HBOT for Veterans: Infrastructure Largely in Place

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As SFTT reported earlier, the VA will soon be providing a limited number of Veterans with access to hyperbaric oxygen therapy or “HBOT” at the VA’s Center for Compassionate Innovation (“CCI”) facilities in Texas and Oklahoma.

SFTT has yet to learn when these programs will begin or how many Veterans will be enrolled in these initial programs.  As important, SFTT and the HBOT community at-large is interested in learning how “test protocols,” “metrics,” and “clinical trials” will be set by the VA and DoD to determine the benefits of HBOT.

As one sorts through the often nasty exchanges between proponents of HBOT and the VA gatekeepers like Dr. David Cifu, one cannot be oblivious to the fact that the VA does not want to encourage the adoption of HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

The VA’s claim is that “patient outcomes’ using HBOT are inconclusive based on VA and DoD trials.

Could it be – as many have suggested – that the test protocols were flawed to produce “inconclusive” test results?   From SFTT’s experience in monitoring the DoD, it would NOT BE THE FIRST TIME that test procedures have been deliberately modified to produce outcomes more to the liking of current military dogma.

Since the VA has no experience in using HBOTin treating Veterans with PTSD, it seems to make sense to use established experts in the industry like Dr. Paul Harch, members of the International Hyperbarics Association or The Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research in Israel which provides HBOT treatment to 120 patients a day and to the Israeli Defense Force (“IDF”) to agree on standardized test protocols and monitor results.

Many will argue that further HBOT tests are not required given the wealth research currently available.  In fact, found below is an extract from a Jan, 2017 report:

Xavier A. Figueroa, PhD and James K. Wright, MD (Col Ret), USAF Hyperbaric Oxygen: B-Level Evidence in Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trials. Neurology® 2016;87:1–7 “There is sufficient evidence for the safety and preliminary efficacy data from clinical studies to support the use of HBOT in mild traumatic brain injury/ persistent post concussive syndrome (mTBI/PPCS). The reported positive outcomes and the durability of those outcomes has been demonstrated at 6 months post HBOT treatment. Given the current policy by Tricare and the VA to allow physicians to prescribe drugs or therapies in an off-label manner for mTBI/PPCS management and reimburse for the treatment, it is past time that HBOT be given the same opportunity. This is now an issue of policy modification and reimbursement, not an issue of scientific proof or preliminary clinical efficacy.”

While Secretary Shulkin is wise to proceed slowly, he must exercise extreme caution in allowing the naysayers within the VA any authority over the initial CCI HBOT trial programs.

HBOT Infrastructure in Place to Help Veterans

Assuming the VA leadership can get beyond the hurdles they largely created, Veterans with “mild TBI” and “persistent” PTSD should be able to quickly access hundreds of HBOT facilities across the United States.  With equipment already in place around the country in hospitals and private health clinics, there is no need to hold up treatment for Veterans to wait for the VA to outfit its facilities.

Follow this link to see a directory of currently active HBOT treatment centers around the country.

Clear treatment protocols and directives need to be established for each private clinic providing HBOT to Veterans.  HBOT is administered in a series of dives or sessions (usually between 28 and 40) over a 6 week to 2 month time frame.  Supervision by a trained clinician is required at each dive.  Clearly, a larger “dive chamber” capable of offering therapy to a number of Veterans at the same will help bring down the costs of HBOT.

Costs “per dive” or “session” vary significantly around the country.    Some hospitals charge $1,800 per session, but most private clinics offer this service at a cost of between $250 and $350 per dive.  Given the bargaining power of the VA, it seems most likely that a series of battery of dives can be accomplished for well under $10,000, which is less than half of what the VA currently spends on Veterans with TBI/PTSD.

As SFTT has stated on many occasions, HBOT is not the “silver bullet” to eradicate this silent wound of war, but many more Veterans with brain trauma will begin to be able to reclaim their lives with less reliance on VA prescription drugs that simply mask symptoms rather than provide any lasting improvement in brain functionality.

This could be a BIG DEAL for ailing Veterans and family members who provide our Veterans such caring support.

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How Will the VA Offer HBOT to Veterans?

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In a somewhat surprising but not totally unexpected development, the “VA’s Center for Compassionate Innovation (CCI) will offer Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT’) to a small number of selected veterans with chronic PTSD in a pilot program to be run through facilities in Oklahoma and Texas.”

