What Does the VA have Against HBOT for Treating PTSD?

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HBOT or Hyperbaric Oxygen TherapyStand For The Troops (“SFTT”) asks frequently what the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) has against HBOT or Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in helping to treat Veterans with PTSD.   The VA hides behind of veil of half-truths arguing that there is not enough “clinical evidence” to support HBOT.

Clearly there is and many hospitals across the United States have been treating brain trauma patients using HBOT for years.  In fact, HBOT is the “go-to” procedure for the Israel Defense Forces or “IDF” in treating PTSD and TBI.

Recently, Xavier A. Figueroa, Ph.D. has written extensively in a well-researched article entitled “What the <#$*&!> Is Wrong with the DoD/VA HBOT Studies?!!” which refutes many of the “convenient” studies by the VA.  Found below is an edited summary of a recent article by Dr. Figueroa:

A large fraction of the current epidemic of military suicides (22+ service members a day take their lives) are more than likely due to misdiagnosed TBI and PTSD. Although the DoD and VA have spent billions (actually, $ 9.2 billion since 2010) trying to diagnose and treat the problem, the epidemic of suicide and mental illness are larger than ever. Drug interventions are woefully inadequate, as more and more studies continue to find that pharmacological interventions are not effective in treating the varied symptoms of TBI or PTSD. In many cases suicide of veterans have been linked through prescribed overmedication.

On top of the military epidemic there is a large existing civilian population of TBI survivors (now ~10 million in the US alone). How many in the civilian population take their lives because the pain is just too much?  How many can’t work because their brain injury won’t allow them to work?  We don’t know because we, as a society, are just starting to realize how prevalent brain injuries have become. And how many caregivers are equally and negatively affected by caring for their brain injured relatives? And what is the COST of continuing to deny a safe and effective treatment that is constantly mischaracterized?

HBOT is a safe and effective treatment with low-to-no side effects (after all, even the DOD accepted the safety of HBOT back in 2008). Access to HBOT is available within most major metropolitan centers, but the major sticking point is money. Who pays for the treatment?  Those that are willing to pay for it out-of-pocket and state taxpayers picking up the tab for brain-injured service members forced back into society without sufficient care (or forced out on a Chapter 10, when it should have been treated as a medical condition).

The continued reports of studies like the DoD/VA sponsored trials allow denial of coverage and provide adequate cover for public officials to claim that more study needs to be done. As we have seen, the conclusions of the authors of the DoD/VA sponsored studies downplay the results of effectiveness. There are sufficient studies (and growing) showing a strong positive effect of HBOT in TBI. More will be forthcoming.

The cardinal rule of medicine is “First, Do No Harm”. With HBOT, this rule is satisfied. Now, by denying or blocking a treatment that has proven restorative and healing effects, countless physicians and organizations, from the VA to DoD, Congress and the White House, could be accused of causing harm. Never mind how many experiments “fail” to show results (even when they actually show success). Failure to replicate a result is just that…a failure to replicate, not a negation of a treatment or other positive results. You can’t prove a negative and there are many clinical trials that do show the efficacy of HBOT.

The practice of medicine and the use of HBOT should not be dependent on the collective unease of a medical profession and the dilatory nature of risk averse politicians, but on the evidence-based results that we are seeing. Within the VA, there are hard working physicians that are trying to change the culture of inertia and implement effective treatments for TBI and PTSD, using evidence based medicine. Unfortunately, evidence-based medicine only works when we accept the evidence presented to us and not on mischaracterized conclusions of a single study (or any other study). Our veterans, our citizens and our communities deserve better than what we are currently giving them: bad conclusions, institutions too scared to act in the interests of the people it serves and too many physicians unwilling to look at the accumulated evidence.

HBOT works for the treatment of mild-to-moderate TBI and PCS.

Treat now.

For those inclined to follow Dr. Figueroa’s detailed analysis, please CLICK HERE for the hard details.  Even the spin doctors and the VA would have a difficult time refuting his analysis.

