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


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.


Opioid Abuse: Department of Veterans Affairs Culpability?

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While many families will be celebrating Easter today, I am quite sure that their thoughts will turn to a family member or friend who were among the 52,000 that died of a drug overdose last year.

By comparison, there were only 33,000 traffic fatalities over the same period.  These statistics suggest that substance abuse plays a far greater threat to our society than careless driving.

In an excellent 5-part series by FOX News entitled “Drugged, Inside the Opioid Crisis,” the network explores the devastating impact of opioid abuse in towns across the United States.

In fact, the FOX network claims that 4 out of 5 overdose fatalities can be traced to the initial use of prescription drugs for pain medication.   It is clear that prescription painkillers have caused many innocent victims to become dependent on more lethal drugs like heroin.


As Stand for The Troops (“SFTT”) has been reporting for several years, Veterans suffering from PTSD have been regularly over-served with a concoction of drugs – primarily opioids – to allow them to cope with pain and other issues.

If there was any doubt about the culpability of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) in addicting our Veterans to painkillers rather than treat them, I suggest that you watch the video below:

With 20-20 hindsight most everyone can be on the “right side of history,”  but our Veterans, the VA and Congressional oversight committees have known that opioids was not the proper way to treat Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Dr. David Cifu:  A State of Denial at the VA

Unfortunately, VA protocols to treat PTSD as articulated by Dr. David Cifu, the senior TBI specialist in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Health Administration, have resulted in few lasting benefits for Veterans with PTSD.  Paraphrasing Dr. David Cifu,  “the worse thing you can do for someone with PTSD is not to press them back into action as quickly as possible.  At the VA, we prescribe drugs for those in pain or suffering trauma.”

Indeed, there is no compelling evidence that the VA has improved the lives of Veterans suffering from PTSD or TBI.  

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

– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and,

– Prolonged Exposure Therapy.

To see how badly the VA has failed our Veterans, one only needs to listen to a detailed explanation by Maj. Ben Richards citing his experience with the VA and a summary of failed patient outcomes at the VA. Watch the first two minutes to see Maj. Richards refute all VA claims that they are dealing with the problem effectively.

Conversation with a Veteran Drug Abuse Specialist

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a Community Center in northern New York that was working with high-risk Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.  During this visit, I encountered a Drug Abuse Specialist, who had been rescued from addiction through the Veteran Court System.

What he told me shocked me.

– Well over 90% of Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from substance abuse issues;

– Veterans are well aware that opioids don’t work and have major side-effects (i.e. suicidal thoughts) when combined with other prescription drugs provided by the VA;

– Rather than flush prescription drugs down the toilet, the drug of choice, OxyContin, was pulverized into powder and sold on the black market to civilian drug users;

– A leading supplier of OxyContin to the VA had its sales of the drug fall by more than 60% when Congress forced them to repackage the pills in a gel composite so it couldn’t be sold as a powder on the black market;

– This same pharmaceutical company petitioned Congress to reinstate OxyContin in pill form citing that “it is more effective than gel;”

– VA prescribed drugs don’t provide Veterans with a meaningful road to full recovery.

Sadly, I don’t believe the situation has changed significantly in recent years.

Opioid Abuse in the United States

The magnitude of the addiction problem in the United States can’t be underestimated.  Consider these staggering statistics from the American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM):

– Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.

–  The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999; and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate.

– In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.

– Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers.

– 94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.

Opioids for Veterans: Deja Vu All Over Again

It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.  As previous articles from SFTT have argued, the VA is in a rut and will continue to pursue well-meaning but demonstrably ineffective procedures to help Veterans with PTSD.  Most tragic.

While one would think that there is compelling evidence for the VA to follow in a different tack, I read a few days ago that OxyContin is again being tested to treat PTSD and substance abuse.

How much longer to our Veterans need to suffer from the VA bureaucracy and autocratic controls that remains largely unresponsive to their very real needs?   Based on the evidence, it seems that the VA management philosophy of benign neglect will continue to persist.  How sad!

Easter Advice from Veteran Wives Who Care

On Facebook, I recently came across this wonderful advice from Wives of PTSD Vets and Military.  I quote this useful advice below:

“If there is anything you have learned from your experience that you would tell those who are new to PTSD and the VA, what would it be?

