Veterans with Service Dogs: Apparently Not for Everyone

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While SFTT has long promoted the benefits of service dogs for Veterans with PTSD and TBI, there are some – perhaps many – who resent the intrusion of a dog or service animal in their space.

service dogs for Veterans

For instance, Anoka County, Minnesota reportedly had to pass an ordinance to protect the rights of people against the presence of unauthorized animals, particularly those that misrepresent pets as service animals:

“Anoka County now restricts animal lovers from toting ordinary pets into county facilities. From statehouses to corner stores, government officials and business owners across the country are trying to crack down on the number of people who misrepresent pets as service animals and weighing penalties for those flouting rules that restrict which animals may go where.”

While similar legislation exists in most every state for “health reasons,” the definition of the term “service dog” means something different depending on what you are talking about.  For instance, in an article published on Jan 6, 2018 in the Star Tribune of Minnesota the following “discussion” ensues:

“Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, service animals can go wherever their owners go, from the library to public transit to the corner cafe. Not so with an emotional support animal, except when it comes to flying, which is guided by a different law.

And when people say “companion animal?”

“In a legal sense, a companion animal means pet,” Wisch said.

A service animal is a “defined right” for an individual with a disability, while an emotional support animal is a type of accommodation, said Kevin Lindsey, Minnesota commissioner of human rights.”

Presumably, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) agrees with the Minnesota Commissioner of Human Rights since the VA provides service dogs for Veterans with physical disabilities, but has yet to determine whether to broaden this policy to support Veterans who require “emotional support” during times of crises.

While one can certainly appreciate the fact that a service dog may represent a unhygienic threat to someone in a public place, it seems ludicrous to create hard rules to protect against the abhorrent behavior of a small minority.  Will it be necessary to card “service dogs” or their owners at public establishments to insure that the dogs papers are in order?

With suicide rates among Veterans still high and an opioid epidemic that is ravishing America, it is hard to believe that the public can be distracted by this silly assault on individual rights.

While individual freedoms must certainly be respected against the “demands” of the public good, logic and statistical anomalies often distort the truth.

For instance, the Washington Post alarmingly reports that 963 people were “shot by police” in 2016.  Is this a national calamity or a reasonable defense that our police exercised reasonable prudence before taking another person’s life?  Make up your own mind by consulting the GitHub database.

According to the CDC database, people dying from gun violence last year exceeded 33,000.  One would hope that the public is focused on the causes for the other 97% with the same degree of attention that they monitor police gun violence.

We live in an imperfect world, but the men and women who have served our country so valiantly deserve access to service animals for both physical and mental disabilities.  Hopefully, the small minority who are inconvenienced by this evident need will have the common sense to dine elsewhere and, perhaps, tip their hat and say “thank you.”

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Department of Veterans Affairs: Wish List for 2018

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David ShulkinAs 2017 draws to a close, SFTT is delighted with the early initiatives undertaken by Dr. David Shulkin to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

While SFTT still believes that the VA is “too large to succeed in its mission,”  we applaud the Herculean effort by Dr. Shulkin to regain management control of this large rudderless ship.

Our brave Veterans simply need a far more responsive system.

Found below are SFTT’s 2018 recommendations for Secretary Shulkin:

Continue Efforts to Purge the VA of Incompetent Staff

It is hardly surprising that reforms within the VA continue to be hampered by J. David Cox, President of the American Federation of Government Employees.  In fact, the President was obliged to create by Executive Decree the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the Department of Veterans Affairs to protect “whistleblowers” from unfair retribution for reporting abuses within the VA.

VA Secretary Shulkin has the backing of the President, Congress and Veterans to weed out the “bad apples” within the VA, but will it be enough to overcome the stalling tactics of David Cox and the government labor union.  A responsive management structure focused on providing healthcare to Veterans is the goal, but will special-interest groups succeed in derailing Secretart Shulkin’s initiatives?

Focus on Improving the VA’s Core Competency

There are many areas within the VA that are providing outstanding care to Veterans.  Those areas – which need to be identified and nurtured – should be considered the core competency of the VA.  Invest in those are areas which are providing the needed health services to Veterans and question all others that may not be fulfilling that goal.

While Dr. Shulkin closed many underutilized facilities, it may be only the tip of iceberg.  Certain functions within the VA may have already outlived their usefulness and perhaps could be  better performed in the private sector.   Ridding the VA of peripheral activities will permit management to focus on its core competency.

