GAO to Investigate VA Over Treatment and Therapy of Veterans with PTSD

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At the request of Reps. Mike Coffman, R-CO., and Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., the Government Accountability Office (“the GAO”) agreed Sept. 27 that it “will review the way the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) treats patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other combat-related conditions.”  In particular, the GAO will focus on “how heavily the VA relies on powerful psychotropic drugs to treat patients.”

OxyContin - Veteran Addiction

As reported in the Armed Forces News, “this decision is a victory for combat veterans everywhere who are suffering from PTSD and who have been prescribed a cocktail of very powerful drugs to mask their symptoms in lieu of other forms of interactive therapy that work to bring down the stress levels of PTSD to a point where they are no longer debilitating,” said Coffman.

While this new GAO study may come as a big relief to many Veterans with PTSD (and their families), the tragic findings will surprise few who monitor the shoddy treatment procedures provided to Veterans with PTSD at the VA .

For those expecting that this “new” GAO study will result in any improvements in the treatment our Veterans receive, I refer you to the December, 2014 GAO study of the VA with the title of “Improvements Needed in Monitoring Antidepressant Use for Major Depressive Disorder and in Increasing Accuracy of Suicide Data.”

Here is a brief summary of the conclusions reached in this GAO audit as reported by SFTT in March, 2015 in an article entitled GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for VA Suicides:

– 10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
– 86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
– 40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
– 63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

With data integrity breaches like this, it is no wonder GAO cited the suicide data VA relies on as “not always complete, accurate, or consistent.”
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

If Representatives Coffman or McLane Kuster expect different patient outcomes, they are likely to be as disillusioned as Kimi Bivins, the wife of Veteran Eric who tragically committed suicide earlier this year.    There is little need to request a GAO study to find out how dysfunctional the VA has become.  Simply listen to Kimi describe how her husband was treated at VA facilities.
Even as far back as 2012, the VA knew that opioids were not appropriate for treating PTSD, and yet, the VA continued to provide Veterans with lethal prescription drugs knowing full well the consequences.
While SFTT could point out many similar government studies on inefficiencies at the VA, it seems to be far easier for politicians to request new studies, since they never bothered to read the existing studies or insist on much needed reforms.
Sadly, the VA has become a “law unto itself” and no amount of well-intentioned “studies” or GAO audits will do anything to turn the VA around unless politicians on both sides of the aisle take a sledgehammer to break up the VA into manageable components.   As of today, the VA is simply too large to succeed in its mission.
We can continue to study the problem, but for the sake of our brave Veterans and their families, it is time to take action!
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SFTT Military News Highlights: Week Ending Oct 27, 2017

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Found below are a few military news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage SFTT readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

If you have subjects of topical interest, please do not hesitate to reach out. Contact SFTT at info@sftt.org.

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

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

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE

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

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

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


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

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

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

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SFTT Military News Highlights: Week Ending Sep 8, 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.

China Sends Military Warning to North Korea
As tensions continue to mount following North Korea’s latest nuclear test, the Chinese military has conducted another drill near the Korean Peninsula. According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), a Hong Kong-based publication, on Tuesday a Chinese ground unit practiced shooting down simulated low flying missiles over Bohai Bay. Bohai Bay is “ the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea between China and North Korea,” the report noted. Although few details were given, including which defense systems were used, Chinese websites indicated the test sought to simulate a surprise attack in a realistic, warfighting scenario.  Read more . . .

U.S. “Military Options” for North Korea are all “Terrible”
Despite President Donald Trump’s continued talk of military options in the North Korean standoff, his national security chiefs told lawmakers that they are trying to tighten the diplomatic and economic noose around the Hermit Kingdom, because there are no good offensive military options—and the defensive measures are far from foolproof. “It was a sober discussion,” said one person briefed on the closed-door session of senators with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense chief Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. “Military options were just described as ‘terrible,’” he said.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

GAO Finds VA Insurance Enrollment Standards Lacking
The Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the largest healthcare organizations that provides health benefits, but their enrollment standards and processes lead to delays and errors, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO analyzed veteran enrollment in VA medical centers (VAMCs) across the country and found that enrollment staff frequently did not process veterans’ enrollment applications within the timeliness standard of 5 business days. These issues were found both at VA’s Health Eligibility Center (HEC), the VA’s central enrollment processing center, and within local VAMCs that also process enrollment applications. The HEC experienced an enrollment error rate of 12 percent. The VAMCs analyzed in the report had a 27 percent error rate.  Read more . . .

