Service Dogs: Helping Some Veterans Cope with PTSD

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Service Dogs for PTSD

Photo via Pixabay by Skeeze

Soldiers returning from deployment sometimes bring the trauma of war home with them. Being injured themselves or witnessing others injured or dying, can have lasting physical and emotional effects on our military men and women. Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can surface immediately or take years to appear. These symptoms can include sleeplessness, recurring nightmares or memories, anger, fear, feeling numb, and suicidal thoughts. These symptoms can be alleviated with medications and/or by the use of service dogs.

Service Dogs for Veterans and What They Do

A service dog is one that is trained to specifically perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual disability. Service dogs meant specifically for PTSD therapy, provide many benefits to their veteran companions. These dogs provide emotional support, unconditional love, and a partner that has the veteran’s back. Panic attacks, flashbacks, depression, and stress subside. Many vets get better sleep knowing their dog is standing watch through the night for them.

Taking an active role in training and giving the dog positive feedback can help the veteran have purpose and goals. They see that they are having a positive impact and receiving unconditional love from the dog in return. The dog can also be the veteran’s reason to move around, get some exercise, or leave the house.

Bonding with the dogs has been found to have biological effects elevating levels of oxytocin, which helps overcome paranoia, improves trust, and other important social abilities to alleviate some PTSD symptoms. When the dogs help vets feel safe and protected, anxiety levels, feelings of depression, drug use, violence, and suicidal thoughts decrease.

Service dogs can also reduce medical and psychiatric costs when used as an alternative to drug therapy. Reducing bills will reduce stress on the veteran and their family.

Impact of Service Dogs on Veterans with PTSD

These dogs offer non-stop unconditional love. When military personnel return to civilian life adjustment can be difficult, and sometimes the skills that they have acquired in the field are not the skills they can put toward a career back home. A dog will show them the same respect no matter what job they do, and that can be extremely comforting.

Service dogs can also foster a feeling of safety and trust in veterans. After going through particular experiences overseas, it may be difficult for veterans to trust their environment and feel completely safe. Dogs can offer a stable routine, be vigilant through the night (so the vet doesn’t have to), and be ever faithful and trustworthy.

Veterans sometimes have difficulty with relationships after departing the military because they are accustomed to giving and receiving orders. Dogs respond well to authority and don’t mind taking orders. The flip side is that by taking care of the dog’s needs, the veteran can also get used to recognizing and responding to the needs of others.

Service Dogs are also protective. They will be by the veteran’s side whenever needed and have their back like their buddies did on the battlefield. They will provide security and calm without judgment. The dog will not mind if you’ve had a bad day and be there to help heal emotional wounds. For this reason, PTSD service dogs are also a great help to veterans suffering from substance abuse disorders.

In an article by Mark Thompson called “What a Dog Can Do for PTSD”, an Army vet named Luis Carlos Montalvan was quoted as saying, “But for all veterans, I think, the companionship and unwavering support mean the most. So many veterans are isolated and withdrawn when they return. A dog is a way to reconnect, without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.

Check out the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for information on the VA’s service dog program by CLICKING HERE.

Here are a few of the dozens of programs to help if you are a vet or know one who could benefit from a service dog:

PawsandStripes.org

OperationWeAreHere.com

PawsForVeterans.com

SoldiersBestFriend.org

TenderLovingCanines.org

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The VA Semantics of Treating Veterans with PTSD

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While watching the “Talking Heads” address the Russian hacking scandal through the prism of partisan politics, it struck me that much the same language is used by the VA when discussing the treatment of Veterans with PTSD.

PTSD Support Veterans

While I have always thought that the proper use of language should be celebrated rather than used as a divisive instrument, I am very much bothered by the implications of blurring the meaning of words to suit one’s political ends.

Specifically, hacking DNC or private servers is very much different than “intervening” in the election process.  Most, if not all, governments (including our own) hack foreign and often their own domestic communication’s networks.

While one can endlessly debate the ethics of hacking, it has been going on for centuries.  It is simply a derivative of spying.