Aggressively Partner with Private Sector

One of the major criticisms of the VA is its penchant for attempting to manage everything in-house.   While this would be wonderful if it worked, the sheer size of the VA and its inability to react quickly and efficiently fails Veterans in their time of need.  The Choice Program is clearly a response to this dilemma.

Indeed, there are plenty of areas where Veterans would be better served through partnerships with the VA.  The VA should seize the initiative to partner with “stronger” local institutions in the private sector who can provide defined services to Veterans.

Distinguish Between “Managing Symptoms” and Therapy

The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis is a clear wakeup call to those who believe that “treating symptoms” is therapy.   It is hard to escape the Commission’s damning indictment that “the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system.”  More to the point are the following observations from the Commission:

“Unsubstantiated claims: High quality evidence demonstrating that opioids can be used safely for chronic non-terminal pain did not exist at that time. These reports eroded the historical evidence of iatrogenic addiction and aversion to opioids, with the poor-quality evidence that was unfortunately accepted by federal agencies and other oversight organizations.

Pain patient advocacy: Advocacy for pain management and/or the use of opioids by pain patients was promoted, not only by patients, but also by some physicians. One notable physician stated: “make pain ‘visible’… ensure patients a place in the communications loop… assess patient satisfaction; and work with narcotics control authorities to encourage therapeutic opiate use… therapeutic use of opiate analgesics rarely results in addiction.”

Indeed, the use of opioids to treat pain and depression symptoms is hardly therapy for Veterans with brain trauma.  While VA studies on the benefits of “medicinal marijuana” may provide Veterans with a less dangerous method to cope with the pain of traumatic brain injury, it doesn’t seem to offer much benefit as a long term solution to PTSD and TBI.

The VA should clearly distinguish between medical programs which simply “manage” symptoms and those programs that offer clearly therapeutic benefits without drug dependency.

Improve Responsiveness and Administrative Efficiency

The VA is regularly criticized – and often quite rightly – for its lack of responsiveness and administrative inefficiency.  While no doubt these criticisms will continue, one must applaud Secretary Shulkin’s decision to scrap the VA’s VistA system and replace it with the Department of Defense MHS Genesis to manage electronic records.

Sure, there are many who will not be happy with this decision, but the fact remains that it is far better to upgrade and improve the efficiencies in one BIG system rather than two.  While some Veterans may be concerned about the breach in confidentiality, one system to manage healthcare records should – over time – dramatically improve efficiencies.

It remains to be seen if the “wait times” often cited in IG reports can be significantly reduced.

Summary

SFTT remains hopeful that Dr. Shulkin will continue to push his staff in 2018 to provide Veterans with the care they deserve.

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SFTT Military News Highlights: Week Ending Oct 27, 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.

Tensions Continue High Over North Korea Threat
Vice President Pence told U.S. troops to “stay sharp” and “be ready” on Friday in the face of an increasing threat from North Korea.  “Now more than ever your commander-in-chief is depending on you to be ready. Stay sharp, mind your mission,” Pence said at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.  “Anyone who would threaten our nation should know that America always seeks peace, but if we are forced to defend ourselves or our allies, we will do so with military power that is effective and overwhelming. And those gathered here at Minot Air Force Base will play a critical role again,” he said.  The base would play a critical role in the face of an attack, as it houses 26 B-52 bombers and 150 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites.  Read more . . .

Public Support for US Military Remains High, but  . . .
In the 21st century, America has lost its trust in institutions. A quick perusal of Gallup’s data shows that trust in every major national institution has been on the wane since 2000. Except, of course, for the military. As of this year, Gallup reports that 72 percent of Americans polled had a lot of confidence in America’s armed forces.   Read more . . .

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

VA Studies PTSD and “Brain Bank”
The brain-tissue biorepository (the VA National PTSD Brain Bank) supports research on the causes, progression, and treatment of PTSD. The bank is responsible for tissue acquisition and preparation, diagnostic assessment, and storage. It’s currently storing tissue from 168 brains, most of which are from people once diagnosed with PTSD. Many of the other donors had major depressive disorder. Other brains are from healthy controls. More than 40 of the brains are those of veterans, about 75 percent of whom had PTSD. Most of the veterans who donated brains to the bank served in the Gulf War.  Read more . . .

