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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SFTT Military News: Week Ending May 12, 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.

Military Code-Breaking Project Inadvertently Compromised
In early December 2016, an NYU student came across a server inside New York University’s famed Institute for Mathematics and Advanced Supercomputing, headed by the brilliant Chudnovsky brothers, David and Gregory. The server appeared to be an internet-connected backup drive. But instead of being filled with family photos and spreadsheets, this drive held confidential information on an advanced code-breaking machine that had never before been described in public. Dozens of documents spanning hundreds of pages detailed the project, a joint supercomputing initiative administered by NYU, the Department of Defense, and IBM. And they were available for the entire world to download.  Read more . . .

cyber warfare

Large Russian Military Exercise on Western Border with Latvia
The Russian exercise, known as Zapad, or West, occurs every four years and will take place this year in western Russia, including Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The U.S. military estimates that 70,000 to 100,000 Russian troops could take part in the exercise, the officials said, adding that the Russian military could also take the opportunity to upgrade certain equipment permanently stationed in the region. Specifically, the officials said that they expect the Russian missile defenses in Kaliningrad to be permanently upgraded with nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missile systems.  Read more . . .

Vet Groups Back Bill to Support VA Firings 
Major veterans service organizations have rallied behind proposed legislation to speed up the firing process at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but a government union charges it would be a gross violation of workers’ rights. “Trampling on the rights of honest, hard-working public-sector employees is not the solution to holding bad employees accountable for their actions,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox said. He said the bill would set up different standards for VA employees and other federal workers.  Read more . . .

US Army Small-Arms Program Explained
U.S. Army small-arms experts recently laid out a blueprint of future small-arms goals that would equip infantry units with several new weapons, ranging from a new squad automatic rifle to a new shoulder-fired, anti-armor weapon. Four months after the Army selected a replacement for its M9 service pistol, the service has started to talk openly about plans to equip infantry squads with lighter, more effective small arms.  Read more . . .

Use of Antidepressants to Treat PTSD Linked to Dementia
Experiencing an exceptionally traumatic event can lead to mental health issues. It can result in flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety that affects the quality of life of the individual and their overall well-being. The most serious of the trauma-inducing mental disorder is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can last for months or even years after the inciting incident, interfering with day to day functioning. New research suggests that this disorder is a significant risk factor for developing dementia, a leading cause of serious illness, disability, and death.  Read more . . .

Psychedelic Drug and Therapy Show Promise in Treating PTSD
According to a story by Scientific American, researchers presented results from trial treatments that used psychotherapy and MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine otherwise known as ecstasy) as a means of combatting major side-effects of PTSD, such as frequent nightmares and heightened anxiety levels. It was found that 67% of patients who received two or three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy had completely overcome the illness roughly a year later. This number, as compared to the 23% of patients who got the same result after receiving psychotherapy and a placebo drug, could be the catalyst for an increased number of trials involving psychedelic drugs in the future.  Read more . . .

Bipartisan Support in Senate for VA Accountability Bill?
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on a long-stalled bill to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire its employees, part of an accountability effort touted by President Donald Trump. The deal announced Thursday could smooth the way for final passage on an issue that had been in limbo since the 2014 wait-time scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center. As many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments as VA employees created secret waiting lists and other falsehoods to cover up delays.  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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