Just A FEW of mine would be:

1. Staying on top of the VA and the veteran’s care is a full time job by itself. It is important to stay on top of it or they will fall through the cracks. Don’t wait for the VA to call. You call the VA.
2. Always research the severe side effects, and interactions of ALL medications including over the counter.
3. Always be aware of their moods, anniversaries (if possible), and seek help if you see them slipping downward.
4. Have a safety plan.
5. Find ways to communicate with your spouse. Use of code words, safety words etc are extremely helpful for us. Our new one is trust tree, which means either one of has something important to say, and the other one can’t judge, flip out, or start an argument. So far, it’s working. I’ll make a post later for it.

These are only a few off the top of my head. I have a lot more in depth ones that I will write about after while. What things have you learned or did you wish you knew when starting this roller coaster ride called PTSD?”

While one can only hope that this pragmatic spouse finds a sympathetic ear at the VA, “effective treatment” still seems out of reach.

In summary, may our brave Veterans and their families and friends get the HONEST SUPPORT THEY DESERVE.


SFTT Military News: Week Ending Apr 14, 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.

Military Revamping Retirement System to Attract Millennials
In a bid to lure millennials, the U.S. military is making the most sweeping changes to its retirement program since World War II. Gone are the days when only a 20-year veteran leaves the service with a nest egg. Going forward, those who serve as little as two years will return to civilian life with retirement savings. The new system introduces 401(k)-type savings for military personnel while downsizing the traditional pension benefit—a trade the corporate world has been making for 35 years. The new design also comes with a stepped-up effort to provide service members with the education they will need to make the most of a system that demands more individual involvement.  Read more . . .

Expanded U.S. Military Push in Yemen?
Amid reports President Trump is considering more American military help for the Saudi-led fight in Yemen, U.S. lawmakers are urging caution, if not an about-face. Four U.S. senators have offered legislation to limit arms sales to Riyadh over its troubled Yemen campaign. Fifty-five members of the U.S. House called on Trump in a letter to end both U.S. refueling for Saudi coalition warplanes and logistical assistance for the Saudi-led bombings in Yemen — and they said Trump must seek congressional approval before he deepens U.S. military involvement.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Another VA Hospital Criticized by the Inspector General
In a scathing report, the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs listed a range of overlooked and long-standing problems at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center “sufficient to potentially compromise patient safety.” The risk to the 98,000 vets served by medical center in the nation’s capital was so high that the office of Inspector General Michael Missal took the unusual step of issuing a preliminary report to alert new VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin to the danger.  Read more . . .

Future of the US Military Health System
Three components are needed for a high-performing military. First, the health of military personnel affects “readiness and battlefield performance.” So, health is not only a personnel matter, but also a national security issue. Second, maintaining the health of service members requires “everything from nutritious meals to medical services.”  Third, health care benefits help to attract and retain men and women in the armed services.  Nevertheless, the Military Health System “is a major cost” to the federal government, and the growth of that system “threatens other defense priorities” and attracts “criticism and proposals to reform military health care.”  Read more . . .

Oxycontin and PTSD

Oxycontin Being Tested (Again) for Treatment of PTSD
Nightmares. Obsessive thoughts. Avoiding particular places. Sudden outbursts. Fearing you’re in danger. Survivor guilt. These experiences – manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – are part of life for up to 1 in 3 U.S. combat veterans and active military personnel. That’s more than triple the prevalence of PTSD in the population at large. About two-thirds of those with PTSD struggle with alcohol abuse. A new trial may hold new hope for these military personnel through treatment with oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.”  Read more . . .

Tonix Drug PTSD Study Enters Phase 3
Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp. announced today that it has enrolled the first participant in the Phase 3 HONOR study of TNX-102 SL 5.6 mg, for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Enrolling the first participant in the HONOR study is an important event not only to Tonix, but potentially to millions who suffer worldwide from both civilian and military-related PTSD,” said Seth Lederman, M.D., Tonix’s president and chief executive officer. “The HONOR study is designed to confirm the clinical benefit of TNX-102 SL to improve PTSD symptoms across several measures as demonstrated in our Phase 2 AtEase study in military-related PTSD.”   Read more . . .

