SFTT News: Week of Sept 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 our 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 Military Seeks Additional Troops for Iraq
The U.S. military is requesting authority to send up to 500 new troops to Iraq ahead of a much-anticipated campaign to take back Mosul from Islamic State, according to U.S. officials, adding to an expanding American presence in the country. The new deployment, if approved by the White House, would assist Iraqi and coalition forces in preparing for the battle to capture the northern city, the extremist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq. That fight is expected to begin as early as mid-October, U.S. officials have said. Read more . . .

special forces

E.U. Revives Idea of Joint Military Command Following Brexit
In late April 2003, just after the rapid fall of Baghdad, four of the founding countries of what is now the European Union met to announce the formation of a European operational military command headquarters just down the road from NATO.  France and Germany, which had fiercely opposed the war against Saddam Hussein, led by the United States and Britain, joined with Belgium and Luxembourg in what the American State Department sniffily dismissed as “the chocolate summit.”  Read more . . .

Cybersecurity Threatens US Military Supremacy
Alarmingly, the use of cyber attacks in this dispute suggests we might already be in the midst of a new Cold War playing out in cyberspace — where America’s advantage is not as clear as it is with conventional armies and navies. The Spratly Islands are of economic and strategic importance. All of the countries in the region — including China, Vietnam and the Philippines — have made competing territorial claims to the region. In recent years, China has become increasingly aggressive in its claim, rapidly building artificial islands while also conducting military operations in the area.   Read more . . .

Race Driver’s former Girlfriend Accused of Stealing from Military Charity
The former girlfriend of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch was charged Tuesday with stealing from a military charity she led. Court documents don’t say how much prosecutors believe Patricia Driscoll took from the District of Columbia-based Armed Forces Foundation, whose mission is to support service members, veterans and their families. But a 2014 tax form for the nonprofit says that the “foundation has become aware of suspected misappropriations” by Driscoll totaling more than $599,000 for the years 2006 to 2014. It says she misused money for meals, travel, parking tickets, makeup and personal gifts.  Read more . . .

SFTT and Razoo Support Veterans

Union and VA Bosses Rally to Stymie VA Reform
In an expletive-laden rant delivered earlier this year, a belligerent American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox threatened Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald with physical violence. The exchange perfectly encapsulates the corrosive influence government union bosses are having on efforts to reform a broken VA. It’s a never-ending cycle in which pliant politicians and federal agency leaders bow to the boss’s’ demands to preserve the dysfunctional status quo of our federal personnel system, which almost guarantees employment for government bureaucrats no matter how egregious their behavior.  Read more . . .

Nation-building “on the rocks” for U.S. Military?
Most American military personnel are deeply skeptical of the United States’ nation-building missions overseas and would prefer to see leaders in Washington focus the country’s resources on less ambiguous missions like killing terrorists and protecting the homeland, according to a new first-of-its-kind survey.  Read more . . .

Neuroimaging to Evaluate PTSD?
The bioengineers leveraged a cutting-edge imaging technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to visualize the blood flow in the neuronal networks of subjects. These results were then fiddled with to obtain a measure of brain activity with respect to position.  Read more . . .

Billionaire Hedge Fund Owner Pledges $325 million to Support PTSD Research
Cohen said he plans to invest $325 million during a five year period in his two new initiatives to help veterans and prevent them from committing suicide, a recent phenomenon among vets that has alarmed policymakers. Last year, the billionaire investor founded the Cohen Veterans Network, a chain of free mental health care clinics for vets, as well as Cohen Veterans Bioscience, a research institute dedicated to PTSD and traumatic brain injury diagnosis and treatment.  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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NFL Reluctantly Opts to Research Concussions

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In yet another token concession to those concerned with repeated trauma of concussions on NFL players, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new initiative “intended to increase the safety of the game, specifically by preventing, diagnosing and treating head injuries.”

As reported by CNN, Goodell said:

. . . the league and its 32 club owners will provide $100 million in support of engineering advancements and medical research — in addition to the $100 million previously pledged by the league to medical and neuroscience research.

The Play Smart Play Safe initiative also requires hiring a physician to serve as the league’s chief medical officer.  The physician will work with each team’s medical staff and establish an independent scientific advisory board to consider head injury research proposals.

