News for Veterans with PTSD or TBI: Week Ending 2 Feb 2018

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The Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) struggles to provide effective therapy for Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As such, SFTT has will now focus its attention on providing Veterans and their families cope with information on promising new alternative therapies to help brave warriors cope with brain injury.

The devastating effect of brain injury for hundreds of thousands of Veterans and their families cannot be underestimated.  While SFTT will focus primarily on “new” therapy programs, we will occasionally report on the very unsettling problems faced by Veterans and their families as they seek to recover their lives.

Some “alternative” therapies have already proven to be quite successful, but many others are not widely known to Veterans or the medical profession at large.   Even if these programs were endorsed or approved by the VA, treatment is often beyond the financial means of most Veterans.

While SFTT will let the “news” speak for itself, the science of treating brain injury is still in its infancy.  SFTT attempts to provide balanced reporting of the pros and cons of these emerging therapy programs but strongly encourages the reader to make up their own mind as to their efficacy.

Brain Injuries May Start at a Young Age

A recent article in the New York Times entitled, “Hits to the Head May Result in Immediate Brain Damage,” is troubling for families raising children where contact sports is often a way of life.

While the nature of brain injuries suffered by Veterans leading to PTSD and TBI are far different, the New York Times article suggests that there is still much to be learned in treating concussive events.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

SFTT has reported on several occasions that the NFL has been investigating a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”) which appears to be caused by repeated blows to the head causing a protein called tau to spread and kill brain cells.

For many years the NFL and the VA has tried to hide the effects of debilitating brain injuries from players and Veterans, but the evidence is now overwhelming that concussive events may cause irreparable damage to sensitive brain tissue and cells.

Many parents are already pulling their children from junior football programs and some soccer leagues now prohibit children below the age of 12 from “heading the ball” to avoid brain and neck injuries.  Just recently, star performer Justin Timberlake who will perform at halftime at the Superbowl announced that “my son will not play football.”

Shouldn’t this be a warning message to all parents?

Ketamine Could Help Veterans with PTSD

Promising “new” drugs materialize daily that claim to help Veterans cope with the symptoms of PTSD and TBI.  Ketamine, approved by the FDA many years ago for sedating people (but not approved for treating traumatic events) has become a popular treatment option for Veterans that have exhausted VA remedies.

The San Antonio Express News, reports that Ketamine “has achieved good results in clinical trials.”  It adds that “the military also is interested in its use . . . and that two health facilities will treat active-duty troops and veterans. The research is funded by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The San Antonio Express News adds that “clinics use the drug off-label, and protocols, staffing and dosing can differ widely from one clinic to the next.   Despite the lack of supporting clinical evidence, many seek ketamine for relief.  “Even at low doses it alters the senses. Critics say the effects of longtime use remain unknown and wonder if ketamine clinics put vulnerable patients at risk.”

SFTT Commentary:  As in all mind or sensory altering drugs, there are risks that are not fully understood by the medical profession.  SFTT continues to support noninvasive therapies, particularly over unregulated and untested drug options.

Army Research Laboratories and Helius Research Neurological Wellness

According to a press release from Aerotech News,

“The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Helius Medical Technologies, Inc., from Newton, Penn., have partnered to expand on early research that could mean new interventions for improving Soldier readiness and resilience, as well as reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“As part of a cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA, ARL and Helius are launching a research program to investigate Helius’ Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator for the enhancing cognitive and psychological readiness and response through mindfulness meditation training. Helius is focused on neurological wellness.

“Researchers from both organizations will combine the use of the neuromodulator with mindfulness meditation training and assess participants’ neurocognitive performance and self-reported symptoms before and after training.”

SFTT Commentary:   While this joint research program seems promising, the Army Research Laboratory has often placed troop “readiness” ahead of troop safety.  SFTT hopes that this study will prove different.

SFTT readers are encouraged to drop us a line if they discover an interesting new therapy to treat PTSD or TBI or would like to share a public interest story.  SFTT can be reached at info@sftt.org.