Dr. Figueroa exposes many of the lies and myths perpetrated by Dr. David Cifu and others in the VA who prefer a cocktail of toxic pharmaceutical to HBOT which is a lot cheaper and has proven far more successful than VA programs.

 

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SFTT News: Week Ending Jan 6, 2017

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Found below are a few 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.

SFTT wishes all readers, Veterans and men and women in uniform a healthy and prosperous 2017.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

President Barack Obama Calls for Seamless Transition to Trump
President Barack Obama called for a smooth handover of control of the U.S. military to incoming commander in chief Donald Trump, as the outgoing president met Wednesday with military leaders for the last time. “We’ve got to make sure that during this transition period that there is a seamless passing of the baton, that there’s continuity,” Obama said. He said it was critical to ensure that “we are doing everything we can to make sure that the next president will benefit from the same kinds of outstanding advice and service that these people around the table have provided me.”  Read more . . .

President Barack Obama

Turks Turn to Russia for Military Help in Syria
Two defense officials say that Russia has conducted “several” airstrikes in support of the Turkish military fighting in Al Bab, Syria. And, while the Turks have accepted airpower help from the Russians, they continue to decline military help from the U.S. The Turks are fighting to expel ISIS from al Bab and they are in the midst of an extremely tough fight and they are taking casualties. The U.S. has repeatedly offered help over the past few weeks, both officials said, but the Turks continue to turn it down.  Read more . . .

Election Hacking Takes Center Stage on Capitol Hill
While the U.S. intelligence machine is certain that Russia interfered with the recent presidential election, lawmakers are just beginning to wrestle with how to deter and retaliate against future cyberattacks.  Leaders from several intelligences agencies appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, testifying that Russia used cyberattacks and spread disinformation and fake news to impact the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November. They also said Russia poses a significant threat to American democracy in the future.  Read more . . .

Russia Beefs Up Military Ties with the Philippines
Russia is eyeing naval exercises with the Philippines and deployed two navy ships for a goodwill visit to Manila on Tuesday as Moscow moves to expand defense ties with a Filipino president known for being hostile to the U.S.  Rear Adm. Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, led the five-day visit of vessels including an anti-submarine ship and showcased what his country can offer to a Southeast Asian nation that’s long been a staunch American treaty ally.  “You can choose … to cooperate with United States of America or to cooperate with Russia,” Mikhailov told reporters through an interpreter at the Manila harbor after a welcoming ceremony. “But from our side we can help you in every way that you need.”  Read more . . .

Israeli Study Suggests Media May Worsen Effects of PTSD
A firm belief that external forces govern one’s life events and poor control over media consumption may worsen the effects of trauma exposure on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during a period of national trauma, according to a new Bar-Ilan University study.  The study, recently published in Psychiatry Research, examined PTSD symptoms among nearly 1,300 adult Israeli civilians exposed to missile attacks during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two years ago.   Read more . . .

PTSD Support Veterans

PTSD Study Could Lead to Improved Patient Outcomes
Last month, researchers announced the findings of a three-year study of the cognitive processing therapy at Fort Hood, and the results could transform how PTSD is treated on military installations. In the largest study ever of an evidence-based treatment for PTSD among active-duty military personnel, 40 to 50 percent of soldiers showed recovery from PTSD after 12 sessions of talk therapy, results that held up in six-month follow-ups, according to soldiers’ scores on specialized PTSD testing. The results were better for soldiers who received individual treatment as opposed to group treatment. The need for a better PTSD treatment is great: A recent Rand Corporation study found recovery rates of less than 20 percent for active-duty soldiers who sought treatment. And the use of prescription drugs to treat veterans with PTSD has had fatal consequences. A 2012 American-Statesman investigation of Texas combat veterans who died after returning home found that more than one-third of those diagnosed with PTSD died of an overdose, often due to pharmaceuticals.  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 becoming a member of Stand For The Troops

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Suggestions for Veterans to Maintain a Stress- and Relapse-Free New Year

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The holiday season and New Year’s bring many stressful situations that can be difficult to handle, especially for veterans who are recovering addicts or those suffering from another mental health disorder.

