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.


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 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


Veterans with PTSD: Why a Dog May be Your Best Friend

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Veterans with PTSD:  Relief may be around the corner.  Practically, every day one sees Veterans with PTSD coming out from under the dark clouds of depression with the support of a canine companion.

Service Dogs and Veterans

I certainly am not qualified to speculate on the benefits that a service dog provides Veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental impairments, but there does appear to be genuine love and understanding between a Veteran and his or her companion dog.

Sadly, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) does not provide “service dogs” to Veterans suffering from PTSD.  In fact, the VA only provides limited benefits to those service members with an approved VA disability:

VA will pay for veterinary care and the equipment (e.g. harness and/or backpack) required for optimal use of the dog. Veterinary care includes prescribed medications, office visits for medical procedures, and dental procedures where the dog is sedated (one sedated dental procedure will be covered annually). Vaccinations should be current when the dog is provided to the Veteran through an accredited agency. Subsequent vaccinations will be covered by VA. Prescribed food will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Veterinary care does not include over-the-counter medications, food, treats and non-sedated dental care. Flea and tick medications are considered over-the-counter and are the responsibility of the Veteran along with over-the-counter dental care products (bones, dental treats, etc.). Grooming, boarding and other routine expenses are not covered.

The VA differentiates between a “guide dog” (for Veterans that are blind) and a “service dog” as follows:  to help those with severe to profound hearing loss by alerting the individual to a variety of sounds or someone with a physical impairment that substantially limits mobility  by assisting in the performance of a wide variety of tasks depending on need and training (e.g. opening doors, retrieving, etc.).

Currently, the VA does not provide Service Dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD because “there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms.”  Studies are now underway to evaluate the benefits of service dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, but these results will not be available for several years.

Nevertheless, many Veterans can attest to the healing benefits of having a service dog regardless of the VA’s propensity to study the issue further.  Found below is a video of a Navy Seal who explains the emotional well-being of his service dog.

While the VA continues its research, many privately-funded organization have sprung up across the United States to provide trained service dogs to many Veterans seeking canine support to help them cope with PTSD and TBI. Found below is a list of just a few of these organizations which provide Veterans with canine support that is still under consideration by the VA.

Train a Dog Save a Warrior:  SFTT’s Rescue Coalition Partner providing service dogs to Veterans dealing with the silent wounds of war.

Paws for Veterans:  A privately-funded program which rescues dogs from shelters and then trains both the Veterans and their service dogs.

Vets Adopt Pets:  A list of several programs across the United States to help pair Veterans with “support” pets.

This Able Veteran:   A service dog program designed to help Veterans cope with PTSD and recover their lives.

Canine Angels USA:  Another program which rescues dogs for animal shelters and trains them to work with Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

As the VA continues to “study” the self-evident benefits of a service dog, many well-intentioned private organizations across the United States are already providing much needed training and support for Veterans seeking a canine companion.

In many cases, these organizations are rescuing dogs for animal shelters to help provide these Veterans with a healing companion.

Thanks to the steadfast dedication of many wonderful people, the lives of countless Veterans have been improved.  On behalf of our Veterans, SFTT thanks you for your continued kindness and generosity!


SFTT Highlights: Week of Nov 25, 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 if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

First U.S. Serviceman Killed in Syria Fighting ISIS
The first U.S. service member was killed on Thursday in fighting against the Islamic State in Syria, officials said. The troop died from injuries sustained in a roadside blast near Ayn Issa in the northern part of the country, according to a statement from Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered his condolences after the tragedy.  Read more . . .

ISIS Propaganda Photo

Rebuilding U.S. Military Capability
As a first order of business, we need to review and redefine our strategic objectives and what is vital to our national interest. For example, does our current involvement in Afghanistan make any sense as it relates to our vital strategic interests? Of course not. So why do we continue to expend our national treasure to sustain a corrupt tribal society? Concurrently, in order to restore our world leadership credentials we must reverse the decline of our military capabilities. There is no question that sequestration has decimated our military forces. It will take several years to rebuild the force structure to levels that are required for what we define as a “ready response” force. However, there are actions and programs that can be enacted now that will immediately raise morale and the readiness of our existing forces.  Read more . . .