VA Launches New “Quality of Care” Website
The Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled a new website Wednesday aimed at providing information on the quality of care at VA medical centers, touting new accountability even as it grappled with fresh questions of patient safety in its beleaguered health system. The VA website, www.accesstocare.va.gov, is a work in progress. It provides preliminary data on the VA’s 1,700 health facilities, along with more than a dozen private-sector hospitals and national averages. Three years after a wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, the website offers comparative data on wait times as well as veterans’ satisfaction ratings in getting timely appointments.  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


Veterans Treatment Courts: Smart Justice

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Several years ago, I had the honor to meet Judge John Schwartz, one of the early pioneers in promoting the benefits of  Veteran Treatment Courts.

Drug Treatment Courts

Drug Courts began to emerge in the nineties to deal more effectively with a growing drug problem in the United States.  As I wrote earlier,

Since the mid-1990, the US judicial system has recognized the need to deal with drug-related criminal activity and have established some 2,600 Drug Treatment Courts in the United States.  Drug treatment courts are specialized community courts designed to help stop the abuse of drugs, alcohol, and related criminal activity. Non-violent offenders who have been charged with simple possession of drugs are given the option to receive treatment instead of a jail sentence.   These programs have proven to be remarkably successful for reducing the level of recidivism in our prison system.

Capitalizing on the infrastructure and success of the Drug Treatment Courts, some 50 or so Veteran Courts have sprung up across the United States to deal with veterans who have committed a crime while suffering from substance abuse.  In many cases, these troubled vets have the support of other Vets (often from the Vietnam era) who “mentor” their military colleagues through the rehabilitation process.

Since then, Veteran Treatment Courts exist in every state in the United States.  These Courts provide Veterans with PTSD and substance abuse issues with an alternative to serving time in a federal or state penitentiary.

As the video from Justice for Vets explains below, Vet Courts provide Veterans with a second chance to recover their lives with the support of wise counsel from fellow Veterans, judicial system and law enforcement officers.

Aside from the fact that this appears to be a most sensible way to provide brave Veterans with the steady supportive counsel of a fellow Veteran, the Vet Court system has also reduced our prison population and cut recidivism by almost two-thirds.

While the Veteran Court system was largely the inspiration of community judges, law enforcement officers and a supportive community, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) has been playing an active role in supporting these local and State programs since 2008.

Currently, there are approximately 220 Veteran Treatment Courts functioning in the United States with many other communities seeking to establish similar programs of their own. In fact, Justice for Vets recently provides a great deal of direct support and information for communities seeking to establish their own Veteran Treatment Court.

While 2017 applications for Justice for Vets support are currently closed, communities interested in this initiative would do well to contact Justice for Vets for more information on the Veteran Treatment Court Application Process.

Now, there are some – perhaps, many – who are opposed to any “special treatment” provided to people who break the law.  Nevertheless, the “cost” of incarcerating individuals who break drug laws and their exposure to hardened criminals seem to outweigh any potential long-term benefit to society.

For years, the VA has been serving up a cocktail of drugs to Veterans suffering from PTSD.  Only now have we come to the realization that this may not have been the proper way to deal with this serious problem.  In fact, opioid abuse is now an epidemic across the U.S.   One could argue that our Veteran population was well aware of this problem long before it hit mainstream America.

Should Veterans be subjected to incarceration, because the VA support system erred so badly?  I think not!

In May, we celebrate Drug Court Professionals across the United States who have contributed both their time, money and expertise to combat drug abuse in the United States.  If your community is currently planning – or thinking about – establishing a proactive response to drug abuse then you may well want to register for the NADCP Training conference that will be held this year in Washington, D.C. from July 9 – 12.

Justice for Veterans is a co-sponsor of this training conference and SFTT salutes those professionals who are giving their time and energy to fight drug abuse in America.


SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Mar 31, 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.

Lightweight Military Helmet

New Lightweight Combat Helmet Introduced
The Advanced Combat Helmet Gen II will replace the legacy Advanced Combat Helmet, which was fielded about 15 years ago. The service earlier this month awarded Revision Military, based in Essex Junction in Vermont, a contract worth about $98 million to make 293,870 of the new helmets. Made of high-density polyethylene instead of the current helmet’s Kevlar, the ACH Gen II weighs about 2.5 pounds in size large — about a 24-percent weight reduction, officials from Program Executive Office Soldier said at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.  Read more . . .