stress free holiday for VeteransOld triggers, family encounters, large parties, or loneliness can be enough to push a veteran with an addiction toward a relapse. With a healthy game plan, you can get through the holiday season with your sobriety intact and make it a positive experience. The first step is to avoid situations which may increase stress to insure that you can enjoy the holidays with friends and family. But of course, this time of year that can be easier said than done. Whether you are trying to avoid family conflict or struggling with substance abuse, veterans may benefit from these simple suggestions:

One Day at a Time for A Stress Free Holiday 

Focus on today when you wake up each morning and how you want to stay sober. Think about what types of environments you need to navigate and make plans to handle those specific situations. Tell yourself that you can resist any temptations and will stay sober.

Start by taking care of your body, eating regular healthy meals, and getting in exercise whenever possible. This will keep your body’s blood sugar regulated, boost mood and confidence, help you avoid irritability, and resist impulses.

Have realistic expectations for the holidays. Expecting everything to run perfectly can set you up for an emotional let down. You can only control yourself, so focus on maintaining your sobriety when confronted with hostile or emotional situations.

Family Events and Parties

Attending family get-togethers and holiday parties can be stressful. Know which situations or people might set off your triggers and avoid them. Arrive early so that you can leave earlier, if needed. Drive yourself if you might need an easy way to leave when you want to. Time spent with people that do not respect your boundaries or elicit temptation should be limited or avoided altogether depending on your level of recovery.

Holiday food and drinks may have unwanted alcohol in their recipes. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, being handed drinks or desserts with alcohol in them could trigger relapse. Make your own snacks and drinks to bring with you to parties. Having your own preferred drink or snack in hand will help avoid the possibility of being handed things you will need to decline.

Have a few simple responses ready for awkward questions from relatives regarding your recovery. Do not feel the need to go into long explanations, or to answer every single question. Change the subject or let them know that you have some other things to do.

Help plan activities instead of just sitting around and drinking. Suggest some board games, sporting events, holiday movies, or building a snowman. Keeping yourself busy will nix cravings, alleviate stress, and help you steal some joy from the holidays.

Handling Stress or Cravings

When stress and cravings start to creep up on you, take a minute to remind yourself why sobriety is better and healthier for you. Recognize possible triggers and move to a different spot or find someone you trust to strike up a conversation with. You can also find someone to help with tasks that they need done, or find a game or activity to do.

Support systems are especially helpful and important during this time of year. Call a trusted friend, family member, or sponsor to talk with when feeling stressed. Attending extra AA or NA meetings during the holidays can give you extra confidence to get through the holiday season. Plan ahead to find meetings even if you will be in another city for the holidays.

Give Back to Others

Many just like you are battling temptations of relapse during this time of year. Make an effort to reach out and help other recovering addicts by attending parties with them to further their sobriety. Reaching out to others during the holidays can have a healing effect on you just as much as them. It can make you more confident in your own sobriety.

Selfless acts remind you of the things for which you can be grateful. Positive interactions will bring love and joy back into your life, and remind you that you can successfully avoid relapse and have a joyful holiday season.

Constance enjoys sharing stories of hope with those feeling lost, and encourages them to believe that there is a healthy, fulfilling life on the other side of whatever path they’re currently traveling.

Photo by BookBabe

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How the VA Hooked Veterans on Opioids

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In yet another example of well-researched reporting, the Washington Post details how the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) hooked Veterans on opioids and other powerful prescription drugs and then failed to provide these Veterans adequate treatment facilities.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges its role in creating a large population of opioid-addicted veterans by overprescribing painkillers for injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. After the agency tightened prescribing practices in 2013, many veterans bought pain pills sold illicitly on the streets. When those became too expensive, they sought heroin and fentanyl, a potent synthetic narcotic.

The VA is now struggling to undo the damage. Hampered by budgetary and bureaucratic obstacles, it has failed to build a rehabilitation program robust enough to meet the overwhelming demand for treatment from the tens of thousands of veterans with opioid addiction, say analysts who have studied the issue. That has left many veterans to fend for themselves, tapping whatever resources they can find to battle a chronic, complex—and frequently fatal—condition.