U.S. Military Celebrates Thanksgiving at Iraqi Base
U.S. troops celebrated Thanksgiving at an Iraqi army base in Qayyara, some 60 km (38 miles) south of Mosul, where a U.S.-led coalition is helping Iraqi forces battle Islamic State. Dozens of soldiers lined up, rifles slung over their shoulders and heads bowed, as one member recited a Thanksgiving prayer. Around 5,000 soldiers are currently in northern Iraq, assisting and advising Iraqi forces participating in the offensive to recapture Mosul from Islamic State. “I want to tell my family now to be thankful that all these people out here and be thankful for being alive… That’s all,” said Joe Hamilton one of the soldiers at the base.  Read more . . .

Grant to Help Match Animals with Veterans
In honor of Rio Grande Valley veterans, The Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center has utilized a Veterans with Disabilities Grant from a private donor which enables veterans with at least a 10 percent disability to adopt any of the pets available at the center for free. Adoption fees are typically $100 for cats, $120 for kittens, $150 for dogs and $170 for puppies. All fees, which are completely waived for veterans, includes spay or neuter operation, microchip for identification, first series of vaccinations and a month of free pet accident insurance. Joel Garza, a United States Army veteran, said he heard about the grant from a friend who knew he had just lost his dog.  Read more . . .

New PTSD Therapy Option for Veterans
Like many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, US Navy veteran Hakim Mathis struggled with anxiety and had trouble trusting others – until he tried Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT.  In CPT, the therapist helps the patient re-examine beliefs that may have changed after combat.  “Beliefs about themselves, beliefs about the world and the level of safety in the world, and concerns about the future and what it may hold,” said Dr. Alan Peterson. CPT is the treatment recently used on hundreds of Fort Hood soldiers and military personnel suffering from combat-related PTSD.   Read more . . .

Equine Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
Animals have a natural ability and knack to soothe and calm those around them without effort. Many types of animals can provide comfort and healing to those in distress, and recent studies show that horses are very special in that ability. The Healing of Our Veterans Equine Service or H.O.O.V.E.S. is a program designed to help veterans with #PTSD or other concerns.   Read more . . .

Veterans Cartoon by Gary Varval

Cartoonist Gary Varval

Will Donald Trump Keep Campaign Promises to Veterans
Donald Trump made a lot of campaign promises, some of which he has retreated from a little more than two weeks after winning the presidential election.  In his “Vision for Veterans Healthcare,” Trump lays out his commitment to ensure veterans “get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it.”  His 10-point plan is an ambitious mixture of accountability, dependability and accessibility in a reformed health care system not bound by a 75-year-old, single-payer, government-controlled model.  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


Veterans Affairs: Hope on the Way for Those Suffering from PTSD and TBI?

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With the expected change in the administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), hope could well be on its way to provide more effective and timely treatment for the tens of thousands of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the VA doesn’t seem to have a handle on treating Veterans with serious brain injury.  One hopes that the “new” VA will be more open to alternative therapy provided in the private sector, rather than current dogmatic approaches that have produced few – if any – positive approaches to treating PTSD and TBI. Maj. Ben Richards explains in far more detail below:

I just finished watching an exceptional documentary on PBS by Bob Woodruff entitled Medical Medicine Beyond the Battlefield.   The video, which may be watched below if you can spare 58 minutes – details some incredible medical breakthroughs in helping Veterans recover their lives after they have lost limbs in combat.  Truly miraculous!

Approximately 36 minutes into the video, Mr. Woodruff focuses on how the VA is dealing with brain injury.  Shortly thereafter, he chronicles the issues faced by Elana Duffy, an intelligence Sgt. First Class who suffered traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq (39 minutes).