Iran Called a Destabilizing Influence in Middle East by Military Brass
The nation’s top military official in the Middle East on Wednesday said Iran is one of the greatest threats to the U.S. today and has increased its “destabilizing role” in the region. “I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone,” Commander of the U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told the House Armed Services Committee in testimony Wednesday. “And it’s an area between normal competition between states — and it’s just short of open conflict.”  Read more . . .

Kim - North Korea

Dissecting US Policy Toward North Korea
Since the Clinton years, the US has considered military action and imposed strict sanctions against North Korea in an effort to curb its nuclear program — but none of it has worked amid fundamental misunderstandings about the shadowy Kim regime. US and UN sanctions on North Korea have sought to cripple the regime through restricting access to commerce and banking, but despite limited successes here and there, North Korea now regularly demonstrates a variety of potent and expensive nuclear arms in open defiance of the international community at large.  Read more . . .

Chinese Military Growth and Sophistication Attracts Attention
China’s rapid development of new destroyers, amphibs, stealth fighters and long-range weapons is quickly increasing its ability to threaten the United States and massively expand expeditionary military operations around the globe, according to a Congressional report. A detailed report from Congressional experts, called the 2016 US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, specifies China’s growing provocations and global expeditionary exercises along with its fast-increasing ability to project worldwide military power.   Read more . . .

Highlights of NPR Interview with VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin
Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin says the Department of Veterans Affairs “is on a path toward recovery.” “We have a clear mandate to do better, [and] to make sure that we’re honoring our mission to serve our veterans,” Shulkin told NPR’s Morning Edition. Shulkin discussed his current priorities for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including how the money from the Veterans Choice program has been spent, and his approach to the persistently high rate of suicide among military veterans, with NPR’s Rachel Martin. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.  Read more . . .

New Diagnosis Tools for Veterans with PTSD?
Researchers are working at brain banks around the country to see what is going on inside the heads of veterans like Fadley. They are examining the brains of deceased veterans in hopes of knowing more accurately what effects trauma ― psychological or physical ― has had on the brain. That could someday lead to better diagnostic tests, treatments, clues into where PTSD originates and evolves.  Read more . . .

Agent Orange Effects Still Felt Today
An estimated 11.4 million gallons of the chemical pesticide known as Agent Orange were sprayed over millions of acres of Vietnam forests from 1962 to 1970. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has long acknowledged the link between the substance and diseases like cancer in veterans, but when veterans began reporting having children with birth defects, the VA stayed mostly mum. But a joint investigation by ProPublica and the Virginian-Pilot published Friday revealed the odds of having a child born with birth defects were found to be a third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange than for those who weren’t. The investigation also determined that the VA had collected information about the link between birth defects and Agent Orange during examinations of more than 668,000 veterans but never adequately scrutinized it.  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


Will the VA Provide Better Service to Veterans?

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With much fanfare, Dr. David Shulkin, the new Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), has moved quickly to address some of the recurring problems at the VA.

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

As the first VA Secretary without a military background, Dr. Shulkin appears committed to resolve several pressing concerns:

– Speedier processing of Veteran benefit claims and,

– Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and artificial constraints on “out-of-network” support for Veterans (Choice Program).

Indeed, Secretary Shulkin recently unveiled a 10 Point Plan to modernize the VA:

1. Firing bad employees

2. Extending the Choice program

3. Choice 2.0

4. Improving VA infrastructure

5. ‘World-class’ services

6. Better VA-DoD partnerships

7. Better electronic records

8. Stopping suicide

9. Appeals modernization

10. Internal improvements 

While there is little in these Powerpoint presentation bullet points that anyone would quibble with, implementing these broad goals tends to be far more complicated than listing the goals.   Unless there are rigorous benchmarks to assess progress toward achieving these goals, then this “goal-setting” exercise is rather fruitless.

In fact, it is difficult to reconcile the need for increased hiring within the VA unless one sees clear and conclusive evidence that “bad employees” are being fired.  In fact, the VA is recommending a hiring surge to deal with a backlog of benefit claims, a situation that has persisted for 4 years.

Are more employees needed or does the VA lack the “right” mix of employees to implement Shulkin’s 10 point plan?

