The VA Can’t Handle the Truth So Why Not Lie

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In a moving round-table discussion hosted by Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”), Maj. Ben Richards provides a devastating overview of why the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) is failing to provide adequate care to brave Veterans suffering from PTSD. Let Ben explain why in his own words:

Drawing from internal and external VA studies, Maj. Richards exposes the great fraud perpetrated by the VA that claims to be providing adequate treatment to Veterans who suffer from PTSD and TBI (“traumatic brain injury”). Clearly, those in VA management are well aware that current treatment protocols to treat PTSD and TBI are seriously flawed.

Why is it necessary, for VA spokespersons like Dr. Xavier Cifu to articulate banal nonsense to Congress that seeks to provide better treatment for our Veterans? More to the point, why don’t those in authority within the VA simply acknowledge that “we don’t have the answers,” rather than persevere supporting treatment therapies that simply don’t work and may, in fact, be harmful?

Everyone realizes that egos and big money are on the line, but shouldn’t the well-being of our men and women in uniform and Veterans come first?

SFTT has long been partnering with several alternative treatment therapies designed to provide Veterans with options. Sadly, most of these protocols are not endorsed or supported by the VA. We long ago concluded that the entrenched bureaucracy within the VA appears to be far more interested in promoting its own path to wellness rather than acknowledge that other alternative therapies may provide benefits.

As Maj. Richards points out, the recommended VA treatment protocols do not work and those in VA’s management know that they are ineffective. Therefore, it seems evident that Congress and others must look beyond the VA to provide Veterans with PTSD therapy alternatives.

There is a growing awareness around the country that the VA is simply out of step with reality and several states are taking matters into their own hands to provide privately funded therapy programs.  In particular, Maj. Richards is able to avail himself of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in his home state of Minnesota.

Also, it was recently reported that a Joint study by Tel Aviv University, IDF, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and National Institutes of Health finds computerized training before deployment could prevent PTSD.

In fact, Dr. Yuval Neria, a Special Advisor to SFTT’s Medical Task Force,  explains that computerized training protocols may help patients cope with PTSD more effectively.

Biased Threat Attention Computerized Training Protocols

Dr. Yuval Neria, Professor of Medical Psychology at the Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, and Director of Trauma and PTSD at the New York State Psychiatric Institute presents his Attention-Bias-Modification Treatment (ABMT) designed to implicitly modify a PTSD patients’ biased threat attention via computerized training protocols.

 

SFTT helped fund these experimental studies by Dr. Yuval Neria.  In the video above, he describes in scientific terms some promising breakthroughs on computerized training protocols to assist both Veterans and civilians cope with PTSD.

While I guess we should take some solace in the fact that Veteran suicides have now fallen on a daily basis from 22 to 20, the fact remains that we have tens of thousands of Veterans who are receiving inadequate treatment.  The suicide of one Veteran is too many, so let’s hope that the Department of Veterans Affairs wakes up to the challenge rather than disparage other treatment alternatives.

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SFTT News: Week ending Jul 29, 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.

High-Tech “Robo” Technology Raises Eyebrows
Israeli defense company Elbit Systems is turning some heads with its robot warship, the Seagull. The unmanned surface vehicle (USV) operates autonomously and is capable of protecting the maritime environment from underwater threats such as mines or submarines. In a military first, the vessel this week successfully fired a lightweight torpedo via its remote Mission Control System (MCS).  Read more . . .

Unmanned US Military Vehicle

Worldwide Military Expenditure Database at a Glance
The core work of the military expenditure project is to collect, analyse, process and publish data on military expenditure worldwide, and to monitor and analyse trends in military expenditure over time, looking at their economic, political and security drivers and their implications for global peace, security and development.  The military expenditure project is fundamentally data driven. At the heart of the project is SIPRI’s unique, freely available, military expenditure database. The database is updated annually, both with new data for the most recent year and with revisions to past data to take account of new information and ensure consistency over time.  Read more . . .