Concussions and, more importantly, chronic traumatic encephalopathy ( or”CTE’) continues to be a subject that is only whispered about behind closed doors at the NFL.  Nevertheless, it is a problem that will not soon disappear and SFTT remains hopeful that researchers will be able to improve the safety of the game and provide insights into how this horrific “sport” injury can be prevented and,  hopefully, treated more effectively.

chronic_traumatic_encephalopathy

While the NFL has been slow to address this problem, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) have been even slower.  Consider what SFTT stated in March, 2016 in its article entitled “NFL Preempts Veterans with Brain Injuries“:

With hundreds of thousand of Veterans suffering from brain trauma, isn’t it about time our political and military leadership quit burying their heads in the sands and deflect public scrutiny by investigating the NFL, which has Congressional immunity from antitrust regulation?  What a strange but convenient retreat for our feckless political leadership.

If the NFL owners had any sense, they would embrace the battle against brain trauma and work with the military to help both its gladiators and the brave men and women suffering from PTSD. Indeed, this public relations initiative could help deflect “public” outrage and provide the medical profession and others with the resources and impetus to deal with the silent wounds of war.

While the causes of brain trauma are different, shared research could go a long way in helping both Veterans and NFL players deal with the problems of repeated concussions.  No one expects easy answers, but the military has collected a wealth of data on concussions over the last six years from sensors implanted in helmets of soldiers serving in combat.

The first step in solving a problem is to admit you have a problem.  Sadly, both the NFL, the VA and the DoD have been slow to address this most serious problem and one wonders how committed either organization is to do so.

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SFTT News: Highlights for the Week Ending Sep 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 our 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.

Trump and Clinton

Candidates Trump and Clint Veer from Addressing Veteran Issues
During the hour-long event hosted by NBC’s Matt Lauer, the candidates indeed touched on veterans issues, notably waits for appointments at Veterans Affairs Department hospitals and the high number of veterans who die by suicide. But during most of the hour-long event, they focused on other national-security and military matters.   Read more . . .

Unsuccessful Rescue Mission in Afghanistan
U.S. defense officials say that special operations forces launched a rescue mission to retrieve two men kidnapped by insurgents in Afghanistan last month. The hostages were not there when the rescue team arrived.  Read more . . .

North Korea Conducts 5th Nuclear Test
North Korea conducted its second nuclear test in eight months on Friday, raising concerns that Pyongyang has moved a step closer to its goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could one day strike the U.S. mainland.State TV said the atomic detonation — the fifth carried out by Kim Jong Un’s isolated regime — “put on a higher level [the North’s] technology of mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets.”  Read more . . .

Laser Weaponry on the Horizon?
There’s a technological revolution brewing in warfare. Silent and invisible, it relies on high intensity pulses of light to kill or incapacitate, all at the speed of light. After decades of promises and false starts, lasers are at last finally entering military service. And warfare will never be the same.  Read more . . .

 U.S. to Send More Troops to Iraq to Prepare for Mosul Battle
The United States has increased its forces in Iraq by almost 500 troops in the last week to support the operation to take Mosul from the Islamic State group, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday. The increase in personnel and equipment is needed to meet the Iraqi government goal of recapturing Mosul before the end of the year, Col. John Dorrian, the Baghdad-based spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters at the Pentagon.  Read more . . .

Teamwork Key to Preventing Suicides
Staff Sgt. Miguel Sierra vividly recalls himself and his staff handling logistical matters in the aftermath of a sailor committing suicide. As a behavioral specialist and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the Army Health Clinic at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Sierra said this experience impressed upon him the importance of teamwork and the need for Soldiers to maintain awareness of signs of distress among their fellow Soldiers.  Read more . . .

Light Therapy in Treating PTSD
After years of studying the effects of near-infrared light on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, a team led by a University of Texas at Arlington bioengineer has published groundbreaking research in Nature’s Scientific Reports that could result in an effective, long-term treatment for brain disorders. Their research is funded in part by a UT System BRAIN or Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies seed grant titled, “Transcranial light therapy and imaging of prefrontal cognition in PTSD.”  Read more . . .

