GAO to Investigate VA Over Treatment and Therapy of Veterans with PTSD

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At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the Government Accountability Office (“the GAO”) agreed Sept. 27 that it “will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions.”  In particular, the GAO will focus on “how heavily the VA relies on powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients.”

OxyContin - Veteran Addiction

As reported in the Armed Forces News, “this decision is a victory for combat veterans everywhere who are suffering from PTSD and who have been prescribed a cocktail of very powerful drugs to mask their symptoms in lieu of other forms of interactive therapy that work to bring down the stress levels of PTSD to a point where they are no longer debilitating,” said Coffman.

While this new GAO study may come as a big relief to many Veterans with PTSD (and their families), the tragic findings will surprise few who monitor the shoddy treatment procedures provided to Veterans with PTSD at the VA .

For those expecting that this “new” GAO study will result in any improvements in the treatment our Veterans receive, I refer you to the December, 2014 GAO study of the VA with the title of “Improvements Needed in Monitoring Antidepressant Use for Major Depressive Disorder and in Increasing Accuracy of Suicide Data.”

Here is a brief summary of the conclusions reached in this GAO audit as reported by SFTT in March, 2015 in an article entitled GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for VA Suicides:

– 10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
– 86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
– 40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
– 63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

With data integrity breaches like this, it is no wonder GAO cited the suicide data VA relies on as “not always complete, accurate, or consistent.”
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

If Representatives Coffman or McLane Kuster expect different patient outcomes, they are likely to be as disillusioned as Kimi Bivins, the wife of Veteran Eric who tragically committed suicide earlier this year.    There is little need to request a GAO study to find out how dysfunctional the VA has become.  Simply listen to Kimi describe how her husband was treated at VA facilities.
Even as far back as 2012, the VA knew that opioids were not appropriate for treating PTSD, and yet, the VA continued to provide Veterans with lethal prescription drugs knowing full well the consequences.
While SFTT could point out many similar government studies on inefficiencies at the VA, it seems to be far easier for politicians to request new studies, since they never bothered to read the existing studies or insist on much needed reforms.
Sadly, the VA has become a “law unto itself” and no amount of well-intentioned “studies” or GAO audits will do anything to turn the VA around unless politicians on both sides of the aisle take a sledgehammer to break up the VA into manageable components.   As of today, the VA is simply too large to succeed in its mission.
We can continue to study the problem, but for the sake of our brave Veterans and their families, it is time to take action!
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Equine Assisted Therapy Study for Veterans with PTSD

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Last week, I attended a delightful get together at the NewYork-Presbyterian Military Family Wellness Center in New York City.  Directors JoAnn DiFide and Yuval Neria discussed promising new initiatives designed to help Veterans and their families cope with PTSD and TBI.

Dr. Neria is Professor of Medical Psychology at the Columbia University Medical Center and “Scientific Advisor” to Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”).  Found below is a photograph of Dr. Neria together with Eilhys England, the CEO and Chairperson of SFTT.

Yuval Neria and Eilhys England

Dr. Neria leads a PTSD and Trauma Research and Treatment Program at Columbia University designed to “improve the lives of individuals exposed to trauma through premier mental health services, innovative translational research and education and training of the next generation of lead physician-scientists.”

At Columbia’s research center, Dr. Neria is spearheading several projects “aimed to advance research on the neurobiological mechanisms of PTSD and the brain’s resilience to its effects.”  In particular, SFTT was deeply involved in helping to fund a program (fMRI study) that helps traumatized individuals develop the mechanisms to distinguish between safe and dangerous situations.

More recently, Dr. Neria has become interested in evaluating the benefits of equine-assisted therapy.    The Man O’War Project is the outgrowth of that initiative and was launched in partnership with The Earle I. Mack Foundation, Columbia University Medical Center, The New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Bergen County Equestrian Center.

The Man O’War Project is the first-ever clinical research study to determine the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy (“EAT”) and establish guidelines for the treatment of military veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).