Next Generation Laser Eyewear Protection
Army land warfare experts are ready to kick off an industry competition to develop a new generation of laser-protecting goggles and other eyewear that safeguards soldiers’ eyes from shrapnel, laser beams, sand and dust, and bright sunlight. Officials of the Army Contracting Command at Natick, Mass., issued a presolicitation Wednesday (W911QY-16-R-0043) for the Next Generation Eye Protection (NGEP) project. Army officials say they plan to award one or more one-year contracts to develop prototype protective eyewear.  Read more . . .

Five U.S. Military Personnel Injured in Afghanistan
Five U.S. special operations members were wounded while working with Afghan special forces in an operation to clear areas controlled by Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said on Thursday. Army General John Nicholson said two of the injured service members have returned to duty, while three others were evacuated but are “in good spirits” and are expected to make a full recovery, he said.  Read more . . .

special forces

Purge of Turkish Military after Unsuccessful Coup
Now, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wages a widespread purge, jailing and suspending tens of thousands of state employees, the military that has long served as a unifying force for the country is deeply divided, diminished and discredited. Nearly half of the top generals and admirals have been jailed or dismissed and thousands of foot soldiers charged. More than 1,500 officers were dishonorably discharged this week in advance of a meeting of the Supreme Military Council in Ankara on Thursday, where leaders were expected to consider a broader restructuring of the military.  Read more . . .

Memorial to Honor Vets Who Lost to PTSD
A unique memorial is planned to commemorate military veterans who have lost their battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to suicide. The Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall, to be erected in Channahon State Park, outside Chicago, will also serve as a national reminder of all those who suffer the invisible but potentially devastating mental and emotional wounds of war.  Read more . . .

Review of “The Fractured Republic” Helps to Understand VA Scandal
Since the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs first broke in 2014—leading to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki—a public debate has been simmering over what, exactly, should be done to fix the VA. This debate is fundamentally a good thing. In a political system such as ours, debate is crucially important to addressing problems, and few problems are so grave and morally meaningful to a national community as how its veterans are treated. Policy details matter, and most participants in the debate are sincere in their positions and seeking to do right by 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.

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Why Veterans with PTSD are Seeking Alternative Therapy

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It is becoming increasingly clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) is no longer able to provide the care or therapy that Veterans with PTSD demand.  Increasingly, Veterans are seeking alternative therapy outside the VA.

Department of Veterans Affairs

According to New England Public Radio, a large percentage of Veterans seek alternative therapies for PTSD despite explicit warnings by the VA that many of these therapies are “untested.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates up to 30 percent of former 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. Increasingly veterans are seeking out alternative mental health care — and much of it untested.

Implicitly, the VA is telling Veterans that seek alternative therapies to treat PTSD that they they do so at their own risk.  

In fact, the VA is arguing that treatments not endorsed by the VA are probably a hoax.    This is the same FEAR SYNDROME used by the Roman Catholic Church during the Medieval ages to maintain discipline among parishioners.

As I have suggested earlier, the VA is broken and its $180 billion annual budget is clearly not addressing the needs of its constituents.

Ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. If prescribed VA therapies were effective, why would Veterans need to seek alternative forms of treatment?
  2. If prescribed VA therapies are “tested,” why don’t these therapies seem to be effective?
  3. Is treating the symptoms of PTSD (for instance, pain and depression) with “tested” prescription drugs the same as treating the core problem?

Sadly, the VA has become more of a gate-keeper of self-serving in-house solutions than a caregiver to the many brave men and women who have served our country so valiantly.

Spokespersons for the VA like Dr. Xavier Cifu ridicule other forms of therapy while vigorously defending their own “tested” but seriously flawed version of the truth.

As an outside observer, one can only shake one’s head when therapies such as Hyperbaric Oxygen and acupuncture are summarily dismissed by the VA despite decades of use in many parts of the world, including our own.