For instance, State and Local VA coverage varies radically across the US.  For example, NPR reported in 2015 “that spending is nearly $30,000 per patient in San Francisco, and less than $7,000 per patient in Lubbock, Texas. Nationally, the average is just under $10,000. In places where more veterans are enrolled in VA health benefit plans, spending per veteran did tend to be higher.”   Why?  This is a huge variance that is not well explained.

Aligning the VA to Achieve Measurable Goals

As one looks at Shulkin’s proposed goals, it would be useful to determine their priority and the level of commitment (personnel and capital expenditure) that is required to attain them.  Furthermore, what are the benchmarks to chart progress toward achieving those goals.

For instance, “stopping Veteran suicides” is a goal that would find few naysayers.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to reconcile that goal with the sad fact that 30% of suicide watch calls are not currently attended by the Veteran Crisis Center.  Indeed, I find it disturbing that the Suicide Crisis Line has been centralized under the VA in the name of “efficiency.”

Perhaps, Dr. Shulkin and his staff have some measurable goals.  If so, they should be made public and both the Executive Body and Congressional Oversight Committees should receive regular updates from the VA on progress to date in achieving mutually agreeable goals.

Is this likely to happen?  Most certainly not!  This is an anathema to Big Government.

Is Firing Bad Employees Really Going to Occur?

With 365,000 employees, there are certainly going to be a few “bad eggs.”  While Dr. Shulkin praised the vast majority of VA employees, he told a cheering crowd  that “We’re going to make sure that the secretary has the authority to make sure that those (sic “bad”) employees … are leaving the VA system.”

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Really?  It seems to anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at staffing within the VA, that David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, will be calling the shots rather than Dr. Shulkin.

In most cases, distinguishing between a “bad” employee and an inefficient one is largely subjective.  Given the protection afforded by employees at the VA, it is highly unlikely that both the bad and inefficient employees will be “leaving the VA system” anytime soon.

In effect, this places a greater burden on both ” the good” and the many efficient and competent employees within the VA.  With little say or control on managing the workforce, I find it highly unlikely that Dr. Shulkin will be able to fulfill his promise to fire “bad” employees.

More importantly, it is unlikely that he will be able to realign staffing levels to implement his 10-point plan.

And Speaking of Bad Apples:  How About Dr. David Cifu?

If Secretary Shulkin is really serious about dealing with “Veteran suicides” and providing Veterans with alternative treatment for Veterans with PTSD, he would do well to question the credentials of Dr. David Cifu and others within the VA who continue to block Veteran access to better treatment alternatives.

When one looks at Secretary Shulkin’s complex agenda, one should focus on the signs that change is actually occurring.  Personally, I don’t expect to see much change over the next couple of years, unless there are clear bookmarks to measure that change.  Sadly, it seems likely that we will be looking at the same litany of complaints a couple years down the road.

Dr. Shulkin, I admire your bravado and enthusiasm, but question whether you have the right tools and authority at your disposal to bring about a much needed reform within the VA.

Veterans should be hopeful, but not too optimistic.


SFTT News: Week Ending Mar 24, 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.

Does President Trump’s Military Budget Help “Grunts?”
Trump, who positions himself as the champion of the working class, has promised to pump billions more into the military. Yet the initial numbers suggest those who really benefit will be the ones who always benefit: the big defense contractors and their enablers at the Pentagon and Congress. The last people to see that flood of spending will be the ones most likely to fight and die: the grunts.   Read more . . .

All Laser Military by 2025?
Lasers have been a mainstay of sci-fi battles for decades. But making them practical for the battlefield has proven difficult. Now, private contractors and government agencies have developed weapons systems that are making science fiction a reality. This was made evident when Lockheed Martin and the US Army recently announced, a successful test of a 60-kilowatt (kW) laser. This one was twice as powerful as one they assessed in 2015.  Read more . . .

Changes in Tactics Required for “Megacity” Warfare?
Speaking at the Future of War Conference 2017 hosted by New America in Washington, D.C., Gen. Mark Milley said that the character of warfare will likely go through a fundamental shift over the next decade. The world’s population is steadily moving toward living in megacities. Currently, there are about a dozen of these huge urban areas with populations of more than 10 million. By mid-century, “we are going to have at least 50 or more,” Milley said.  Read more . . .