The goal of the Man O’War Project is to “develop a manual for EAT-PTSD that can be delivered in a standardized fashion.”  In an initial test program 8 Veterans experienced a reduction in PTSD symptoms of between 26% and 74% over eight weeks in a non-riding group.

This year (2017), the Man O’War Project hopes to test 60 Veterans using a rigorous standardized clinical testing procedure and then to publish their findings in the hope of seeking grants for larger scale research projects and the dissemination of standardized training to other equine facilities that support Veterans.

With the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) “missing in action” to help Veterans with PTSD, it is reassuring to see our prominent Universities and  Medical Centers taking a vital role in helping to develop new therapy programs for Veterans suffering from brain trauma.

If you would like to learn more about the Man O’War Project please CLICK HERE.    SFTT is honored that Dr. Yuval is an important member of our Medical Task Force.  To learn more about the promising therapy programs supported by SFTT, visit our Rescue Coalition.

 

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The Department of Veterans Affairs and Service Dogs

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) receives considerable public criticism for its failure to provide service dogs to Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

As reported earlier by SFTT, the VA provides service dogs to blind Veterans, but has balked at providing service dogs to Veterans who are less than totally physically disabled.  The recurring argument from VA spokespeople is that there is a lack of “clinical evidence” to support the benefits of service dogs.

service dogs for Veterans

Consider this testimony by Dr. Fallon of the VA:

“I would say there are a lot of heartwarming stories that service dogs help, but scientific basis for that claim is lacking,” said Michael Fallon, the VA’s chief veterinary medical officer. “The VA is based on evidence based medicine. We want people to use therapy that has proven value.”

The argument is a brief synopsis of Dr. Fallon’s testimony to the House Subcommittee and Government Reform provided in April, 2016.

Dr. Fallon’s testimony and defense of the VA’s status quo is similar to the testimony of Dr. David Cifu on PTSD therapy and Dr. Alvin Young (aka Dr. Orange) on the lethal side effects of Agent Orange used on the deforestation of Vietnam.

The VA has set itself up as “judge and jury” to determine what range of medical services it will provide to Veterans.  Any “new” therapy that has not been blessed by “evidence based medicine,” is summarily dismissed by the gatekeepers at the VA.  In fact, the VA often uses spokespeople and expensive long-term clinical studies to avoid providing much needed therapy to Veterans.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence to suggest that the DoD purposely manipulated testing procedures on hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”) to produce clinical outcomes more to their liking.

As reported earlier,  Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) have been largely ineffective in reversing brain damage to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.   And yet, the spokespeople steadfastly defend these therapies and argue that other therapies “lack evidence” to justify their endorsement, read “funding.”

“The VA has very little evidence to show that PE and CPT therapy programs have done much to reduce the incidence of PTSD symptoms among Veterans against the “gold-standard” standardized PCL-M tests currently used by the VA.   The chart below illustrates the point (50 is considered base level):

Veterans Affairs Fails at PTSD

Aside from being very expensive to administer, the “evidence based medicine” supporting the effectiveness of PE and CPT programs currently administered by the VA is SADLY LACKING.”

While the general public and Congressional leaders may buy the pitch from VA Spin Doctors, Veterans are seeking other forms of therapy outside of the VA.  The problem is that few can afford to do so.

The Case for Service Dogs for Veterans

Training a service dog is relatively expensive.  Most estimates suggest that the cost of training a service dog to be in the neighborhood of $20,000.  The training of a dog can last some five months after the dog reaches maturity (about six months) to another 18 months depending on the rigorousness of the training.  In addition to training the dog, the Veteran needs to spend a considerable amount of time with the service dog to develop an effective relationship.

As we reported earlier, Maj. Ben Richards spent seven weeks in intensive training with his new service dog, Bronco.  According to Ben, it was about 4 hours of training a day (generally in the morning) and a few weekend sessions.  Taking into account “training the Veteran” could add considerably more to the overall cost.  For those interesting in learning more about the steps involved in training a service dog, I refer you to this excellent FAQ provided by Psychiatric Service Dog Partners.

