SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Jul 7, 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.

New Russian AK-12 Assault Weapon Passes Field Tests
The AK-12 assault rifle has passed military field tests and meets all of the Russian armed forces’ design and operational standards, gunmaker Kalashnikov Concern says, according to Jane’s 360. The AK-12’s success in military trials sets it up to become the standard weapon for soldiers in Russia’s Ratnik — or Warrior — future weapon system. Work on the AK-12 began in 2011 with the AK-200 as a base model. Kalashnikov Concern presented prototypes in early 2012, and the first generation of the weapon was also successful in military tests.  Read more . . .

AK-12 Kalashnikov

Russia May Deploy Military in Syria Buffer Zones
Russia may deploy its military to police the borders of planned de-escalation zones in Syria within two to three weeks after finalizing an agreement with Turkey and Iran, Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev said on Tuesday. Moscow hopes to sign the final documents with Ankara and Tehran on Wednesday, he told reporters after a series of meetings in the Kazakh capital, Astana.  Read more . . .

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

VA “Choice Funding” Requires Congressional Action
When they return from legislative recess next week, lawmakers will have only a few days to address financial problems with the Veterans Affairs Choice program before users start to see significant problems.  Last month, in testimony before the Senate, VA Secretary David Shulkin warned lawmakers that money in the Choice program funds was being spent at a faster rate than officials expected, threatening to bankrupt the program before the end of the fiscal year. Available funds dropped from about $2 billion to less than $850 million in three months.  Read more . . .

VA “TBI Model” to Determine Long Term Care Policy
“The VA TBI Model System is uniquely positioned to inform policy about the health, mental health, socioeconomic, rehabilitation, and caregiver needs following TBI,” write Guest Editors Risa Nakase-Richardson, PhD, of James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, Tampa, Fla., and Lillian Stevens, PhD, of Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Richmond, Va. The special issue presents initial reports from a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)-specific database of patients representing all traumatic brain injury (TBI) severity levels. The findings will play a critical role in VA’s efforts to meet the long-term needs of veterans with TBI.  Read more . . .

5 Common Misconceptions about PTSD
June 27 is National PTSD Awareness Day, an opportunity to bring to light a disorder that affects millions of Americans every day. The distinction of this day was granted by the United States Senate in 2010. In 2014, the Senate upgraded the cause by designating the full month of June toward raising awareness for PTSD. These efforts are critical to providing opportunities to educate the public about PTSD and how it affects those with the disorder.  Read more . . .

Electromagnetic Brain Pulse Study Underway for PTSD
A study by the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD will test whether PTSD can be treated with electromagnetic pulses to the brain. The study, beginning this summer, will treat 100 military members and veterans with PTSD at the Laurel Ridge Treatment Center in San Antonio. There, a robot will guide an electromagnet pulse across each subject’s scalp during 20 days of treatment. If it seems like science fiction, the therapy, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), has a genealogy going back all the way to Galvani’s frogs, said Peter Fox of UT Health, the study’s primary investigator.  Read more . . .

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

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

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Veterans Affairs On The Fence for Service Dogs

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Almost every day one hears a moving story of how Veterans with PTSD and other debilitating injuries are provided comfort and support by service dogs.

Service Dogs for PTSD

Photo via Pixabay by Skeeze

Nevertheless, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) continues to argue that there is little  scientific or clinical evidence to confirm that service dogs benefit Veterans in a meaningful way.

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

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

In his written testimony, Dr. Fallon goes on to state the following:

The VA/Department of Defense Clinical Practice Guideline recommends trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy [such as Prolonged Exposure (PE), and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)], Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, stress inoculation, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and venlafaxine, a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, as primary treatments for PTSD. PE and CPT are among the most widely studied types of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. Evidence demonstrating their effectiveness is particularly strong.

As SFTT has reported on numerous occasions, Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) have been largely ineffective in reversing brain damage to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

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

Veterans Affairs Fails at PTSD

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

It is not unusual in the scientific community that promotes the effectiveness of the VA to apply fuzzy logic to alternative treatment programs.   In fact, there is a propensity among advocates to search for pharmacological solutions rather than embrace alternative therapy programs.

As one who has watched this charade play itself out on the big stage of public opinion, it is difficult for me to accept the argument that new pharmacology alternatives outcomes will be any different than the VA’s embrace of OxyContin to deal with the symptoms of PTSD.