Top Military Officials Cite Troubling Problems in Dealing with TBI
Top current and former officials in the U.S. Military are raising the alarm over the disturbing combination of high rates of Traumatic Brain Injury in the armed forces and a lack of public policy solutions to adequately address the problem. Researchers are only now getting their arms around the magnitude of the class of injuries that are difficult to treat and have affected an estimated 400,000 service members since the September 11th attacks in 2001.  Read more . . .

Congress Debates “Exit Oath” to Curb Veteran Suicides
Congress is currently debating a bill that attempts to curb high rates of veteran suicide by giving military members the choice to take an “Oath of Exit.” In this oath, veterans would state that they won’t take their own lives after leaving their post. The Oath of Exit Act is a section of the proposed 2018 version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which has already passed through the House of Representatives. The oath is a voluntary pledge for exiting service members in which the veteran promises to “not bring harm to [themselves] without speaking to [their] fellow veterans first.” Mast believes that because integrity and honor are significant to servicemen and women, if they pledge to do something, they will follow through. However, suicide and military mental health experts like Craig Bryan, an assistant professor in clinical psychology at the University of Utah, think the bill could do just the opposite. In Bryan’s study, “Effect of crisis response planning vs. contracts for safety on suicide risk in U.S. Army Soldiers: A randomized clinical trial,” published in the January 2017 “Journal of Affective Disorders,” he found that “contracts for safety” do not lower suicide risk among U.S. soldiers, but “crisis response plans” do.  Read more . . .

Blood Test Suggests Combat-Related PTSD 
Individuals affected with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) demonstrate changes in microRNA (miRNA) molecules associated with gene regulation. A controlled study, involving military personnel on deployment to a combat zone in Afghanistan, provided evidence for the role of blood-based miRNAs as candidate biomarkers for symptoms of PTSD. This may offer an approach towards screening for symptoms of PTSD, and holds promise for understanding other trauma-related psychiatric disorders. Limitations of the study are that this was a small pilot study, and the findings need to be validated, extended and confirmed. First results will be presented at the ECNP conference in Paris.  Read more . . .

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

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

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Think Tanks and Leadership with Integrity

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I was fascinated by a recent article which appeared in the New York Times entitled “How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America’s Influence.”

More to the point, I was surprised to see the naivete of influential people like Harvey Cox of Harvard University who couldn’t believe that think tanks could act unethically.

Sadly, the lines between “thinking” and “lobbying” have long been blurred and “corporate America” isn’t the only culprit. There are far too many instances where the DoD and the U.S. Army have employed theoretically disinterested parties to hide outright incompetence and questionable behavior from the prying eyes of the public and the warriors they lead.

Interceptor Body Armor

One needs to look no further than the despicable cover-up of the U.S. Army’s shoddy testing and deployment of substandard “Interceptor” body armor.  This cover-up has been amply covered by SFTT for close to a decade and has been the subject of several damning Inspector General Reports and the media:

For instance, take the GAO (Government Accountability Office) report of October, 2009 which recommended independent testing of body armor after their investigations had uncovered much of the same shoddy body armor testing now chronicled in the latest DOD IG report.   We listened to much of the same nonsense and double-talk from our military leaders, but in bowing to public pressure the Secretary of the Army asked the National Research Council to investigate body armor testing procedures.

I am not sure what became of this National Research Council study, but I suspect that its sole purpose was to lead Congress to think that “things are under control.”  Clearly, they aren’t.

Actually, the National Research Council is a “think tank” often employed by our government to put distance between themselves and potentially harmful setbacks to their careers.   While many believe that contracting academics will provide a “dispassionate” and science-based opinion, academicians rely on government grants.  Cynically, I for one have a difficult time believing they would bite the hand that feeds them.

In any event, the mandate of the National Research Council is to recommend new testing procedures but not opine on the blatant disregard of existing test procedures and guidelines that led to the GAO’s and IG’s damning reports.

I am quite sure that Lt. Gen. Phillips and his cohorts like Col. Cole, Project Manager for Soldier Protection, and US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center, are thrilled to see that a “disinterested” third-party had intervened to cover up their gross incompetence.