While the VA currently does authorize the use of service dogs for Veterans, many State and charitable organizations have sprung to the support of Veterans.  In addition to Ben’s heartwarming story, many other Veterans have benefited from the companionship of service dogs.

Several organizations like 4PawsforAbility and Train a Dog and Save a Warrior,- SFTT Rescue Coalition Partner – are actively training and providing service dogs to Veterans.  These organizations and several others rely on the generous contributions of others to support our Veterans.

While the VA continues to study the benefits of service dogs, new results are not expected until 2019.

One might justifiably ask why it takes the VA 9 years to study the benefits of service dogs for Veterans with PTSD (yes, Congress mandated a study in 2010), but Dr. Fallon and the VA spinmasters will provide you a compelling answer if you are naive enough to buy it.

Based on the sound work of many charitable organizations training service dogs, it is beyond reasonable for the VA to soft-peddle its failed therapy programs and help these struggling organizations provide service dogs to Veterans.  Wouldn’t it help provide “real” evidence to support their long overdue study?

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New Study Suggests that Blood Test Can Detect PTSD

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According to a recent Dutch study involving military personnel deployed to Afghanistan, there is evidence to suggest that blood-based miRNAs (Micro RiboNucleic Acids) may serve as “candidate biomarkers for symptoms of PTSD.”

Image from Biochemistry for Medics

A research group from the Netherlands collected blood samples Dutch soldiers before, as well as 6 months after deployment.

Author of the study, Dr. Laurence de Nijs (Maastricht University), states the following:

“We discovered that these small molecules, called miRNAs, are present in different amount in the blood of persons suffering from PTSD compared to trauma-exposed and control subjects without PTSD.

“We identified over 900 different types of these small molecules. 40 of them were regulated differently in people who developed PTSD, whereas there were differences in 27 of the miRNAs in trauma-exposed individuals who did not develop PTSD.

“Interestingly, previous studies have found circulating miRNA levels to be not only correlated with different types of cancer, but also with certain psychiatric disorders including major depressive disorders. These preliminary results of our pilot study suggest that miRNAs might indeed be candidates as predictive blood markers (biomarker) to distinguish between persons at high and low risk of developing PTSD. However, several steps need to be performed before such results can really have an impact on the larger field and in clinical practice. In addition to working towards biomarkers, the results may also provide novel information about the biological mechanisms underlying the development of PTSD”.

While more studies are required to confirm the results of this study, it does suggest that blood-testing could help identify risk factors for susceptibility to PTSD for troops scheduled for deployment.

It is difficult to generalize from such a limited test sample but clearly, evidence based markers seem to be a far better way to test the incidence of PTSD and brain trauma than the simplistic PTSD screening questionnaires currently employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

There continues to be much promising research into preventing and curing PTSD and TBI, but sadly the VA continues to insist on failed therapy programs while sponsoring research studies than focus on helping Veterans cope with the symptoms of brain trauma rather that provide meaningful solutions.  The cannabis and ecstasy studies suggest that the VA feels far more comfortable dispensing prescription drugs rather than provide Veterans with a meaningful path to full recovery.

While thousands of Veterans continue to suffer from combat-related brain trauma, the VA has done precious little to help these Veterans and their families cope with this debilitating problem.  While the VA insists that they are doing everything possible to help Veterans with PTSD and TBI, the story of Eric Bivins and countless other brave warriors paints a far different picture of what Veterans can really expect at the VA.

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Marijuana and Veterans with TBI

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Thomas Brennan, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, is the founder of The War Horse, a veterans’ news site, and a co-author of “Shooting Ghosts: A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back from War,”  makes an impassioned plea to “make pot legal for Veterans with TBI.”