HBOT Chamber

SFTT joins Bethesda Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“Bethesda HBOT’) in applauding this initiative by the VA.  Bethesda HBOT notes that “worldwide research and years of clinical experience has clearly demonstrated that HBOT is not only extremely safe in treating PTSD and head injury, especially when compared with psychoactive and mood altering drugs, but also has been effective in treating thousands of veterans and active duty service members with underlying brain injury.

According to a Press Release by the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs:

“As healthcare leaders interested in innovative approaches to care, the VA Center for Compassionate Innovation (CCI) is facilitating use of HBOT for a subset of Veterans who have noticed no decrease of symptoms after receiving at least two evidenced-based treatments. CCI uses innovative approaches to treat conditions where traditional methods have been unsuccessful. VA will monitor the HBOT clinical demonstration project and the HBOT research study to help inform the potential for HBOT usage to treat a larger number of Veterans with PTSD.”  

As SFTT reported earlier, it seems that Secretary David Shulkin agreed to accelerate the use of HBOT for Veterans with PTSD over widespread opposition within the VA.

In fact, the Stars and Stripes article cites some 32 “inconclusive” studies on the effectiveness of HBOT in treating TBI and PTSD.   Furthermore, it quotes Col. Scott Miller, the lead study author for a 2015 VA study, arguing that there was a “lack of evidence” HBOT helped and that “he didn’t see any value in moving forward with more studies.”  SFTT finds it surprising that Col. Miller was lead on this project when he is reportedly an “infectious disease specialist.”

Several HBOT specialists have suggested that the DoD botched test protocols that let to its “inconclusive” findings.

How does this VA Change in Policy on HBOT Affect Veterans?

It is evident in the Stars and Stripes article that entrenched administrators within the VA are opposed to the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As SFTT has reported many times, the “High Priests” and Gatekeepers at the VA have mounted a vigorous campaign to discredit the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with brain trauma.

In fact, some 3 years ago, Dr. Xavier Figueroa wrote an article titled “What the <#$*&!> Is Wrong with the DoD/VA HBOT Studies?!!” which clearly articulates the case for HBOT and discredits many of the underlying “evidence-based” positions often cited by the VA and DoD.

Frankly, scientific or clinical evidence is not lacking to support the use of HBOT in treating Veterans with brain trauma.  What is lacking is a willingness of the VA to support alternative therapies.

One must hope that the VA will move expeditiously to provide HBOT to “selected Veterans” at CCI facilities in Oklahoma and Texas, but the widespread adoption of HBOT by the VA is still some years away.

Questions for the VA?

  • When will initial “testing” begin?
  • How many Veterans with “chronic PTSD” be including in the program”
  • Who will administer the HBOT test protocols for these Veterans?
  • If “legitimate” test results prove encouraging, how will Veterans gain access to HBOT therapy?
  • Since HBOT Oxygen Chambers (and qualified personnel) are lacking at VA facilities, will Veterans receive this therapy from the private sector?
  • Estimated time frame from evaluating test results to widespread deployment of the HBOT alternative.

While SFTT is delighted that the VA is pressing forward with HBOT, it does seem that it is more of a reaction to public and political pressure rather than any internal VA initiative.  Based on years in observing the VA bureaucracy, it is likely that its administrators will do everything possible to discredit this noninvasive and widely accepted therapy to treat PTSD.

Such a shame, but SFTT will be vigilant.

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VA Reluctantly Agrees to Provide HBOT to Veterans with PTSD

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In a carefully crafted message, “The Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week that it would begin offering hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”) to some veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, despite a lack of evidence that it works or being approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for PTSD.”

HBOT Therapy

The news was released by “Stars and Stripes” on November 30 in an article titled “VA to offer unproven hyperbaric oxygen therapy to vets with PTSD.”

The article is hardly a ringing endorsement of HBOT.  More to the point, Secretary Shulkin reportedly said on Wednesday that “the VA must ‘explore every avenue’ and ‘be open to new ideas.’”

Well, HBOT may be “new” to the VA, but this therapy has been around for decades and is used successfully around the world to treat patients with brain trauma.  The VA stigma exists because Dr. David Cifu and many other bureaucrats within the VA continue to push a stale agenda of ineffective and often dangerous therapies that don’t work.