Using that purloined information to disrupt or interfere in our own or any other election process can most certainly be construed as an aggressive act.

The point here is that the act of “hacking” and “weaponizing the information” from that hack are two very different subjects.    Blurring the meaning and intent of these two very separate activities is cause for alarm. Specifically, it introduces a number of conflicting and non-related elements into the equation that cannot be properly analyzed.  Formulating an “appropriate response” will even be more difficult.

The intent here is not to discussing Russian hacking, but to show how the use of language can be used to create a distorted view of the efficacy of various VA programs to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Specifically, there is huge difference between the following statements:

The VA is treating Veterans with PTSD;

The VA is treating Veterans for the symptoms of PTSD.

As Maj. Ben Richards eloquently points out, there is no evidence that VA-prescribed therapies have  “healed” or resulted in any significant improvement to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

 

Clearly, treating the symptoms of PTSD and TBI is quite a bit different than restoring brain function and permanently improving the physical and mental condition of military Veterans suffering from PTSD.

In effect, current VA programs seem to be designed to help Veterans cope with the side-effects of PTSD and TBI (i.e. depression, suicidal thoughts, alienation, etc.) rather than cure the underlying problem.    In many cases, we have seen that lethal combinations of prescription drugs have had the opposite effect.

The semantics of VA administrators stating that they are “treating PTSD” rather than “coping with the symptoms of PTSD” is not a trivial distinction.  In fact, there seems to be little evidence that the VA has provided Veterans with a clear path to restore some level of normalcy in their everyday life.

Clearly, with VA consultants like Dr. David Cifu suggesting unorthodox practices to deal with “concussive events” that no one in the medical profession seems to support, it is not surprising that the Veteran treatment outcomes have been so poor.

While there is clearly a need to help Veterans cope with the myriad of frightening symptoms that emanate from PTSD and TBI, we urgently need benchmarks to help provide Veterans with a path to recovery.

As long as a disproportionate amount of money is spent by the VA on drugs and ineffective therapy programs to deal with the behavioral symptoms of PTSD and TBI, then Veterans will be shortchanged by the organization responsible for their care.

With new leadership on the horizon at the VA, SFTT remains hopeful that Veteran trust in the VA will be restored and that the organization will be purged of the toxic leadership of Dr. David Cifu and others who defend the status quo.  Our Veterans and those in the military are not well served by these corrosive and divisive administrators.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Dec 16, 2016

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Found below are a few 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.

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

US Research Submarine Seized by Chinese
A Chinese ship has seized an underwater, unmanned U.S. research vessel, the Pentagon said Friday.  China seized the submarine midday Thursday after pulling alongside the USNS Bowditch, a U.S. oceanographic survey ship, as it was stopped in international waters of the South China Sea, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The ship was near the Philippines about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay when the submarine was seized, Davis said.  Read more . . .

Nuclear Risk Higher with Strained U.S.-Russian Relations
It’s not quite Cold War II, but the collapse of U.S. military relations with Russia could prove to be one of the most consequential aspects of President Barack Obama’s national security legacy while presenting an early test of Donald Trump’s hope for friendly ties to Moscow. Beyond the prospect of the two militaries accidentally brushing against each other in Europe or the Middle East, there is concern that a near-complete absence of military-to-military communication could enable a miscalculation or escalation leading to a nuclear confrontation. The United States and Russia possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Some are continuously on high alert.  Read more . . .

Abram A1 Tank

U.S. Tanks Redeployed to Eastern Border with Russia
The U.S. and its NATO allies are taking no chances amid a build-up of military force on Europe’s eastern frontier with Russia. Three years after the last American tank left Europe, they are being brought back “as part of our commitment to deterrence,” Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges told NBC News. Hodges, who is commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, welcomed a batch of tracked and wheeled support vehicles to a depot in the Netherlands on Thursday.  Read more . . .