Despite much evidence to the contrary that only a blind man could ignore, Lt. Gen Phillips stated that ”I am not aware of any incident down range where the body armor (Interceptor) failed to protect against a round that it was designed to defeat.”  Ummm …

If this were true, why did the DoD turned loose a bevy of beltway lawyers to keep autopsy records secret that clearly indicated that the U.S. Army was sending men and women into combat with defective body armor?

With the support of brilliant pro bono legal representation by a team from the NYC office of Kirkland & Ellis, LLC, a federal district judge in D.C.  issued a ruling in 2010 on SFTT’s editor’s request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for forensic records held by the Department of Defense regarding the performance of government-issued body armor.

Despite the fact that the U.S. Government lost its appeal under the FOIA some 6 years ago, the autopsy records remain under wraps thanks to the continued efforts of DoD lawyers to “bury the truth.”

In preliminary filings DOD admitted that for the two calendar years (2006 and 2007) for which records were requested 103 KIA’s died from ballistic wounds to the torso. It further admitted that only 51 of these 103 KIA’s (49.5%) had body armor plates shipped back to the US for forensic examination,  and that these 51 KIA’s had a total of 155 plates returned with the “service members.”

Of these 51 KIA’s, 18 had “body armor description sheets with information responsive” to the SFTT editor’s FOIA request. (By DOD’s own definition, a “body armor description sheet” indicates that the “body armor is not perfectly intact.”)

Assuming that only one body armor protective plate was struck in each KIA’s tactical engagement, that means that a staggering 35.3% (18 of 51) of the plates were “not perfectly intact.”

It’s hard to imagine that DOD would not release these records if they proved that although 35% of the KIA’s during the specified two-year period for whom even fairly complete records exist had “not perfectly intact” plates, not a single KIA resulted from penetration of the plates.

As a former banker who suffered through countless countless consulting firms (with a well-scripted mandate) and now a close witness to the tragedy of the military cover-up of defective body armor, I have sadly learned that “think tanks” are no substitute for ethical leadership.

The brave men and women who serve our country so valiantly deserve leaders who put the safety of their troops before their own careers.  Is this asking too much?

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Drugs and Super Soldiers

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The Atlantic just published a lengthy article entitled “The Drugs That Built a Super Soldier” describing how Vietnam military personnel were provided drugs to enhance performance or mask pain and injury.    The author, Lukasz Kamienski, reports that:

The conflict was distinct in another way, too—over time, it came to be known as the first “pharmacological war,” so called because the level of consumption of psychoactive substances by military personnel was unprecedented in American history. The British philosopher Nick Land aptly described the Vietnam War as “a decisive point of intersection between pharmacology and the technology of violence.”

In 1971, a report by the House Select Committee on Crime revealed that from 1966 to 1969, the armed forces had used 225 million tablets of stimulants, mostly Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), an amphetamine derivative that is nearly twice as strong as the Benzedrine used in the Second World War. The annual consumption of Dexedrine per person was 21.1 pills in the navy, 17.5 in the air force, and 13.8 in the army.

Research has found that 3.2 percent of soldiers arriving in Vietnam were heavy amphetamine users; however, after one year of deployment, this rate rose to 5.2 percent. In short, the administration of stimulants by the military contributed to the spread of drug habits that sometimes had tragic consequences—because amphetamine, as many veterans claimed, increased aggression as well as alertness. Some remembered that when the effect of speed faded away, they were so irritated that they felt like shooting “children in the streets.”

military drugs

Sadly, drugs have long been in the arsenal of the military to keep warriors alert and focused on the mission at hand or, more recently, over-medicating warriors with prescription drugs to cope with the symptoms of PTSD.

Mind you, drugs alone are not enough for the military brass and its lobbyist buddies to maximize the performance of our warriors.   The U.S. Army is now experimenting with the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program.  This $125 million experimental program is designed to improve “Soldier performance and readiness. Build confidence to lead, courage to stand up for one’s beliefs and compassion to help others. Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is about maximizing one’s potential.”

Comprehensive Soldier FitnessWhile is seems sacrilegious to criticize our military leadership, there are simply far too many examples of Ill-advised programs and the promotion of sycophant officers who endorse shoddy equipment procurement practices, yet deny our brave fighting men and women the equipment and support they require to accomplish their mission and receive the medical treatment they deserve following deployment.