In fact, this is one of the major reasons that Veterans with PTSD and TBI have sought treatment outside the VA.   Talking heads at the VA would like Veterans and the public to believe that HBOT is “snake oil,” but there is a long and detailed clinical trail of evidence that suggests otherwise.

Arguing that HBOT is “not FDA or DoD approved” rings a bit hollow after the President’s Report on Fighting Drug Addiction and Opioid Abuse states that “the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system.”   

Let’s face it:  What do you do when evidence-based medicine is proved wrong?   Well, in this case, the Federal government will provide “the healthcare system” with billions of taxpayer dollars to fix the mess they largely created.   Sounds absurd, but you don’t even have to read the small print.

While SFTT is thrilled that Dr. Shulkin has decided to part ways with the orthodoxy of failed VA therapies to treat Veterans with PTSD, it will be years before all Veterans will receive the lifesaving benefits of HBOT.   Furthermore, it is likely that the VA and DoD will again manipulate test protocols to produce treatment outcomes that produce inconclusive results.

Will HBOT work in all cases?   Of course not, but life-changing outcomes are far more likely with HBOT than the only two failed programs currently offered by the VA:

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”) and,
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (“CPT”)

In any event, we hope that doctors within the VA system will not be so dismissive of HBOT that it leads to another Veteran suicide like Eric Bivins.  For those who want a first-hand look into the travesty of the VA system, follow this painful trail of systemic abuse by Eric’s widowed spouse, Kimi.

Our brave Veterans deserve more and SFTT would like to thank Secretary Shulkin for taking this important first step.

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SFTT Offer “Thanks” to our Brave Military on Thanksgiving

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SFTT joins millions of Americans in offering our thanks this Thanksgiving to the Veterans and active duty personnel who valiantly defend our freedoms.

US military Thanksgiving

As we all sit down to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, SFTT is reminded of those who have sacrificed their lives for our country and the many Veterans who continue to suffer from the silent wounds of war.

While the battlefield war may be over, tens of thousands of Veterans suffer the effects of brain trauma.  The effect of this debilitating injury not only affects the Veteran, but their family and loved ones who act as caregivers.  While one would like to think that we are close to finding a life-changing solution for Veterans who suffer from PTSD and TBI, no credible solution appears imminent.

Some promising new therapies have surfaced in recent years, but the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) seems stuck in a time-warp defending outdated and failed programs.  SFTT remains hopeful that the VA will come to its senses and begin adopting some successful third-party programs that have worked wonders for Veterans.

Hiding behind the mantra of “evidence-based medicine” sounds good, but loses its luster when the evidence strongly suggests that the VA programs have failed.

Our Veterans and their loved ones need solutions now!

As 2017 draws to a close, SFTT would like to thank a few people and organizations that have made a difference in the lives of Veterans this year.  By no means is this an all-inclusive list, but one that offers our Veterans a path to recovering their lives:

Paul Harch and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Dr. Paul Harch is one of the leading practitioners of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or “HBOT.”  HBOT is a commonly used therapy provide patients with oxygen administered under pressure in a series of “dives” in an HBOT chamber.  Used widely around the world for decades, HBOT has been shown to stimulate brain cells and help reverse the symptoms of PTSD and TBI.   While many Veterans have found dramatic improvement in their condition, HBOT is not recommended by the VA to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Colin and Karen Archipley of Archi’s Acres

Thanks to combat-decorated Marine Sergeant Colin Archipley and his wife, Karen, a successful fashion industry entrepreneur in her own right, Archi’s Acres provides dedicated Veterans with the skills necessary to run a successful organic farming business  in their community. With meaningful jobs in short supply for Veterans returning from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Archi’s Acres gives Veterans a lifeline to become entrepreneurs in a rapidly growing and eco-friendly business.

Yuval Neria and Equine Assisted Therapy

Dr. Neria is Professor of Medical Psychology at the Columbia University Medical Center and “Scientific Advisor” to Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”).  He is now deeply involved in the Man O’War Project which is the first-ever clinical research study to determine the effectiveness of equine-assisted therapy (“EAT”) and establish guidelines for the treatment of military veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).