Cannabis for Veterans with PTSD and TBI

In an “Opinion” piece for the New York Times of September 1, Mr. Brennan states to following:

“Most of the major veterans groups, including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, support regulated research into the medical uses of cannabis . . .

“What I know is that it works for me. If I hadn’t begun self-medicating with it, I would have killed myself. The relief isn’t immediate. It doesn’t make the pain disappear. But it’s the only thing that takes the sharpest edges off my symptoms. Because of cannabis, I’m more hopeful, less woeful. My relationship with my wife is improving. My daughter and I are growing closer. My past is easier to remember and talk about. My mind is less clouded. More than anything, it feels good to feel again. My migraines and depression don’t control my life. Neither do pills.

“But I live in fear that I will be arrested purchasing an illegal drug. I want safe, regulated medical cannabis to be a treatment option. Just like the sedatives and amphetamines the V.A. used to send me by mail. And the opioids they still send to my friends.”

Personally, I am delighted that Mr. Brennan feels better and is recovering his life, but one man’s (or woman’s) experience with “alternative medication” hardly makes a compelling argument to justify universal endorsement.

Superficially, one could argue that pot is far less “addictive” than opium and the opioid variants currently endorsed by the FDA and the AMA, but I suggest that Mr. Brennan compelling argument touches on a far more important issue:

Officially sanctioned / LEGAL therapies to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI are not working! 

No one should be surprised that Mr. Brennan and many other brave warriors are seeking alternative therapies – either not sanctioned or “illegal” – because the limited treatment options provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) are tragically failing the needs of our heroes and their families.

Last week, Maj. Ben Richard’s commented on a disturbing series of videos that trace a widow’s tragic quest to seek help from the VA for her husband who committed suicide when denied alternative therapy.

The tragic suicide of Veteran Eric Bivins is just another example of the abuse of power at the VA that literally makes “life and death” decisions based on a long history of failed treatment programs:  Cognitive Process Therapy (“CPT”) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”).

If the only choice for Veterans with PTSD and TBI is institutional abuse and lethal prescription drugs, why not run the risk (illegal or unsanctioned) and seek help that works?  In the case of Mr. Brennan, cannabis might be the answer, but SFTT seeks out programs that may offer life-changing therapies rather than medication that simply deals with the symptoms.

Personally, I don’t think that potentially addictive drugs are the long term answer for PTSD and TBI, but I can certainly understand why many Veterans seek relief outside the limited number of options and callous disregard currently shown by the VA.

Perhaps Secretary David Shulkin can bring about much needed reform at the VA, but the odds are firmly stacked against him.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Sep 1, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

BBC Analyses US Military Options for North Korea
President Trump has said “all options are on the table” after North Korea fired a missile over Japan. So what could military action against Kim Jong-un’s regime actually look like? As a ballistic missile passed over the Japanese island of Hokkaido residents were warned to take cover. The launch was a provocative act, which has been followed by warnings from the North Korean regime that it was just a “first step”. The UN and several nations have imposed sanctions on North Korea, while President Trump said he was considering the next steps. But while the US has unrivalled military strength, the range of options it actually has against the hermit country are limited. Read more . . .

North Korea Kim

US Gives Military Assistance to Pakistan with Strings Attached
The Trump administration notified Congress on Wednesday that it was putting $255 million in military assistance to Pakistan into the equivalent of an escrow account that Islamabad can only access if it does more to crack down on internal terror networks launching attacks on neighboring Afghanistan. The dueling messages sent to Pakistan — promising aid but attaching strings if the country’s counterterror efforts fall short — are part of an increasingly confrontational turn in an alliance that has long been strained.  Read more . . .

Sen. Rand Paul Urges Caution in Transferring Military Equipment to Local Police
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is urging President Trump to reconsider his decision to lift Obama-era limits on the transfer of surplus military equipment to local police forces. “To support our local police, we must first realize they aren’t soldiers. But today the line between the two is being eroded,” he wrote. “Given these developments, it’s natural for many Americans — especially minorities, given the racial disparities in policing — to feel like their government is targeting them. Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice isn’t paying close enough attention,” Paul added.  Read more . . .

