Does Federal Hiring Freeze Threaten VA Staffing?

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President Trump’s executive order calling for a freeze on hirings by the Federal government (military, security and public safety are exempt), has created serious concerns among Veterans seeking positions with the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

Donald Trump Veterans

Furthermore, Trump plans to “dismantle Obamacare” could cause many privately-insured Veterans to seek relief from an already stressed VA.  Quil Lawrence of National Public Radio (“NPR”) comments as follows:

As promised, President Trump has moved to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It’s a concern for those who might be left without health insurance — and especially for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which may have to pick up some of the slack.

Carrie Farmer, a health policy researcher at the Rand Corp., says 3 million vets who are enrolled in the VA usually get their health care elsewhere — from their employer, or maybe from Obamacare exchanges. If those options go away, she has no idea just how many of those 3 million veterans will move over to the VA.

“I would expect that the number of veterans using VA health care will increase, which will only provide a further challenge for VA to provide timely and accessible care,” Farmer says.

Needless to say, it is next to impossible to predict the dynamics or fallout of somewhat conflicting policies as they pertain to Veterans seeking affordable and reliable healthcare.

Adding to the complication is that Veterans account for roughly  “30 percent of the more than 2.8 million employees in the federal workforce,” according to the White House Office of Personnel Management.

In effect, potential changes in healthcare regulations will cause Veterans to place great demand on the VA and the freeze on Federal hiring will most certainly curtail a critical source of employment for Veterans.

It is also important to note that the Federal hiring freeze applies to the VA.  Press Secretary, Sean Spicer confirmed that:

. . . the hiring freeze would apply to the VA, which had been seeking to bring on 2,000 new employees to help clear up appointment backlogs and improve care.

Spicer justified the VA hiring freeze by saying that it would be fiscally irresponsible at this time to add workers to a dysfunctional system at the VA. “Right now, the system’s broken,” Spicer said. “When you have a system that’s not working, and then going out and hiring additional people doesn’t seem to be the most efficient way of solving the problem.”

While I have no doubt that this situation will sort itself out over the near term, it is hard to argue with Mr. Spicer’s assessment that the VA is “broken” and “hiring additional people” doesn’t seem the appropriate way to fix the problem.

Indeed, a comprehensive independent reform plan already exists to overhaul the VA.   The June 30th (2016) “Commission on Care” reports list 18 specific recommendations to improve overall care for Veterans.  Simply implementing these suggestions would provide Veterans with much needed care and support.

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

While there appears a clear path to reform the VA, J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, is not convinced.  In fact, Mr. Cox previously threatened the former VA Secretary with “physical violence” if he carried out the suggested Commission on Care reforms.

Frankly, it is hard for me to accept the fact that a political hack like J. David Cox could block clearly needed reforms within the VA.   Specifically, Mr. Cox seems to argue that job security of AFL-CIO government employees is far more important than the well-being of military Veterans.  Shame!

Stand for the Troops has a defined goal of supporting our brave Veterans and the men and women who serve our country bravely.  People in leadership like David Cox should recognize the failings of the VA and become a beacon of constructive change rather than destructive rhetoric.

Frankly, the interests of the AFL-CIO and the Veterans who have served our country so heroically would be far better served.

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Will Vincent Viola as Army Secretary Help Veterans with PTSD and TBI?

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By all accounts, the selection of Vincent Viola for Army Secretary by President-Elect Donald Trump has received widespread bipartisan support.  Hopefully, a man of his military record and impressive private-sector track record can bring about competent leadership within the Army.

Vincent Viola

Vincent Viola, Forbes Photo

SFTT certainly hopes so, but is concerned that certain National Hockey League (“NHL”) Florida Panther business connections may cloud his judgement regarding Veterans and active duty personnel that have symptoms of PTSD and/or TBI.

Mr. Viola is a West Point graduate and the owner of the Virtu Financial.  In Sep 2013, Mr. Viola and minority shareholder, Douglas Cifu purchased the NHL Florida Panthers.   “Douglas A. Cifu is the Vice Chairman, Partner and Alternate Governor of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, the Florida Panthers Hockey Club, BB&T Center, and SSE’s additional operating entities.”

Like the NFL, the NHL is also under the gun for its approach in treating concussions:

As has been the case in the NFL, repeated hits to the head in hockey can cause brain injuries, like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease that leads to suicidal thoughts and erratic behavior. But unlike the NFL, which has been heavily criticized for its handling of concussions on the field, the NHL won’t acknowledge the risk of CTE.

