SFTT Military News: Week Ending Nov 3, 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.

North Korean Defector Warns of “Massive” Military Counterstrike
North Korean military officers have been trained to trigger a devastating counterstrike if their country is attacked by the United States, according to a high-profile defector. Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho’s comments to U.S. lawmakers suggest that military action on the Korean peninsula — a course of action repeatedly raised by President Donald Trump — would almost certainly result in a catastrophic number of civilian casualties. “North Korean officers are trained to press the button without any further instructions from the general command if something happens on their side,” Thae said Wednesday. “So if there is any sound of fire or bombs or strikes from Americans, the [North Korean] artillery and short-range missiles will fire against South Korea.”  Read more . . .

Kim North Korea

First U.S. Airstrikes Reported Against ISIS in Somalia
The U.S. military for the first time has conducted two airstrikes against Islamic State group fighters in Somalia, where the group is a growing presence in a country long threatened by the al-Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab. The U.S. Africa Command said the two drone strikes killed “several terrorists” in northeastern Somalia, with the first around midnight local time and the second later Friday morning. The U.S. said the strikes were carried out in coordination with Somalia’s government.   Read more . . .

Syria Claims that Last ISIS Outpost in Syria Falls
The Syrian government declared victory over Islamic State in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Friday, a big blow to the jihadists as their last stronghold in Syria crumbles. Deir al-Zor, on the west bank of the Euphrates River, is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria, and is the center of the country’s oil production. “The armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces, liberated the city of Deir al-Zor completely from the clutches of the Daesh terrorist organization,” the military source said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.  Read more . . .

VA Plea for New Drugs to Treat PTSD
Reported cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are increasing, and trends indicate that growth will continue as more military men and women return from overseas service. But treatment help doesn’t appear to be coming quickly. So far in 2017, six dermatology drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but no drug has been approved for treatment of PTSD since 2001. At this point, two drugs — Paxil and Zoloft — have been given FDA approval for PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs created a PTSD Psychopharmacology Working Group, which has issued an urgent plea for the development and approval of new drugs for PTSD as part of a national mental health priority.  Read more . . .

Ecstasy in the Loop to Treat PTSD?
In July, the Food and Drug Administration took the important step of approving two final-phase clinical trials to determine whether a party drug that has long been on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I list of banned substances could be used to treat a psychiatric condition that afflicts millions. The drug is MDMA, a psychedelic commonly known as Ecstasy, previously deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use.” The trials aim to determine whether the drug is, as earlier trials have suggested, a safe and effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, when combined with psychotherapy.  Read more . . .

Eye Movement Desensitization Reduces PTSD
In a meta-analysis of clinical trials published in PLoS One, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing was shown to reduce the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with a longer duration of treatment correlating with better outcomes. The study authors evaluated 26 randomized controlled trials that evaluated the use of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in patients with PTSD. Outcomes included the effects of treatment on PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, and subjective distress.  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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The VA and Veteran Suicides: Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up

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Only a cynical person could look with amusement on the recent self-serving announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) that it is taking “additional steps” to address Veteran suicides.   I realize that it is somewhat difficult to get a $180 billion a year bureaucratic behemoth to focus on an issue that has been front-page of every major media outlet, the DoD and even the VA for well over 10 years.

In fact, many legislators and many grieving families are simply scratching their heads and asking the question that most any sane American would ask:   Hasn’t the VA been focused on Veteran suicides all along?   I guess the simple conclusion is this:  Yes, the VA is aware that approximately 22 Veterans commit suicide each day, but our management believes that these “additional steps” will help stem the tide:

Several changes and initiatives are being announced that strengthen VA’s approach to Suicide Prevention. They include:

  • Elevating VA’s Suicide Prevention Program with additional resources to manage and strengthen current programs and initiatives;
  • Meeting urgent mental health needs by providing Veterans with the goal of  same-day evaluations and access by the end of calendar year 2016;
  • Establishing a new standard of care by using measures of Veteran-reported symptoms to tailor mental health treatments to individual needs;
  • Launching a new study, “Coming Home from Afghanistan and Iraq,” to look at the impact of deployment and combat as it relates to suicide, mental health and well-being;
  • Using predictive modeling to guide early interventions for suicide prevention;
  • Using data on suicide attempts and overdoses for surveillance to guide strategies to prevent suicide;
  • Increasing the availability of naloxone rescue kits throughout VA to prevent deaths from opioid overdoses;
  • Enhancing Veteran Mental Health access by establishing three regional tele-mental health hubs; and
  • Continuing to partner with the Department of Defense on suicide prevention and other efforts for a seamless transition from military service to civilian life.

