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

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

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

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

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

Brain Injuries May Start at a Young Age

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

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

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

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

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

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

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

Ketamine Could Help Veterans with PTSD

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

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

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

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

Army Research Laboratories and Helius Research Neurological Wellness

According to a press release from Aerotech News,

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy 2018!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or “HBOT”


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

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

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

Combat Veterans Coming Home with CTE

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

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

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

MDMA for PTSD Enters Final Trials

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

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

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

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

Written Exposure Therapy “WET”

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

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

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

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

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

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How Will the VA Offer HBOT to Veterans?

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

HBOT Chamber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for the VA?

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

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

Such a shame, but SFTT will be vigilant.

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Points of View: Al Jazeera on Treating Veterans with PTSD

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

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

Department of Veterans Affairs

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

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

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

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy, and
  • Prolonged Exposure Treatment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Nov 3, 2017

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

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

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

Kim North Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GAO to Investigate VA Over Treatment and Therapy of Veterans with PTSD

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At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the Government Accountability Office (“the GAO”) agreed Sept. 27 that it “will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions.”  In particular, the GAO will focus on “how heavily the VA relies on powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients.”

OxyContin - Veteran Addiction

As reported in the Armed Forces News, “this decision is a victory for combat veterans everywhere who are suffering from PTSD and who have been prescribed a cocktail of very powerful drugs to mask their symptoms in lieu of other forms of interactive therapy that work to bring down the stress levels of PTSD to a point where they are no longer debilitating,” said Coffman.

While this new GAO study may come as a big relief to many Veterans with PTSD (and their families), the tragic findings will surprise few who monitor the shoddy treatment procedures provided to Veterans with PTSD at the VA .

For those expecting that this “new” GAO study will result in any improvements in the treatment our Veterans receive, I refer you to the December, 2014 GAO study of the VA with the title of “Improvements Needed in Monitoring Antidepressant Use for Major Depressive Disorder and in Increasing Accuracy of Suicide Data.”

Here is a brief summary of the conclusions reached in this GAO audit as reported by SFTT in March, 2015 in an article entitled GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for VA Suicides:

– 10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
– 86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
– 40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
– 63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

With data integrity breaches like this, it is no wonder GAO cited the suicide data VA relies on as “not always complete, accurate, or consistent.”
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

If Representatives Coffman or McLane Kuster expect different patient outcomes, they are likely to be as disillusioned as Kimi Bivins, the wife of Veteran Eric who tragically committed suicide earlier this year.    There is little need to request a GAO study to find out how dysfunctional the VA has become.  Simply listen to Kimi describe how her husband was treated at VA facilities.
Even as far back as 2012, the VA knew that opioids were not appropriate for treating PTSD, and yet, the VA continued to provide Veterans with lethal prescription drugs knowing full well the consequences.
While SFTT could point out many similar government studies on inefficiencies at the VA, it seems to be far easier for politicians to request new studies, since they never bothered to read the existing studies or insist on much needed reforms.
Sadly, the VA has become a “law unto itself” and no amount of well-intentioned “studies” or GAO audits will do anything to turn the VA around unless politicians on both sides of the aisle take a sledgehammer to break up the VA into manageable components.   As of today, the VA is simply too large to succeed in its mission.
We can continue to study the problem, but for the sake of our brave Veterans and their families, it is time to take action!
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SFTT Military News Highlights: Week Ending Oct 27, 2017

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

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

Tensions Continue High Over North Korea Threat
Vice President Pence told U.S. troops to “stay sharp” and “be ready” on Friday in the face of an increasing threat from North Korea.  “Now more than ever your commander-in-chief is depending on you to be ready. Stay sharp, mind your mission,” Pence said at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.  “Anyone who would threaten our nation should know that America always seeks peace, but if we are forced to defend ourselves or our allies, we will do so with military power that is effective and overwhelming. And those gathered here at Minot Air Force Base will play a critical role again,” he said.  The base would play a critical role in the face of an attack, as it houses 26 B-52 bombers and 150 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites.  Read more . . .

Public Support for US Military Remains High, but  . . .
In the 21st century, America has lost its trust in institutions. A quick perusal of Gallup’s data shows that trust in every major national institution has been on the wane since 2000. Except, of course, for the military. As of this year, Gallup reports that 72 percent of Americans polled had a lot of confidence in America’s armed forces.   Read more . . .

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

VA Studies PTSD and “Brain Bank”
The brain-tissue biorepository (the VA National PTSD Brain Bank) supports research on the causes, progression, and treatment of PTSD. The bank is responsible for tissue acquisition and preparation, diagnostic assessment, and storage. It’s currently storing tissue from 168 brains, most of which are from people once diagnosed with PTSD. Many of the other donors had major depressive disorder. Other brains are from healthy controls. More than 40 of the brains are those of veterans, about 75 percent of whom had PTSD. Most of the veterans who donated brains to the bank served in the Gulf War.  Read more . . .

“Gut Microbe” May be an Indication of PTSD
Researchers have known for a while that stress can play a major role in the gut microbiome, affecting bacteria growth and eventually leading to inflammation and mental-health issues like depression and anxiety. But a new study took things a step further, discovering a bacteria trio that might also function as a diagnostic tool for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Our study compared the gut microbiomes of individuals with PTSD to that of people who also experienced significant trauma but did not develop PTSD,” said lead researcher Stefanie Malan-Müller, PhD, in a press release. “We identified a combination of three bacteria—Actinobacteria, Lentisphaerae, and Verrucomicrobia—that were different in people with PTSD.” In the study, those with PTSD had much lower levels of the three bacteria varieties than those who experienced trauma but didn’t develop the disorder. Additionally, those who dealt with trauma in their younger years had low levels of two of the three types as well.  Read more . . .

GAO to Study VA Treatment and Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
The Government Accountability Office will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions. At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the government’s top watchdog agency agreed Sept. 27 to study how heavily VA relies upon powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients. Both Coffman and Kuster have received numerous complaints from veteran constituents, who contend that VA relies upon psychotropic medications far too often. Both lawmakers, and their colleagues on Capitol Hill as well, are concerned that use of the medications could be a contributing factor to the alarming rate of suicides among veterans. They cite the cases of two Colorado veterans who were prescribed the drugs by VA. One later committed suicide and the other was reported missing for several days.  Read more . . .


How Does Your VA Medical Facility Rank?
Many of the worst VA hospitals in the country last year remain among the worst this year, according to internal rankings released Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly a dozen of the medical centers who received one out of five stars in quality ratings this year received the same low score in 2016. They include three veterans’ hospitals in Tennessee — in Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Memphis, where threats to patient safety have skyrocketed in recent years. Also among them is the Phoenix VA, where veterans died waiting for care touching off a national scandal in 2014.  Read more . . .

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

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

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The VA and Opioids: Finger-pointing Begins

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

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

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

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

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

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

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

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

How the VA Fueled the Opioid Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Veterans with PTSD: The VA Way or the Highway

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

Department of Veterans Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

FAKE NEWS from the VA on Veterans with PTSD

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

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

– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”)and,

– Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PET”).

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

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

REALITY CHECK at the VA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a Middle Ground for Veterans with PTSD?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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