Dr. David Cifu (the brother of Doug) is Senior TBI Specialist in the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”).  In recent Congressional testimony (see video excerpt below) Dr. Cifu claims that he has treated “twenty thousand” brain injuries and “provides care for an NHL team” in treating concussions.  Could it be the Florida Panthers?

 

Clearly, Dr. Cifu is out of touch with the majority of physicians who treat PTSD and TBI. In fact, Dr. Cifu is largely responsible for blocking less expensive and far more effective therapy for Veterans suffering from PTSD. Will Dr. David Cifu’s toxic legacy continue after Mr. Viola is appointed Secretary of the Army?

As a counterpoint to Dr. Cifu’s grandstanding at the Congressional hearings, I recommend West Point graduate Maj. Ben Richard’s stunning analysis of how the VA treats Veterans with PTSD and TBI. How sad!

 

Rather than simply point fingers, SFTT has proposed a number of alternative treatment therapies.  One existing therapy, Hyperbaric Oxygen (“HBOT”) has been used around the world for some 50 years and many hospitals currently use HBOT to treat a variety of brain-related traumas.  More specifically, it is the go-to option for the Israel Defense Forces (“IDF”) for soldiers suffering a head injury in combat.

Nevertheless, the VA continues to avoid endorsing HBOT for lack of sufficient clinical evidence.  As SFTT reported last week, Xavier A. Figueroa, Ph.D. has written extensively in a well-researched article entitled “What the <#$*&!> Is Wrong with the DoD/VA HBOT Studies?!!” which refutes many of the “convenient” studies by the VA.

HBOT in chronic TBI

While other new therapies may emerge, HBOT currently provides tangible improvement in brain function.  Furthermore, it can be provided at a fraction of the cost of currently administered VA programs.    Best of all, it is available at hundreds of hospitals around the United States (SFTT highly recommends that all HBOT treatment protocols be reviewed to insure proper application).

On behalf of our men and women in uniform and the tens of thousands of Veterans currently suffering from some form of brain injury, we are hopeful that Secretary Vincent Viola can put an end to current dysfunctional leadership within the VA.

Please, no more time for glib lobbyists like Dr. David Xavier Cifu.    Secretary-elect Viola, our brave heroes need you to act NOW!

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SFTT News: Week Ending Jan 6, 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.

SFTT wishes all readers, Veterans and men and women in uniform a healthy and prosperous 2017.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT.

President Barack Obama Calls for Seamless Transition to Trump
President Barack Obama called for a smooth handover of control of the U.S. military to incoming commander in chief Donald Trump, as the outgoing president met Wednesday with military leaders for the last time. “We’ve got to make sure that during this transition period that there is a seamless passing of the baton, that there’s continuity,” Obama said. He said it was critical to ensure that “we are doing everything we can to make sure that the next president will benefit from the same kinds of outstanding advice and service that these people around the table have provided me.”  Read more . . .

President Barack Obama

Turks Turn to Russia for Military Help in Syria
Two defense officials say that Russia has conducted “several” airstrikes in support of the Turkish military fighting in Al Bab, Syria. And, while the Turks have accepted airpower help from the Russians, they continue to decline military help from the U.S. The Turks are fighting to expel ISIS from al Bab and they are in the midst of an extremely tough fight and they are taking casualties. The U.S. has repeatedly offered help over the past few weeks, both officials said, but the Turks continue to turn it down.  Read more . . .

Election Hacking Takes Center Stage on Capitol Hill
While the U.S. intelligence machine is certain that Russia interfered with the recent presidential election, lawmakers are just beginning to wrestle with how to deter and retaliate against future cyberattacks.  Leaders from several intelligences agencies appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, testifying that Russia used cyberattacks and spread disinformation and fake news to impact the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November. They also said Russia poses a significant threat to American democracy in the future.  Read more . . .

Russia Beefs Up Military Ties with the Philippines
Russia is eyeing naval exercises with the Philippines and deployed two navy ships for a goodwill visit to Manila on Tuesday as Moscow moves to expand defense ties with a Filipino president known for being hostile to the U.S.  Rear Adm. Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, led the five-day visit of vessels including an anti-submarine ship and showcased what his country can offer to a Southeast Asian nation that’s long been a staunch American treaty ally.  “You can choose … to cooperate with United States of America or to cooperate with Russia,” Mikhailov told reporters through an interpreter at the Manila harbor after a welcoming ceremony. “But from our side we can help you in every way that you need.”  Read more . . .