The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) repeatedly takes to task the VA on how it treats Veterans.    Recently, the GAO cited that 63% of the cases of Veteran suicides were “inaccurately processed.”

One suspects that this situation –  and many other heart-wrenching reports from the GAO on the incompetence of the VA – would trigger outrage by the public and Congressional leaders.  If so, it is difficult to discern the noise of this outrage.  The media seems more preoccupied with “topical crises” largely of their own making.   Perhaps, “real outrage” doesn’t sell much advertisement to trigger an overhaul of the VA.

Fortunately, many concerned individuals and charitable organizations have stepped in to privately provide the support our Veterans deserve.   While this “private” support may not be as comprehensive as the services available at the VA, it does provide Veterans with caring and inclusive therapy.

SFTT remains hopeful that the VA will seize the opportunity to reform itself.  There are far too many well-intentioned employees within the VA to allow our Veterans to dangle perilously because of incompetent leadership.

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Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD: VA on the Fence

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While much of the world is focused on transformative businesses and technologies, the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) remains oblivious to the needs of Veterans with PTSD.

SFTT and Razoo Support Veterans

Despite a slew of reports from the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) citing the need for major reforms with the VA, it seems like it is business as usual for these entrenched bureaucrats.  Found below is just a few of these GAO reports:

The list is endless, but the bloated VA bureaucracy seems unlikely to change in the near future.

A recent study by the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) concluded that while  VA health care “provided by VHA generally cost less than would equivalent care provided in the private sector.  But, “it has been difficult for these studies to fully explain why VHA care may be cheaper.”

In fact, the CBO study states that the VA “has provided limited data to Congress and the public about its costs and operational performance.  The overarching theme of the study is clear – CBO needs more data in order to make recommendations or be able to come to any credible conclusion.”

With an annual budget of $170 billion, it is unlikely that Congress, taxpayers or Veterans will ever get honest answers.   Far more disturbing is the fact that the VA doesn’t actually know or really give a damn about the needs of Veterans.  A case in point is the VA policy on Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD.

Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

VA Policy on Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

There is no better way to explain the futility of “fighting City Hall” than to examine the VA’s policy on Service Dogs.   While dogs certainly prove useful in combat the VA has decided that it needs a “research study” to determine their value in helping Veterans to recover from the trauma of PTSD.  Found below is the official VA position on Service Dogs Veterans with PTSD.

Research is underway to better understand if dogs can provide a disability service for persons with PTSD. VA has started a research study to determine if there are things a dog can do for a Veteran with PTSD that would qualify the animal as a Service Dog for PTSD. The study is expected to take several years to complete. The National Center for PTSD is not involved in this study, but we will provide results when they become available.

Currently, VA does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD. VA does provide veterinary care for service dogs that are deemed medically necessary for the rehabilitation or restorative care plan of Veterans with permanent physical impairments. If research supports the use of service dogs for PTSD, VA will provide veterinary care for such dogs. Read more information on VA and service dogs.

While the VA continues to provide their lethal cocktails of painkillers supported by clinical research from Big Pharma, the VA insists on a research study to determine if pets are helpful for Veterans with PTSD.   Go figure?

Train a Dog Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”)

Fortunately, people from all walk of life have stepped in to fill the gap left by an unresponsive and brain-dead VA.   Train a Dog – Save a Warrior programs are cropping up all over the United States to provide our Veterans with the help they need. SFTT is proud to support TADSAW.  Found below is a brief description of the TADSAW program from SFTT.

Train a Dog – Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”) provides for the training of a Medical Alert Service Dog, as designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 2010 guidelines, for ANY wounded warrior, Active Duty or Veteran, surviving with PTSD, MST and/or TBI, in order to restore and improve the warrior’s Quality of Life with a canine “Battle Buddy”, at no charge to the warrior.

At SFTT we are hopeful that the VA will soon come to its senses and embrace new treatment alternatives that appear to offer a lifeline to Veterans.   Learn more about these Rescue Coalition programs on the SFTT website.

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Rebuilding the VA One Bureaucrat at a Time

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“There are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job,'” according to J. K. Simmons in his riveting role as a jazz instructor in Whiplash.