 Georgia Veterans Court Provides Common Sense Rehabilitation Alternative
Nine local veterans recently saved Cobb County taxpayers about $191,610. These four Army veterans, three former Marines, and two Navy vets did not work for free or volunteer their services to a Cobb community organization. Instead the nine veterans, composed of eight men and one woman, successfully completed the 18-month Cobb County Veterans Treatment Court program and avoided potential incarceration. Primarily charged with felonies, these nine veterans easily could have been assigned an inmate number and added to the already bloated census within our Georgia prisons. Or worse, the nine could have become additional statistics in the grim nationwide toll of an estimated 20 veterans who commit suicide daily.  Read more . . .

stealth destroyer

Stealth Destroyer Leaves Bath Iron Works
The largest and most expensive destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy once headed to sea in a snowstorm during trials. Now, it’s heading into the remnants of a tropical storm as it leaves Maine for good. The skipper is watching the weather as the stealthy Zumwalt destroyer prepares to depart from Bath Iron Works on Wednesday en route to its commissioning in Baltimore, and then to its homeport in San Diego. Capt. James Kirk said what’s left of former Hurricane Hermine was creating some strong waves in the North Atlantic, but he said it wouldn’t prevent the ship from departing from the Navy shipbuilder.  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 of Sep 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 our 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.

Turkey Opens New Battlefront in Syria
Turkish tanks and other armored vehicles have entered Syria’s northern province of Aleppo and shelled Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) positions in the area, opening up yet another battlefront within the last two weeks, various media outlets reported. Turkey sent tanks into the town of al-Rai, located in Aleppo Province as part of its Euphrates Shield operation aimed at pushing both IS and Kurdish militants away from the border, Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported Saturday.  Read more . . .

Marines Collect Intel and Pinpoint ISIS Targets
Behind the scenes in the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq are Marine intelligence analysts who work around the clock to produce what are called, in military euphemism, “target development products” — essentially, information about enemy equipment and personnel to be destroyed.  As Iraqi security forces, supported by a U.S.-led coalition, fight ISIS militants with hopes to retake Mosul in the north by year’s end, troops with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command provide “intelligence surge support,” developing from one to six or more targets in a given week, task force commander Col. Kenneth Kassner told Military.com this week.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Can Combat PTSD be Cured?
According to Amy Marshall, associate professor of psychology at Penn State, when people suffer from Combat PTSD, there may be major changes in behavior and personality with no outward change in their appearance. Symptoms can include recurring nightmares and flashbacks of events, insomnia, feelings of anger or numbness, and the sense of being constantly on guard. Some studies suggest that twenty percent or more of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD; however, most researchers acknowledge that the stigma of mental illness, among other factors, makes accurate PTSD statistics difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, with an estimated twenty veterans committing suicide daily, there is a sense of urgency about finding solutions.   Read more . . .

US Army Introduces New Tourniquet
The service currently is training and equipping its combat medics with a new device, called a junctional tourniquet. It looks a bit like a belt, but comes with two inflatable bladders that can be pumped up to put pressure over a wound, even in locations where a traditional tourniquet would be ineffective. “Exsanguination (bleeding to death) is the most common cause of potentially survivable death for wounded warfighters,” said Ellen Crown, a spokeswoman for the US Army Medical Materiel Agency. The junctional tourniquet is designed so “a person can position it in under a minute — a crucial factor for combat medics who only have mere minutes to save a fellow warfighter’s life if he or she is hemorrhaging.”  Read more . . .

Money Won’t Fix What Ails the VA
A massive new report from the Commission on Care, created by Congress after the 2014 scandal, concludes: “Although VHA provides care that is in many ways comparable or better in clinical quality to that generally available in the private sector, it is inconsistent from facility to facility, and can be substantially compromised by problems with access, service, and poorly functioning operational systems and processes.”  Among the commission’s 18 recommendations for a sweeping overhaul: Create a more comprehensive and flexible “VHA care system.” That’s envisioned as a less rigid network of providers including doctors from the VA, military hospitals, other federally funded providers and facilities, and VA-credentialed private doctors and clinics.  Read more . . .