I guess those in Congress will argue that the VA is simply too big to fail.   Nevertheless, the VA fails many of its constituents on a daily basis.   For instance, Brandon Ketchum, a former Marine and Army National Guardsman who served 3 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, committed suicide recently after he was turned away by the VA in Iowa City.

How much longer do we need to see promised reforms within the VA?   Sadly, many Veterans are expressing their despair by turning away from “tested” VA prescriptions to embrace other forms of therapy.  Their message seems loud and clear to anyone listening.

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Congress Passes Drug Abuse Bill

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With broad bipartisan support, the Senate passed a compromise legislative bill aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse.

While this comes as relief to many, one must simply scratch their head and wonder why it has taken so long to curb prescription drug abuse.  This horrible addiction problem didn’t emerge yesterday.

Could it have anything to do with lobbyists?

Drug Abuse

Not surprisingly, one political party blamed the other for a lack of action on a bill to curb prescription drug abuse:

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Wednesday night that President Obama will sign the bill even though it “falls far short.”

“Every day that Republicans stand in the way of action to fund opioid treatment means more missed opportunities to save lives: 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdose,” Earnest said.

The spokesman said Mr. Obama “won’t stop fighting to secure the resources this public health crisis demands. Congressional Republicans have not done their jobs until they provide the funding for treatment that communities need to combat this epidemic.”

Taking money from pharmaceutical lobbyists continues to enjoy wide bipartisan support, so to blame one party or the other for Congressional inaction is simply outrageous hypocrisy.

You need to look no further than the Department of Veteran Affairs, (the “VA”) to see the widespread abuse of using prescription drugs in treating PTSD and other ailments.   Masking pain has been Standard Operation Procedure (“SOP”) at the VA for many years rather than providing curative treatments.

Will more government funding in addition to their $180 billion a year budget help the VA do the right thing?  I think not. 

Veterans have long been aware of the dangerous side-effects of the drugs commonly prescribed by the VA.  One military Drug Abuse specialist informed me that some Veterans would often sell Purdue Pharma’s wildly successful OxyContin on the black market to supplement their income or – in many cases – to simply make ends meet.

Purdue Pharma:  A Description of Hell?

In a recent investigation into Purdue Pharma,  Los Angeles Times authors Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion and Scott Glover suggest that the company’s shameless promotion of “OxyContin’s 12 Hour Problem” is little more than a “description of hell.”

After reviewing thousands of confidential internal documents, the LA Times reporters concluded that:

√ Purdue has known about the problem for decades. Even before OxyContin went on the market, clinical trials showed many patients weren’t getting 12 hours of relief. Since the drug’s debut in 1996, the company has been confronted with additional evidence, including complaints from doctors, reports from its own sales reps and independent research.

√ The company has held fast to the claim of 12-hour relief, in part to protect its revenue. OxyContin’s  market dominance and its high price — up to hundreds of dollars per bottle — hinge on its 12-hour duration. Without that, it offers little advantage over less expensive painkillers.

√ When many doctors began prescribing OxyContin at shorter intervals in the late 1990s, Purdue executives mobilized hundreds of sales reps to “refocus” physicians on 12-hour dosing. Anything shorter “needs to be nipped in the bud. NOW!!” one manager wrote to her staff.

√ Purdue tells doctors to prescribe stronger doses, not more frequent ones, when patients complain that OxyContin doesn’t last 12 hours. That approach creates risks of its own. Research shows that the more potent the dose of an opioid such as OxyContin, the greater the possibility of overdose and death.

More than half of long-term OxyContin users are on doses that public health officials consider dangerously high, according to an analysis of nationwide prescription data conducted for The Times.

Needless to say, a spokesperson for Purdue Pharma vigorously disputes the allegations in the LA Times investigation, but others suggest that  . . .

. . . more Americans die from opioid overdose than from car accidents. And this (sic LA Times) article gives only a partial tally of Purdue Pharma’s predatory conduct. The drugmaker targeted overly-busy, not very well trained general practitioners in communities which were likely to have high incidence of pain (think communities with a lot of jobs that involved manual labor). In other words, it’s no accident that OxyContin has become a plague in rural America.

