliance on the miracles of modern pharmaceuticals has became just Standard Operating Procedure in the US military.

And, likewise with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs medical system.

Even the casual observer will note substantial evidence that over-medication is endemic to all areas of our nation’s current healthcare systems — military and civilian.

But, in the military and VA, there are even more incentives to “push” pills.

As one example, it’s no coincidence that the senior Pfizer official for “government relations” from 2005 -2010 was a former Director of Veteran Affairs (twice) and long-time inside-the-Beltway power player.   See here »

Pfizer was the firm involved in the Chantix debacle with Iraq war veteran James Elliott and the involuntary testing of this smoking cessation drug — with known significant psychotropic side effects — on a group of “psychologically damaged” vets at the Washington DC Vets Center.

The nature of business in the heavily regulated pharmaceutical industry — and the huge sums spent by the federal government on drugs — means that all major pharmaceuticals have similarly well-connected Potomac Patriots in key lobbying roles.

It’s  also safe to say that these huge firms, thanks to their “K” Street lobbyists and the lack of meaningful oversight by Congress, “own” this part of the federal budget — military and civilian.

Given the complexities and uncertainties of healing damaged minds, whether visible or invisible wounds, and the intensive, expensive work required for the most effective therapies, it’s no surprise the VA finds it much easier to dope ’em up, and send them out the door.

And, in the sad case of the former Marine highlighted in this WSJ article, I’m not sure any amount of effort and other therapies would make a difference.

(Personal admission: dealing with alcohol and drug abusers was the least enjoyable aspect my time as a front-line troop leader, so my hat is off to all those who are truly trying to make a difference in this area where success is so damn difficult to come by, and failures make tragic headlines too damned often.)

The one certainty is that the drug companies make their profits, whether this former Marine takes the meds or flushes them down his toilet.

My bottom line: this is part of the price for an ill-conceived war, a price to be paid for decades to come as too many of our Vets struggle with the twin demons of TBI and PTSD, and Washington remains focused on short-term profits, not long-term solutions.

Roger Charles

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F.D.A. on Prescription Drugs

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People complain that the F.D.A. takes far too long in approving “new” drugs, but they seem to be equally obtuse in pointing out the dangers of using drugs they have already approved.  According to a new article appearing in the New York Times, the F.D.A seeks tighter control on prescriptions for class of painkillers.     I suppose we should be grateful that the guys and gals in the white robes in D.C. have finally come to their senses and realize that we now have a nation of addicts: addicted to prescription and generic pain killers all approved by the F.D.A.   How sweet!

The “debate” is not without its polemics as this lengthy excerpt from the New York Times article suggests:

 

“In 2011, about 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing medications were written for some 47 million patients, according to government estimates. That volume of prescriptions amounts to about five billion pills.

Technically, the change involves the reclassification of hydrocodone-containing painkillers as “Schedule II” medications from their current classification as “Schedule III” drugs. The scheduling system, which is overseen by the D.E.A., classifies drugs based on their medical use and their potential for abuse and addiction.

Schedule II drugs are those drugs with the highest potential for abuse that can be legally prescribed. The group includes painkillers like oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, methadone and fentanyl as well as medications like Adderall and Ritalin, which are prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

In recent years, the question of whether to tighten prescribing controls over hydrocodone-containing drugs has been the subject of intense lobbying.

Last year, for example, lobbyists for druggists and chain pharmacies mobilized to derail a measure passed in the Senate that would mandate the types of restrictions that the F.D.A. is now recommending.

At the time, the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society also said that making patients see doctors more often to get prescriptions would impose added burdens and costs on them.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, expressed dismay when the proposal died in the House of Representatives.

“They got their victory – but not at my expense,” said Mr. Manchin, whose state has been hard hit by prescription drug abuse. “The people who will pay the price are the young boys and girls in communities across this nation.”

As SFTT has been reporting for many months,  prescription drug abuse with terrible side-effects is chronic among the many brave warriors returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Sadly, treating the symptoms with OxyContin and other toxic pain-relievers has been the panacea prescribed by the VA.  Despite clear and irrefutable evidence that this was causing more harm than good for warriors suffering from PTS and TBI, the lobbyists and their political pundits in government were reluctant to pull the plug on what is little more than government-sponsored drug addiction.

Finally, we may get an opening to help these brave young men and women rebuild their lives without the terrible consequences of addiction.