EU Plans To Increase Military Spending in Response to Trump
European leaders approved plans aimed at stepping up military spending, which officials said is partly a response to pressure by the incoming Trump administration to shoulder more responsibility for the continent’s defense. Still, reaching final agreement on the details in coming months could be tricky. Divisions remain within the bloc about how a new defense purchasing group would work, how costs would be divided and who would be able to use the new defense capabilities that emerge. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Europe knows “we have to do more and better” on military spending.  Read more . . .

Telemedicine Effective for Treating Veterans with PTSD?
Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have difficulties making it to in-person therapy sessions may be able to get treatment that’s just as good by videoconference. Researchers compared home-delivered prolonged exposure therapy – which helps patients confront memories and situations that trigger their symptoms – to the same treatment given in U.S. Veterans Affairs clinics, and found no difference in effectiveness. “The best treatment for PTSD, with the most empirical support, can be delivered at no loss of effectiveness, directly into a veteran’s home, rather than having the veteran come into clinic,” lead study author Ron Acierno told Reuters Health by email.  Read more . . .

Vet with Service Dog

Veterans Train With PTSD Support Dogs
Fear of crowds and loud noises, battles with drugs, alcohol, depression and suicidal thoughts – those are just a few of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  But this week a group of vets is getting to know some life-saving comrades who will help them. People enjoying their dogs is not an uncommon sight. “I was getting a lot of this look, but now they’re coming in with a sparkle in their eyes,” Nicole Lanahan said. Lanahan started the charity “Got Your Six Support Dogs”. In the military, “Got your six” means “I’ve got your back” and that’s what these dogs are trained to do for veterans suffering from PTSD.  Read more . . .

Who Will Lead Department of Veterans Affairs?
Two key Republican senators are weighing in about ongoing problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs as President-elect Donald Trump mulls his choices for a nominee to lead the agency. The chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., wrote a letter Thursday to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is leading Trump’s transition effort. Grassley and Johnson say the VA is still plagued by problems in “urgent need” of improvement, including substandard care and failure to hold employees accountable for misconduct and poor performance.  Read more . . .

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

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Preventing Concussions: Can Help be on the Horizon?

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Concussions and preventing concussions continues to be a hot topic in the media, particularly when parents decide whether to allow their kids to play contact sports.

Treating PTSD and TBI also receives its share of attention, but most of the media coverage seems to be focused on coping with the symptoms of brain injury rather than offer any meaningful long-term solution for Veterans with these conditions.

Far less attention is devoted to preventing concussions in the first place.  Perhaps, we should be moving forward on all fronts simultaneously.

military drugs

Just this week the FDA just approved a series to trials to evaluate ecstasy to help people cope with PTSD.

After successful preliminary trials, the FDA is moving forward with a large scale study for using Ecstasy as a prescription drug to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study approved on Tuesday would be the final measure necessary before the agency could legalize the drug, according to the New York Times. If the results are favorable, the drug also known as MDMA would be available to patients as early as 2021.

While some may view this new FDA initiative with relief, I am not encouraged by yet another new drug that treats the symptoms of PTSD rather than drugs that permanently reverse brain damage itself.   As we have seen with opioids, treating symptoms opens up a pandora’s box of other medical and neurological problems, particularly when these medications are combined with other prescription drugs.

Granted, reversing brain injury is new uncharted territory, but many Veterans seem to have lost hope that permanently improving  brain “wellness”  is considered to be a high priority for either the VA or the FDA.

If this is the case – and I hope it is not – then studies focused on reducing the incidence of concussion certainly take on far more importance.  Found below is a recent Ted Talk  by David Camarillo focused on developing new protective gear to reduce concussions:

Mr. Camarillo takes issue with both the CDC and NFL models of what happens when a concussive-event occurs. Swedish scanning imagery points to something far different occurring within the brain than what is argued by conventional sources.

Could it be that existing helmet designs for the military and the NFL are based on flawed models and questionable scientific research?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I continue to be disturbed by the conflicting messages sent out by the VA, the FDA, the CDD and the NFL.  Surely, “I don’t know,” is a far more honest answer than continued claims by those in authority that “we are making progress” in helping Veterans with PTSD or protecting NFL players.