It is evident that the VA is not making as much progress in treating neurological disorders as they are on other medical rehabilitation fronts.

While concerted efforts are being made to understand and treat PTSD traumatic brain injury, it appears that “progress” within the VA has been impeded by dogmatic positions maintained by Dr. David Cifu and others. In effect, Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI are given few treatment alternatives outside the narrowly defined treatment programs so vigorously defended by VA administrators.

SFTT has long held the view – based on feedback from many Veterans – that the VA is not in a position to provide the necessary care and treatment to truly help Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.   This is a huge problem for Veterans and their families and one needs to “think outside the box” or the confines of VA orthodoxy to embrace new treatment alternatives.

It is terribly sad that the VA has become a political ping pong ball to the chagrin of many Veterans. The release of the Commission on Care report recommending 18 major reforms within the VA triggered an immediate backlash from employees and lobbyists who felt threatened  by the findings.

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Like others, “I was appalled by the outburst of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, who threatened VA Secretary 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.'”

Against this particularly toxic background, it is difficult to know whether a new VA Secretary will be able to implement the reforms outlined in the Commission on Care report.

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown to Head Department of Veterans Affairs?

According to recent information, former U.S. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts is apparently a front-runner for the post of Secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs in the new Trump administration.

As reported in the Boston Herald and several other respected media sources, Scott Brown is

 . . . under consideration for the Cabinet post of Veterans Affairs secretary — said he would create a 24-7 manned hotline for suicidal soldiers, take back bonuses and raises awarded to incompetent VA staffers and outsource PTSD and other serious mental health cases to private professionals.

“People are hurting and they need some real help,” Brown said last night, hours after he spoke with President-elect Donald Trump. “There are some great angels working in the VA right now and they need a morale boost.”

If true, this could very well accelerate outsourcing the treatment of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI to private healthcare providers.   Sen. Brown is quoted as saying, “The VA’s trying to do it all — they can’t. We need to outsource that and get those people help right away.”

There is no way of knowing whether Sen. Brown will be offered the job of VA Secretary or will be confirmed to this “cabinet-level” position, but implementing the steps recommended by the Commission on Care would be a major step forward in getting Veterans the help they deserve.


SFTT News Highlights: Week of Nov 18, 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 if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Poll of U.S. Military Shows Mixed Reaction to Trump Presidency
Despite overwhelming support for President-elect Donald Trump among active-duty troops, one in four service members worries he may issue orders that violate military rules or traditions, according to a new Military Times/Institute for Military and Veterans Families Poll.  The poll surveyed 2,790 active-duty troops. Among those who voted, 51 percent said they supported Trump. Many expressed optimism at his election, predicting a stronger military and better quality of life for service members.  Read more . . .

Changes Needed in U.S. Military to Keep America Safe?
Throughout the year, news organizations have feasted on stories of terror attacks, saber-rattling provocations and outright wars. Is the world really as dangerous as all that? And is the military’s ability to protect us against these dangers really on the decline? Unfortunately, the answers to both questions are: “yes.”  The adequacy of U.S. military power must be assessed in terms of what our troops must be prepared to deal with: the “bad actors” that threaten our vital interests.  Read more . . .

Concerns Expressed about U.S. Military Awareness
There are “significant concerns” about the U.S. military’s strength and its ability to combat global threats, according to a report released Wednesday by a leading conservative think tank.“Clearly, the takeaway on this … is that the military is too small,” said Dakota L. Wood, editor of the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Military Strength. “It’s much too small to handle the tasks being assigned to it.”This is the foundation’s third annual report on U.S. military strength in the context of global threats and opportunities. And as with the first two, it blames the military’s perceived decline on reduced funding — the mandatory spending caps known as sequestration.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Resigns Citing Retaliation
A Department of Veterans Affairs employee who told Congress the agency was using unauthorized wait lists for mental health care in Colorado has resigned, saying he was subjected to retaliation for speaking out. Brian Smothers told The Associated Press Wednesday the VA had opened two separate inquiries into his actions and tried to get him to sign a statement saying he had broken VA rules. He said he refused. Smothers also said the VA reassigned him to an office with no computer access, no significant duties and no social contact.  Read more . . .