Whether it is dog or equine therapy or hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”), Veterans are seeking out alternatives that are largely discredited by the VA.   In fact, one NIH researcher suggests argues that

Research also suggests further opportunities for the VA and other health care systems to develop new and innovative ways to overcome barriers to treating veterans with PTSD. With veterans and their families increasingly seeking care outside of the VA system, community providers play a key role in helping to address these challenges. It is critical they receive the education, training, and tools to improve their understanding of and skills for addressing the needs of this unique population.

It is difficult to understand that it should take 10 years to test the efficacy of using service dogs to help Veterans with PTSD.  Similarly, I recently learned that suspect test conditions used by the DoD to evaluate HBOT several years ago have prevented the VA from offering Veterans this life-changing service.

The VA continues to be its own worst enemy in helping provide Veterans with a lasting solution to their brain injuries.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending June 30, 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.

How Much of a Threat Does Russia Pose?
Nato defence ministers are reviewing progress in what’s known as the alliance’s “enhanced forward presence” – its deployment of troops eastwards to reassure worried allies, and deter any Russian move west. “Russia would like us to think that its current militarization and preparations for conflict are a response to Nato doing the same, but it’s simply not true.”That’s the view of Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Centre, and probably Britain’s leading watcher of Russian military matters. “Russia’s enormously expensive reorganization and rearmament program,” he told me, “was already in full swing well before the crisis over Ukraine, while Nato nations were still winding down their militaries.  Read more . . .

Kim - North Korea

President Trump Provided Military Options for North Korea
President Donald Trump has been given revised options on how to handle the growing threat of North Korea, at least one of which includes a military response in the event of a nuclear or ballistic strike against the U.S., two military experts told CNN.  U.S. National Security Adviser HR McMaster confirmed that the U.S. military was ready and said the threat from North Korea was far more urgent than in the past. “What we have to do is prepare all options because the President has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population,” McMaster said Wednesday, CNN reported.  Read more . . .

“Bad Paper” Veterans to Receive Mental Health Support from the VA
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that it would begin offering emergency mental health services starting July 5 to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges – following through on a departmental change that VA Secretary David Shulkin promised in March. The change acknowledges the population of veterans has been denied needed care, but it doesn’t go far enough, according to a report released last week from Brown University and a statement from Vietnam Veterans of America, which has advocated for years on behalf of “bad paper” veterans.  Read more . . .

Service Dogs and Veterans

VA Policy on Service Dogs Remains a Study in Process
“I would say there are a lot of heartwarming stories that service dogs help, but scientific basis for that claim is lacking,” said Michael Fallon, the VA’s chief veterinary medical officer. “The VA is based on evidence based medicine. We want people to use therapy that has proven value.” Yet the VA’s efforts to study the possible benefits of service animals have been plagued with problems. Congress mandated a study in 2010, but the VA suspended it just months after it began, when two of the dogs in the study bit the children of veterans. The study restarted in 2012 but was again stopped because of issues with the dog’s health and training. A new study is underway and the VA is now recruiting veterans to participate. But it isn’t expected to be finished before 2019.  Read more . . .

Objective Test to Diagnose PTSD?
Australia’s Medibio, which is working on an objective test for the diagnosis of mental health disorders, reported promising results for a noninvasive diagnostic tool for post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But this figure jumps dramatically in veterans, to anywhere between 11% and 30%, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. PTSD diagnosis, like that of other mental health disorders, depends on patient-reported and physician-observed symptoms. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a patient must experience four different types of symptoms for at least one month. Medibio seeks to “revolutionize” the diagnosis and treatment of mental health with noninvasive, quick, and objective diagnostic tests for PTSD and other disorders.  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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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) by Grady Birdsong

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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy HBOT Grady BirdsongGrady Birdsong, a USMC Veteran from Vietnam, has co-authored a book with Col. Robert Fisher (USMC – Ret) that deals with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”) entitled “The Miracle Workers of South Boulder Road:  Healing the Signature Wounds of War.”

The book is a 2016 Best Book Awards finalist and details how HBOT helps reverse the damage of traumatic brain injury.   In a must-hear interview, Grady Birdsong explains his experience with HBOT (and now his advocacy)  to Jerry Fabyanic on his “Rabbithole” program at KYGT in the Idaho Springs/Denver area.