President Obama and the VAWith all due respect, “good job” now must take back seat to “chipping away,” as President Obama declared in a recent visit to a VA facility in Phoenix. According to an article published in the Columbus Dispatch, President Obama declared that his new VA leadership is “chipping away at those problems.” Certainly the Government Accountability Office “GAO” and President Obama don’t seem to be reading from the same script as earlier reported by SFTT on veterans with severe depression:

10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

Frankly, Mr. President “chipping away” at the problems of the VA is simply no where near a “good job,” let alone “mission accomplished.”

Simplified Model to Fix the VA

While I have no intention of engaging in partisan “gotcha” games, some problems are simply too big to fix with a bureaucratic house-cleaning.  With 340,000 employees, the  VA seems managerially adrift and totally unresponsive to the needs of our brave Veterans.   Can it be “fixed” from within?  I doubt it.   Responsiveness to address the needs of our Veterans clearly seems to have taken backseat to a bureaucratic structure that is both self-serving and adrift from the needs of the constituents it is mandated to serve.

In these situations, it is generally best to segregate the organization into activities or functions that “work” from those that have manifest problems.  Sure, some Veteran support functions may not be “broken” and in those cases it might well to determine what resources are required to fix the problem – and, if adequate resources are allocated to borderline cases, will the desired outcome be acceptable.

These need not be a complicated exercise, but is certainly one which VA bureaucratic insiders will sabotage.  The following decision tree results:

  1. VA Functions that “Work”:  Staff appropriately and allocate resources to either enhance or maintain capabilities;
  2. VA Functions that “May be Viable”:   Determine what problematic functions are viable and invest, or eliminate;
  3. VA Functions that are “Not Viable as Presently Administered”:   Current VA activities that are not viable or cannot be fixed within the current VA structure should be eliminated and/or outsourced to the private sector.

Simply throwing more taxpayer money at an institution with a stunted bureaucratic hierarchy  makes absolutely no sense.   I can sense President Obama’s frustration, but sadly the chronic neglect of our brave Veterans requires more that “chipping away” political soundbites.

The “Choice Card” Thwarted by VA Bureaucrats

Lat summer with great fanfare, Congress passed emergency legislation designed to provide Veterans with emergency healthcare in the private sector if adequate service was not available from the VA.   In general, the “Choice Card” was provided to Veterans who were more than 40 miles from a VA facility, however, it now appears that the VA disqualified some 80% of those Veterans who applied for medical help from the private sector.

It is no wonder that the entrenched bureaucracy at the VA is fighting tooth-and-nail to avoid letting Veterans determine the care they wish to receive.   James Tuchschmidt of Concerned Veterans argues that:

“We are now entering a realm where we, quite frankly, are running a health plan, where the veteran, the patient, decides what happens to them, and where they go, and how they get care, and what care they get. And this is a huge cultural shake-up, quite frankly, for us as an organization.”

Will the VA allow this initiative to succeed?  I doubt it, unless both the President and Congress insist on VA leaders who are prepared to effect “real” change rather than administer the status quo which is largely broken and ineffective in dealing with the needs of our Veterans.

For those looking to find help near you, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINK to find Community Resource Centers near you.

 

 

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GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for Veteran Suicides

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In yet another devastating report recently released by the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”), this government oversight agency calls into question the VA’s data records with the tragic conclusion that “63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed.”   As readers of SFTT’s Blog, you are probably not surprised by these latest findings but many in the public may be scratching their heads since they thought these problems were addressed in the wake of the 2014 Phoenix, AZ Veterans Hospital Scandal.

WAKEUP CALL AMERICANS!:    Despite much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” by our elected leaders, at least 22 Veterans still commit suicide each day.

While SFTT and many others are doing their part to stem the “invisible wounds of war,” many veterans suffer from depression and anxiety caused by their wartime experiences.  Sure, giving to charities that support Veterans maybe one way to help, but Sgt. Tony Hogrefe has a far more practical and personal suggestion.   Let our veterans know that you care and extend that Lifeline to as many military service men and women in your community.  Who knows?: Your phone call just may help a veteran with severe depression get through another day and, perhaps, reclaim control of their life.

 Improper Processing of Suicides

Found below are the heart-wrenching results of a recent GAO report on the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) protocols for treating Vets with depression.   As the report suggests,  “Patient data was flawed, inconsistent and incomplete.