Sadly, this bipartisan Congressional bill comes far too late for many Veterans and others who have been deceived by the predatory practices of Big Pharma and their enablers in the FDA and VA.  Is it asking too much for those in a position “to know” the effects of potentially lethal drugs to take action far sooner to protect the safety of our brave warriors and our citizens?

While some Senators are urging an investigation into Purdue Pharma’s predatory practices, it is unlikely that much will come of it.   Big money trumps ethics and common sense.

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SFTT News: Week Ending July 8, 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.

President Obama Says 8400 Troops to Remain in Afghanistan
President Barack Obama gave up Wednesday on ending the war in Afghanistan during his term in office and said that at least 8.400 U.S. troops will still be on the ground for the next occupant of the White House to command.  With the Taliban resurgent under a new leader, and the Afghan army struggling to make headway, Obama bowed to the recommendations of his generals to shore up the Kabul government with a continuing U.S. and NATO presence along with billions in additional funding.  Read more . . .

President Barack Obama

 Veteran Daily Suicide Rate Now 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 . . .

VA Secretary Corrects Statement on VA Wait Times
Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Tuesday took an “opportunity to correct” a comparison he made of the long wait for medical care at his agency’s facilities to lines at Disneyland. “If I was misunderstood, if I said the wrong thing, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to correct it,” he told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “I’m only focused on one thing, and that’s better caring for veterans. That’s my job, that’s why I’m here.”  Read more . . .

Nato Repercussions from Brexit
The dominant vibe in Warsaw is all about unity. The results are mostly pre-cooked. And there should be few surprises. With little dissent to speak of, in the next couple days NATO is expected to beef up its forces in its vulnerable frontline states in the east; forge closer ties with traditionally neutral Finland and Sweden; and upgrade the importance of cyber defense.  Read more . . .

Anemia Negatively Affects TBI Recovery
Approximately half of patients hospitalized with traumatic brain injuries are anemic, according to recent studies, but anemia’s effects on the recovery of these patients is not clear. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine have found evidence that anemia can negatively influence the outcomes of patients with traumatic brain injuries.  Read more . . .

Genetic Factors for Treating PTSD?
Individuals with trauma- and stress-related disorders can manifest symptoms of these conditions in a variety of ways. Genetic risk factors for these and other psychiatric disorders have been established but do not explain the diversity of symptoms seen in the clinic — why are some individuals affected more severely than others and why do some respond better than others to the same treatment?

DNA Research

“People often experience stress and anxiety symptoms, yet they don’t usually manifest to the degree that results in a clinical diagnosis,” says Allison T. Knoll, PhD, post-doctoral fellow at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “We felt that if we could understand differences in the severity of symptoms in a typical population, it might provide clues about clinical heterogeneity in patients.”   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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PTSD: More Drugs on the Way?

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In yet another example of how the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) and DoD try to reinvent the wheel in search of a miracle drug to treat PTSD, Fox News reports that “TNX-102 SL, which contains the same chemical property as Flexeril” may soon be used in treating Veterans with PTSD:

An already-approved muscle relaxant may offer relief for U.S. military veterans and first responders suffering from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Phase 2 trials of the drug, TNX-102 SL, which contains the same chemical property as Flexeril, identified a dose and administration method that statistically improved participants’ PTSD symptoms among several mental health indices.

The findings were announced this month at the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology Annual Meeting (ASCP), and could eventually lead doctors to unroll the first PTSD drug in more than a decade, said Dr. Harry Croft, Chief of CNS Studies at Clinical Trials of Texas. Croft, who has also headed the investigation of 60 similar clinical trials over the last 25 years, said current PTSD treatments either don’t address every individual’s range of PTSD symptoms, pose unwanted side effects, or have poor adherence rates. Thus, scientists have continued searching for new PTSD treatments.