If the flawed product were an automobile which caused a fatality, a recall notice would be issued.  How is it possible that the NFL continues to operate with impunity when the evidence strongly suggests that repeated concussions causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or ”CTE’)

The recent FDA “Ecstasy” trial isn’t particularly reassuring, particularly knowing that the results will not be available until 2021.

Questions that seem more relevant would be these:

– Will Dr. David Cifu continue to dictate VA protocols in treating concussive events?

– When will military helmet sensor data be released to the scientific community to help provide our brave military personnel with better helmets?

– Can the VA provide any clinical evidence that it has successfully treated and “cured” PTSD and/or TBI?

– Are more drugs the answer to treat PTSD?

I can’t answer these questions, but tens of thousands of brave men and women with PTSD and TBI deserve an answer.

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SFTT News: Highlights for Week of Dec 2, 2016

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Found below are a few 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.

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

General James Mattis

Marine General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis to be secretary of defense, according to people familiar with the decision, nominating a former senior military officer who led operations across the Middle East to run the Pentagon less than four years after he hung up his uniform. To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exception just once, when Gen. George C. Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950.  Read more . . .

Space:  The Next Military Battlefield?
Since man first explored space, it has been a largely peaceful environment. But now US adversaries are deploying weapons beyond Earth’s atmosphere, leading the US military to prepare for the frightening prospect of war in space.”As humans go out there, there has always been conflict. Conflict in the Wild West as we move in the West … conflict twice in Europe for its horrible world wars,” Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, told CNN. “So, every time humans actually physically move into that, there’s conflict, and in that case, we’ll have to be prepared for that.”  Read more . . .

More Troops and Firepower for Trump Military?
President-elect Donald Trump wants a much bigger military. All he needs to do is find the money and political support to make it happen.  Less than two weeks into the Republican businessman’s transition from unlikely presidential candidate to unlikely commander in chief, many details of his plans for the Defense Department remain unsettled. His picks to lead the Pentagon, the individual services and his national security staff are still unsettled. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was named his administration’s national security adviser on Friday, and Trump has been reaching out to potential defense secretary candidates in recent days, including retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who as the head of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013 choreographed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under President Obama.  Read more . . .

VA Exec Running “Shameful” Charity to Retire with Full Benefits
Thomas Burch, a career lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs will retire November 30 with a full pension and lifetime health care, a congressional source told CNN.Burch was in the process of being fired by the VA after an internal investigation and an investigation by the New York attorney general’s office found Burch personally benefiting from donations made to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation.The Foundation, which Burch ran, raised more than $29 million in four years but spent less than 2% of that money on actual veterans causes. The New York attorney general’s office discovered most of the donated funds went to professional fundraising, and that “the fraction that actually made it to NVVF was further reduced by a pattern of abuse, mismanagement and misspending by NVVF’s former president.”  Read more . . .

Gulf War Illness Under the Microscope at the VA
Unless you were an adult in the 1990s, you probably don’t remember that the Gulf War kicked off the decade. Though it lasted less than a year, many Gulf War veterans came home with a mysterious disease that researchers are just now beginning to understand. According to a press release issued by the Veterans Affairs Research Communications, three VA-funded studies found that Gulf War Illness (GWI) is caused by an abnormal immune response. Certain forms of a gene known to play a key role in the immune system may offer protection from GWI. GWI is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that include fatigue, headache, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness and respiratory and memory problems, according to the US Department of Veteran Affairs. It affects about 300,000 veterans—four out of 10 veterans who served in the Gulf War.   Read more . . .

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

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Veterans with PTSD: Why a Dog May be Your Best Friend

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Veterans with PTSD:  Relief may be around the corner.  Practically, every day one sees Veterans with PTSD coming out from under the dark clouds of depression with the support of a canine companion.

Service Dogs and Veterans

I certainly am not qualified to speculate on the benefits that a service dog provides Veterans suffering from PTSD or other mental impairments, but there does appear to be genuine love and understanding between a Veteran and his or her companion dog.