New Law to Stream VA Appeals
Every major veteran service organization except Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) supported legislation, signed into law last week, to reform a woefully clogged process for deciding appeals of veterans’ disability claims. Even VVA concedes the new “three-lane” option for appealing claims, when implemented via regulation a year or more from now, will produce speedier appeal decisions and begin to reverse what continues to be a steadily rising backlog of appeals, soon to surpass a stunning 500,000.  Every veteran appealing a claim knows something is wrong with a system that, on average, takes three years to get a final decision. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says some veterans are waiting six years or more.  Read more . . .

The Illegal Psychedelic Drug MDMA (aka “Ecstasy”) to Treat PTSD?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated the illegal psychedelic drug MDMA, commonly known to partygoers as Ecstasy, as a “breakthrough therapy” to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. The designation was announced Saturday and provides a fast-track for possible approval of MDMA as a prescription drug. It’s the result of years of trials sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, that have included veterans since 2010. “It doesn’t mean anything is approved or guaranteed, but it does mean this gets special attention from the FDA and allows it to move through the regulatory process more quickly,” said Michael Mithoefer, a clinical investigator who’s involved in the study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.  Read more . . .

Is the VA Undermining Marijuana Study?
marijuanaThe first U.S. study to test marijuana as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, which had been in the works since 2009, finally got under way last February and has enrolled 25 subjects since then. But the lead researcher, Phoenix psychiatrist Sue Sisley, says the study, which needs a total of 76 subjects, has been jeopardized by a lack of cooperation from the local Veterans Health Administration hospital. “Despite our best efforts to work with the Phoenix VA hospital and share information about the study,” Sisley writes in a recent letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, “they have been unwilling to assist by providing information to their patients and medical staff about a federally legal clinical trial happening right in their backyard that is of crucial importance to the veteran community.” At the current recruitment rate, she says, the study will not be completed within the time required by a $2.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Read more . . .

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

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

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How the VA Callously Treats Veterans: A National Disgrace

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As we reported earlier, Veteran Eric Bivins committed suicide after being unable to find the support and care he needed from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

Found below are a moving – AND MOST SAD – series of videos by Kimi Bivins, Eric’s spouse which describes her experiences with the VA in attempting to find the proper care for her husband.

Kimi’s experiences with the VA are not dissimilar from my own and countless of others who have sought care from the VA. I agree with Kimi that it is a “national disgrace,” yet the VA continues to remain largely unaccountable for their callousness and disdain in treating our brave warriors.

I would encourage readers to watch these powerful videos to understand the frustration and agony of a loved-one in dealing with the VA.

Kimi’s YouTube videos are presented in a more or less chronological order, with limited commentary by me other than to clarify certain expressions.

Published on March 23, 2016. Kimi’s Initial PRIVATE Appeal for Help.

Published on March 10, 2016. Kimi’s Frustration on Getting VA Paperwork

Published on March 18, 2016. Eric in a VA Facility

Published on March 23, 2016. Eric is Coping, but Life is Still Very Difficult

Published on April 13, 2016. Eric at Independent Treatment Facility.

Published on May 15, 2016. Eric is Better, But Seeks Therapy Outside the VA

Published July 11, 2017. After Eric’s Suicide

While many will be shocked by these series of videos, it is far too commonplace within the VA.

Before Eric’s suicide he had been accepted into a program to receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT.  I credit HBOT with saving my life and enabling me to begin the long road to recover my life.

It is sad that some uninformed doctor at the VA would shatter Eric’s dream of life-changing therapy by parroting the VA’s institutional bias against HBOT.

Dr. David Cifu and his cronies at the VA and the DoD have done their upmost to discredit HBOT and other alternative therapies to support the failed VA programs of Cognitive Process Therapy (“CPT”) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”).