Grady Birdsong spikes up interest in hyperbaric oxygen therapy with a down-to-earth radio interview with KYGT Radio with the following introduction:

In our advocacy campaign to make this clinic and treatment known, I had the good fortune of being interviewed on KYGT Radio over the weekend by Jerry Fabyanic on his “Rabbithole” program in a mountain town close to Denver. He has so graciously provided me with a link to that interview about our book. We most gratefully appreciate his voice and his audience at KYGT in the Idaho Springs/Denver area. Likewise my close friend and veteran Marine, David T. “Red Dog” Roberts, 1st Bn, 4th Marines, Delta Company in Vietnam and his Doc, Corpsman, Kenneth R. Walker produced two songs that are complementary to this advocacy of healing the signature wounds of war. You will hear them in the interview.

CLICK HERE for the entire and very educational 50+ minute podcast.

SFTT has long recommended the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT to treat Veterans with the symptoms of PTSD and TBI.  There are many studies that prove conclusively that the supervised application of HBOT helps improve brain function and restores cognitive abilities.

While Mr. Birdsong points out the many restorative benefits of HBOT, follow-up supervision is recommended to help deal with some of the symptoms of PTSD.

Sadly, in many online forums dealing with the ravages of PTSD, most military families are unaware of the benefits of regular supervised “dives” in HBOT chambers.  I would argue that the Department of Veterans Affairs has purposely discredited the use of HBOT in treating PTSD and TBI to promote their own failed agenda and the prevalent use of addictive prescription drugs.

One only needs to listen to the likes of Dr. David Cifu, Senior TBI Advisor to the Department of Veterans Affairs, to see the cynicism and blatant disregard for clinical evidence adopted by the VA against HBOT.   One can only speculate why, but HBOT seems to offer Veterans a far better solution than the cocktail of drugs served up by the VA.

Found below is a very moving and instructional video by Grady Birdsong of a young woman who “recovered her life” from the “signature wounds of war” with the use of HBOT:

Thanks to the effort of Grady and many other dedicated Veterans, we can all join together and help Veterans reclaim their lives. It is simply the right thing to do!

Nevertheless, the benefits of HBOT will not be widespread until the restrictive and self-serving barriers to this treatment are adopted and encouraged by the VA. Secretary Shulkin of the VA wants change to occur at the VA.  What better way to demonstrate his commitment to reducing Veteran suicides than by embracing HBOT to treat PTSD?

If you want to learn more about how HBOT can be used in treating PTSD and TBI, I suggest that you purchase The Miracle Workers of South Boulder Road:  Healing the Signature Wounds of War.  Share it with family and friends to encourage them not to give up hope on our brave Veterans.

For those tired of watching the lives of loved one end in pain, depression and hopelessness; write Dr. Shulkin and members of Congress and ask for action.  Don’t allow naysayers and self-serving bureaucrats like Dr. Cifu block Veteran access to HBOT.

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Secretary Shulkin Announces Electronic Health Records for VA

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In a rather unusual setting:  the White House press room – Department of Veterans Affairs’ Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, announced that the VA “will be overhauling its electronic health records, adopting a commercial product used by the Pentagon that he hopes will improve care for veterans and reduce wait times for medical appointments.”

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

While many have been pressing for a complete overhaul of the VA’s inefficient medical record system, Dr. Shulkin has taken on the challenging task of dispensing with the VA’s current VistA system in exchange for the Department of Defense MHS Genesis system.

Without going into too many details, Secretary Shulkin showed courage by selecting the MHS Genesis system without competitive bidding, “citing a ‘public interest’ exception. He noted that when the Pentagon did competitive bidding on its system, it took 26 months.”

While I fully agree with his rationale for accelerating the implementation process, I am quite certain that others will question the bidding process.  After-all, Secretary Shulkin claims that it would be “unrealistic” to assume that the VA’s new electronic health record would cost less than $4 billion.

Congressional approval is required for this supplemental appropriation, but this overhaul of the VA electronic health records was a key recommendation of the June 30, 2016 Commission on Care Report.    I have no doubt that Congress will pass the required appropriation.

Electronic Health Records for Veterans and the VA

On the plus side, a “cloud-based” commercial solution is far preferable to internally-developed and internally-maintained VA legacy systems.  Outdated, clunky and inefficient legacy systems at banks and insurance companies have proved to be rather ineffective at keeping pace with technology.  Systems at the VA are probably not different.

There is no question, that the VA will be able to operate far more efficiently with state-of-the-art electronic health records.  Whether Veterans will benefit from this improved information technology remains a matter of conjecture.

Dr. Shulkin claims that the transition to the MHS Genesis system will take “about 3 to 6 months at the latest.”  Recalling the delays in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act online marketplace, I suspect that this is a very ambitious target.  I hope to be proven wrong.