While the number of toxic opioids prescribed by the VA began to decline after 2013, the damage had been done to many Veterans returning from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  SFTT has long argued against the use of these addictive drugs, but the VA has been slow to respond to the evident abuse and potentially lethal consequences for Veterans suffering from PTSD.

Drug Abuse

While the much needed reform within the VA has received widespread bi-partisan Congressional support, labor leaders like David Cox have blocked any meaningful reform.  Clearly, the self-serving interests of VA employees appears to take preference over the needs of our Veterans.

The Commission on Care report on overhauling the VA was released on June 30th, 2016.  Sadly, political parties lined up on either side of the report to misrepresent the meaningful reforms sought by “disinterested” consultants seeking to improve treatment for Veterans.  It is difficult to speculate what – if any – of these reforms will be implemented by the new administration, but it appears that the labored search for a new VA Secretary suggests that it is a rather difficult position for the Trump administration to fill.

President Barack Obama

As the Obama administration gives way to a new one, President Obama would do well to heed the advice of John Rowan, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America, “to pardon all post 9/11 Veterans who received less-than-honorable discharges without the due process of a court-martial.”

Mr. Rowan argues that

The “misconduct” the military frequently cites to justify less-than-honorable discharges is often related to PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other service-related illnesses and injuries. Yet the military itself is culpable, having for years under diagnosed those problems. After service, things often get worse, since “bad paper” discharges can result in the denial of veterans benefits. Without proper care, and with the stigma of a less-than-honorable discharge, these veterans are often more likely to become substance abusers, homeless or incarcerated — or to die by suicide.

While some may be absolved by this sweeping policy, it could be a step forward to call attention to the plight suffered by many Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI that have been ill-served by the medical community in treating this debilitating injury.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Dec 23, 2016

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Found below are a few 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.

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

Putin:  Russia Wants to Strengthen Its Nuclear Arsenal
Russia’s military today can overpower any potential foe but should strengthen its nuclear arsenal, President Vladimir Putin told an annual end-of-year meeting Thursday with defense chiefs. “We can say with certainty: We are stronger now than any potential aggressor,” he told the meeting. “Anyone!” His comments come at the end of a year when tensions between Russia and the West have remained on edge over the civil war in Syria.  Read more . . .

Putin

Hacking of DNC Tied to Russian Military Intelligence Unit
A hacking group tied to the incursion on the Democratic National Committee has been linked to Russian military intelligence, according to a new report by the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. This finding is just the latest indication the Russian government was directly involved in the hack, which led to the release of thousands of emails among Democratic officials. That assessment has been echoed by the US intelligence community. Last week, a US official told CNN the intelligence community assessed the hack could only have been carried out with the involvement of the “highest levels of government, including (President Vladimir Putin) himself.”  Read more . . .

Veterans Face Uphill Battle for College Credits for Military Service
Steve Mayou was dumbfounded when he was told he’d have to take courses in introductory physics and basic math on his path to a bachelor’s degree in sustainable building science and technology. Over a 14-year career in the Navy, Mayou had already worked as a nuclear reactor operator on three submarines. Yet just about the only thing his college offered in exchange for that experience was one credit for physical education. “Not only did I do a physics class as part of my training, I had the ultimate lab,” he said, the anger still evident in his voice. “I was splitting atoms every day.”  Read more . . .

U.S.A. Sidelined as Russia, Turkey and Iraq Plot Syria’s Fate
The U.S. was reduced to the role of concerned bystander Tuesday as NATO-ally Turkey met in Moscow with Iran and Russia to plot Syria’s fate following the fall of Aleppo and the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey.  “We weren’t invited,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said of the Moscow meeting of foreign ministers, but Secretary of State John Kerry made follow-up phone calls to his Russian and Turkish counterparts for readouts of what was discussed.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD Turn to Yoga to Combat Stress
An estimated 8 million people in the United States suffer from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. In Indiana, as many as 50,000 Hoosier veterans could be dealing with it. But a new program is exploring a novel treatment, yoga. U.S. Navy veteran Larry Dodd has had multiple surgeries.  He deals with poor circulation; he’s a recovering alcoholic; and he and his wife are raising their two young grandchildren because his son is dealing with addiction.  Read more . . .