Maj. Ben Richards and Service Dog Bronco

Maj. Ben Richards is the Director of Veterans Operations at SFTT.  Over a year ago, Maj. Richards acquired a service dog, Bronco, which has brought much needed comfort, safety and stability to his life. Sadly, the VA is “studying” the efficacy of service dogs in helping other Veterans with PTSD.  This study will not be available until 2019.

service dogs for Veterans

Dr. Henry Grayson and Neuro Pathways

 Dr. Grayson is co-chairman of SFTT’s Medical Task Force and has provided several day-long training programs to caregivers and clinical psychologists  dealing with veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress (“PTSD”).  The author of Use Your Body to Heal Your Mind,  Dr. Grayson presents a radical view of health and healing based on an equally radical world view that we are all intrinsically connected rather than separate and that our belief in our separateness is a causal source of emotional and physical illness. Positing the body as the recipient of our beliefs, he shows that reading and responding to the body is a reliable path to emotional and physical healing. This is a challenging read with practical help for all willing to explore beyond the borders of traditional beliefs.”

 

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Kris Kristofferson and HBOT

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After we recently learned that “the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system,” it is reassuring to note that many misdiagnosed individuals are benefiting from alternative therapies.

Kris Kristofferson and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

A prominent figure that recently came to our attention was Kris Kristofferson, who had been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s when it was actually Lyme disease.    According to his wife, the 79-year old singer “suddenly came back,” after 6 “dives” in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Chamber (“HBOT”).   Says his wife, Lisa, in an article published in the UK Daily Mail:

“We were driving back from his sixth HBOT treatment and he looks over at me and says, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m back.’ And I looked right in his eyes and I said, ‘OH MY GOD, HE’S BACK! It was like, WHOA!'”

As readers of SFTT are aware, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) has done everything possible to discredit the use of hyperbaric oxygen in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  More to the point, the VA has been pushing its own failed treatment programs (Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Treatment) in the name of “evidence-based” medicine.

When people in the medical profession argue on the basis of “evidence-based” medicine, it has much the same ring as the doctrine of “religious infallibility.”  Let’s take everything with a grain of salt, since there is still much to discover, even for those wedded to the orthodoxy of “evidence-based” medicine.

SFTT is thrilled that Kris Kristofferson is on the road to recovery.  Furthermore, we are not surprised to learn of the benefits of HBOT in treating the “real” cause of his ailing mental health.

While Mr. Kristofferson has a choice in seeking “a second opinion” and the type of therapy he prefers to treat his condition, most brave Veterans do not.  Sadly, the VA does not provide Veterans with a “second opinion.”  Also, the Va’s narrow treatment programs referred to as the “McDonaldisation of mental health care” offer no tangible benefits to Veterans or their families.

We sincerely hope that – in the not too distant future – our brave Veterans will be able to avail themselves of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and other “old” and emerging treatment programs through the VA.

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Reflections on Veterans Day

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Maj. Ben RichardsYears ago when I was a young Army lieutenant, my reconnaissance platoon was preparing to conduct a night-time helicopter insertion far behind enemy lines to seek out intelligence critical for a large-scale operation to be conducted 48 hours later. The operation was high risk. That night as I back-briefed my Troop commander over the hood of a Humvee  in the German woods, I expressed my concern about the level of danger the platoon was facing.

My boss, an experienced cavalry scout himself who had served as an enlisted soldier and noncommissioned officer before earning an officer’s commission, replied directly: “If you get into trouble, we will roll this entire brigade to come and get you.”

At that time the war in Iraq was still over a year in the future, and the risk was largely hypothetical, but I wondered whether the Army would really risk a brigade of 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers and hundreds of armored vehicles to rescue a few men in a desperate situation. And then I didn’t think about it again.

That is until I was leading men in a real war in Iraq. In November of 2006, my Cavalry Troop was in the process of moving from Tal ‘Afar in northwest Iraq to Taji, a large operating base just outside of Baghdad. The night before our movement, a special operations team had been conducting a raid deep in the al Qaeda-controlled hinterlands of the infamous Anbar province. The raid had run into trouble and a large force of al Qaeda fighters was closely engaged with the small special operations team.

A pair of Air Force F-16 fighters scrambled to provide air support for the troops, but because the fighting had moved to such close range, they could not use their normal load of bombs without risking the lives of the men they were trying to save. With no good options, one pilot, Major Troy Gilbert, volunteered to conduct a highly-dangerous low-level night-time strafing mission in order to employ his aircraft’s 20mm cannon which could be used much closer to friendly troops.  On completing the diving attack, his plane was unable to pull out in time and crash landed in the Anbar desert.