Israeli Study Suggests Media May Worsen Effects of PTSD
A firm belief that external forces govern one’s life events and poor control over media consumption may worsen the effects of trauma exposure on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during a period of national trauma, according to a new Bar-Ilan University study.  The study, recently published in Psychiatry Research, examined PTSD symptoms among nearly 1,300 adult Israeli civilians exposed to missile attacks during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza two years ago.   Read more . . .

PTSD Support Veterans

PTSD Study Could Lead to Improved Patient Outcomes
Last month, researchers announced the findings of a three-year study of the cognitive processing therapy at Fort Hood, and the results could transform how PTSD is treated on military installations. In the largest study ever of an evidence-based treatment for PTSD among active-duty military personnel, 40 to 50 percent of soldiers showed recovery from PTSD after 12 sessions of talk therapy, results that held up in six-month follow-ups, according to soldiers’ scores on specialized PTSD testing. The results were better for soldiers who received individual treatment as opposed to group treatment. The need for a better PTSD treatment is great: A recent Rand Corporation study found recovery rates of less than 20 percent for active-duty soldiers who sought treatment. And the use of prescription drugs to treat veterans with PTSD has had fatal consequences. A 2012 American-Statesman investigation of Texas combat veterans who died after returning home found that more than one-third of those diagnosed with PTSD died of an overdose, often due to pharmaceuticals.  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 becoming a member of Stand For The Troops

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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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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 . . .

Nato Logo

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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Veteran Charities in Context

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Active Duty military personnel that I know generally despise being used as “poster-boys (or girls)” for political campaigns.  In fact, anyone who has served in the Armed Forces is well aware of DoD Directive 1344.10 which prohibits members of the Armed Forces from engaging in “partisan political” fundraising or actively campaigning on behalf of a political party, candidate or political cause.

While these regulations do not apply to Veterans, it has been my experience that most Veterans tend to avoid the limelight of partisan politics and, instead, pursue causes to support fellow Veterans that do not tend to attract much media attention.   Like Active Duty personnel, Veterans tend to avoid serving as “props” for political campaigns.

Donald Trump Veterans

As SFTT and others reported earlier when a Donald Trump fundraising event was announced during the Republican primaries:

. . .several Veteran groups accused Donald Trump of using Veterans like political pawns in his dispute with Fox News over the moderators of the last debate.    In many respects, I agree with Veterans that don’t want to be used as pawns in contentious posturing by politicians.  Sadly, every four years or so, most politicians tend to embrace Veteran causes as they might disingenuously cuddle a puppy dog to encourage voters to look favorably on them.

While it is completely understandable that some, many or all Veterans may not wish to be seen to embrace the policies of Donald Trump, it is most disingenuous – read dishonest – for the media to skew fund-raising efforts by anyone (including Donald Trump) to support Veterans.  

Yet, that is precisely what happened.  In a ridiculous article published on June 2 in the New Times entitled “Putting Donald Trump’s $1 Million to Veterans in Context,”  the author, Peter Eavis, argues that Mr. Trump’s contribution “to veterans’ charities is small compared with those of some fellow billionaires . . .” and that, “Mr. Trump’s $1 million gift to veterans not only came later than some expected, but it is also small for the plutocrat class.”

How silly to judge the merit of candidates on the amount of money they donate to charitable causes, but this is the insane world of partisan politics that dominates media channels rather than constructive solutions to the many issues faced by Veterans.

Last week, I noted Sebastian Junger‘s hope that we have a more united country to deal with  this nation’s many problems.   Even though SFTT has no political affiliation, it is very discouraging to see both the media and our politicians engage is such polarizing propaganda.  Mr. Junger clearly has his finger on the pulse of a huge adjustment problem facing returning Veterans when they see such a dysfunctional society.  It is certainly not comforting.

ZVets

Should the VA be Privatized?

With its colossal $180 billion annual budget, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) is in the focus of those who say this giant institution should be privatized.  Everyone knows the VA is not functioning properly and there have been countless GAO studies suggesting that something be done to address these problems.

When issues like the privatization of the VA surface during an election year, it immediately becomes politicized.  SFTT doesn’t have an answer let alone a position on this issue; however, SFTT has seen enough to know that the VA does not provide adequate care to a large number of its constituents on a timely basis.

The Libertarian Party and several others are suggesting that the VA should be privatized.    Why not take off our partisan political armbands and have a look at the implications.  Maybe some elements now administered by the VA could be handled more competently in the private sector.  If so, it could be a major benefit for underserved Veterans?