PTSD Research Highlights Early Intervention Strategy
Intrusive memories of a traumatic event and the associated physiological reactions to those memories in the acute period after the event appear to play a central role in the development of post traumatic stress disorder, suggests findings published in JAMA Psychiatry.   Read more . . .

Overhaul of VA Key to President-Elect Trump’s Pick for Secretary
President-elect Donald Trump may be preparing to ring in the drastic shakeup of the Department of Veterans Affairs he promised during his campaign for president.The incoming president is “not inclined” to keep the department’s current secretary Bob McDonald in his administration, a senior transition official told CNN on Monday. Instead, Trump is considering several potential successors who would align more with the sweeping VA overhaul Trump championed on the campaign trail as he railed against what he called the “most corrupt” and “most incompetently run agency in the United States.”  Read more . . .

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

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The VA Semantics of Treating Veterans with PTSD

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While watching the “Talking Heads” address the Russian hacking scandal through the prism of partisan politics, it struck me that much the same language is used by the VA when discussing the treatment of Veterans with PTSD.

PTSD Support Veterans

While I have always thought that the proper use of language should be celebrated rather than used as a divisive instrument, I am very much bothered by the implications of blurring the meaning of words to suit one’s political ends.

Specifically, hacking DNC or private servers is very much different than “intervening” in the election process.  Most, if not all, governments (including our own) hack foreign and often their own domestic communication’s networks.

While one can endlessly debate the ethics of hacking, it has been going on for centuries.  It is simply a derivative of spying.

Using that purloined information to disrupt or interfere in our own or any other election process can most certainly be construed as an aggressive act.

The point here is that the act of “hacking” and “weaponizing the information” from that hack are two very different subjects.    Blurring the meaning and intent of these two very separate activities is cause for alarm. Specifically, it introduces a number of conflicting and non-related elements into the equation that cannot be properly analyzed.  Formulating an “appropriate response” will even be more difficult.

The intent here is not to discussing Russian hacking, but to show how the use of language can be used to create a distorted view of the efficacy of various VA programs to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Specifically, there is huge difference between the following statements:

The VA is treating Veterans with PTSD;

The VA is treating Veterans for the symptoms of PTSD.

As Maj. Ben Richards eloquently points out, there is no evidence that VA-prescribed therapies have  “healed” or resulted in any significant improvement to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

 

Clearly, treating the symptoms of PTSD and TBI is quite a bit different than restoring brain function and permanently improving the physical and mental condition of military Veterans suffering from PTSD.

In effect, current VA programs seem to be designed to help Veterans cope with the side-effects of PTSD and TBI (i.e. depression, suicidal thoughts, alienation, etc.) rather than cure the underlying problem.    In many cases, we have seen that lethal combinations of prescription drugs have had the opposite effect.

The semantics of VA administrators stating that they are “treating PTSD” rather than “coping with the symptoms of PTSD” is not a trivial distinction.  In fact, there seems to be little evidence that the VA has provided Veterans with a clear path to restore some level of normalcy in their everyday life.

Clearly, with VA consultants like Dr. David Cifu suggesting unorthodox practices to deal with “concussive events” that no one in the medical profession seems to support, it is not surprising that the Veteran treatment outcomes have been so poor.

While there is clearly a need to help Veterans cope with the myriad of frightening symptoms that emanate from PTSD and TBI, we urgently need benchmarks to help provide Veterans with a path to recovery.

As long as a disproportionate amount of money is spent by the VA on drugs and ineffective therapy programs to deal with the behavioral symptoms of PTSD and TBI, then Veterans will be shortchanged by the organization responsible for their care.

With new leadership on the horizon at the VA, SFTT remains hopeful that Veteran trust in the VA will be restored and that the organization will be purged of the toxic leadership of Dr. David Cifu and others who defend the status quo.  Our Veterans and those in the military are not well served by these corrosive and divisive administrators.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Dec 16, 2016

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Found below are a few 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.