Although he had been unable to eject, the aircraft was largely intact and it was possible that MAJ Gilbert had survived. On that chance, my Troop and over two thousand other US combat troops—an entire Army Brigade’s worth – were quickly dispatched to rescue the pilot. We had just arrived in Taji and had not even unpacked, when we sortied into the desert.

The area had never been under US control and the roads were littered with large and deadly Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The going was slow and occasionally punctuated by the ambush of al Qaeda fighters. We reached the crash site and then searched the surrounding desert and villages for four days until we were able to find forensic proof that MAJ Gilbert had not survived the crash. After an extended search other soldiers were able to locate and bring home his remains.

During those nights in the desert, I remembered another night in the German woods and realized that I was helping to fulfill a promise made not just by my commander, but by millions of American soldiers over hundreds of years. The risk MAJ Gilbert accepted was extraordinary. As an experienced pilot, he was fully aware of the danger and the cost he might have to pay to save the lives of a few Army soldiers.

Our mission to find MAJ Gilbert was the most dangerous we had conducted up to that point. As we rolled out into the desert, we also knew the risks and willingly accepted them—also at a cost. In my unit, Corporal Billy Farris, also a young father, was killed in an ambush during the operation.

What stands out about Troy Gilbert and the incredible men and women I had the privilege of serving with was their belief in the infinite value of the life of another soldier.

Unfortunately, after returning home from Iraq as an “invisibly wounded” veteran with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that was not the ethos I found at home, particularly in the very institutions created to care for nearly one million combat-disabled veterans like me. In 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof observed in the New York Times, “if you want to understand how America is failing its soldiers and veterans, honoring them with lip service and ceremonies but breaking faith with them on all that matters most, listen to the story of Major Richards.”

What is exceptional about Kristof’s statement is that he made it after I had been provided the top level of care available within the DOD and VA medical systems—a level of care only a few hundred service members a year were given access to. However, these alleged best efforts were only a façade.

Suffering from daily, debilitating pain and unable to function in most facets of life including interacting with my wife and our four children, I began to seriously consider suicide. That was when Stand for the Troops came to my rescue and joined me in my personal battle against the invisible wounds of war. They arranged for me to receive several months of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) from one of the leading practitioners in the country, Dr. Paul Harch at Louisiana State University (who provided the treatments for me at his own expense).

It was the first genuinely effective medical care I had received since returning home, and it has restored much of my life. Today I am a productive and contributing member of society, with a loving family and a high quality of life.

As we reflect this Veterans Day on the blessings derived from the service and sacrifice of so many men and women and their families, we begin to realize the magnitude of the task before us in living up to legacy heroes like MAJ Troy Gilbert.

I am pleased to report that there remain many great Americans, both in and out of uniform, who share the belief in the infinite value of a soldier’s life. Please join me in supporting Stand for the Troops in making sure the nearly one million veterans disabled by TBI and PTSD finally get the genuinely effective care they deserve.

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HBOT: A PTSD Therapy for Veterans that Works

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This Saturday (November 11, 2017), Fox TV will air a broadcast on how Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) is helping hundreds – if not thousands – of Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

This special program will be aired on Veterans’ Day. The video below was prepared by The National Hyperbaric Association to demonstrate that “real” therapy is available to the tens of thousands of brave warriors suffering from PTSD and TBI.

HBOT is a proven therapy widely used around the world for patients suffering from brain trauma. Sadly, the folks at the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) are still peddling the same stale “evidence-based” therapy programs to Veterans that do not work:

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”) and,
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (“CPT”)

As SFFT reported earlier, PE and CPT “have been largely ineffective in reversing brain damage to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. And yet, the spokespeople steadfastly defend these therapies and argue that other therapies ‘lack evidence’ to justify their endorsement, read ‘funding.’”

“The VA has very little evidence to show that PE and CPT therapy programs have done much to reduce the incidence of PTSD symptoms among Veterans against the “gold-standard” standardized PCL-M tests currently used by the VA. The chart below illustrates the point (50 is considered base level):

Prolonged Exposure Cognitive Process Therapy

Aside from being very expensive to administer, the ‘evidence based medicine’ supporting the effectiveness of PE and CPT programs currently administered by the VA is SADLY LACKING.”