PTSD Support Veterans

PTSD as an Excuse for Illegal Behavior
I’ve written about post-traumatic stress disorder dozens of times over the past seven years. I’ve discussed specific topics such as effective, ineffective and alternative treatments. I’ve opined about the benefits (or lack thereof) of changing the name by dropping “disorder” from the title. I’ve even railed against bureaucratic obstacles that get in the way of helping veterans gain quality care.  However, one aspect of PTSD that I’ve yet to spend much time on is one that’s rather controversial and rarely talked about — using PTSD as an excuse for illegal behavior. Read more . . .

Online Resources for Military Veterans
We’re lucky to live in a country that cares for its veterans. We can all level criticism at the VA, but it is getting better and there are plenty of good-hearted people willing to pick up the slack by offering their time, patience, and expertise. I’ve written previously about job training and mobile applications that are just for veterans, and today I want to cover online resources. These five websites offer a lot for veterans of the US armed forces: Whether you need job training, a home loan, emergency help, or info on how to use your well-earned benefits, it’s all right here.  Read more . . .

10 Good Reasons to Hire Military Veterans
Companies take note: hiring a veteran of the U.S. Military comes with a host of benefits.  A number of Quora users responded to the question “What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the U.S. Military?” Of the responders, retired Marine sergeant and current hiring manager Jon Davis outlined ten key reasons employers should hire military veterans.   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


Swimming with the Sharks and Veterans with PTSD

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Last month, the New York Times published an article entitled “Scuba, Parrots, Yoga:  “Veterans Embrace Alternative Therapies for PTSD.”  The article focuses on Veterans with PTSD who seek alternative treatment programs.

shark and veterans with ptsd

In this article, author Dave Phillips, suggests that Veterans with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress) are seeking alternative treatment since conventional treatments approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) are not working:

Traditional medical approaches generally rely on drugs and controlled re-experiencing of trauma, called exposure therapy. But this combination has proved so unpopular that many veterans quit before finishing or avoid it altogether. This has given rise to hundreds of small nonprofits across the country that offer alternatives: therapeutic fishing, rafting and backpacking trips, horse riding, combat yoga, dogs, art collectives, dolphin swims, sweat lodge vision quests and parrot husbandry centers, among many, many others.

According to Mr. Phillips, one group of Veterans has even taken up swimming with sharks to help “overcome fears and build new experiences that put traumatic memories in perspective.”

Now, it is difficult to say whether swimming with sharks or parrot husbandry have any long term beneficial impact for Veterans, but it does speak volumes for the lack of treatment alternatives currently offered by the VA.

Prescription drugs and exposure therapy seem to be standard treatment procedures within the VA.  Sadly, the VA gatekeepers strongly discourage Veterans from seeking alternative programs provided by the private sector and charitable organizations (mostly small).

Hiding behind the cloak of “not FDA approved,” “lack of supporting clinical studies” or other bureaucratic protocols, the VA has effectively blocked many Veterans from seeking what many consider to be more effective treatment without the drug side-effects.

In fact, the VA has established itself as “Il Supremo” or the “Supreme Authority” in deciding what is “right” and proper for Veterans seeking help to cure themselves and re-integrate into society.

For many reasons, Veterans are finding that the VA’s recommended treatment for PTSD has its limitations and, in many cases, undesirable side-effects.  In fact, as we reported last week, the VA track record in treating PTSD is abysmal.