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

US Research Submarine Seized by Chinese
A Chinese ship has seized an underwater, unmanned U.S. research vessel, the Pentagon said Friday.  China seized the submarine midday Thursday after pulling alongside the USNS Bowditch, a U.S. oceanographic survey ship, as it was stopped in international waters of the South China Sea, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The ship was near the Philippines about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay when the submarine was seized, Davis said.  Read more . . .

Nuclear Risk Higher with Strained U.S.-Russian Relations
It’s not quite Cold War II, but the collapse of U.S. military relations with Russia could prove to be one of the most consequential aspects of President Barack Obama’s national security legacy while presenting an early test of Donald Trump’s hope for friendly ties to Moscow. Beyond the prospect of the two militaries accidentally brushing against each other in Europe or the Middle East, there is concern that a near-complete absence of military-to-military communication could enable a miscalculation or escalation leading to a nuclear confrontation. The United States and Russia possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Some are continuously on high alert.  Read more . . .

Abram A1 Tank

U.S. Tanks Redeployed to Eastern Border with Russia
The U.S. and its NATO allies are taking no chances amid a build-up of military force on Europe’s eastern frontier with Russia. Three years after the last American tank left Europe, they are being brought back “as part of our commitment to deterrence,” Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges told NBC News. Hodges, who is commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, welcomed a batch of tracked and wheeled support vehicles to a depot in the Netherlands on Thursday.  Read more . . .

EU Plans To Increase Military Spending in Response to Trump
European leaders approved plans aimed at stepping up military spending, which officials said is partly a response to pressure by the incoming Trump administration to shoulder more responsibility for the continent’s defense. Still, reaching final agreement on the details in coming months could be tricky. Divisions remain within the bloc about how a new defense purchasing group would work, how costs would be divided and who would be able to use the new defense capabilities that emerge. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Europe knows “we have to do more and better” on military spending.  Read more . . .

Telemedicine Effective for Treating Veterans with PTSD?
Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have difficulties making it to in-person therapy sessions may be able to get treatment that’s just as good by videoconference. Researchers compared home-delivered prolonged exposure therapy – which helps patients confront memories and situations that trigger their symptoms – to the same treatment given in U.S. Veterans Affairs clinics, and found no difference in effectiveness. “The best treatment for PTSD, with the most empirical support, can be delivered at no loss of effectiveness, directly into a veteran’s home, rather than having the veteran come into clinic,” lead study author Ron Acierno told Reuters Health by email.  Read more . . .

Vet with Service Dog

Veterans Train With PTSD Support Dogs
Fear of crowds and loud noises, battles with drugs, alcohol, depression and suicidal thoughts – those are just a few of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  But this week a group of vets is getting to know some life-saving comrades who will help them. People enjoying their dogs is not an uncommon sight. “I was getting a lot of this look, but now they’re coming in with a sparkle in their eyes,” Nicole Lanahan said. Lanahan started the charity “Got Your Six Support Dogs”. In the military, “Got your six” means “I’ve got your back” and that’s what these dogs are trained to do for veterans suffering from PTSD.  Read more . . .

Who Will Lead Department of Veterans Affairs?
Two key Republican senators are weighing in about ongoing problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs as President-elect Donald Trump mulls his choices for a nominee to lead the agency. The chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., wrote a letter Thursday to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is leading Trump’s transition effort. Grassley and Johnson say the VA is still plagued by problems in “urgent need” of improvement, including substandard care and failure to hold employees accountable for misconduct and poor performance.  Read more . . .

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

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SFTT News: Week Ending December 9, 2016

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Found below are a few 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.