It is most interesting to note that the VA has done everything possible to discredit HBOT to promote their own failed therapies.   In many cases it has led to tragic consequences, such as the recent suicide of Eric Bivins.

What Does the VA Have Against HBOT?

It is difficult to understand the VA’s hardline against HBOT, particularly when the overwhelming statistical “evidence” clearly demonstrates that the VA’s own therapy programs are severely flawed.  Furthermore, this is the same institution that hooked Veterans on opioids (and indirectly fueled a national epidemic) based on flawed clinical trials.

Dr. David Cifu Testifying

Dr. David Cifu, the Dr. Orange of PTSD at the VA?

How many more times do we have to listen to Dr. David Cifu testify before Congress that he (read “the VA”) knows best when treating Veterans with PTSD?   It is ironic to note that in David Cifu’s quest to discredit hyperbaric oxygen therapy, his employer (Vincent Viola – once tapped to be Secretary of the Army) is alleged to treat his racehorses with HBOT.

Clearly, Vincent Viola knows a bit more about the benefits of HBOT considering that Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby this year.

One might ask why thoroughbreds get the benefit HBOT while Veterans are denied HBOT at the VA?  I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that the “serious” money lies in new clinical trials and “breakthrough” drugs peddled by Big Pharma.

Or is it the VA’s special take on insanity?:  Providing Veterans with the same battery of lame therapy programs and psychotic drugs, but hoping for a more positive outcome.”

It is sad to see our Veterans being sold down the river by less-than-candid mouthpieces of a rudderless VA, but the truth is as clear as the Presidential report on Fighting Drug Addiction and Opioid Abuse.  Look no further than the damning statement: “the modern opioid crisis originated within the healthcare system.”

If you think that common sense and a desire to genuinely help our Veterans with PTSD and TBI will manifest itself soon – you are likely to be disappointed.

As they say at the Beltway Racetrack, “the fix is in!”

If you genuinely want to help our brave Veterans, write your Congressmen (and women) and Senators and State and Local representatives.  Also, do take the time to learn the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen and give generously to SFTT and the National Hyperbaric Association to support our brave Veterans.

Veterans Day is more than waving the flag.  Don’t let the festering sore at the VA continue to kill hope among our Veterans and their loved ones.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs and Service Dogs

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) receives considerable public criticism for its failure to provide service dogs to Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

As reported earlier by SFTT, the VA provides service dogs to blind Veterans, but has balked at providing service dogs to Veterans who are less than totally physically disabled.  The recurring argument from VA spokespeople is that there is a lack of “clinical evidence” to support the benefits of service dogs.

service dogs for Veterans

Consider this testimony by Dr. Fallon of the VA:

“I would say there are a lot of heartwarming stories that service dogs help, but scientific basis for that claim is lacking,” said Michael Fallon, the VA’s chief veterinary medical officer. “The VA is based on evidence based medicine. We want people to use therapy that has proven value.”

The argument is a brief synopsis of Dr. Fallon’s testimony to the House Subcommittee and Government Reform provided in April, 2016.

Dr. Fallon’s testimony and defense of the VA’s status quo is similar to the testimony of Dr. David Cifu on PTSD therapy and Dr. Alvin Young (aka Dr. Orange) on the lethal side effects of Agent Orange used on the deforestation of Vietnam.

The VA has set itself up as “judge and jury” to determine what range of medical services it will provide to Veterans.  Any “new” therapy that has not been blessed by “evidence based medicine,” is summarily dismissed by the gatekeepers at the VA.  In fact, the VA often uses spokespeople and expensive long-term clinical studies to avoid providing much needed therapy to Veterans.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence to suggest that the DoD purposely manipulated testing procedures on hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”) to produce clinical outcomes more to their liking.

As reported earlier,  Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) have been largely ineffective in reversing brain damage to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.   And yet, the spokespeople steadfastly defend these therapies and argue that other therapies “lack evidence” to justify their endorsement, read “funding.”

“The VA has very little evidence to show that PE and CPT therapy programs have done much to reduce the incidence of PTSD symptoms among Veterans against the “gold-standard” standardized PCL-M tests currently used by the VA.   The chart below illustrates the point (50 is considered base level):

Veterans Affairs Fails at PTSD

Aside from being very expensive to administer, the “evidence based medicine” supporting the effectiveness of PE and CPT programs currently administered by the VA is SADLY LACKING.”