Lawsuit Filed a Wisconsin VA Facility
A lawsuit filed against a Wisconsin Veterans Affairs facility is alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death. The wife and the daughter of Jason Simcakoski filed the lawsuit in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 29th, 2016. It is not clear at this time what damages his family are seeking.  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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Virtual Reality Better Than Opioids for Veterans

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Although the technology is not new, video games may be more effective than opioids in treating PTSD.

According to Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D and Clinical Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University, playing virtual games may be more effective than narcotic drugs in treating pain.

In an article published in Psychology Today, the author interviewed researchers and made the following observations:

In my interview with the Navy’s head of Addiction Research Commander Dr. Andrew Doan, a Johns Hopkins MD and Ph.D. in neuroscience, he stated that he believes that there is indeed an endorphin-increasing mechanism that’s not entirely understood; he embraces the notion of screens acting as “digital pharmakeia” (Greek for pharmaceuticals), a term that he coined to explain the neurobiological effects produced by video technologies.

Brain imaging would eventually confirm that the burn patients treated with Snow World Virtual Reality (VR) were indeed experiencing less pain in the parts of their brain associated with processing pain. (See Figure Below) All of these stunning findings have led the military to further pursue the use of Virtual Reality and video games as a quasi-digital drug in order to help treat pain.

Indeed, the game used to help soldiers cope with burn pain was called Snow World and first used in 2008.

Recent studies indicate that brain scans of patients who used virtual reality programs showed significant improvement in cognitive functions.

With further study, this form of treatment could help curb opioid addiction.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Aug 19. 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 our 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.

“Heat Map” Suggests ISIS Branches Spreading Worldwide
The map is part of a classified briefing document received by the White House dated “August 2016” and prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center. It shows a stunning three-fold increase in the number of places around the globe where ISIS is operating.  U.S. State Department documents indicated that in 2014, when the U.S. military began its campaign to destroy the extremists, there were only seven nations in which the fledgling state was operating.  Read more . . .

NATO Round Table

Trump Remarks on NATO Triggers Alarm Bells
Donald Trump set off alarm bells in European capitals Thursday after suggesting he might not honor the core tenet of the NATO military alliance. Trump said the U.S. would not necessarily defend new NATO members in the Baltics in the event of Russian attack if he were elected to the White House. He told The New York Times in an interview published Thursday that doing so would depend on whether those countries had “fulfilled their obligations to us” in terms of their financial contributions to the alliance.  Read more . . .

DoD Considers New Benefit for Veterans
Plans are progressing to extend online military exchange shopping privileges to all honorably discharged veterans, Military Times has learned.  The Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board voted unanimously Aug. 9 to recommend the policy change, sources said. Extended shopping privileges would apply only to the exchange system’s online stores — not brick-and-mortar facilities located on military installations. The Pentagon did not immediately confirm the’s board move, and its unclear what its next steps will be. Officials have said previously that they’d like to implement the expanded benefit on Veterans Day 2017.  Read more . . .

Soldier Medals on U.S. Olympic Team
Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks cleared the pole vault bar at 19 feet 2-¼ inches to take third place and win a bronze medal on Monday night at the Rio Olympics, becoming the first military member of the U.S. team to medal.  It also marked the first pole vault medal for the United States in a dozen years — since since Tim Mack and Toby Stevenson went 1-2 at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.  Read more . . .

PTSD “stigma” Helps other Soldiers in Combat
Social stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) actually helps soldiers by encouraging them to ostracize comrades who might otherwise endanger their mission, a top military psychiatrist claims. Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival at an event on PTSD, Surgeon Captain John Sharpley said “stigma seems to work” by causing those who are mentally ill to be ruled out of the most dangerous missions. He was in conversation with author and journalist Matthew Green, whose book on military mental health ‘After Shock’ looks at how armies have responded to the issue.  Read more . . .

 Veterans Seek Solace in Shakespeare
Under the oak trees that shade Central Park in Louisville, Ky., a troupe takes the stage. Although most of them have never performed before, they’ve been rehearsing for months. Their weekly rehearsals have paid off— the performance is flawless. Each performer recites their lines with conviction and poise. They conclude the performance by locking arms and reciting—“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Thunderous applause erupts from the stands and as the newly minted thespians exit the stage, many in the audience thank each one for their service.  Read more . . .