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

Congress Approves 2.1% Pay Increase for Military in 2017
The U.S. Senate on Thursday joined the House of Representatives in approving a 2.1 percent pay raise next year for troops. The upper chamber passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which included the pay increase, by a vote of 92-7. The House last week approved the legislation by a veto-proof majority of 375-34. The bill now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.  The $619 billion authorization act includes $611 billion for programs overseen by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, including $524 billion for base defense spending, $68 billion for war funding and almost $20 billion for other national security programs.  Read more . . .

special forces

U.S. Military on Brink of Collapse?
Forget about the longtime standard of a military capable of fighting two major wars simultaneously, which the United States abandoned four years ago. The current military would have trouble fighting one major conflict. That is the assessment of some prominent defense experts, who contend the military has degraded to dangerous levels after eight years under President Obama. “We have lost our edge,” said Daniel Goure, senior vice president of the Lexington Institute. “We are no longer technologically superior in a whole list of areas … This is a military that is on the brink of collapse.”  Read more . .

Pentagon “Buries” $125 Billion in Bureaucratic Waste
The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post. The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.  Read more . . .

Tai Chi Could Help Veterans with PTSD
Around 7 to 8 percent of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder in their lifetime, and the condition is even more common among veterans, affecting around 23 percent of those involved in recent conflicts. According to a new study, the ancient Chinese exercise Tai Chi could help veterans manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress.  Read more . . .

Ben Weller - Reuters

Free Guide Dogs for Veterans Available in Florida
Suzy Wilburn’s voice cracked and tears welled up in her eyes when we asked her what her specially trained guide dog Carson means to her. Wilburn says, “I’m allowed to live again. I’m allowed to be in my community and be part of my community and I’m not sitting at home. He saved my marriage. He saved my life.” Wilburn’s dog was trained at Southeastern Guide Dogs which is located in Palmetto where she also works. Spokeswoman Ruth Lando says they provide all of their dogs and services free of charge and receive no government funding.  Read more . .

Equine Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
Those who serve in our military deserve our support, particularly those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to a Rand Corp. studyreleased in 2008, 20 percent of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, but 50 percent of them do not seek treatment because of the stigma associated with mental illnesses. They often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Families are destroyed and communities lose those who could have made valuable contributions. What is more tragic is through 2014 each day some 20 veterans committed suicide.   Read more . . .

Grant to Address Hyperarousal in Treating PTSD
Mathew and research colleagues at Baylor recently received a grant that will provide more than $1.35 million from the National Institute of Mental Health over two years to study and develop a drug that might mitigate hyperarousal in patients with PTSD. At present, there are two Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs to treat PTSD, the antidepressants Zoloft and Paxil (generics: sertraline and paroxetine). Though clinicians say these medications can be helpful, neither of the drugs was specifically designed to treat PTSD. “There’s a big dearth of effective drug treatments, and that’s what the focus of our research is,” Mathew says. “Psychotherapies help a lot of people, but still many will have residual symptoms or incomplete resolution.”  Read more . . .

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

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Preventing Concussions: Can Help be on the Horizon?

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Concussions and preventing concussions continues to be a hot topic in the media, particularly when parents decide whether to allow their kids to play contact sports.

Treating PTSD and TBI also receives its share of attention, but most of the media coverage seems to be focused on coping with the symptoms of brain injury rather than offer any meaningful long-term solution for Veterans with these conditions.

Far less attention is devoted to preventing concussions in the first place.  Perhaps, we should be moving forward on all fronts simultaneously.

military drugs

Just this week the FDA just approved a series to trials to evaluate ecstasy to help people cope with PTSD.

After successful preliminary trials, the FDA is moving forward with a large scale study for using Ecstasy as a prescription drug to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study approved on Tuesday would be the final measure necessary before the agency could legalize the drug, according to the New York Times. If the results are favorable, the drug also known as MDMA would be available to patients as early as 2021.

While some may view this new FDA initiative with relief, I am not encouraged by yet another new drug that treats the symptoms of PTSD rather than drugs that permanently reverse brain damage itself.   As we have seen with opioids, treating symptoms opens up a pandora’s box of other medical and neurological problems, particularly when these medications are combined with other prescription drugs.

Granted, reversing brain injury is new uncharted territory, but many Veterans seem to have lost hope that permanently improving  brain “wellness”  is considered to be a high priority for either the VA or the FDA.