Furthermore, I recall that it took members of the medical profession about two years to fully implement the transition to electronic health records to receive reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid.

While the technology may be fully deployed and implemented within six months, I suspect that it is highly unlikely that 300,000 plus employees at the VA will easily transition to the new electronic health records.

Realistically, I suspect that it will be about 24 months before the first major efficiencies make themselves manifest at the VA.

Privacy and Electronic Health Records

While it makes sense to use the common elements of the Department of Defense (“DoD”) database to populate and communicate with a similar system at the VA, access to individual records creates privacy issues.

Veterans tell SFTT that they are reluctant to share health information with the VA because of privacy concerns.  Linking the DoD and VA databases seems – on the surface – to raise additional “privacy” issues.

While the VA can use any number of filters and access restriction to protect the confidentiality of electronic health records, it is evident that a human interface will at some point be required to get actionable medical information to “the right” caregiver.

Getting a person on the phone – let alone “the right person” – has always been a problem at the VA.  In fact, SFTT reported late last year that 1/3 of the calls to the VA Crisis Center go unattended.

Is it enough to assume that things will be different this time around?

Conclusion

While the move to electronic health records is yet another great decision by Dr. Shulkin, it remains to be seen whether he has sufficient tools at his disposal to mobilize the staff of VA to reach out to Veterans and help close the divide.

On behalf of our brave Veterans, SFTT certainly hopes so.

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SFTT News: Highlight for Week Ending Jun 7, 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.

Syrian Military Threatens Coalition Forces on Border
Forces loyal to the Syrian government have threatened to retaliate with force after the U.S. military struck their positions on multiple occasions. A military alliance fighting the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and other insurgents on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies in Iran and Russia issued a statement Wednesday containing five points of criticism after U.S. warplanes carried out strikes against their fighters on Tuesday. The U.S. argued that Iran-backed militants had approached too closely a Special Forces base in the Syrian region of al-Tanf near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, prompting the U.S. to launch its second such attack in three weeks against pro-Assad forces.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Treating PTSD at the Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs has greatly expanded its treatment programs for mental health problems overall, and for post-traumatic stress disorder in particular, said Dr. Harold Kudler, acting assistant deputy under secretary for Patient Care Services at the VA. In fiscal 2016, the VA provided mental health treatment to 1.6 million veterans, up from 900,000 in 2006, Kudler said. Of the overall figure, 583,000 “received state-of-the-art treatment for PTSD,” including 178,000 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added.   Read more . . .

European Military Command Center Moves Forward
The European Union approved a new military command center for foreign training missions on Thursday after Britain dropped its opposition, the latest step in EU efforts to integrate its militaries and defense industries. A day after the European Commission offered 1.5 billion euros ($1.68 billion) a year in support of Franco-German plans for greater EU defense cooperation, all 28 EU governments agreed for the command center in Brussels to run training missions in Somalia, the Central African Republic and Mali. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement the decision was “a very important operational decision to strengthen European defense”.   Read more . . .

Senate Passes VA Reform Bill
The Senate approved bipartisan legislation by voice vote Tuesday to reform civil service protections at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislation, dubbed the “Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act” would make it easier to fire federal employees, including executives. The legislation follows numerous scandals at the VA in recent years, most notably the manipulation of waiting lists for veterans, with patients dying while waiting for treatment.  Read more . . .

Secretary Shulkin Announces Shift in Electronic Records
In a move that’s been long-discussed and much anticipated, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced his intention to move VA to a commercial, off-the-shelf electronic health record and turn the page on a new chapter toward achieving interoperability with the Defense Department. VA will abandon its own, existing Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) and adopt MHS Genesis, the same EHR system that DoD is deploying. All patient data will reside in one common Cerner Millennium system.  Read more . . .

Crisis in PTSD Drug Development Leads to Other Treatment Alternatives
Only two medications – sertraline (Zoloft, Pfizer) and paroxetine (multiple brands) – are currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of PTSD. Although these drugs and a few others have modest effect sizes, they are not as effective as trauma-focused psychotherapies, as reported in a recent review, which, Dr Davis said, factored largely into the pivotal clinical guidelines shift. Although the results reflect the potentially robust efficacy of psychotherapy, they also underscore the need for better medications, a sentiment that Dr Davis and her colleagues on the working group noted in a consensus statement.  Read more . . .