While the general public and Congressional leaders may buy the pitch from VA Spin Doctors, Veterans are seeking other forms of therapy outside of the VA.  The problem is that few can afford to do so.

The Case for Service Dogs for Veterans

Training a service dog is relatively expensive.  Most estimates suggest that the cost of training a service dog to be in the neighborhood of $20,000.  The training of a dog can last some five months after the dog reaches maturity (about six months) to another 18 months depending on the rigorousness of the training.  In addition to training the dog, the Veteran needs to spend a considerable amount of time with the service dog to develop an effective relationship.

As we reported earlier, Maj. Ben Richards spent seven weeks in intensive training with his new service dog, Bronco.  According to Ben, it was about 4 hours of training a day (generally in the morning) and a few weekend sessions.  Taking into account “training the Veteran” could add considerably more to the overall cost.  For those interesting in learning more about the steps involved in training a service dog, I refer you to this excellent FAQ provided by Psychiatric Service Dog Partners.

While the VA currently does authorize the use of service dogs for Veterans, many State and charitable organizations have sprung to the support of Veterans.  In addition to Ben’s heartwarming story, many other Veterans have benefited from the companionship of service dogs.

Several organizations like 4PawsforAbility and Train a Dog and Save a Warrior,- SFTT Rescue Coalition Partner – are actively training and providing service dogs to Veterans.  These organizations and several others rely on the generous contributions of others to support our Veterans.

While the VA continues to study the benefits of service dogs, new results are not expected until 2019.

One might justifiably ask why it takes the VA 9 years to study the benefits of service dogs for Veterans with PTSD (yes, Congress mandated a study in 2010), but Dr. Fallon and the VA spinmasters will provide you a compelling answer if you are naive enough to buy it.

Based on the sound work of many charitable organizations training service dogs, it is beyond reasonable for the VA to soft-peddle its failed therapy programs and help these struggling organizations provide service dogs to Veterans.  Wouldn’t it help provide “real” evidence to support their long overdue study?

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Veterans with PTSD: The VA Way or the Highway

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It is easy to find fault with the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), particularly when it comes to Veterans with PTSD.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, tried to employ body count statistics to assess our progress in the war in Vietnam.  Similarly, the VA has erected a statistical house-of-cards to deceive Veterans and their loved that the VA has the answers for Veterans coping with PTSD and TBI.

Like McNamara, the VA “knows what is best for Veterans” and has erected insurmountable statistical barriers to prop up their failed strategies.  In effect, the VA is telling Veterans:  “It is my way or the highway!

Paraphrasing a joke: “The VA uses statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost — For support rather than illumination.”

Sadly, it is no laughing matter when we consider the thousands of combat Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.  More importantly, reflect on the often tragic consequences for their families and loved ones.

While Congress and the public continue to be seduced by the steady stream of assurances that the VA provides the best possible care to Veterans with PTSD and TBI, the FACTS tell a far different story.

FAKE NEWS from the VA on Veterans with PTSD

Found below is a video of Dr. David Cifu, Senior TBI Specialist at the VA, testifying before a Congressional Committee:

The VA continues to push a stale and failed agenda that states that the only two effective treatment therapies offered by the VA are:

– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”)and,

– Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PET”).

As these “therapy” programs have failed miserably according to independent studies (see below), the VA has “coped” with the problem by prescribing a lethal concoction of prescription drugs which treat the symptoms of PTSD rather than deal with the underlying problem.

And we wonder why we have an opioid epidemic in this country?

REALITY CHECK at the VA

While Dr. David Cifu continues to entertain a Congressional Committee on the efficacy of the VA’s protocols, experience for yourself one woman’s harrowing experience with the VA which eventually led to husband’s suicide:

The story of Kimi Bivins is not the exception to the type of treatment Veterans with PTSD receive at the VA. Based on many similar stories, the VA is failing our Veterans and their loved ones.

I encourage readers to read Kimi’s harrowing description of what actually takes place at a VA facility.

While the folks at the VA casually dismiss anecdotal stories, VA claims that Veterans receive the best therapy possible is simply not supported by the evidence.