Sadly, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) does not provide “service dogs” to Veterans suffering from PTSD.  In fact, the VA only provides limited benefits to those service members with an approved VA disability:

VA will pay for veterinary care and the equipment (e.g. harness and/or backpack) required for optimal use of the dog. Veterinary care includes prescribed medications, office visits for medical procedures, and dental procedures where the dog is sedated (one sedated dental procedure will be covered annually). Vaccinations should be current when the dog is provided to the Veteran through an accredited agency. Subsequent vaccinations will be covered by VA. Prescribed food will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Veterinary care does not include over-the-counter medications, food, treats and non-sedated dental care. Flea and tick medications are considered over-the-counter and are the responsibility of the Veteran along with over-the-counter dental care products (bones, dental treats, etc.). Grooming, boarding and other routine expenses are not covered.

The VA differentiates between a “guide dog” (for Veterans that are blind) and a “service dog” as follows:  to help those with severe to profound hearing loss by alerting the individual to a variety of sounds or someone with a physical impairment that substantially limits mobility  by assisting in the performance of a wide variety of tasks depending on need and training (e.g. opening doors, retrieving, etc.).

Currently, the VA does not provide Service Dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD because “there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms.”  Studies are now underway to evaluate the benefits of service dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI, but these results will not be available for several years.

Nevertheless, many Veterans can attest to the healing benefits of having a service dog regardless of the VA’s propensity to study the issue further.  Found below is a video of a Navy Seal who explains the emotional well-being of his service dog.

While the VA continues its research, many privately-funded organization have sprung up across the United States to provide trained service dogs to many Veterans seeking canine support to help them cope with PTSD and TBI. Found below is a list of just a few of these organizations which provide Veterans with canine support that is still under consideration by the VA.

Train a Dog Save a Warrior:  SFTT’s Rescue Coalition Partner providing service dogs to Veterans dealing with the silent wounds of war.

Paws for Veterans:  A privately-funded program which rescues dogs from shelters and then trains both the Veterans and their service dogs.

Vets Adopt Pets:  A list of several programs across the United States to help pair Veterans with “support” pets.

This Able Veteran:   A service dog program designed to help Veterans cope with PTSD and recover their lives.

Canine Angels USA:  Another program which rescues dogs for animal shelters and trains them to work with Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

As the VA continues to “study” the self-evident benefits of a service dog, many well-intentioned private organizations across the United States are already providing much needed training and support for Veterans seeking a canine companion.

In many cases, these organizations are rescuing dogs for animal shelters to help provide these Veterans with a healing companion.

Thanks to the steadfast dedication of many wonderful people, the lives of countless Veterans have been improved.  On behalf of our Veterans, SFTT thanks you for your continued kindness and generosity!

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SFTT Highlights: Week of Nov 25, 2016

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Found below are a few 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.

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

First U.S. Serviceman Killed in Syria Fighting ISIS
The first U.S. service member was killed on Thursday in fighting against the Islamic State in Syria, officials said. The troop died from injuries sustained in a roadside blast near Ayn Issa in the northern part of the country, according to a statement from Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered his condolences after the tragedy.  Read more . . .

ISIS Propaganda Photo

Rebuilding U.S. Military Capability
As a first order of business, we need to review and redefine our strategic objectives and what is vital to our national interest. For example, does our current involvement in Afghanistan make any sense as it relates to our vital strategic interests? Of course not. So why do we continue to expend our national treasure to sustain a corrupt tribal society? Concurrently, in order to restore our world leadership credentials we must reverse the decline of our military capabilities. There is no question that sequestration has decimated our military forces. It will take several years to rebuild the force structure to levels that are required for what we define as a “ready response” force. However, there are actions and programs that can be enacted now that will immediately raise morale and the readiness of our existing forces.  Read more . . .