While VA administrators argue that they are open to “alternative therapies,” there is little in SFTT’s experience to suggest that the VA is openly encouraging Veterans to seek treatment outside the VA.  Quite the contrary, the gatekeepers at the VA consider alternative therapies as “black magic” with little or no scientific basis for support or VA funding.

As such, many Veterans are left to their own devices to find programs that may meet their particular needs rather than the VA pro forma cocktail of prescription drugs which masks symptoms and is often lethal.

While alternative PTSD treatment programs have grown exponentially,  it is difficult to gauge the efficacy of these programs given the vast differences in one program from another and the level of supervised care provided.  Who is to say whether swimming with sharks is better than parrot husbandry or which program may be best suited for a particular Veteran.

Despite these shortcomings, the VA would be wise to gather as much information as possible to evaluate the efficacy of these “alternative” treatment programs rather than simply dismiss them because there are no clinical trials or replicable results.

As the VA tries to redefine itself to provide more effective treatment programs for Veterans with PTSD, SFTT remains hopeful that the VA embraces other treatment alternatives and provides financial support to private foundations which try to make a difference in the lives of our brave Veterans.


Mixed Signals for Veterans with PTSD

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It is reassuring to learn that Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc encourages troops under his command to seek help when dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Many in the military believe that headaches, depression and mood swings are simply job fatigue symptoms and that it is “not macho” to seek out treatment.  As Gen. Bolduc knows, these common wartime symptoms may be a clear signal of post-traumatic stress (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

In a recent article featured in the New York Times, Gen. Bolduc made the following observation:

General Bolduc wants soldiers under his command — who are stationed in some of the continent’s most difficult parts — to know that seeking help will not hurt their careers. In his opinion, PTSD is the same as a broken arm.

“The powerful thing is that I can use myself as an example,” General Bolduc said. “And thank goodness not everybody can do that. But I’m able to do it, so that has some sort of different type of credibility to it.”

SFTT applauds Gen. Bolduc for taking the lead in encouraging troops under this command to seek out help without the repercussions of a punitive career backlash.  Nevertheless, effective treatment options for PTSD are severely limited by current DoD protocols.

Nowhere is this more evident than within the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”). Currently, the VA provides two forms of cognitive behavioral therapy to Veterans with PTSD: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy.

Also, to address the symptoms of PTSD the VA may authorize “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant medicine. These can help you feel less sad and worried. They appear to be helpful, and for some people they are very effective. SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (such as Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).”

As SFTT has reported on numerous occasions, masking the symptoms of PTSD through cocktails of powerful prescribed drugs has not proved successful and may in fact have triggered suicidal incidents.

In fact, the track record of the VA in treating PTSD has been notoriously ineffective as Maj. Ben Richards pointed out recently in this comprehensive discussion of VA procedures to treat PTSD and TBI:

Contrast Maj. Richards experience, with VA spokesman Dr. David Xavier Cifu to a Congressional Committee:

Personally, I find Dr. David Cifu’s treatment recommendation: “get back to activity as soon as possible” to be particularly disturbing. Not only is Dr. Cifu’s judgement questioned by his peers, but even the NFL has instituted “concussion” protocols which REQUIRE a mandatory rest period after a concussion.

In effect, a battlefield commander could encourage troops under his command to “get treatment,” yet the medical gatekeepers could simply prescribe antidepressants and quickly put the troops back into harm’s way.

Gen. Bolduc is to be complimented on his leadership, but the medical support in the military and VA needed to effectively treat men and women in combat for brain-related issues doesn’t seem to be on the same page.   How sad!

Why?  Good question, but one can only speculate on the “right” answer.

NFL and the Concussion Settlement

While the VA continues to “whistle Dixie” as the lives of Veterans and their loved ones continue to deteriorate, the leadership of the NFL is finally beginning to acknowledge the terrible harm done to professional athletes caused by repeated concussions.