US Soldier in Combat

Combat Exposure May Jeopardize Health of Women
In the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 42,397 Army enlisted women who returned from Afghanistan or Iraq were assigned combat exposure scores of 0, 1, 2, or 3+ based on their self-reported experiences. Importantly, any report of combat exposure among Army women was associated with an increased likelihood of each post-deployment behavioral health problem (PTSD, depression, and at-risk drinking), suggesting that the impact of even one exposure event should not be overlooked.  Read more . . .

One in Three Suffer from Depression after ICU
Almost one in three people discharged from hospital intensive care units has clinically important and persistent symptoms of depression, a so-called meta-analysis of reports on more than 4,000 patients suggests. In some patients, the symptoms can last for a year or more, and they are notably more likely in people with a history of psychological distress before an ICU stay, the investigators say.   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 August 12, 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 our 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.

Three U.S. Troops Injured in Afghanistan
Three U.S. soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan Monday evening when a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives in eastern Nangarhar province. The soldiers suffered minor injuries, NATO’s Resolute Support mission said. They were conducting a force-protection patrol at the time of the incident.  Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for Nangarhar’s governor, said the suicide bomber struck a military convoy in Surkh Rod district near Jalalabad.  Read more . . .

ISIS Propaganda Photo

ISIS “Collapsing on All Fronts”
The outgoing commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria said Wednesday that “the enemy is in retreat on all fronts” as local forces backed by U.S. and coalition airpower press offensives.  “You don’t hear the world ‘stalemate’ anymore” to describe the anti-ISIS campaign, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a briefing from his Baghdad headquarters to the Pentagon. Read more . . .

Pentagon Looks to Israel for New Missile Shield
American defense contractor Raytheon and Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, who worked together developing Israel’s Iron Dome—the highly-acclaimed mobile air defense system that has become critical to Israel’s national security—are now collaborating on an American prototype.  Read more . . .

Second Skin to Protect U.S. Troops from Chemical Weapons?
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is working on using carbon nanotubes to create a barrier that would be impenetrable to chemical and biological agents, but still water-permeable. The result could make suits designed to protect against chemical and biological threats more comfortable—and effective—for long-term wear.  Read more . . .

Turkish Military Officer Seeks Asylum in the U.S.
A Turkish military officer on a U.S.-based assignment for NATO is seeking asylum in the United States after being recalled by the Turkish government in the wake of last month’s failed military coup, U.S. officials told Reuters. The asylum bid is the first known case involving a Turkish military officer in the United States as Turkey purges military ranks after mutinous soldiers commandeered fighter jets, helicopters and tanks in an unsuccessful attempt to oust President Tayyip Erdogan.   Read more . . .

Ending Veteran Homelessness: City Update
Since 2010, when President Barack Obama launched a five-year national campaign to end homelessness among veterans, the number of former servicemembers living on the streets has dropped from over 76,000 to below 50,000. In early January, officials in New Orleans declared that their city was the country’s first to find permanent housing for all of its homeless veterans, who numbered 227 at the start of last year. Here’s a look at efforts in a handful of other U.S. cities, based on figures provided by federal, state and local agencies.  Read more . . .

Women in Combat at Risk for PTSD
Women in the military who experience combat have a much greater risk than those who don’t of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues, a U.S. study suggests. Compared to their peers without any combat exposure, enlisted women who had just one combat experience were over four times more likely to screen positive for PTSD in post-deployment exams, the study found. With three or more combat experiences, the PTSD risk was more than 20 times greater.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

An All Too Common Story of a Veteran with PTSD
Coming home as a civilian with PTSD was challenging and confusing. I experienced crippling depression, anxiety, night terrors and debilitating flashbacks. I grew increasingly isolated, spending day and night alone in my dark basement, self-medicating and contemplating suicide. At my lowest point, I was taking 32 medications — including a dozen narcotics — and drinking three six-packs a night to fall asleep. I had no external wounds, but inside, I felt broken.  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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Department of Veterans Affairs: Flawed Models Yield Flawed Results

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Like many, I am both encouraged and a little frightened at the pace of genetic research. It is one thing to map the human genome, but it is quite another to begin “editing” genes or genetic material to promote healthier patient outcomes.