Nato Logo

Assessment of New NATO-Russia Balance
Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the military balance between NATO and Russia, after years of inattention, has again become the focus of intense concern and even alarm in some Western quarters. From NATO’s vantage point, Russia poses a serious military threat to its eastern flank—and to Euro-Atlantic security more broadly—for three reasons.  Read more . . .

VA Recommends Hiring “Surge” to Deal with Disability Claims
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is warning the backlog for veterans appealing decisions involving disability benefits will grow if the Trump administration goes ahead with its harsh budget cuts. Waiting times could grow to as much as eight-and-a-half years. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Veterans Affairs Disability Benefits released on Thursday found staff resources at the agency had not kept pace with increased pending appeals, and concluded that additional staff were needed.  Read more . . .

Criticism of VA Suicide Hotline
The VA suicide hotline is still sending nearly a third of calls to outside back-up centers despite pledges by Veterans Affairs officials to stop the practice last year after a scathing report found the centers had routed veterans to voicemail, an inspector general investigation found. The VA opened a new call center and hired more staff to answer phones, but as of November, 30% of calls — or 14,600 that month — rolled over to backup centers.  Read more . . .

Refugees with PTSD Handle Stress Differently
PTSD is a mental health disorder that makes a person re-experience a traumatic event. “What we discovered was that a gene associated with a person’s mental health became overactive in refugees with PTSD and wasn’t able to respond the right way when working with the body’s stress defense system,” said Bengt Arnetz, a professor of family medicine who led the study. The methyl CpG binding protein 2 gene, or MECP2, helps control the normal function of nerve cells and plays an important role in mental health and the body’s ability to handle stress. The findings are being presented at the American Psychosomatic Society’s annual meeting on March 18.  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


SFTT Military News: Week Ending Mar 17, 2016

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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.

Kim - North Korean

Military Action in North Korea on the Table?
The US has said its policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea is over and suggested it might decide to take preemptive military action. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the option was “on the table” if the threat from the North’s weapons programme reached a level requiring it. During a visit to South Korea, he also said the US was exploring a range of new diplomatic and economic measures. And he defended the deployment of a US missile system in South Korea. The move has angered China, but South Korea and the US say the system is needed as a defence against North Korean aggression.  Read more  . . .

Energy Efficiency Now a Military Priority
The US military sees climate change as a national security threat. So, it’s finding ways to adapt to global warming, to make the armed forces stronger and more flexible.  The US military burns over 1.25 billion gallons of fuel a year, and the Department of Defense is the country’s single largest consumer of fossil fuels, according to Goudreau. “When you talk climate issues, you can talk mitigation or adaptation. Every single gallon of fuel that we burn is carbon going into the atmosphere,” he says.   Read more . . .

Big Increase Proposed in Military Spending
As US president Donald Trump was proposing a $54 billion defense spending hike on March 16, something rather different was happening in Russia. With its economy sputtering, there are reports that it could slash its military budget by 25%. The actual figure is actually more likely to be around 5%, explains Mark Galeotti, a Russian security expert at the Institute of International Relations in Prague. And it comes after several years of rapid growth in Russia’s defense spending. But that still reveals a stark discrepancy. Trump wants to bolster America’s military with an amount not far short of Russia’s entire 2016 defense budget of $65.8 billion (3.8 trillion rubles).  Read more . . .

1,000 Ground Troops to Syria?
The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter. The deployment, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria and increase the potential for direct U.S. combat involvement in a conflict that has been characterized by confusion and competing priorities among disparate forces.   Read more . . .

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

VA Budget to Grow by 6%
The Department of Veterans Affairs, the second-largest federal agency with 313,000 civilian employees and a far-flung hospital system, is one of the few corners of the government that would see its budget grow in the next fiscal year — by 6 percent. During his campaign, President Trump promised dramatic reforms at an agency he said was filled with a culture of “fraud, coverups and wrongdoing” after a 2014 scandal over coverups of patient wait times for medical care. His first spending plan would boost VA’s budget by $4.4 billion, to $78.9 billion, with much of the new money dedicated “to improve patient access and timeliness of medical care” for the more than 9 million veterans who use the system.  Read more . . .