Joe Nocera of the New York Times reports that a “Crack Appears in N.F.L.’s Concussion Settlement.”   NFL leadership has fought tooth-and-nail to hide the corrosive effect of repeated concussions from its players and the public.   Nevertheless, thanks to the courageous effort forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, popularized in the film “Concussion” starring Will Smith, the NFL acknowledged that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or C.T.E. was a serious health concern.


Now, a Doctor at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center believes that “I really do foresee being able to diagnose C.T.E. pretty accurately while people are alive sometime in the next five to 10 years,” he said. “Hopefully, even earlier.”

While this is helpful, one must ask what preventive measures can be introduced into football now to prevent C.T.E. from occurring in the future.  More to the point, if C.T.E. is predictive, what about the large number of professional players who have settled with the NFL to keep this problem from gaining traction with the public.

The Leadership of the NFL and the VA Have a Problem

The leadership of the NFL and the VA can continue to stonewall investigative committees and deceive themselves, but lives are at risk.  Isn’t it about time that the leadership of both organizations step up and “own the problem” and do their best to help players and servicemembers recover their lives?


SFTT News: Week Ending Oct 7, 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 if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Moscow Planning to Re-Establish Military Bases in Cuba and Vietnam?
Moscow is considering plans to return to Cuba and Vietnam where it had military bases in the past, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov said on Friday, according to RIA news agency.  Read more . . .

Dozens of Afghan Troops Missing from Military Training
Pentagon officials say 45 Afghan troops visiting the U.S. for military training have gone missing from their assignments in less than two years, presumably in an effort to live and work illegally in America.  In one case, an Afghan student was detained by Canadian police while trying to enter that country from the U.S. In some cases, officials said, those who went missing were in the U.S. for elite Army Ranger School and intelligence-gathering training. Defense officials did not identify the missing troops or their rank.  Read more . . .

Philippines President

Philippines’ Defense Minister Asserts Military Can Cope without US Aid
U.S.-Philippines ties are going through “bumps on the road” and the Philippine military could manage if treaty ally the United States were to withdraw aid, the defense minister said on Friday.  Lorenzana’s remarks suggested he was following other top officials in Duterte’s administration in rallying behind the maverick president’s tough anti-U.S. agenda after weeks of scrambling to manage the fallout from his outbursts and threats to downgrade the alliance.  Read more . . .

Post 9/11 Veteran Unemployment Down Again in September
Unemployment for the latest generation of veterans ticked down again in September, continuing to hover near record-low territory, according to new government data.  Just 4.4 percent of post-9/11 veterans looking for work were unable to find any in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That beats the previous month’s 4.7 percent rate, as well as the September 2015 rate of 5 percent.  Read more . . .

Antipsychotics Gaining Attention for Certain PTSD Symptoms
The only medications approved for PTSD by the Food and Drug Administration are paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft). Unfortunately, these medications provide limited benefits for many. In fact, some studies show that they are minimally or no better than a placebo (often referred to as a “sugar pill”).  One group of medications that has garnered attention over the past several years is antipsychotics. Although the joint PTSD guidelines of the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments don’t recommend the use of antipsychotics as a main treatment, the reality is that they are often used.  Read more . . .

What Options are Left for Syria?
Nearly six years of civil war capped with one of the most devastating weeks in Syria after the dissolution of a short-lived ceasefire and the possible fall of Aleppo has left the U.S. and global leaders at a crossroads of how to address the seemingly never-ending conflict.  “The options are to pull the plug on this phony diplomatic process, continue to make the defeat of the Islamic State a priority, or consider putting new cards on the table, and that would be some sort of military action,” said Aaron David Miller, vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  Read more . . .

laser weapons

Laser Weapons Get Real
On the desert floor, on top of a big, sand-coloured truck, a cubic mechanism pivots and fires an invisible infrared beam to zap one target after another. This High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) is a prototype laser weapon developed for the US Army by aerospace giant Boeing of Chicago, Illinois. Inside the truck, Boeing electrophysics engineer Stephanie Blount stares at the targets on her laptop’s screen and directs the laser using a handheld game controller. “It has a very game-like feel,” she says.  Read more . . .