Failed VA therapy programs to treat PTSD have been documented numerous times by credible independent studies.   And yet, VA spokespeople still parrot the same stale party line.  Veterans with PTSD and TBI are not deceived and have abandoned the VA in droves.

It sickens me to watch these tragic videos of Kimi documenting her fruitless attempt to navigate the uncaring bureaucracy of the VA.  In my estimation, Kimi’s videos should be mandatory training for all employees at the VA.

While the VA provides much needed comfort to thousands of Veterans, those Veterans with PTSD and TBI need to look elsewhere for REAL therapy.

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Aug 25, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

US Military Collaborates with West Virginia University over Opioid Abuse
As the opioid epidemic continues to have a substantial impact on the state, leaders from WVU reached out to USU’s Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management, aware of their efforts to successfully combat opioid misuse in the military over the last several years with the idea that lessons learned in the military would be applicable to their state’s current crisis. Earlier this year, leaders from both universities developed a cooperative research and development agreement allowing them to formally share pain management resources developed by DVCIPM.  Read more . . .

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

Pot Advocate Argues that VA Cannabis Study for PTSD is Useless
Cannabis advocates are criticizing the Department of Veterans Affairs for wasting time and resources on recently published research that produced inconclusive results on the effects of medical marijuana in treating pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. “I find the funds spent on regurgitating these studies to be worthless,” said Sean Kiernan, a veteran and advocate for the Weed for Warriors Project. VA researchers last week published two studies that reviewed previous analyses and evaluations of the effects of marijuana on treating chronic pain and PTSD. Read more . . .

Telehealth May Help Thousands of Veterans
Imagine the day that you can see your medical provider from anywhere in the country, including from the comfort of your own home. You wouldn’t have to take a full day off of work, travel long distances or spend hours in a hospital waiting room. Thanks to the age of smart phones and other advanced technology, that day has come. And it couldn’t have come at a more critical moment. Across the nation, wait times in the private sector for new patient appointments have increased 30 percent in the last three years, including in major cities such as Seattle, Boston, Denver and Los Angeles, according to a recent survey. Telehealth technology is revolutionizing how Americans access health care.  Read more . . .

Parents of Veteran Who Died of Drug Overdose Cite VA Apathy
Standing in the crowd at a rally calling for a royal commission into the Department of Veterans’ Affairs were the parents of Jason Grant, a veteran of Afghanistan who died of a suspected drug overdose at his Ferny Creek home just a month ago. Ross Grant was a quiet but powerful presence at the rally on Tuesday, holding a placard reading “DVA Killed My Son” as well as photos of Jason in uniform, in recent years and also as a child.   Read more . . .

Canadian VA Service Dog Study for PTSD Doesn’t Please All
Some veterans advocates aren’t pleased with the results of the first phase of a federal study intended to assess the effectiveness and safety of psychiatric service dogs used by people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder. The study, commissioned by Veterans Affairs Canada through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, found nine positive effects of service dogs on symptoms of PTSD and two “major undesirable effects.” The positive effects include the detection, prevention and control of crisis, improved sleep, reduction of nightmares, better concentration, improved self-confidence and increased social participation. The undesirable effects are difficulty accessing public spaces and knowing how to react when faced with that difficulty, and stigmatization.  Read more . . .

War of Words Continues over North Korea
North Korea had more harsh words for the US on Wednesday, strongly condemning US-South Korean joint military exercises and criticizing President Donald Trump’s “weird” and “ego-driven” social media posts just hours after Trump claimed the rogue nation’s leader is “starting to respect us.”  Read more . . .

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann/Released)

Thousands of More Troops to Afghanistan
President Trump’s speech this week announcing his decision to extend the U.S. war in Afghanistan provided no detail on exactly what new American troops will do when deployed. Trump went out of his way during his announcement at Fort Myer, Va., to say, “we will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities.” Trump’s decision not to telegraph his plans was in keeping with his frequent assertion on the campaign trail about the need to maintain battle plan secrecy — a stance that was intended as a rebuke of former president Barack Obama’s 2009 announcement in which he provided a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Read more . . .