South Carolina Discussion on Veterans with PTSD Stereotypes
There are many stereotypes surrounding veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many of them are negative and paint those living with PTSD as violent. However, the Student Veteran Association at the University of South Carolina is aiming to change that perception. “PTSD, it is the normal reaction of human beings who experience extraordinary events,” says Dr. Nancy Brown with the College of Social Work at USC. On Wednesday night, six panelist, with different military backgrounds, all living with PTSD in their own way are hoping to educate and knock down perceptions.  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


Techniques to Help Veterans Minimize Chronic Pain

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Dealing with chronic pain can be quite a . . . pain.  Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts longer than 6 months, chronic pain can be moderate or unbearable; episodic or continuous. Of course, whether due to past injuries, strain from overuse, or just general wear and tear, chronic pain is common amongst military Veterans.

Caregiver for Veteran with PTSD

On days when the pain is debilitating, you may not want to get out of bed. It may seem as though you are fighting a losing battle against the pain, but your quality of life can be restored. More importantly, it can be done without having to rely on opioids for relief. Here are a few tips on what you can do to minimize chronic pain.

Biofeedback Therapy for Chronic Pain

Biofeedback is a relaxation technique in which patients use their mind to control body functions that normally occur without fail. Participating in a biofeedback therapy session can give you the skills to lessen your pain at home. In a session, sensors will be attached to your body, then connected to a monitoring device. The device will measure your body functions such as breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. As you relax during therapy, your breathing slows and your heart rate will dip. As the numbers on the monitor begin to reflect your relaxed state, you will start to learn how to consciously control your body functions. Through biofeedback therapy, you will learn how to use your mind to overcome bouts of pain.

How to Reduce Inflammation for Chronic Pain

It’s no secret that chronic pain and inflammation go hand-in-hand. Inflammation is a normal immune response in  your body that usually alerts you when something is wrong. Pain, swelling and redness are all forms of inflammation that is needed to help with the healing process. Inflammation becomes an issue when it becomes chronic, and the initial healing process fails, which causes pain. Fortunately you can reduce chronic pain and inflammation by consuming a healthy diet. Certain foods can cause flare ups, therefore they need to be reduced or eliminated. Those foods include dairy products, fried food, refined flour, sugar, high-fat red meat and all processed foods. The proper diet should be rich in leafy-green vegetables, low-sugar fruits and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Exercise Regularly to Reduce Chronic Pain

Exercise is actually one of the best ways to reduce chronic pain. The less you move, the more pain you are likely to feel. The endorphins that are released during exercise are natural painkillers that increase your tolerance by changing how your body responds to pain. Routine exercise can help you reduce your medicine intake, increase your happiness and return your zest for life. If you find it difficult to move fluidly during exercise, start by walking a few times a week, then gradually increase your efforts.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

Naturally, you’ll want to do everything you can to maintain your independence, but know that it is more than ok to need help. Overdoing it in areas where you shouldn’t will only worsen your pain, causing you more stress and unhappiness. Figure out areas of your life where you could use some help and then see who might be able to provide it.

For example, keeping your house clean may be especially difficult when your pain is at its worst. Consider asking a family member to help you with cleaning once a week or if you have the resources, hire a housekeeper. Yard work can be another troublesome area for people with chronic pain. Chances are you can find a tween or teen in your neighborhood who would be more than happy to pick up leaves in your yard or mow it once every couple of weeks for a few extra bucks. Just having this little bit of extra help can make a world of difference.

Find Support

Chronic pain can be very isolating and it may seem as though no one in your immediate circle understands your frustration. Participating in a support group, such as those provided by the ACPA and its sister organization Veterans in Pain, will provide a safe haven for you and allow you the opportunity to vent. Those that suffer with chronic pain tend to see themselves in a negative light. Thinking negatively of yourself can lead to depression and more painful flare-ups. If you find that the group setting is not helping you solve your issues, consider reaching out to a therapist. Never be ashamed or prideful to ask for help –it just may save your life.

When you are in pain, it can be hard to find the motivation to do anything. Feelings of anger and resentment toward your body are to be expected, but it is important that you push forward. Chronic pain is a condition that can be successfully managed as long as you treat it with self-love and patience. Use these tips as a blueprint to help you combat chronic pain and start living your best life!

Guest Contributor, Constance Ray
Recovery Well

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