U.S. Military Celebrates Thanksgiving at Iraqi Base
U.S. troops celebrated Thanksgiving at an Iraqi army base in Qayyara, some 60 km (38 miles) south of Mosul, where a U.S.-led coalition is helping Iraqi forces battle Islamic State. Dozens of soldiers lined up, rifles slung over their shoulders and heads bowed, as one member recited a Thanksgiving prayer. Around 5,000 soldiers are currently in northern Iraq, assisting and advising Iraqi forces participating in the offensive to recapture Mosul from Islamic State. “I want to tell my family now to be thankful that all these people out here and be thankful for being alive… That’s all,” said Joe Hamilton one of the soldiers at the base.  Read more . . .

Grant to Help Match Animals with Veterans
In honor of Rio Grande Valley veterans, The Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center has utilized a Veterans with Disabilities Grant from a private donor which enables veterans with at least a 10 percent disability to adopt any of the pets available at the center for free. Adoption fees are typically $100 for cats, $120 for kittens, $150 for dogs and $170 for puppies. All fees, which are completely waived for veterans, includes spay or neuter operation, microchip for identification, first series of vaccinations and a month of free pet accident insurance. Joel Garza, a United States Army veteran, said he heard about the grant from a friend who knew he had just lost his dog.  Read more . . .

New PTSD Therapy Option for Veterans
Like many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, US Navy veteran Hakim Mathis struggled with anxiety and had trouble trusting others – until he tried Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT.  In CPT, the therapist helps the patient re-examine beliefs that may have changed after combat.  “Beliefs about themselves, beliefs about the world and the level of safety in the world, and concerns about the future and what it may hold,” said Dr. Alan Peterson. CPT is the treatment recently used on hundreds of Fort Hood soldiers and military personnel suffering from combat-related PTSD.   Read more . . .

Equine Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
Animals have a natural ability and knack to soothe and calm those around them without effort. Many types of animals can provide comfort and healing to those in distress, and recent studies show that horses are very special in that ability. The Healing of Our Veterans Equine Service or H.O.O.V.E.S. is a program designed to help veterans with #PTSD or other concerns.   Read more . . .

Veterans Cartoon by Gary Varval

Cartoonist Gary Varval

Will Donald Trump Keep Campaign Promises to Veterans
Donald Trump made a lot of campaign promises, some of which he has retreated from a little more than two weeks after winning the presidential election.  In his “Vision for Veterans Healthcare,” Trump lays out his commitment to ensure veterans “get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it.”  His 10-point plan is an ambitious mixture of accountability, dependability and accessibility in a reformed health care system not bound by a 75-year-old, single-payer, government-controlled model.  Read more . . .

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

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Veterans Affairs: Hope on the Way for Those Suffering from PTSD and TBI?

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With the expected change in the administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), hope could well be on its way to provide more effective and timely treatment for the tens of thousands of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the VA doesn’t seem to have a handle on treating Veterans with serious brain injury.  One hopes that the “new” VA will be more open to alternative therapy provided in the private sector, rather than current dogmatic approaches that have produced few – if any – positive approaches to treating PTSD and TBI. Maj. Ben Richards explains in far more detail below:

I just finished watching an exceptional documentary on PBS by Bob Woodruff entitled Medical Medicine Beyond the Battlefield.   The video, which may be watched below if you can spare 58 minutes – details some incredible medical breakthroughs in helping Veterans recover their lives after they have lost limbs in combat.  Truly miraculous!

Approximately 36 minutes into the video, Mr. Woodruff focuses on how the VA is dealing with brain injury.  Shortly thereafter, he chronicles the issues faced by Elana Duffy, an intelligence Sgt. First Class who suffered traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq (39 minutes).

It is evident that the VA is not making as much progress in treating neurological disorders as they are on other medical rehabilitation fronts.

While concerted efforts are being made to understand and treat PTSD traumatic brain injury, it appears that “progress” within the VA has been impeded by dogmatic positions maintained by Dr. David Cifu and others. In effect, Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI are given few treatment alternatives outside the narrowly defined treatment programs so vigorously defended by VA administrators.

SFTT has long held the view – based on feedback from many Veterans – that the VA is not in a position to provide the necessary care and treatment to truly help Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.   This is a huge problem for Veterans and their families and one needs to “think outside the box” or the confines of VA orthodoxy to embrace new treatment alternatives.