Here is a brief breakdown of the stats based on the audited sample:

10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

With data integrity breaches like this, it is no wonder GAO cited the suicide data VA relies on as “not always complete, accurate, or consistent.”
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

These numbers are terribly frightening to anyone with a conscious.    Please spare our Veterans the soundbites of political posturing.    While some may argue that we have a “crisis in Syria and Iraq with Islamic terrorists,” I would argue that the real crisis is much closer to home:  “How we treat our Veterans!”   Let’s get together and provide these brave heroes “more than lip service,” and insist that our military and civilian leaders do the same.

Depression and Suicidal Thoughts In Soldiers

Most studies of PTSD suggest that “major depression” or “severe depression” are the single strongest drivers of suicidal behavior.    In fact the somewhat dated Canadian study highlighted below highlights the gravity of the problem which persists today among Veterans of foreign wars.

“Current and former soldiers who seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should be screened closely for major depression since the disorder is the single strongest driver of suicidal thinking, say authors of a new Canadian study.

“Researchers evaluated 250 active duty Canadian Forces, RCMP members and veterans.  The study comes at a time when record numbers of suicides are being reported among American troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the number of suicides reported among Canadian forces last year reached its highest point since 1995.

In veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, about half also have symptoms of major depressive disorder during their lifetime, said the researchers.”
Credits: Depression Strongest Driver of Suicidal Thoughts in Soldiers, Vets

As Sgt. Hogrefe suggested above, we can all do our part and reach out to a Veteran to let him or her know that we care.  For those who want to play a more active role in channeling your energies into SFTT’s Rescue Coalition projects that help Veterans acquire new skills or receive better treatment, please contact SFTT.

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Body Armor Lies Expose Corruption or Incompetence in Military Procurement Process

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Stand for the Troops was founded by Col. David Hackworth over 10 years ago with the very simple premise that grunts in combat deserve the best combat equipment and protective gear available.     It is a goal or expectation that I am sure most – if not all – patriotic Americans would support.    In light of recent Marine Corps testing of ceramic plates used in body armor, we now learn that roughly 5% of these life-saving plates are defective.

While one might argue that a 95% equipment reliability is pretty good, the US Army leadership has publicly insisted for years that these ceramic plates are 100% reliable and there have been no recorded deaths due to defective body armor plates.    This 5% gap is not about equipment reliability, it is a credibility gap that it so large that it undermines the integrity of the entire military procurement process and the military officers and civilians entrusted to administer these programs.

SFTT’s search for the truth regarding the testing and effectiveness of government approved body armor has been stonewalled at every step of the way by the Department of the Army and Department of Defense.  Indeed, we have documented numerous GAO, IG reports, equipment recalls and clear evidence of ceramic plate failures that suggest shoddy test procedures, improper supervision and control and lack of accountability of those entrusted with making sure our troops have the best protective gear available.   Why has our military leadership failed to level with the troops and the American public?

As late as October 2010, US Army Brigadier General Peter N. Fuller, the Program Executive Officer of the Soldier Systems Center at Fort Belvoir insisted that “we have the best body armor by far” in response to a scathing report by the GAO.     Really?  What hypocrisy.

Currently, SFTT Editor Roger Charles with the able assistance of the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis have sought to have forensic records of troops killed in action made public under the FOIA where there appears to be clear evidence of ceramic plate failures.  Ignoring a request from the federal district court judge to attempt an out-of-court settlement, the Defense Department continues to block the release of this information.    Why?

So insistent has been self-serving rhetoric from military officials that one concerned US Representative sent two letters to the Secretary of Defense inquiring whether rumors to the effect that medical aid and insurance would be withheld from troops not wearing government-issued body armor.  Why was this necessary?  Was it because troops knew that the government-issued equipment was defective and that there was more reliable protective gear available on the market?

In short, there is no end to the Beltway shuffle designed to keep a seemingly corrupt and, most certainly ineffective military procurement process hidden from public scrutiny.  How much longer do we need to endure this blatant cover-up?

Let’s face it.  The X-Ray machine has been around for over a hundred years.   Didn’t it ever occur to those silver-tongued bureaucrats to test for cracks in the last 10 years while there has been so much public inquiry into the effectiveness of our military body armor?

Call it what you will, but the lives of young men and women in uniform are at stake.  The time for Beltway spin and self-serving double-talk can no longer justify jeopardizing the safety of our brave heroes.