According to the article, “no new PTSD drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since Paxil in 2001, and before that, Zoloft in 1999.”

the VA and drugs

While the VA has been dismissive of other proven old-fashioned therapy programs such as Hyperbaric Oxygen (“HBOT”), it appears that the VA has an unlimited research budget for new experimental drugs.  The pharmaceutical companies must be thrilled.

For many, especially Veterans seeking to reclaim their lives, it is difficult to fathom the “logic” of the folks at the VA, but it is hard to argue with a program administrator who places his or her interest ahead of the Veterans they should be serving.  It is difficult – read impossible – to have a discussion with someone who has all the answers.  Particularly so, if they are the wrong answers.

At a time when Congress is trying to determine whether the monolithic VA is the best way to provide help to Veterans,  it would appear that VA bureaucrats will continue to determine what drugs or therapy works best for Veterans.

In effect, Veterans – particularly those suffering from PTSD and/or TBI – will be denied access to alternative therapies in the private sector because the VA gatekeepers “know best.”

How many more Veteran suicides and disrupted lives do we need to say that this may not be the right approach?

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Latest Developments on Treating PTSD

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Much has been written about the terrible long-term consequences of Post Traumatic Stress or “PTSD,” but there appears to be no clear way of treating PTSD.  Some argue that PTSD is best treated using “psychological” methods to treat the trauma while others argue that certain war-related events (i.e. IEDs) cause physiological changes in the brain.

treating ptsd

This dilemma makes diagnosing and treating PTSD so difficult.  Based on SFTT’s experiences, we have found that Veterans with symptoms of PTSD respond differently to various forms of therapy.   In short, there seems to be no definitive solution to a very serious problem which is now reaching epidemic proportions.

In a recent article published in the New York Times, medical scientists now believe that traumatic war-related events may actually cause physiological changes in the brain.

Quoting Dr. Daniel P. Perl, a neuropathologist who led a study for Lancent Neurology, evidence now exists that changes brain patterns:

Less understood is how the blast wave — the pulse of compressed air that shoots in all directions faster than the speed of sound and arrives before the wind — affects brain tissue after crashing through the helmet and skull. Blasts are also believed to compress the sternum and send shock waves through the body’s blood vessels and up into the brain. . .

The researchers examined the brains of the five veterans who had been exposed to blasts, and compared samples with those of 16 other veterans and civilians with and without brain injuries from military service or other activities. Scar tissue in specific locations of the cerebral cortex, which regulates emotional and cognitive functioning, was found only in the blast-injury cases.

Dr Perl and fellow researchers discovered the following changes in the brain following concussion like events:

Perl and his lab colleagues recognized that the injury that they were looking at was nothing like concussion. The hallmark of C.T.E. is an abnormal protein called tau, which builds up, usually over years, throughout the cerebral cortex but especially in the temporal lobes, visible across the stained tissue like brown mold. What they found in these traumatic-brain-injury cases was totally different: a dust-like scarring, often at the border between gray matter (where synapses reside) and the white matter that interconnects it. Over the following months, Perl and his team examined several more brains of service members who died well after their blast exposure, including a highly decorated Special Operations Forces soldier who committed suicide. All of them had the same pattern of scarring in the same places, which appeared to correspond to the brain’s centers for sleep, cognition and other classic brain-injury trouble spots.

Then came an even more surprising discovery. They examined the brains of two veterans who died just days after their blast exposure and found embryonic versions of the same injury, in the same areas, and the development of the injuries seemed to match the time elapsed since the blast event. Perl and his team then compared the damaged brains with those of people who suffered ordinary concussions and others who had drug addictions (which can also cause visible brain changes) and a final group with no injuries at all. No one in these post-mortem control groups had the brown-dust pattern.

Dr. Perl on Treating PTSD

While it will takes years of analysis and research to determine whether these neurological changes can be reversed, many Veterans will continue to suffer the “invisible wounds of war.”  Dr. Perl is justifiably worried:

 After five years of working with the military, he (Dr. Perl) feels sure, he told me (author Robert Worth), that many blast injuries have not been identified. “We could be talking many thousands,” he (Perl) said. “And what scares me is that what we’re seeing now might just be the first round. If they survive the initial injuries, many of them may develop C.T.E. years or decades later.”