“Gut Microbe” May be an Indication of PTSD
Researchers have known for a while that stress can play a major role in the gut microbiome, affecting bacteria growth and eventually leading to inflammation and mental-health issues like depression and anxiety. But a new study took things a step further, discovering a bacteria trio that might also function as a diagnostic tool for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Our study compared the gut microbiomes of individuals with PTSD to that of people who also experienced significant trauma but did not develop PTSD,” said lead researcher Stefanie Malan-Müller, PhD, in a press release. “We identified a combination of three bacteria—Actinobacteria, Lentisphaerae, and Verrucomicrobia—that were different in people with PTSD.” In the study, those with PTSD had much lower levels of the three bacteria varieties than those who experienced trauma but didn’t develop the disorder. Additionally, those who dealt with trauma in their younger years had low levels of two of the three types as well.  Read more . . .

GAO to Study VA Treatment and Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
The Government Accountability Office will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions. At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the government’s top watchdog agency agreed Sept. 27 to study how heavily VA relies upon powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients. Both Coffman and Kuster have received numerous complaints from veteran constituents, who contend that VA relies upon psychotropic medications far too often. Both lawmakers, and their colleagues on Capitol Hill as well, are concerned that use of the medications could be a contributing factor to the alarming rate of suicides among veterans. They cite the cases of two Colorado veterans who were prescribed the drugs by VA. One later committed suicide and the other was reported missing for several days.  Read more . . .


How Does Your VA Medical Facility Rank?
Many of the worst VA hospitals in the country last year remain among the worst this year, according to internal rankings released Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly a dozen of the medical centers who received one out of five stars in quality ratings this year received the same low score in 2016. They include three veterans’ hospitals in Tennessee — in Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Memphis, where threats to patient safety have skyrocketed in recent years. Also among them is the Phoenix VA, where veterans died waiting for care touching off a national scandal in 2014.  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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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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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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SFTT Military News: Highlights for Week Ending August 4, 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.

With Eye on Russia, US Military Focuses on Global Exercises
The U.S. military is moving toward more global exercises to better prepare for a more assertive Russia and other worldwide threats, a senior officer said in an interview with Reuters. Air Force Brigadier General John Healy, who directs exercises for U.S. forces in Europe, said officials realized they needed to better prepare for increasingly complex threats across all domains of war – land, sea, air, space and cyber. Some smaller-scale war games with a global focus had already occurred, but the goal was to carry out more challenging exercises by fiscal year 2020 that involved forces from all nine U.S. combatant commands – instead of focusing on specific regions or one military service, such as the Marines.  Read more . . .

Secretary of State Tillerson Seeks Talks with North Korea
In the Trump administration’s first serious attempt at a diplomatic opening to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has offered to open negotiations with Pyongyang by assuring “the security they seek” and a new chance at economic prosperity if the North surrenders its nuclear weapons.Mr. Tillerson’s comments came just hours before the United States on Wednesday tested an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, sending it 4,200 miles to a target in the Marshall Islands. The Pentagon said the test was not intended as a response to the North’s launch on Friday of a missile that appeared capable of reaching Los Angeles and beyond.But military officials said the test demonstrated that the American nuclear arsenal was ready “to deter, detect and defend against attacks on the United States and its allies.”  Read more . . .

Telehealth for Veterans Rolls Out To General Acclaim
American Telemedicine Association (“ATA”) has long supported the VA’s vision of expanding veterans’ access to telehealth services, facilitating high-quality encounters between veterans and providers, and ensuring that veterans are equipped with the best tools to monitor their health. This includes innovative models that facilitate cross-state practice and enable consumer choice such as the VETS Act (S. 295 and H.R. 2123). “We applaud Dr. Shulkin for demonstrating the value of telehealth today at the White House.” said Gary Capistrant, Chief Policy Officer, ATA. “We encourage President Trump to issue an Executive Order to eliminate the state-by-state licensure model for all federal and private-sector health professional employees servicing federal government programs—notably agencies (such as the VA and the Department of Health and Human Services), health benefit programs (such as Medicare and TRICARE), federally-funded health sites (such as community health centers and rural clinics), and during federally-declared emergencies or disasters.  Read more . . .

Veteran Choice Options Expanded
Thank bipartisan support for helping veterans, or lingering anger over the previous scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but whatever the reason, Congress is managing to get legislation passed addressing veterans’ needs. First, Congress finally worked out a deal on funding for Veterans Choice. If you believe that veterans should be able to seek out and get the best care wherever they prefer, whether it’s within the VA or from a private health care provider, Veterans Choice is a nice half-step, but hardly a sweeping change. (The booming demand for treatment through the program can be interpreted in veterans’ interest in exploring other treatment options.)  Read more . . .