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

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

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Can Secretary David Shulkin Fix the VA?

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Can Secretary David Shulkin fix the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”)?  The answer is an emphatic NO!

Department of Veterans Affairs

This is not a commentary on Dr. Shulkin’s inspired leadership or his vision for a vastly improved VA, but a consequence of competing ideologies and a dysfunctional institution.

As Stand for the Troops has stated several times over the past year: “THE VA IS SIMPLY TOO LARGE TO SUCCEED IN ITS MISSION.”

As suggested in last week’s article by Maj. Ben Richards, the care provided by the VA is far different than the “happy talk” its administrators disseminate to a gullible public and Congress.   The disturbing suicide of Veteran Eric Bivins can clearly be laid at the doors of the VA, but does anyone in authority really care?

Will the desperate pleas Eric’s spouse Kimi resonate in the corridors of power in DC?  Probably not.  And yet, Kimi’s description of the troubling treatment provided by the VA is far more accurate than the self-serving assurances that VA “change agents” dispense to the press.

Veterans are giving up hope daily and seeking treatment outside the VA.  If Congress truly wanted to know the extent of the problems in the VA, they would surely spend far more time seeking out the views of Veterans than blindly accept the assurances of its administrators.  Will this occur? Not likely – and even if it were to occur, not much is likely to change.

The VA is like an old automobile that is falling apart.  Sure, we can try fixing it with the same failed strategies that have been used in the past OR how about trying a different approach? Scrap the dysfunctional VA and build a responsive institution that truly attends to the needs of most Veterans?

How Can the VA be Fixed?

With an annual budget of over $180 billion and nearly 350,000 employees, things can easily get off-track.  More to the point, impassioned administrator can run about putting their fingers in the holes of a leaking dyke, but another leak will surface almost immediately.

As I stated previously,

NO AMOUNT OF MONEY or CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP or ENACTMENT OF NEW LEGISLATION will bring about A MORE RESPONSIVE VA.

The VA has become a bureaucracy that answers only to itself and is not responsive to the needs of Veterans.  Frankly, the VA has lost its way and very little will change unless the VA is broken down into far smaller manageable components.

While smaller components of the VA will invariably fail, A SMALLER AND LESS CENTRALIZED VA WON’T COMPROMISE THE FULL MISSION.  

The public seems relieved that Veterans now have a choice of service providers because the Choice Program has been extended by Congress, but for many thousands of Veterans like Eric Bivins and his family, there really is NO CHOICE!

Where the VA is Today

Personally, I believe that Dr. Shulkin has done a remarkable job in addressing some of the more urgent problems at the VA.  While one can argue whether he has done enough, the task he has been given is like being assigned to captain the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.

The speed with which the VA will sink further into disrepute may be slowed, but SINK it will.

How many more reports do we need from the Office of the Inspector General (the “IG”) that the VA lacks effective governance and oversight?

How many more times to we have to fire ineffective VA employees when the Labor Union intercedes to protect  employee “rights”?

How many more infection risks do Veterans need to overcome at VA facilities?

These are just the latest “issues” that Dr. Shulkin and his staff need to deal with.  Despite evidence of much needed progress to overhaul the VA, these problems are likely to persist.

In fact, every local incidence of inefficiency or incompetence becomes magnified into a matter of national concern and raises further doubts about the VA’s ability to reform itself from within.  Frankly, there are far too many competing mandates for it to do so.

Sadly, our Veterans and their loved ones will continue to suffer until we stop posturing and enact real reform.

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VA Doctor’s Hard Line on HBOT Leads to Veteran Suicide

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As a military veteran with PTSD and TBI, I encounter many brave warriors who have had difficulties getting proper treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

All of these conversations have been disturbing and caused me to relive the terrible ordeals I faced when dealing with the VA.  Nothing quite compared to the disturbing letter I received from Debbie Lee, the founder of America’s Mighty Warriors (“AMW”).