If this is the case – and I hope it is not – then studies focused on reducing the incidence of concussion certainly take on far more importance.  Found below is a recent Ted Talk  by David Camarillo focused on developing new protective gear to reduce concussions:

Mr. Camarillo takes issue with both the CDC and NFL models of what happens when a concussive-event occurs. Swedish scanning imagery points to something far different occurring within the brain than what is argued by conventional sources.

Could it be that existing helmet designs for the military and the NFL are based on flawed models and questionable scientific research?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I continue to be disturbed by the conflicting messages sent out by the VA, the FDA, the CDD and the NFL.  Surely, “I don’t know,” is a far more honest answer than continued claims by those in authority that “we are making progress” in helping Veterans with PTSD or protecting NFL players.

If the flawed product were an automobile which caused a fatality, a recall notice would be issued.  How is it possible that the NFL continues to operate with impunity when the evidence strongly suggests that repeated concussions causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or ”CTE’)

The recent FDA “Ecstasy” trial isn’t particularly reassuring, particularly knowing that the results will not be available until 2021.

Questions that seem more relevant would be these:

– Will Dr. David Cifu continue to dictate VA protocols in treating concussive events?

– When will military helmet sensor data be released to the scientific community to help provide our brave military personnel with better helmets?

– Can the VA provide any clinical evidence that it has successfully treated and “cured” PTSD and/or TBI?

– Are more drugs the answer to treat PTSD?

I can’t answer these questions, but tens of thousands of brave men and women with PTSD and TBI deserve an answer.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week of Dec 2, 2016

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Found below are a few 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.

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

General James Mattis

Marine General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis to be secretary of defense, according to people familiar with the decision, nominating a former senior military officer who led operations across the Middle East to run the Pentagon less than four years after he hung up his uniform. To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exception just once, when Gen. George C. Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950.  Read more . . .

Space:  The Next Military Battlefield?
Since man first explored space, it has been a largely peaceful environment. But now US adversaries are deploying weapons beyond Earth’s atmosphere, leading the US military to prepare for the frightening prospect of war in space.”As humans go out there, there has always been conflict. Conflict in the Wild West as we move in the West … conflict twice in Europe for its horrible world wars,” Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, told CNN. “So, every time humans actually physically move into that, there’s conflict, and in that case, we’ll have to be prepared for that.”  Read more . . .

More Troops and Firepower for Trump Military?
President-elect Donald Trump wants a much bigger military. All he needs to do is find the money and political support to make it happen.  Less than two weeks into the Republican businessman’s transition from unlikely presidential candidate to unlikely commander in chief, many details of his plans for the Defense Department remain unsettled. His picks to lead the Pentagon, the individual services and his national security staff are still unsettled. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was named his administration’s national security adviser on Friday, and Trump has been reaching out to potential defense secretary candidates in recent days, including retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who as the head of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013 choreographed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under President Obama.  Read more . . .

VA Exec Running “Shameful” Charity to Retire with Full Benefits
Thomas Burch, a career lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs will retire November 30 with a full pension and lifetime health care, a congressional source told CNN.Burch was in the process of being fired by the VA after an internal investigation and an investigation by the New York attorney general’s office found Burch personally benefiting from donations made to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation.The Foundation, which Burch ran, raised more than $29 million in four years but spent less than 2% of that money on actual veterans causes. The New York attorney general’s office discovered most of the donated funds went to professional fundraising, and that “the fraction that actually made it to NVVF was further reduced by a pattern of abuse, mismanagement and misspending by NVVF’s former president.”  Read more . . .

Gulf War Illness Under the Microscope at the VA
Unless you were an adult in the 1990s, you probably don’t remember that the Gulf War kicked off the decade. Though it lasted less than a year, many Gulf War veterans came home with a mysterious disease that researchers are just now beginning to understand. According to a press release issued by the Veterans Affairs Research Communications, three VA-funded studies found that Gulf War Illness (GWI) is caused by an abnormal immune response. Certain forms of a gene known to play a key role in the immune system may offer protection from GWI. GWI is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that include fatigue, headache, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness and respiratory and memory problems, according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs. It affects about 300,000 veterans—four out of 10 veterans who served in the Gulf War.   Read more . . .

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

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