Brain and PTSD Studies

No Surprise Here:  PTSD May Be More Physical than Psychological
The part of the brain that helps control emotion may be larger in people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after brain injury compared to those with a brain injury without PTSD, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference in Jacksonville, Fla., July 14 to 16, 2017. “Many consider PTSD to be a psychological disorder, but our study found a key physical difference in the brains of military-trained individuals with brain injury and PTSD, specifically the size of the right amygdala,” said Joel Pieper, MD, MS, of University of California, San Diego. “These findings have the potential to change the way we approach PTSD diagnosis and treatment.” In the brain there is a right and left amygdala. Together, they help control emotion, memories, and behavior. Research suggests the right amygdala controls fear and aversion to unpleasant stimuli.  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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Military News Highlights: Week Ending Jul 21, 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.

Turkey Releases Secret Sites of US Troops in Syria
In the latest display of Turkish anger at U.S. policy in Syria, the state news agency has divulged the locations of 10 U.S. military bases and outposts in northern Syria where the U.S. is leading an operation to destroy the so-called Islamic State in its self-styled capital of Raqqa. The list published by the Anadolu news agency points to a U.S. presence from one end to the other of the Kurdish self-administration region—a distance of more than 200 miles. The Anadolu news agency even listed the number of U.S. troops in several locations and in two instances stipulated the presence of French special forces.  Read more . . .

South Korea Proposes Military Talks with the North
South Korea on Monday proposed holding military and humanitarian talks with North Korea, its first visible split with the Trump administration, which has said it will deal with North Korea’s continued missile tests by stepping up sanctions and military pressure on the country. If the talks take place, they will be the first military-to-military dialogue since 2014. It is an attempt to ease tensions along a heavily armed border, and perhaps to arrange the resumption of reunions of families divided decades ago by the Korean War. But North Korea did not immediately respond, and such conversations have a dismal history since military officials on both sides are usually not empowered to negotiate significant agreements.  Read more . . .

French Military Chief Resigns Over Defense Cuts
A public fight between President Emmanuel Macron and France’s chief military officer over proposed cuts in military spending led Wednesday to the first high-profile resignation of a public servant since Mr. Macron was elected in May. In an unusual move, the military chief, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, offered his resignation after Mr. Macron said publicly that he would be the one to determine military policy and implicitly criticized General de Villiers for questioning the government’s proposed budget cuts. The president’s seemingly unshakable confidence in his judgment, and his reluctance to brook any dissent, could signal potential difficulties ahead as Mr. Macron tries to shrink government spending.  Read more . . .

Major IT Contract at Department of Veterans Affairs in Danger of “Catastrophic Failure”
Internal documents obtained by the American-Statesman show that last year, even as government overseers were taking the VA to task for failures in other high-profile IT projects, VA officials worried that the department’s $543 million contract with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services to implement a real-time locating system, or RTLS, was careening off the rails. The system, which consists of tagging and wirelessly tracking everything from catheters to hospital beds, has been hailed as a way to potentially save millions of dollars in lost or misplaced equipment.  Read more . . .

PTSD Brain Details

New PTSD Study Points Way to Future Treatment
A study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—conducted by the VA National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD), National PTSD Brain Bank, and Yale University—has identified a new potential mechanism contributing to the biology of the disorder that may be targeted by future treatments.  The study, led by NCPTSD and Yale psychiatrist Irina Esterlis, is the first to implicate a specific alteration in brain glutamate signaling in PTSD. Glutamate is a chemical messenger of brain signals, and alterations in glutamate levels in PTSD were described previously. The new study reports that positron emission tomography (PET) scans show increased levels of a subtype of glutamate receptor in the brain, metabotropic glutamate receptor-5 (mGluR5), in patients with PTSD. In animals, overstimulation of mGluR5 is associated with fear and stress-related behaviors; drugs that reduce mGluR5 function may reduce these symptoms. Thus, the current study may have implications for the treatment of PTSD, said the researchers.  Read more . . .

Welsh Study on Treating PTSD
Funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) and supported by Health and Care Research Wales, the study is seeking to help veterans who have not responded to current PTSD treatments. The two-year study is investigating the effectiveness of a new therapy known as 3MDR, where patients walk on a treadmill whilst interacting with a series of self-selected images that are related to their trauma, and displayed on a large screen. The aim of this therapy is to help patients learn how to move through their avoidance by, literally, approaching their traumatic memories.   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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