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Obama’s Dictator is Better than Bush’s Dictator

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The Obama administration is once again immersed in a political tragedy in Egypt largely of its own making.  How it will play out is largely anyone’s guess, but President Obama seems destined to make the same silly mistakes in international diplomacy that have plagued previous administrations.  Mind you, his motives may be well-intended, but trying to be on the “right side of history” often leads to the blood of others to be shed.

Other than politicians who have no sense of irony, I find it ironic that the Obama administration and the accompanying media who seemed so enamored of the Twitter-fueled revolution that brought down President Mubarak  should now be seeking shelter in the embrace of yet another Egyptian military dictatorship.    Of course, we don’t want to call it a dictatorship and curtail aid, but it seems that this military dictatorship is preferable to the Obama administration than the Bush administration’s dictator.   Um….

While I don’t have a clue what is going on in Egypt – certainly anymore so than Tweety-bird Wolf Blitzer of CNN – I am quite familiar with dictatorships.   They aren’t fun.   Deciding on which dictator is better than another is a fool’s errand and best left to historians after the dust settles.   Didn’t we choose the better dictator  in Vietnam?

Clearly, the events in Egypt are a tragedy, but self-serving comments by the Obama administration that has stood-by while 100,000 people have died in Syria is sophomoric in its cynicism and hypocrisy.

Sure, let’s keep our troops at home.   But please!:   Let’s curb our penchant for meddling is situations we don’t understand and, most certainly, can’t influence.

Save the “tough talk” for the 200,000 or so veterans suffering from PTS who have fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.    These brave and often troubled young men and women certainly deserve our compassion.   More importantly, they happen to be living in the United States.

Richard W. May

STFF

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President Obama and VA Claims

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With great fanfare, President Obama “told a crowd of disabled veterans on Saturday that his administration has made headway with efforts to battle a longstanding backlog of disability claims.”

As reported in the Washingon Post, “’Today, I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we’re making progress,’” Obama said during a speech at a Disabled American Veterans’ convention in Orlando. “’In the last five months alone, it’s down nearly 20 percent.  We’re turning the tide.’”

If true, this is very good news indeed, but one needs to be rather skeptical if only recently the VA reversed course on Agent Orange disability claims from the Vietnam War.   Editor’s Note: That’s a hell of a VA backlog for a war that ended over 40 years ago.

Our research suggests that many of the 200,000 plus veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress have been misdiagnosed by the VA, received inadequate treatment, prescribed a cocktail of dangerous drugs or simply been ignored.

While I have no problem with the President taking credit for a statistical drop in the backlog of veterans seeking VA support, who is accountable to the tens of thousands of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are jobless, often homeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol while they cope with the disabling consequences of PTS?

Personally, I would like the President to address the chronic problems faced by the many brave men and women who have served in harm’s way and not received the promised support they merit.   Brave leaders address the troops directly rather than stand behind a pulpit for a staged political event.

Sharing in the suffering of our brave warriors is now even more important the lauding their success.

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SFTT and PTS

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For several months SFTT, its medical task force and its Board have been thoroughly analyzing the battlefield of brave warriors suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and examining the resources and procedures currently available to treat this crippling disability. We have purposely dropped the “D” from PTSD since most scientific research indicates that PTS is far more serious than simply a “disorder”.

There are countless stories of brave young men and women suffering from PTS, some of which have been chronicled in SFTT. The social consequences of this growing problem are enormous and, sadly, there is no magic bullet on the horizon to deal with this problem in the numbers required to stem its insidious growth. Substance and alcohol abuse, joblessness, homelessness, alienation, low self-esteem and even suicide are just a few of the manifestations of PTS faced by returning veterans and their loved ones.

Sadly, the VA has been unable to stem the near epidemic growth of veterans suffering from the conditions of PTS and TBI (“traumatic brain injury”). Fortunately, a number of public and private institutions have emerged which are beginning to address some of the necessary conditions that must be in place to provide a lifeline to our veterans and promote a path to “wellness.”

Over the next couple of weeks, SFTT will be sharing some of these “new” treatment procedures and existing programs where our brave Veterans can receive the treatment they merit. Our ultimate objective to share these resources with Veterans and their loved-ones by re-positioning SFTT to become the go-to resource for those afflicted by PTS.

There is much information on PTS available to Veterans, but it is hard to identify actionable resources that have proven to be reliable to Veterans. SFTT – with the support of its medical task force – intends to become that “do-to” resource by partnering with other organizations that have the same goal: Help our brave Veterans reclaim their lives.

Join SFTT by becoming a Member and help provide our brave Veterans the Lifeline they deserve.