Veteran Suicides

While I guess we should all take some solace from the fact that these “additional steps” may help reduce suicides among Veterans, many of us wonder why it has taken so long for the VA to recognize that its current treatment process has proved to be inadequate.  Indeed, the VA seems more intent on throwing cold water on alternative therapy programs than doing much at all to help get Veterans in help they need for PTSD and TBI.   More prescription drugs is not the answer according to the F.D.A., but I suppose it will be difficult for the VA to radically change its modus operandi.

Having been in business for many years, I am suspect when people tell me they are “taking steps.”   To paraphrase the late British columnist Bernard Levin, I have no idea whether these are “fast steps,” “double-time steps,” or as is often the case for bloated government bureaucracies: “marching in place and hoping for a better outcome.”

Judging from the VA’s record, I am not at all convinced that these “additional steps” – even if implemented – will improved the outcome so fervently desired by Veterans and their loved ones.  For the most part, these “additional steps” seem more like a public relations initiative rather than something will bring about a major change in the way PTSD and TBI are diagnosed and treated by the VA.  I hope I am wrong.

Accountability and responsibility is a theme well understood by the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces.  Sadly, accountability and responsibility seem to be in short supply at the VA.  We should all be outraged!

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F.D.A. on Prescription Drugs

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People complain that the F.D.A. takes far too long in approving “new” drugs, but they seem to be equally obtuse in pointing out the dangers of using drugs they have already approved.  According to a new article appearing in the New York Times, the F.D.A seeks tighter control on prescriptions for class of painkillers.     I suppose we should be grateful that the guys and gals in the white robes in D.C. have finally come to their senses and realize that we now have a nation of addicts: addicted to prescription and generic pain killers all approved by the F.D.A.   How sweet!

The “debate” is not without its polemics as this lengthy excerpt from the New York Times article suggests:

 

“In 2011, about 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing medications were written for some 47 million patients, according to government estimates. That volume of prescriptions amounts to about five billion pills.

Technically, the change involves the reclassification of hydrocodone-containing painkillers as “Schedule II” medications from their current classification as “Schedule III” drugs. The scheduling system, which is overseen by the D.E.A., classifies drugs based on their medical use and their potential for abuse and addiction.

Schedule II drugs are those drugs with the highest potential for abuse that can be legally prescribed. The group includes painkillers like oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, methadone and fentanyl as well as medications like Adderall and Ritalin, which are prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

In recent years, the question of whether to tighten prescribing controls over hydrocodone-containing drugs has been the subject of intense lobbying.

Last year, for example, lobbyists for druggists and chain pharmacies mobilized to derail a measure passed in the Senate that would mandate the types of restrictions that the F.D.A. is now recommending.

At the time, the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society also said that making patients see doctors more often to get prescriptions would impose added burdens and costs on them.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, expressed dismay when the proposal died in the House of Representatives.

“They got their victory – but not at my expense,” said Mr. Manchin, whose state has been hard hit by prescription drug abuse. “The people who will pay the price are the young boys and girls in communities across this nation.”

As SFTT has been reporting for many months,  prescription drug abuse with terrible side-effects is chronic among the many brave warriors returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Sadly, treating the symptoms with OxyContin and other toxic pain-relievers has been the panacea prescribed by the VA.  Despite clear and irrefutable evidence that this was causing more harm than good for warriors suffering from PTS and TBI, the lobbyists and their political pundits in government were reluctant to pull the plug on what is little more than government-sponsored drug addiction.

Finally, we may get an opening to help these brave young men and women rebuild their lives without the terrible consequences of addiction.

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