This is not hopeful news, but at least we as a society are beginning to take PTSD seriously.  Hopefully, we will not try and bury the research in the way the NFL has sought to hide the effects of CTE on NFL players and downplay its significance to football fans who seem addicted to the violence of the spectacle.

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Veteran Charities in Context

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Active Duty military personnel that I know generally despise being used as “poster-boys (or girls)” for political campaigns.  In fact, anyone who has served in the Armed Forces is well aware of DoD Directive 1344.10 which prohibits members of the Armed Forces from engaging in “partisan political” fundraising or actively campaigning on behalf of a political party, candidate or political cause.

While these regulations do not apply to Veterans, it has been my experience that most Veterans tend to avoid the limelight of partisan politics and, instead, pursue causes to support fellow Veterans that do not tend to attract much media attention.   Like Active Duty personnel, Veterans tend to avoid serving as “props” for political campaigns.

Donald Trump Veterans

As SFTT and others reported earlier when a Donald Trump fundraising event was announced during the Republican primaries:

. . .several Veteran groups accused Donald Trump of using Veterans like political pawns in his dispute with Fox News over the moderators of the last debate.    In many respects, I agree with Veterans that don’t want to be used as pawns in contentious posturing by politicians.  Sadly, every four years or so, most politicians tend to embrace Veteran causes as they might disingenuously cuddle a puppy dog to encourage voters to look favorably on them.

While it is completely understandable that some, many or all Veterans may not wish to be seen to embrace the policies of Donald Trump, it is most disingenuous – read dishonest – for the media to skew fund-raising efforts by anyone (including Donald Trump) to support Veterans.  

Yet, that is precisely what happened.  In a ridiculous article published on June 2 in the New Times entitled “Putting Donald Trump’s $1 Million to Veterans in Context,”  the author, Peter Eavis, argues that Mr. Trump’s contribution “to veterans’ charities is small compared with those of some fellow billionaires . . .” and that, “Mr. Trump’s $1 million gift to veterans not only came later than some expected, but it is also small for the plutocrat class.”

How silly to judge the merit of candidates on the amount of money they donate to charitable causes, but this is the insane world of partisan politics that dominates media channels rather than constructive solutions to the many issues faced by Veterans.

Last week, I noted Sebastian Junger‘s hope that we have a more united country to deal with  this nation’s many problems.   Even though SFTT has no political affiliation, it is very discouraging to see both the media and our politicians engage is such polarizing propaganda.  Mr. Junger clearly has his finger on the pulse of a huge adjustment problem facing returning Veterans when they see such a dysfunctional society.  It is certainly not comforting.

ZVets

Should the VA be Privatized?

With its colossal $180 billion annual budget, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) is in the focus of those who say this giant institution should be privatized.  Everyone knows the VA is not functioning properly and there have been countless GAO studies suggesting that something be done to address these problems.

When issues like the privatization of the VA surface during an election year, it immediately becomes politicized.  SFTT doesn’t have an answer let alone a position on this issue; however, SFTT has seen enough to know that the VA does not provide adequate care to a large number of its constituents on a timely basis.

The Libertarian Party and several others are suggesting that the VA should be privatized.    Why not take off our partisan political armbands and have a look at the implications.  Maybe some elements now administered by the VA could be handled more competently in the private sector.  If so, it could be a major benefit for underserved Veterans?

If charitable contributions to Veterans can become politicized, imagine the outcry in entrenched political sectors when the VA comes under serious scrutiny.   From the perspective of the SFTT, if it ain’t working properly we might as well look at different approaches; however unappealing they may be to certain entrenched interests.  After all, it is the Veteran who is the focus of our attention and these brave warriors deserve better than what they are receiving

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Equine-Assisted PTSD Therapy Study Seeks Veteran Volunteers

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The New York Presbyterian Military Family Wellness Center at the Columbia Veterans Research Center is currently conducting a Trauma-Focused Equine-Assisted Therapy for Veterans with PTSD study.  See details below:

equine2

Through the NYP Military Family Wellness Center we offer veterans and family members evidence-based treatments at no cost in the context of a research study. Essentially, patients are periodically assessed during and after treatment so that we can learn more about the needs of the veteran population.