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Dr. Yuval Nuria on the Boston Marathon Massacre

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Many Americans are both deeply saddened and outraged over the horrific carnage at the Boston Marathon massacre. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to rush to judgement based on very limited and conflicting information on who the perpetrator(s) is and their motivation. In some respects, this “rush to judgement” is fueled by poorly researched media reporting, but judging from the Tweets received by Josh Zepps of Huffington Post, reactions to tragic events are often shaped by ideology or mental preconceptions that seem to be totally illogical and poorly considered.

Found below is a rather lengthy interview (26 minutes) by Josh Zepps of Huffington Post with four panelists, including SFTT’s Medical Advisor, Dr. Yuval Nuria, discussing how people react to traumatic situations. Dr. Nuria is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University. Dr. Nuria begins speaking at minute 3 in the video:

This tragic terrorist event brings home the incomprehensible grief and trauma faced daily by our brave young men and women in uniform who serve in harm’s way. SFTT is indeed fortunate to have someone as experienced as Dr. Nuria to help develop effective treatment programs that address the needs of our brave warriors who suffer from PTS.

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PTSD Treatments

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As the VA struggles to deal with the overwhelming number of cases of Veterans suffering from PTS, new approaches are beginning to manifest themselves.  From Equine therapy to Transcendental Meditation, no approach is being dismissed lightly given the clear evidence that prescription drugs have not proven to be successful in providing a long term cure.

SFTT is thrilled to count on the assistance of Yuval Neria (see below) is a Special Advisor to SFTT’s Medical Task Force.    We welcome his active collaboration.

Yuval Neria

Medical Center (CUMC Director of Trauma and PTSD Program, and a Research Scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) …

While SFTT often focuses on the men and women suffering from PTS, it is clear that their spouses, children and immediate families are not immune to the terrible side-effects.

Study: PTSD affects veterans’ spouses, too – ksl.com

PTSD generic paxil 20 mg tablet affects veterans’ spouses, tooksl.comResearchers have know for some time that PTSD places relationships at risk, but this new research raises red flags for health risks for a spouse or partner. “It’s having an effect beyond the vet …

Military May Be Turning to Meditation for PTSD – PsychCentral.com

Military May Be Turning to Meditation for PTSD.  Military May Be Turning to Meditation for PTSD With its emphasis on developing tranquility, meditation may seem an odd fit for the military. But recent studies have shown that mindfulness …

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Veteran Treatment Courts and PTSD

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It is pleasing to see that CBS decided to feature one of the 120 or so Veteran Treatment Courts in the United States on one of its most popular investigative programs: 60 Minutes. Found below is a brief summary of this very moving and disturbing report:

Two and a half million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them, more than once. The VA tells us about 20 percent come home with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD. So, that comes to about 500,000. For some, returning is harder than they imagined. The suicide rate for the Army is up 15 percent over last year. For the Marines its up 28 percent. A few of our troops return to become something they never thought they could be: criminals, for the first time in their lives.

Around Houston, in Harris County, Texas, 400 veterans are locked up every month. We met a judge there who saw them coming before the bench, fresh out of the warzone and he thought a lot of them were worth saving. Judge for yourself once you meet some of our troops, coming home.

A byproduct of the 1995 Crime Bill, the Veterans Treatment Court (Vets Court for short) is a way for Veterans facing jail time to avoid incarceration. If they accept, they are assigned to a mentoring Veteran and must remain drug-free for two years, obtain a high school diploma and have a steady job at the end  of the probation period. This may seem like a good deal, but the path to recover their lives is difficult and fraught with temptation, particularly for those Veterans with PTSD.

SFTT applauds those in law enforcement and the judicial system and supporting Veterans organization for developing such an effective and common sense approach to help Veterans reintegrate into society. 60 Minutes paints a very sympathetic picture of the Veterans Administration in this rehabilitation process, but Vets that we have talked to who have participated in Vet Court programs paint a somewhat different picture.

It is evident that there is a high incidence of dependency on drugs, potent painkillers, antidepressants and alcohol among those with PTSD. One graduate of the Veterans Court Program who now is a substance abuse counselor told me that close to 90% of Vets with PTSD have substance abuse issues.

Now, the VA has very strict rules on issuing prescription medication to Veterans with documented substance abuse problems. In other words, it may be difficult for Veterans to receive proper treatment for PTSD if substance abuse and PTSD are treated as mutually exclusive problems. This clearly introduces a level of difficulty for the VA in providing the type of comprehensive rehabilitation treatment these Vets deserve. Some may call it Catch 22, but I am sure our Vets find it no laughing matter.

In any event, SFTT applauds the Veteran Treatment Courts and is committed to help them expand across the United States.

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