If charitable contributions to Veterans can become politicized, imagine the outcry in entrenched political sectors when the VA comes under serious scrutiny.   From the perspective of the SFTT, if it ain’t working properly we might as well look at different approaches; however unappealing they may be to certain entrenched interests.  After all, it is the Veteran who is the focus of our attention and these brave warriors deserve better than what they are receiving

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SFTT News: Week of May 13, 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 our 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.

New U.S. Commander in Afghanistan
After 18 months in command during a period of military and political conflict, General Campbell handed off on Wednesday to Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. of the United States Army. The new commander, who leads a force of about 13,000, will oversee NATO’s reduced mission of training and assisting the Afghan forces at a time when the Taliban insurgency has spread wider than at any point since the group was removed from power in 2001.  Read more . . .

SFTTAfghan_village_patrol

DoD buys Faulty Drones that Failed Testing
U.S. Special Operations Command bought dozens of hand-launched drones that failed military tests and may not be able to meet mission requirements in the harsh environments they were designed for, according to a newly released report from the Defense Department’s inspector general.  Read more . . .

Donald Trump Adviser Signals Change to Veteran Health Benefits
Donald Trump says the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health-care system is badly broken, and this week his campaign released some guidelines that would steer changes he would implement if he wins the presidency.  While short on details, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would likely push VA health care toward privatization and might move for it to become more of an insurance provider like Medicare rather than an integrated hospital system, said Sam Clovis, Mr. Trump’s chief policy adviser, in an interview.  Read more . . .

Veteran EMT Support Act Passes Congress
Today (May 12), the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1818, the Veterans EMT Support Act, by a vote of 415 to 1. The legislation assists military medic veterans to efficiently transition their military medical training into the civilian workforce and addresses the shortage of emergency medical technicians in states.  This has been a key legislative priority of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT), as well as other national and state EMS organizations. H.R. 1818 directs the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a demonstration program for states with a shortage of emergency medical technicians to develop a streamlined transition program for trained military medics to meet state EMT licensure requirements.   Read more . . .

A Brief History of Opioid Abuse:  Courtesy of CNN
The abuse of opioids, including prescription painkillers and drugs like heroin, is something the United States has struggled with since before the 1900s. But it’s a problem that keeps coming back.  Now, federal agencies are trying to tackle the problem in different ways. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, part of an effort to push doctors to prescribe pain medications responsibly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that immediate-release opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and fentanyl will now have to carry a “black box” warning about the risk of abuse, addiction, overdose and death.   Read more . . .


Memory Manipulation to Treat PTSD?
Imagine if memory could be tuned in such a way where good memories are enhanced for those suffering from dementia or bad memories are wiped away for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder. A Stony Brook University research team has taken a step toward the possibility of tuning the strength of memory by manipulating one of the brain’s natural mechanisms for signaling involved in memory, a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Their findings are published in the journal Neuron.   Read more . . .

If you want to support our brave Veterans reclaim their lives, do consider a donation to SFTT.

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Wounded Warrior Project Has Feet of Clay

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What quite a few of us have known for some time – and many more have suspected -The Wounded Warrior Project (“WWP”) appears to place the financial interests of its administrators over the needs of wounded Veterans. In a damning article recently published by The New York Times, The Wounded Warriors Project comes across as an organization built on the hypocrisy and greed of its administrators rather than truly helping wounded Veterans.

Others in the media like CBS (see video above and read the CBS news coverage) continue to follow this story and it seems likely that changes will occur within WWP to redress the balance of contributions that actually go to Veterans rather than its organizers.  I certainly hope so.

I take no great pleasure in continuing to flog WPP in the media, but I was upset by a comment I read in The New York Times suggesting that the WWP organizers should be properly compensating for raising this much money for Veterans and that it is “better than nothing.” In fact, I was more than upset, I was pissed off by this silly rationalization. Let me explain why?

– Most of the contributions raised by WWP came from people over 65 (Viet Nam Vets?).  If a contributor to a “good cause” feels that they have been betrayed by its fundraisers, won’t they be less inclined to support other Veteran programs with integrity?
– The Wounded Warrior Project sucked all of the air out of the room for other organizations that had a similar mission to help Veterans.  In other words, many Veterans were deprived of much needed support since a large percentage of the money went to WWP administrators rather than Vets.
– Many small and worthwhile organizations are financially struggling to support our Veterans and disclosures like the greediness within WWP will only make if more difficult for these organizations to raise funds.
– While I am delighted that some Veterans received support from WWP, I shed a tear for the many Veterans that were not served because of the greed and self-interest of its administrators.