Equine Therapy Program

In the equine study we’re investigating the efficacy of an alternative treatment for PTSD that has not been thoroughly studied in the past. The treatment does not involve riding horses, but instead focuses on ground activities such as grooming and leading horses.

It is a group treatment with each group consisting of 4-6 veterans. Treatment sessions will take place at the Bergen Equestrian Center in Leonia, NJ (about 15 minutes away from our office in Washington Heights).

Veterans or their loved ones who seek more information, please contact Anne Hillburn at (646) 774-8042.

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Veterans with PTSD: Can We Unite As a Society?

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As one who watched a largely unappreciative nation heap scorn on returning Veterans from our war in Vietnam, I am struck by the contrived efforts to celebrate Veterans who have now served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.   In particular, I shed a tear for Veterans with PTSD who have difficulty coping with an unsympathetic society that seems far different from the camaraderie they experienced while serving in a war zone.

While I do not doubt that many Americans genuinely honor the sacrifices of young men and women who have served in these wars;  the American flag pin in one’s lapel or tributes to Veterans at major sporting events fall well short of the support these brave heroes deserve.

This point was made abundantly clear by Sebastian Junger in a recent MSNBC interview. Sebastian Junger, an acclaimed war-correspondent and author, has just published Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In his book, Mr. Junger suggests that Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find a deeply divided and “alienated society” and argues passionately that our society may be as much to blame for Veteran suicides and depression as a Veteran’s war experience.

Mr. Junger articulates his views in a very moving Ted Talk that was filmed late last year.


As an anthropologist, Mr. Junger’s arguments are quite persuasive. It is hard to argue with his premise that the incidence of “suicides and depression” tends to decrease during periods of great stress: he cites 911, the bombing of London in WWII and many other similar situations. Junger suggests that people’s behavior tends to become “more tribal” during periods of great stress and that this provides a level of support and comfort that many returning Veterans do not presently encounter when they return home to our “alienating society.”

Mr. Junger concludes that many problems for Veterans with PTSD would be greatly diminished if we “can unite as a society.”

640px-Politics

As we watch an increasingly hostile and bitter presidential race unfold, it is not hard to understand Mr. Junger’s premise.  Imagine a young man or woman serving their country in a hostile and dangerous environment returning home to see a dysfunctional society at war with itself. How discouraging.

Indeed, if the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) doesn’t have your back, who does?

In an unfortunate analogy, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald stated “‘When you get to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?'” McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. ‘And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.'”

This is not the first time, Secretary McDonald has been embroiled in a controversy, but I am quite sure that Secretary McDonald wished he hadn’t been quite so candid.  Nevertheless, his “misspeak” provided plenty of fuel to other politicians.

House Majority leader Paul Ryan correctly pointed out that Veterans had lost their lives while waiting in line for someone at the VA to pickup the phone.

This is precisely the type of dysfunctional dialogue engaged in by “tribal leaders” that Veterans – and many others – find so frustrating and largely disingenuous.

Most everyone knows that the VA is not functioning properly.  Rather than simply point fingers to gain personal political leverage, let’s harness our efforts and begin solving the many problems faced by the VA.

One man or woman’s political advantage pales in comparison to the suffering of the many brave men and women who have placed their lives at risk for a society that seems hellbent on tearing itself apart.  How tragic.

Mr. Junger, your heartfelt appeal is noted and I sincerely hope that we as a nation can embrace the challenge.  I pray that our tribal leaders will unite to provide our country with the inspirational leadership that our brave men and women in the military service deserve.  Anything less is tragic.

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