Congressional Leaders Clash over Crisis Center Legislation
U.S. Rep. David Young and congressional Republicans are blaming Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid for holding up final passage of a bill that would make needed changes to a suicide hotline for veterans. Reid’s office is strongly pushing back, claiming it was Senate Republicans who stalled the “No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act.”  Read more . . .

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Please Pick Up the Phone at the Suicide Crisis Center

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It is fashionable these days to pick on people or institutions that promote a “political” agenda.  Mind you, there are plenty of targets worthy of scorn and outrage, but righteous indignation and self-promotion discourages meaningful dialogue.

As a 501 (c)3 non-political educational foundation, Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) often focuses on the shortcomings of military and political institutions that fail to meet their obligations to support military personnel and Veterans.

In particular, SFTT has been most critical of the level of care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) to Veterans.  We get no pleasure in citing the many shortcomings of the VA, but it seems like every day one scandal or another emerges which captures national attention.

A few days ago, we learned that the VA’s “Crisis Line” to prevent Veteran suicides appeared to be woefully unresponsive:

An insider memo newly uncovered by the Associated Press indicates that more than one-third of calls to the national suicide hotline for troubled veterans are not being answered by front-line staffers because of poor work habits and other problems at the VA.

This follows an Inspector General Report in February which cited numerous problems in the Crisis Line now managed by the VA.

It is interesting to note that a little over a year ago the DoD suspended funding for a Veteran Suicide Hotline run by Vets4Warriors, to centralize the function within the VA.

Priggee Cartoon from Denver Post

Reading the IG’s report and recent disclosures that Veterans in crisis are underserved by the VA, this decision to close down an effective and privately-run Veteran Suicide Hotline now doesn’t seem to be a great idea.

Frankly, I am tired of listening to President Obama (or any other President for that matter) state that “I don’t want to in any way pretend that we are where we need to be,”  after having increased the VA budget by 85% during his presidency.

Any sane citizen would simply conclude that we are simply wasting valuable resources within the VA that could be more efficiently deployed to provide Veterans with support and treatment that might make some difference in their lives.  Let’s face it:  If VA employees at Crisis Centers don’t pick up the phone or respond to text messages, then no amount of money is going to solve the problem.

The VA appears to be a broken institution that has simply lost its way. It is hard to conceive of a more responsive and efficient VA, with the likes of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, seemingly more interested in defending the status quo of his constituency rather than encourage radical reform in a bloated bureaucracy.

The battle lines have been drawn and it is difficult to see how Veterans – who don’t seem to have much of a voice in the final outcome – will receive better treatment and care from an institution that is reeling out of control.

The VA has strayed far from its mission to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “’To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”


More to the point, the Department of Veterans Affairs has effectively disavowed its five core values that “underscore” the VA’s mission: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.

Integrity: Act with high moral principle. Adhere to the highest professional standards. Maintain the trust and confidence of all with whom I engage.

Commitment: Work diligently to serve Veterans and other beneficiaries. Be driven by an earnest belief in VA’s mission. Fulfill my individual responsibilities and organizational responsibilities.

Advocacy: Be truly Veteran-centric by identifying, fully considering, and appropriately advancing the interests of Veterans and other beneficiaries.

Respect: Treat all those I serve and with whom I work with dignity and respect. Show respect to earn it.

Excellence: Strive for the highest quality and continuous improvement. Be thoughtful and decisive in leadership, accountable for my actions, willing to admit mistakes, and rigorous in correcting them.

The VA’s “core values” are simply words that appear to have little in common with the “dignity and respect” we should show our Veterans.   How sad!  More importantly, how tragic it is that little will be done to restore today’s VA to an institution that we can all admire and respect.

President Lincoln’s “promise” is little more than a soundbite at a political rally.

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