Mind you, I am in favor of reversing or eliminating alzheimer’s, MS, cancer, diabetes and many other terrible diseases, but pushing the boundaries of scientific experimentation often produces unexpected and potentially catastrophic outcomes.
DNA Research

The Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) insists on recommending therapy for treating PTSD and TBI based on “rigorous science,” according to Ms. Schnurr who heads the VA’s National Center for PTSD.

At first glance, Ms Schnurr’s position seems most sensible, but what if the scientific model is flawed?

I recently came across this powerful six-minute Ted Talk on genome sequencing. While Keolu Fox is eloquently arguing for more diversity in genetic research, he is indirectly suggesting that research based on skewed samples may not always produce the same results across all genetic and ethnic types.

I am always wary of people who argue from the basis of scientific knowledge as flawed models can often yield flawed results.

The overwhelming evidence suggests that the VA doesn’t have a clue when it comes to treating PTSD and TBI. So why does the VA leadership continue to insist on scientific certainty? We owe our brave men and women so much more.

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Throwing Snowballs at the Department of Veteran Affairs

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Many years ago I was reading a biographic sketch of the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.   According to the biography, teenager Trudeau was arrested by the Chinese police for throwing snowballs at a statue of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square.

Chairman Mao

He was released by Chinese police after explaining that “it was a Canadian tradition to throw snowballs at statues of famous people.”    I have no idea if this story is true, but it would not surprise me as the brilliant and iconoclastic Trudeau had a glib answer for most everything.

As readers of Stand For the Troops (“SFTT”) news are aware, we are not satisfied with how the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) treats Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As reported last week, Maj. Ben Richards cites numerous internal and external studies demonstrating that VA protocols in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI have not been effective.

For the well-being of our Veterans and their loved ones, we can only hope that our well-meaning “snowballs” will ultimately have some effect on breaking through the entrenched bureaucracy at the VA.

Sadly, this is unlikely to be the case.  But if hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of concerned Americans were lobbing snowballs at the VA through their elected officials in D.C., “a thousand flowers might bloom.”   I apologize to Chairman Mao for misquoting him.

If you listen to Dr. Xavier Cifu’s moronic defense of the VA’s “evidence-based” PTSD therapy programs to a Congressional committee, you get the sense that his “own personal opinion” is far more important than any scientific evidence.

Needless to say, not everyone within the VA is as oblivious to its shortcomings  as Dr. Cifu.  For instance,  Paula Schnurr, who heads the National Center for PTSD, which is part of the VA, says

. . . she’s “not concerned about veterans seeking alternative strategies in addition to effective strategies,” as long as the alternative doesn’t replace a method with more evidence behind it.

Schnurr says 90 percent of VA centers across the country do offer some sort of alternative treatment for PTSD. And many have been studied through clinical trials — some, like meditation and yoga, with promising results.

Schnurr also points out one approach to trauma, once approached with broad skepticism, is now on the VA’s list of approved treatments. EMDR — devised in the late 1980s — uses bilateral eye movement, looking side to side, during cognitive behavioral therapy. Only after about a dozen clinical studies did Schnurr feel comfortable recommending it.

“I’m convinced the treatment works; I’m not sure why,” she says.

But as long as the treatment is based on rigorous science, she says, that’s evidence enough.

Ah, there are those magical words again:  “rigorous science.”  What do those words actually mean?   Could the “observational model” be flawed?  At least, Ms. Schnurr has an open mind.

Is the Department of Veterans Affairs too Big to Succeed?

As we have seen last week, the VA continues to use flawed procedures to treat PTSD and TBI yet insists that the “treatment is based on rigorous science.”  Gosh, if the VA’s own internal and external audits demonstrate that standard therapies are not effective in helping Veterans with PTSD and TBI to achieve better outcomes, why not explore other alternatives?

Some weeks ago, we analysed the VA under the microscope of Nassim Taleb’s theory of Antifragility.   Even a superficial analysis of the VA suggests that the organization is Fragile and, in my opinion, far too big to succeed in its mission.

Veterans Cartoon by Gary Varval

Cartoonist Gary Varval

As if on queue, the New York Times asks the question:  Did Obama’s Bill Fix Veterans’ Health Care? Still Waiting.

When President Obama signed a sweeping $15 billion bill to end delays at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals two years ago, lawmakers standing with him applauded the legislation as a bold response that would finally break the logjam.