Eric_Bivins

Veteran Eric Bivins serving his country.

In her open letter (summarized and slightly edited below), Debbie describes the heart-wrenching conversation she had with Kimi Bivins, whose husband Eric (a Marine Veteran), had committed suicide after the callous indifference shown by doctors at the VA to his PTSD and TBI.

Several weeks ago Veteran Eric Bivins reached out to us via email for help with his PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) and getting into Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy treatments. We replied to his email and told him we would be glad to help. He was scheduled to start Aug 2nd at Rocky My Hyperbaric.

I didn’t hear anything back until Wednesday when his wife called. She informed me that her husband had committed suicide. She was calling to try and get HBOT for her husbands friends he had served with. We are working to connect with them to provide HBOT to provide healing and hope.

Over the last 4 years our foundation, America’s Mighty Warriors (“AMW”) has been an advocate to make this standard of care at the VA and with Tricare. We have paid for over 30 Veterans to receive this 2 month treatment. Every Veteran we sponsored who received treatment has received improvement with their symptoms for PTSD/TBI .

We spoke for about and hour and she shared that her husband was super excited about getting the treatment and had hope for his future. He had numerous problems with the VA in Tennessee.

Long story short, his last visit at the VA was with the Chief of Staff, Dr. John Nadeau to at that facility. When Eric shared his excitement for getting the HBOT treatment Dr Nadeau told him several times that HBOT was a waste and that people were just trying to scam him for his money. 

His wife said he left a defeated man and had his hope crushed by that doctor. We both agree that her husband’s blood is on that doctor’s hands. They had numerous botched surgeries and doctors who disrespected and misdiagnosed or wouldn’t diagnose his medical problems.

Eric had been sober for about 18 months and that next day started drinking and ended up taking his life after several days of abusing alcohol and prescription drugs.

I am working with her to expose this atrocity. She has two daughters who are 12 and 10. I spent about an hour on the phone with her tonight just listening and providing comfort. While we were talking I asked when social security would kick in for her kids and she said hopefully August. I asked about insurance and she said none. I asked how she was doing financially, and she said they are struggling. Then she shared that her roof caved in a few days ago and that they had their roof replaced two years ago and it wasn’t done correctly and they insurance will only cover $2000 in “rot” damage, not the replacement costs.

AMW did a Random Act of Kindness for Kami and her children to help during this difficult time and sent a check for $5000.00. This program was started in response to my sons amazing last letter home. He mentions that Random Acts of Kindness could change our world and I know when I shared with Kami what our board had approved her life was changed, and she was deeply moved.

Please help us to expose another VA that is responsible for killing a Veteran and the help and healing that HBOT is providing for our Veterans struggling with TBI and PTSD.

I have worked with Veterans who have shown me a gallon size baggie of prescription drugs that they were prescribed to take and 2/3rd’s of them say “may cause suicidal tendencies” and we wonder why our suicide rate is so high. Then they find alternative therapies that are helping and have their hope ripped from them by doctors who are not familiar with HBOT and the success our Vets have seen who have received this. How many more lost lives are these Doctors responsible for?

It is hard to fathom the reasons why any qualified VA doctor would rob a patient a moment of hope, particularly when the VA has been demonstrably incompetent in providing an alternative.

Kimi’s story, as reported by Debbie of AMW, serves as a daily reminder that we all need to take action to expose the lies, hypocrisy and arrogance of the VA.  For many Veterans, the VA is a failed institution that treats our brave heroes with disdain.

How can let this young woman’s desperate plea go unheeded?

It is hard for me to watch this video, but Kimi’s experience is not unique. How many more Veterans need to suffer such indignity?

For those wishing to know more about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or HBOT, please CLICK HERE:

And please, take the opportunity to visit our website where we have many resources and articles devoted to helping Veterans find alternative therapy programs for PTSD and TBI.

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