It is terribly sad that the VA has become a political ping pong ball to the chagrin of many Veterans. The release of the Commission on Care report recommending 18 major reforms within the VA triggered an immediate backlash from employees and lobbyists who felt threatened  by the findings.

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Like others, “I was appalled by the outburst of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, who threatened VA Secretary with ‘physical violence.’Cox was ‘prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s a – -,’ he said. ‘He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his a – -, I promise you.'”

Against this particularly toxic background, it is difficult to know whether a new VA Secretary will be able to implement the reforms outlined in the Commission on Care report.

Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown to Head Department of Veterans Affairs?

According to recent information, former U.S. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts is apparently a front-runner for the post of Secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs in the new Trump administration.

As reported in the Boston Herald and several other respected media sources, Scott Brown is

 . . . under consideration for the Cabinet post of Veterans Affairs secretary — said he would create a 24-7 manned hotline for suicidal soldiers, take back bonuses and raises awarded to incompetent VA staffers and outsource PTSD and other serious mental health cases to private professionals.

“People are hurting and they need some real help,” Brown said last night, hours after he spoke with President-elect Donald Trump. “There are some great angels working in the VA right now and they need a morale boost.”

If true, this could very well accelerate outsourcing the treatment of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI to private healthcare providers.   Sen. Brown is quoted as saying, “The VA’s trying to do it all — they can’t. We need to outsource that and get those people help right away.”

There is no way of knowing whether Sen. Brown will be offered the job of VA Secretary or will be confirmed to this “cabinet-level” position, but implementing the steps recommended by the Commission on Care would be a major step forward in getting Veterans the help they deserve.

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SFTT News: Week of Nov 11, 2017

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Found below are a few 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.

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

Ten Good Reasons to Hire Military Veterans
Companies take note: hiring a veteran of the U.S. Military comes with a host of benefits. A number of Quora users responded to the question “What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the U.S. Military?” Of the responders, retired Marine sergeant and current hiring manager Jon Davis outlined ten key reasons employers should hire military veterans.  Read more . . .

“Growing Veterans” to Assist Veterans
It’s an approach that’s far from typical, but when it comes to healing the scars of war, local veterans say a non-profit called Growing Veterans really works. The organization seeks to ease the tough transition that is life after the military.  It does so with the help of a farm, and a first-of-its-kind farmer’s market stand at the VA Hospital in Seattle. The goal is empowering veterans to grow food, communities, and each other.  Read more . . .

Trump Surges to Become Next Commander-in-Chief
In a stunning upset, Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday was elected to become the next commander-in-chief over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump, 70, behind in polls going into Election Day, was declared the winner and president-elect by the Associated Press early Wednesday morning after seizing a number of key battleground states, from Ohio to Pennsylvania to Florida.  Read more . . .

More Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in Congress
More veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are headed to Capitol Hill next year, despite an overall drop in the number of representatives and senators with military experience. At least 27 veterans of the recent wars won congressional races on Tuesday night, with a handful of races still in the balance. The current Congress includes 26 veterans with time in those two war zones.  The number includes 18 incumbents who won reelection and three senators not facing contests this cycle.  Read more . . .

Suicide Bomber Kills 4 Servicemen at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan
A man wearing a suicide vest killed at least four people inside the largest NATO military base in Afghanistan early Saturday, a senior U.S. military official told NBC News. Around 14 others were injured in the attack on Bagram Airfield, according to a statement released by the NATO mission in Afghanistan.  Read more . . .

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More U.S. Troops in Europe Still on Track – For Now
The Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to deploy more troops, attack helicopters and artillery to Europe early next year as part of a multibillion-dollar effort to reinforce NATO’s defenses along Russia’s periphery, the military said on Thursday. A Fort Carson-based armored brigade is set to rotate to Europe in January as part of an effort to ensure a year-round presence of tanks and additional troops on the Continent. The deployment, part of the $3.4 billion European Reassurance Initiative, calls for series of other moves aimed at improving the military’s ability to respond to a crisis in Europe.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Mike Pence Confirms Plan to Reform Department of Veterans Affairs
On the day it was announced that he will take the reins of President-Elect Donald Trump’s transition team, Mike Pence spoke at a Veterans Day event in Indiana. The vice president-elect stressed their commitment to reform the Veterans Health Administration. “Help is on the way,” he said.  Read more . . .