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

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

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Veterans with PTSD Knew that VA Opioid Prescriptions Were Wrong

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After many lives of many brave Veterans with PTSD have been lost, the State of Ohio has finally taken action against pharmaceutical drug companies for hyping opioids.

Opioids

According to the New York Times reporter,  

The State of Ohio filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic, accusing several drug companies of conducting marketing campaigns that misled doctors and patients about the danger of addiction and overdose.

Defendants in the case include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan and others.

Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, a time-release opioid, released a statement saying, “We share the attorney general’s concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions,” and calling the company “an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology.”

As most Veterans treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) are aware, opioids were the prescription of choice for Veterans suffering from PTSD.

Despite overwhelming evidence available to the VA and the Department of Defense (the DOD) that this was probably not a wise course of action, the VA persisted in treating the symptoms of PTSD with dangerous prescription drugs.

It is only now with opioid and drug addiction ravishing communities across the United States that some local and State governments are beginning to take action.  In the interim, thousands of Veterans with PTSD have suffered through over-medication with opioids by doctors at the VA.

More to the point, the VA continues to insist on dated and ineffective treatment programs for Veterans with PTSD and TBI.   Under the inept counsel of Dr. David Cifu, these same treatment therapies continue at the VA today.

It is difficult to predict when this tragic saga will end, but clearly there are no indications that the VA plans to make any substantial changes to current programs.  As such our brave Veterans will continue to receive the same flawed therapy and, most likely, a healthy supply of prescription drugs to mask the symptoms.

Where are our leaders in Congress and leaders within the VA to put an end to this tragedy?  Cynical though I am, I have a difficult time believing that Big Pharma political campaign donations would be the reason.

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Saluting our Veterans on Memorial Day

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Memorial Day

As we gather together to celebrate Memorial Day, I am struck by the outpouring of love and heartfelt admiration for the men and women in uniform – past and present – who have served our country so valiantly.

Often overlooked as we celebrate Memorial Day are the spouses, family and loved ones who continue to support Veterans and active duty personnel with debilitating injuries.

Stand for The Troops would like to acknowledge these courageous men and women who labor on so courageously in providing daily care to loved ones who are no longer quite the same person they were before combat.

On this Memorial Day, SFTT would like to list several organizations that continue to provide great service to our Veterans, particularly those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”)

The Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) continues to block the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD.  Nevertheless, Dr. Paul Harch and many others continue to provide FREE or greatly discounted treatment to Veterans suffering from PTSD.

More to the point, Dr. Harch and many other evangelists go out of their way to promote the benefits of using HBOT to treat PTSD.    On this Memorial Day weekend, SFTT remains hopeful that Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of the VA, will begin providing Veterans with better treatment alternatives, such as HBOT.

It is time to rid the VA of institutional dogma based on self-serving agendas and seek real solutions that help Veterans with PTSD and their loved ones.

Archi’s Acres, Escondido California

Karen and Colin Archipley have dedicated their lives to helping Veterans recover their lives by providing training in “sustainable organic agriculture.”  At Archi’s Acres, students receive a six-week course in hydroponics, drip/micro irrigation, environmental control, soil biology, composting and much more.

We tip our hat to both Karen and Colin for having the imagination and perseverance to help provide Veterans with an opportunity to acquire new skills on their road to recovering their lives.

Wives of PTSD Vets and Military

I often come across some inspirational stories of families coping the ravages of PTSD on a Facebook Page entitled “Wives of PTSD Vets and Military.”  While depression and a sense of helplessness affects many Veterans (active duty personnel), their caregivers often bear the brunt of their frustration.

There are many similar Facebook Page support groups such as “PTSD:  The Wives Side,” but all provide some useful advice in helping loved ones cope under circumstances that are most difficult to comprehend.

This Memorial Day my thoughts and prayers go out to caregivers that do much of the heavy day-to-day lifting,

This is not an easy journey.  Frankly, we must move beyond coping and do everything possible within our power to help our brave Veterans recover his or her life.  Only by doing so, will we be able to recover our own.

On this Memorial Day, I wish all resilient warriors the strength and courage to continue to support our Veterans.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending May 19, 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.

Secretary of Defense Weighs In on War with North Korea
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that any military solution to the North Korea crisis would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale” and Washington was working internationally to find a diplomatic solution. North Korea has defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally, calling them legitimate self-defense.  Read more . . .