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Military News Highlights: January 4, 2011

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U.S.-funded infrastructure deteriorates once under Afghan control, report says

Since 2001, the Commanders Emergency Relief Program (CERP) in Afghanistan has provided commanders quick and readily available resources to fund projects – to build schools, to build local government facilities, purchase generators, pave roads, etc.  And because Afghanistan is a target rich environment for CERP related projects given the effects of over 30 years of war and the lack of government capacity to provide services, CERP is sometimes the only means in which a small village or neglected district can survive.  Key to success of any CERP project, and the first question that is answered in doling out funds is whether the Afghans at the local, district, or provincial level will be able to maintain the project (i.e. maintenance and repair, sustainability, inspections, ensuring that the people benefit versus a power broker) after the US hands it off.   Ask any trooper with repetitive deployments to Afghanistan and ask him/her if the projects they put in place are still standing after their return and nine-times-out-of-ten the response will be no.  Numerous GAO reports, IG investigations, commanders inquiries, Afghan government inspections all produce the same response – deterioration.  Why is that?  And why does that matter?  The causes for deterioration are many – standard neglect, Afghans not trained to maintain the infrastructure, shoddy contractor construction, attacks by the Taliban, and/or the populace unwilling to use/maintain in fear of Taliban reprisal for US support.  And it matters because of the billions of dollars already expended and the fact that in the COIN narrative, effective and efficient maintenance of these projects is a metric to gauge how prepared Afghanistan is to take on governance on their own.   It appears that the 2014 goalposts could be moved back a little further back since local Afghans are incapable of maintaining the infrastructure put in place at the cost of untold blood and treasure.  If we the US/NATO can’t responsibly shift these projects to the Afghans, then how will they be able to hand off security responsibilities in the near future? 

 U.S. Marines report peace deal with tribe in Afghan hot spot (McClatchy Newspapers)

After 25 days of negotiations, the Marines in Helmand Province have agreed to a “peace deal” with the Alokozai Tribe.  The tribe has agreed to rein in Taliban confederates and cease attacks in exchange for the release of a religious leader being held by US/NATO, and funding for projects in the affected district (i.e. Sarwan Qala – 30 villages in Sangin District).  The tribe will expel foreign fighters, allow US/Afghan patrols, and provide intel on IED locations.  Question is what prompted the deal?  Steep US/NATO casualty rates?

Policy puts troops at risk for identity theft

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that US servicemembers are certainly at risk for identify theft, especially if their social security number is plastered on every document and identification card that they carry.  So yes, it is true, that in the digital age, anytime you pony up your social security number onto the spectrum you quickly become a target.  Really?  

And if military cultural norms and outdated reporting procedures are perpetuating this, then it’s time to adjust fire.  And doing it quick, very quick.  

So let me get this straight, an Army Private with a Secret Clearance downloads and exports thousands of classified reports and cables resulting in investigations, criminal charges, changes in policies, Pentagon edicts on no-access to “that site”; all of which is instituted in a matter of weeks and months. 

 But changing a policy so that individual social security numbers are no longer part of a servicemembers digital profile (and subjecting him/her to these risks) takes more time?   

Priority?

 From the Pentagon to the private sector

In the last two decades alone, most of the 750 generals and flag officers who have retired have entered the “rent-a-general” business.  Conflict of interests?  Sure, but they get a pass on “pitting his/her duty to the US military against the interests of his employers.  “Sprinting” to the door?  Don’t let the door hit your fourth point of contact.  Anything being done about this revolving door syndrome where generals and admirals get tucked in bed by the defense-private sector?  Unfortunately not, and the rate of the turnstile has only increased over the past few years in comparison to the boom years from 1994 to 1998.  Good times for those lucky enough to cash in.  Good times indeed.

Weight hikes prompt uniform, armor review

During the past few years the Army has reissued an improved Army Combat Uniform, female-cut Army Combat Uniforms, a medium-sized rucksack, enhanced Night Vision Goggles, a second generation Improved Outer Tactical Vest, and an Enhanced Combat Helmet.  All of which did not have the benefit of updated data regarding the size and composition of the force that ultimately would (and are) using/wearing this gear.  A new review has been ordered that will collect the proper data of the size, weight, and body composition of a set sample of surveyed troops with the goal of upgrading the data used to develop new equipment and uniform items.  Glad to hear that they are finally getting their act together, you know, the proverbial cart behind the horse thingy.

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