No less of an authority that the National Academies of Sciences (Medical Division) reported in a 2014 study entitled “Treatment for POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER in Military and Veteran Populations,” that CBT and PET barely made a statistical dent in providing Veterans with PTSD any lasting improvement in their condition.

Consider Maj. Ben Richards‘ compelling evidence documenting the failed experiments at the VA in helping Veterans with PTSD.

Standing behind a well-entrenched bureaucracy of statistical inaccuracies and dogma, the VA goes out of its way to discredit other treatment alternatives. Consider this bitter “scientific” debate between Dr. Cifu and Dr. Paul Harch on the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT in treating PTSD and TBI.

Finding a Middle Ground for Veterans with PTSD?

With so little known about the brain and how to treat trauma, it seems absurd for the VA to insist that they have all the answers.  The evidence clearly suggests that the VA doesn’t have a clue.

Nevertheless, the VA argues that “alternative therapies” that do not pass scientific scrutiny and FDA approval will not be endorsed by the VA.  As we have seen countless times – from body armor testing to hyperbaric oxygen studies – the DoD uses test protocols that deviate from accepted standards.

If the tests are flawed, one is likely to draw the wrong conclusions!

For the vast majority of Veterans with limited economic means, the VA is effectively making life and death decisions based on flawed testing and a reluctance to embrace other treatment alternatives.

This is probably done with the intent of protecting Veterans from charlatans and snake oil peddlers, but doesn’t it also block Veterans from receiving promising therapies from legitimate sources?

When dogma or “approved” therapies become the LAW, then it seems unlikely that much progress will be made to help our brave Veterans recover their lives.  The VA would do well to encourage Veterans to seek alternative therapies and provide an interactive sounding board for Veterans to voice their opinions on these programs.

Honesty and transparency and a willingness to accept mistakes is the sign of a responsive institution.   Today, the VA hides behind a dogma based on self-delusion and falsehood.

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How the VA Callously Treats Veterans: A National Disgrace

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As we reported earlier, Veteran Eric Bivins committed suicide after being unable to find the support and care he needed from the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”).

Found below are a moving – AND MOST SAD – series of videos by Kimi Bivins, Eric’s spouse which describes her experiences with the VA in attempting to find the proper care for her husband.

Kimi’s experiences with the VA are not dissimilar from my own and countless of others who have sought care from the VA. I agree with Kimi that it is a “national disgrace,” yet the VA continues to remain largely unaccountable for their callousness and disdain in treating our brave warriors.

I would encourage readers to watch these powerful videos to understand the frustration and agony of a loved-one in dealing with the VA.

Kimi’s YouTube videos are presented in a more or less chronological order, with limited commentary by me other than to clarify certain expressions.

Published on March 23, 2016. Kimi’s Initial PRIVATE Appeal for Help.

Published on March 10, 2016. Kimi’s Frustration on Getting VA Paperwork

Published on March 18, 2016. Eric in a VA Facility

Published on March 23, 2016. Eric is Coping, but Life is Still Very Difficult

Published on April 13, 2016. Eric at Independent Treatment Facility.

Published on May 15, 2016. Eric is Better, But Seeks Therapy Outside the VA

Published July 11, 2017. After Eric’s Suicide

While many will be shocked by these series of videos, it is far too commonplace within the VA.

Before Eric’s suicide he had been accepted into a program to receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT.  I credit HBOT with saving my life and enabling me to begin the long road to recover my life.

It is sad that some uninformed doctor at the VA would shatter Eric’s dream of life-changing therapy by parroting the VA’s institutional bias against HBOT.

Dr. David Cifu and his cronies at the VA and the DoD have done their upmost to discredit HBOT and other alternative therapies to support the failed VA programs of Cognitive Process Therapy (“CPT”) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PE”).

Failed VA therapy programs to treat PTSD have been documented numerous times by credible independent studies.   And yet, VA spokespeople still parrot the same stale party line.  Veterans with PTSD and TBI are not deceived and have abandoned the VA in droves.

It sickens me to watch these tragic videos of Kimi documenting her fruitless attempt to navigate the uncaring bureaucracy of the VA.  In my estimation, Kimi’s videos should be mandatory training for all employees at the VA.

While the VA provides much needed comfort to thousands of Veterans, those Veterans with PTSD and TBI need to look elsewhere for REAL therapy.

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