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Bloody Sunday: 16 (US Troop Casualties) vs. 6 (NFL Player Casualties)

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 I follow football.  High School, College, Professional – all levels, all kinds. It’s a blood sport.  So there was no way I could ignore the blaring RSS feed headlines on Monday morning announcing that this past weekend’s games will be forever known as “Bloody Sunday.” Sports Illustrated football analyst Peter King reported that “Last Sunday could go down as a seminal moment in NFL history,” because of the injuries sustained on the playing field and the impact on future play, rules and equipment.  The Vice President of Operations for the NFL, Ray Anderson, said that “We’ve got to protect players from themselves” as a result of the violent day.

I also follow the war and the troops.  You know, the ones who allow us to watch sports on weekends without having to worry about some mushroom cloud or Mumbai-style attack here on American soil.  The ones out there protecting that freedom thing, right? 

But, “Bloody Sunday” in the NFL?  Six vicious and violent hits?  Four concussions?  A couple of broken bones?  Oh, my . . . especially compared to how “Bloody” it was in Afghanistan last week.  And compare the changes the NFL is making for head injuries sustained by players, to DOD’s lack of concern for frontline troops.

Since January 2010, on average, 15 troops have been wounded in Afghanistan every single day.  Every. Single. Day. Period.  Simply put, that’s a lot of bloody days.  This past Sunday, there were 15 wounded troopers, and sadly, one killed in action; that equals 16 casualties.  Bloody indeed!  But maybe last Sunday in Afghanistan was simply a bad day, so for some perspective, let’s add up all the casualties from last week.  On average, there were over 100 troopers wounded in action, and 18 US service members paid the ultimate sacrifice and were killed in action.  15 deaths resulted from IED strikes, and 3 deaths resulted from hostile fire.  Of the 15 deaths resulting from IED strikes, 4 were killed in one vehicle, 3 were killed in another, and 2 were sharing another vehicle when they were killed by IED’s.[1]  Statistics that detail the type and extent of the more than 100 wounds suffered are not available (or accurate).  However, we can pretty safely assume that the troopers that survived IED blasts in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles suffered some type of mild-to-severe brain injury—or at the least were concussed—and  that these injuries clearly outpaced those suffered by football players last week. 

I’m comparing head trauma in football and combat, because everyone involved is wearing a helmet.  And if on a given Sunday, the spike in head trauma injuries prompts immediate change in policy and a new commitment to equipment upgrades by the NFL—but not the Department of Defense—then it seems to me that we should all take notice.

So what actions did the NFL take? The concern from head injuries and concussions forced the NFL to impose huge fines on three players this Tuesday for dangerous and flagrant hits and warned the league that violent conduct will be cause for suspension.  It only took the NFL 48-flipping-hours!  And I guarantee that helmets, padding, chinstraps, buckles, screws and straps for every single NFL football helmet is being inspected by equipment maintenance personnel and will be carefully repaired, replaced or some new whiz-bang safety component will be added.  I also guarantee that any and all big-contract players who suffered the slightest head injury have received top-shelf medical care and will most likely be forced to sit out a game or two to protect their team’s “investment.”

So what was the response from the Pentagon after last week’s bloody fray in Afghanistan?  Not a peep except to update the casualty data base and keep issuing sub-standard Advanced Combat Helmets to troops.   From what the troops report to SFTT, some troops obviously get Medevac’ed out of theater due to the severity of their injuries; but some don’t.  And for those who weren’t, maybe the mission profile will allow them to take a one-day or two-day respite from being outside the wire.  But probably not, in line with the old adage, “Every man strengthen the north wall.”  Most ludicrous is the appalling fact that no comparison can be made between frontline troops and NFL players regarding the quality of available medical care, the amount of investment in science and technology to improve the equipment and the commitment to provide long term treatment for traumatic brain injuries.  Must be nice to play in the NFL, and that is the bloody truth!


[1] Department of Defense and icasualties.org data.

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