Which brings us to the news that several Veteran groups accused Donald Trump of using Veterans like political pawns in his dispute with Fox News over the moderators of the last debate.    In many respects, I agree with Veterans that don’t want to be used as pawns in contentious posturing by politicians.  Sadly, every four years or so, most politicians tend to embrace Veteran causes as they might disingenuously cuddle a puppy dog to encourage voters to look favorably on them.

My question is quite simple:  What have these “touch-feely” politicians done to overhaul the Veterans Administration with its $170 billion annual budget during the time they spend in office?   Far too little in my estimation.  Over its brief history, WWP has raised under $1 billion ($750 million, but my estimate) – THIS IS LESS THAT 0.6% OF THE ANNUAL BUDGET OF THE VA.

Talk about “too big to fail,”  the VA is simply “too big” and “too bureaucratic” to provide the services our brave Veterans require.  Personally, I would like to see Veteran organizations take on the “big elephant” in the room – the VA – rather than quibble about how they feel “used” by political candidates.  This is the “fight” that our elected leaders need to embrace if they want to truly help our Veterans.

In my opinion, the VA needs to be radically repurposed and decentralized to provide meaningful support to our Veterans.  Big Pharma and politicians who feed at the trough of lobbyists will probably be opposed, but if you want to solve the problem, you need to deal with the corruption and self-interest groups within the VA first!

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Veterans with PTSD and the VA

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In today’s New York Times, there was an editorial written by Nate Bethea, an Army Infantry Officer from 2007 to 2014, entitled “Sarah Palin, This is What PTSD is All About.”  (Editor’s Note: Actually, the original NYT’s article was “The Truth About PTSD,” but presumably the spin-masters at the New York Times felt that by channeling Sarah Palin they would attract more readers).

Ms. Palin raised more than a few eyebrows recently during a rally speech for Donald Trump when she invoked her son Track’s problems in a domestic violence case that she attributes to PTSD. Mr. Bethea takes exception with Ms. Palin’s position:

Mrs. Palin seemed to suggest that the policies of President Obama had somehow worsened her son’s condition. And by explaining away domestic violence as the “ramifications of PTSD,” she intimated that her son’s actions are logical consequences of what he experienced while deployed. This is, of course, a disingenuous argument from a career opportunist. However, in a roundabout way, Mrs. Palin reignited a valuable discussion of combat and its psychological effects. Her portrayal of her son’s condition seems aligned with enduring renditions of veterans as ticking time bombs, as damaged beings primed to harm.

In fact, Mr. Bethea argues that he has has benefitted from the Department of Veterans Affairs program which provided him disability coverage for “mental health care:”

In what I decided would be my final year in the military, I sought out mental health care. I received a PTSD diagnosis in June 2013 and left the military a year later; in 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs rated me at 60 percent disability. I will have access to at least some kind of mental health care for the rest of my life, for which I am immensely grateful. Many veterans who did not seek care before leaving the military (or who were expelled from it) do not have this privilege.

While Mr. Bethea’s “Opinion” is no doubt genuine and heart-felt, I keep wondering if it is more genuine than Ms. Palin’s clearly staged political posturing.

Whether it is Ms. Palin’s son Track or Mr. Bethea’s mental health issues, PTSD is a very serious problem that affects tens of thousands of military Veterans and countless civilians who have been subjected to some form of traumatic event and/or brain injury. Personally, I believe it wrong to trivialize or politicize PTSD or TBI since it deprives many suffering Veterans and civilians of the much needed therapy and answers to their own personal demons.

Frankly, I wish Mr. Bethea had not written this article since he is arguing that his way of dealing with PTSD – and the support he received from the VA – is better than the how Ms. Palin’s son Track dealt with his problems. In fact, many Veterans refuse to seek treatment for brain-related trauma because they feel it makes them look “less of a warrior” to colleagues serving on the front line. It is this type of attitude which deprives Veterans – and active duty personnel – of the support and therapy they need to deal with this serious problem.

Thumbs Down for Ms. Palin and Nate Bethea on PTSD

Many Veterans interviewed by Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”) will argue that the treatment they receive at the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) is shameful and in many cases detrimental to their ability to reclaim their lives.  A cocktail of prescription pharmaceuticals is not the solution to treating Veterans with PTSD.  Nevertheless, the VA dogmatically insists that they have the “right” answers for helping Veterans.  If so, how can one explain the 22 Veteran suicides that occur each day?

While Mr. Bethea may collect his “disability” check each month from the VA and joyfully broadcast his ability to cope with PTSD, others like Maj. Ben Richards are doing something to reclaim their lives.

Who would you rather be?  I know that most Veterans would trade their disability check in a minute to reclaim their life.  Wouldn’t you?

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