A Critical Moment for the Department of Veterans Affairs
This month, we remember and honor our veterans who have sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms. As a senior member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I want to take this opportunity to recognize the strides that the VA has made over the past few years, and identify my vision for where the VA needs to go to improve services for our service members into the future. The VA does some things well, but is still plagued by problems. While all government corruption and waste harms our nation and destroys the trust of taxpayers, the VA’s problems are particularly troubling because they also impact the everyday lives of our veterans, the brave men and women who sacrifice to defend American ideals. The VA is now at a critical moment that will define its ability to serve our veterans for the next decade.  Read more . . .

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

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After the Election: U.S. Military Assessment

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Each year the Heritage Foundation publishes a security threat analyis to determine hostile “hot spots” that may affect U.S. security.  The threat rating tends to be a blend of overt aggressive behavior and capabilities.

Trump and Clinton

For instance, in 2016, North Korea was considered more of a threat to vital U.S. interests than Iran and Middle East terrorism. (http://index.heritage.org/military/2016/assessments/threats/conclusion-global-threat-level/).

Regardless of which candidate wins the election and the political configuration of both the House and the Senate, it appears likely that our political/military resolve will be tested in the early months of the new administration.

External Military Threats

While North Korea will continue to an existential threat considering the unpredictability of its leadership, the more hostile threat with consequences for our military is Russia.  With incursions into the Ukraine and bellicose action in Syria, this is a calculating enemy with far more lethal capabilities than Middle Eastern terrorists or Iran.

In the later stages of the Obama administration, we have seen how Putin taunts the U.S. and this behavior may escalate as he tests the resolve of the new presidency.  Clearly, an military confrontation between NATO/US forces and Russia – either accidental or otherwise – would certainly place the men and women of our armed forces in a very dangerous situation.

Despite claims by Donald Trump (if elected) that he would deal with ISIS quickly and effectively, it seems unlikely that either he or Hillary Clinton can eliminate the military threat of ISIS without    the need for additional “boots on the ground.”  In other words, more rather than less military personnel are needed in this hostile region to end this military threat.

Terrorism will continue to remain a threat, but it now appears that European security and intelligence services are taking the threat far more seriously.  While isolated terrorist events will continue to occur, U.S. military personnel are unlikely to be at direct risk.  Nevertheless, high risk counter-terrorist initiatives by our military forces will continue to occur in hostile territories.

 Military Assessment on the Domestic Front

The new administration must finally come to grips with a rational and clear U.S. role in the Middle East, particularly Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.  As we have learned yet again in Afghanistan (and should have learned this lesson in Vietnam) there are limits to U.S. Intervention in foreign lands and We need to clearly articulate an exit strategy with well defined strategic goals.

As the military brass comes to terms with the goals of the new administration, the aftermath of a bitter election is most certainly going to effect relations between the executive and legislative arms.  While these relations are likely to be contentious, it will hopefully not affect military preparedness or long term defense strategies.  Certainly, the U.S. must deal far more aggressively with the cyber terror threat that has plagued the Election process and disrupted social networks.  Far more dangerous cyber terror threats certainly can’t be far behind.

One problem that merits a united front is the reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  In many areas, the VA is not responsive to the needs of its constituents.  Clearly, the eventual winner of the election needs to work with both parties in Congress to implement common sense reforms for the VA.  There is no reason why both parties can’t work toward this end.

It is no longer acceptable that our Veterans are held hostage by self-serving bureaucratic procedures that do not respond to their needs in a timely and effective manner.  Surely, this is something both parties can agree to despite the nasty rhetoric of the campaign.

The lives and wellbeing on our Veterans and their families depend on concrete and urgent reforms within the VA.

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