Military Handgun M-9 handguns

Could the US Military Purchase Handguns Online?
The Defense Department may start doing a whole lot more online shopping in 2018, if Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry has his way. The Texas chairman of the Armed Services Committee unveiled new legislation Thursday that aims to cut costly bureaucratic red tape at the Pentagon by allowing the military to buy everything from pens to treadmills from business-to-business sites such as Staples and Amazon. That would free the federal government’s biggest bureaucracy from using its current “expensive” and “onerous” contracting and scheduling process to buy its commercial goods, according to Thornberry.  Read more . . .

Large Number of Troops Separated for Misconduct had PTSD
Nearly two-thirds of the 91,764 U.S. troops who were separated from the military for misconduct in a recent four-year period had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury or another condition that can lead to misconduct, according to a report released Tuesday, raising questions about the Pentagon’s treatment of combat veterans. The Government Accountability Office found that the Defense Department needs to take action to make sure that commanders appropriately consider medical conditions when weighing what to do with service members facing misconduct allegations. Some 57,141 troops were separated from the service despite a potentially relevant diagnosis between 2011 and 2015, and 13,283 of them received other-than-honorable discharges that could prevent them from receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the report said.  Read more . . .

Improper Payments at VA Continue to Grow
The Department of Veterans Affairs cost taxpayers $5.5 billion dollars in improper payments last year, according to a new report by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General published Monday. An improper payment is any payment that “should not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount under statutory, contractual, administrative, or other legally applicable requirements,” according to the report. The findings, published on May 15, reported an increase in improper payments from $5 billion in 2015 to $5.5 billion in 2016. It also found that two VA programs failed to keep their rate of mistaken payments below 10%, and six of its programs failed to meet reduction targets set last year.  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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Meet David Cox: Dr. “No” of VA Reform

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Meet J. David Cox, who many consider “Dr. No” of badly needed reforms within the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA’).

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

J. David Cox is President of the American Federation of Government Employees and is the person most likely to block any meaningful reform within the VA.  SFTT has had an eye on Mr. Cox who in the run-up to last year’s Presidential election, threatened the previous secretary of the VA with physical violence:

Cox was “prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s a – -,” he said. “He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his a – -, I promise you,”

The new VA Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, is rightly receiving favorable media coverage and support from both parties in Congress on his forceful new leadership.  In fact, the New York Times recently referred to Dr. Shulkin as a “Hands On, Risk-Taking ‘Standout.'”

The New York Times reports the following example of Dr. Shulkin’s responsiveness (and common sense):

After he first took the job, he grew concerned that the agency was not doing enough to prevent suicide after a news report showed high rates among young combat veterans. Suicide prevention leaders told him that they would put together a summit meeting to respond, adding that it would take 10 months.

Dr. Shulkin told them to get it done in one month. When his staff members pushed back, he pulled out a calculator and began quietly tapping, then showed them that during the delay, nearly 6,000 veterans would kill themselves. They got it done in a month.

“For me it was a very important day,” he said, remembering the meeting. “It taught our people you can act with urgency, and you can resist the temptation to say we work in a system that you can’t get to move faster. I think they learned that you can.”

Indeed, SFTT has greatly admired the decisiveness with which Dr. Shulkin has attacked two chronic problems with the VA:  A bloated infrastructure and the lack of authority to manage the VA’s large workforce.

While Congressional Republicans and Democrats have largely agreed on an “accountability” bill to support the firing of VA employees, J. David Cox argues that:

“Trampling on the rights of honest, hard-working public-sector employees is not the solution to holding bad employees accountable for their actions,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox said. He said the bill would set up different standards for VA employees and other federal workers.

In fact, just recently it was reported that “a federal appellate court overturned the firing of Sharon Helman, who presided over a Phoenix VA Health Care System that left veterans waiting for weeks or even months for care while phony records were kept to show the agency was meeting its wait-time goals.”

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

While I hope that Dr. Shulkin has the fortitude to implement the bold changes he has outlined, the entrenched bureaucracy represented by David Cox and others, such as David Cifu, will continue to undermine his efforts.

The VA has simply grown too large to manage effectively.  Dr. Shulkin is right in arguing that the lives and well-being of Veterans are far more important than defending the rights of a few “bad apples” within the VA.  David Cox should embrace the vision of Dr. Shulkin and act in a manner which reflects well on the work ethic of the vast majority of VA employees.

Veterans, Veteran organizations and our elected officials should provide Dr. Shulkin with a clear mandate to bring about the much needed reform within the VA. Our Veterans, their family and friends and an appreciate public deserve no less.

J. David Cox would do well to join forces with Dr. Shulkin in this effort rather than taunt him.

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