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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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Mar 31, 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.

Lightweight Military Helmet

New Lightweight Combat Helmet Introduced
The Advanced Combat Helmet Gen II will replace the legacy Advanced Combat Helmet, which was fielded about 15 years ago. The service earlier this month awarded Revision Military, based in Essex Junction in Vermont, a contract worth about $98 million to make 293,870 of the new helmets. Made of high-density polyethylene instead of the current helmet’s Kevlar, the ACH Gen II weighs about 2.5 pounds in size large — about a 24-percent weight reduction, officials from Program Executive Office Soldier said at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.  Read more . . .

Iran Called a Destabilizing Influence in Middle East by Military Brass
The nation’s top military official in the Middle East on Wednesday said Iran is one of the greatest threats to the U.S. today and has increased its “destabilizing role” in the region. “I believe that Iran is operating in what I call a gray zone,” Commander of the U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told the House Armed Services Committee in testimony Wednesday. “And it’s an area between normal competition between states — and it’s just short of open conflict.”  Read more . . .

Kim - North Korea

Dissecting US Policy Toward North Korea
Since the Clinton years, the US has considered military action and imposed strict sanctions against North Korea in an effort to curb its nuclear program — but none of it has worked amid fundamental misunderstandings about the shadowy Kim regime. US and UN sanctions on North Korea have sought to cripple the regime through restricting access to commerce and banking, but despite limited successes here and there, North Korea now regularly demonstrates a variety of potent and expensive nuclear arms in open defiance of the international community at large.  Read more . . .

Chinese Military Growth and Sophistication Attracts Attention
China’s rapid development of new destroyers, amphibs, stealth fighters and long-range weapons is quickly increasing its ability to threaten the United States and massively expand expeditionary military operations around the globe, according to a Congressional report. A detailed report from Congressional experts, called the 2016 US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, specifies China’s growing provocations and global expeditionary exercises along with its fast-increasing ability to project worldwide military power.   Read more . . .

Highlights of NPR Interview with VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin
Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin says the Department of Veterans Affairs “is on a path toward recovery.” “We have a clear mandate to do better, [and] to make sure that we’re honoring our mission to serve our veterans,” Shulkin told NPR’s Morning Edition. Shulkin discussed his current priorities for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including how the money from the Veterans Choice program has been spent, and his approach to the persistently high rate of suicide among military veterans, with NPR’s Rachel Martin. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.  Read more . . .

New Diagnosis Tools for Veterans with PTSD?
Researchers are working at brain banks around the country to see what is going on inside the heads of veterans like Fadley. They are examining the brains of deceased veterans in hopes of knowing more accurately what effects trauma ― psychological or physical ― has had on the brain. That could someday lead to better diagnostic tests, treatments, clues into where PTSD originates and evolves.  Read more . . .

Agent Orange Effects Still Felt Today
An estimated 11.4 million gallons of the chemical pesticide known as Agent Orange were sprayed over millions of acres of Vietnam forests from 1962 to 1970. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has long acknowledged the link between the substance and diseases like cancer in veterans, but when veterans began reporting having children with birth defects, the VA stayed mostly mum. But a joint investigation by ProPublica and the Virginian-Pilot published Friday revealed the odds of having a child born with birth defects were found to be a third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange than for those who weren’t. The investigation also determined that the VA had collected information about the link between birth defects and Agent Orange during examinations of more than 668,000 veterans but never adequately scrutinized it.  Read more . . .

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

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