It has not quite worked out that way.

Although veterans say they have seen improvement under the bill, it has often fallen short of expectations. Nowhere is the shortfall more clear than in the wait for appointments: Veterans are waiting longer to see doctors than they were two years ago, and more are languishing with extreme waiting times.

According to the agency’s most recent data, 526,000 veterans are waiting more than a month for care. And about 88,000 of them are waiting more than three months.

What we are seeing, is increasingly discouraging outcomes for Veterans no matter how much money we allocate to “fixing” the problem.  In economics, one simply refers to this as “decreasing marginal returns on investment.”  This is not to say that some Veterans have not benefited with this new taxpayer largesse, but we should have received far better results if the VA were not so big!

So, if you are wondering what to do on this warm summer day, just pick up a few snow balls and gently lob them in the direction of our Congress and Senate in D.C.    Facing up to the realities that the VA is failing our Veterans is at least the first step toward helping these brave warriors reclaim their lives.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Aug 5, 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 our 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.

Senator John McCain Denounces Trump  on Comments of Muslim Soldier
Senator John McCain sharply criticized Donald J. Trump’s comments about the family of a fallen Muslim Army captain on Monday, a rebuke that provided an opening for other vulnerable Republican senators to do the same, even though they all stopped short of rescinding their endorsements of him.  “While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us,” Mr. McCain, a war hero whose service and capture in Vietnam were also once derided by Mr. Trump, said in a remarkable and lengthy written reproach of his party’s presidential nominee.  Read more . . .

Taliban Ambush US and European Tourists in Afghanistan
Taliban militants attacked a group of 12 American and European tourists escorted by an Afghan army convoy in western Herat province Thursday, leaving at least seven people wounded as the insurgents step up nationwide attacks. The tourists — eight British, three Americans and one German national — were ambushed by Taliban gunmen in the restive district of Chesht-e-Sharif, while en route from the neighboring provinces of Bamiyan and Ghor.  Read more . . .

Scout Tank

General Dynamic Scout Tank

U.S. Army Discussing Plans for New Lightweight Tank
The Army plans to hold a so-called industry day on Tuesday at Fort Benning in Georgia to discuss the requirements for such a vehicle, essentially a light tank, in the areas of lethality, mobility, protection, transportability, sustainability, energy and cyber, according to a statement released on Thursday from the service. The MPF program “will be a lightweight combat vehicle that provides the Infantry Brigade Combat Team long range, precision direct fire capability that ensures freedom of movement and action during joint expeditionary maneuver and joint combined arms operations,” according to the statement.  Read more . . .

Zika Virus Canada Info

Thirty-three US Military Members Reportedly Contract Zika
Thirty-three U.S. military members have infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, including a pregnant woman, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.  According to American local reports, these military cases are all outside the continental United States. In addition, six family members of the infected service members also contracted the virus.  Read more . . .

VA Puts Latest Daily Veteran Suicide Rate at 20
On average, 20 veterans a day committed suicide in 2014, a slight decrease from the previous government estimate, but federal health officials are cautious about concluding the suicide problem is getting better.  Rather, they say the Department of Veterans Affairs is relying on a more comprehensive database than ever before, making comparisons to prior studies difficult and possibly offering a truer snapshot than what was captured in the past.  Read more . . .

Increasingly, Veterans Turning to Alternative Treatments for PTSD
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates up to 30 percent of former American service members — from the Vietnam War to Iraq and Afghanistan — have post-traumatic stress disorder.  They don’t all seek treatment. But among those who do, the VA says 20 to 40 percent don’t get better with the standard regimen of therapy, medication or both.  Read more . . .

Marijuana PTSD

PTSD Marijuana Study Now Recruiting Veteran Volunteers
Researchers in Maryland and Arizona are looking for veteran volunteers to smoke up to two joints’ worth of marijuana a day in a new study designed to find out if pot helps relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. “We’re not arguing that cannabis is a cure, but our hypothesis is that it will at least reduce the symptoms,” says physician and study organizer Dr. Sue Sisley. The $2.2 million study, paid for by a grant from the state of Colorado to the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, will be conducted at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and Sisley’s Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.  Read more . . .

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