Swimming with the Sharks and Veterans with PTSD

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Last month, the New York Times published an article entitled “Scuba, Parrots, Yoga:  “Veterans Embrace Alternative Therapies for PTSD.”  The article focuses on Veterans with PTSD who seek alternative treatment programs.

shark and veterans with ptsd

In this article, author Dave Phillips, suggests that Veterans with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress) are seeking alternative treatment since conventional treatments approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) are not working:

Traditional medical approaches generally rely on drugs and controlled re-experiencing of trauma, called exposure therapy. But this combination has proved so unpopular that many veterans quit before finishing or avoid it altogether. This has given rise to hundreds of small nonprofits across the country that offer alternatives: therapeutic fishing, rafting and backpacking trips, horse riding, combat yoga, dogs, art collectives, dolphin swims, sweat lodge vision quests and parrot husbandry centers, among many, many others.

According to Mr. Phillips, one group of Veterans has even taken up swimming with sharks to help “overcome fears and build new experiences that put traumatic memories in perspective.”

Now, it is difficult to say whether swimming with sharks or parrot husbandry have any long term beneficial impact for Veterans, but it does speak volumes for the lack of treatment alternatives currently offered by the VA.

Prescription drugs and exposure therapy seem to be standard treatment procedures within the VA.  Sadly, the VA gatekeepers strongly discourage Veterans from seeking alternative programs provided by the private sector and charitable organizations (mostly small).

Hiding behind the cloak of “not FDA approved,” “lack of supporting clinical studies” or other bureaucratic protocols, the VA has effectively blocked many Veterans from seeking what many consider to be more effective treatment without the drug side-effects.

In fact, the VA has established itself as “Il Supremo” or the “Supreme Authority” in deciding what is “right” and proper for Veterans seeking help to cure themselves and re-integrate into society.

For many reasons, Veterans are finding that the VA’s recommended treatment for PTSD has its limitations and, in many cases, undesirable side-effects.  In fact, as we reported last week, the VA track record in treating PTSD is abysmal.

While VA administrators argue that they are open to “alternative therapies,” there is little in SFTT’s experience to suggest that the VA is openly encouraging Veterans to seek treatment outside the VA.  Quite the contrary, the gatekeepers at the VA consider alternative therapies as “black magic” with little or no scientific basis for support or VA funding.

As such, many Veterans are left to their own devices to find programs that may meet their particular needs rather than the VA pro forma cocktail of prescription drugs which masks symptoms and is often lethal.

While alternative PTSD treatment programs have grown exponentially,  it is difficult to gauge the efficacy of these programs given the vast differences in one program from another and the level of supervised care provided.  Who is to say whether swimming with sharks is better than parrot husbandry or which program may be best suited for a particular Veteran.

Despite these shortcomings, the VA would be wise to gather as much information as possible to evaluate the efficacy of these “alternative” treatment programs rather than simply dismiss them because there are no clinical trials or replicable results.

As the VA tries to redefine itself to provide more effective treatment programs for Veterans with PTSD, SFTT remains hopeful that the VA embraces other treatment alternatives and provides financial support to private foundations which try to make a difference in the lives of our brave Veterans.

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Wounded Warrior Project Has Feet of Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brain Trauma Injuries and A.L.S.

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In a paper released this week, there are new indications that brain trauma injuries may mimic many of the symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  In an news article published August 18th by the New York Times entitled Brain Trauma Injury can mimic A.L.S.,  NYT’s reporter Alan Schwartz indicates that A.L.S. or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lew Gehrig’s Disease may have been triggered by concussions and other traumatic head injuries. 

According to the New York Times report, “Doctors at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., and the Boston University School of Medicine, the primary researchers of brain damage among deceased National Football League players, said that markings in the spinal cords of two players and one boxer who also received a diagnosis of A.L.S. indicated that those men did not have A.L.S. They had a different fatal disease, doctors said, caused by concussion-like trauma, that erodes the central nervous system in similar ways.”

As previously reported by SFTT and other reliable sources, the military is paying far greater attention to brain trauma injuries and its long-term effects on military personnel if left un-diagnosed.    Officially, military sources place the number of troops suffering from brain trauma injuries at 115,000, but informed sources place the number much higher.    Clearly, the  rapid deployment of new helmet sensors by BAE based on preliminary field studies suggests that is a serious problem that is attracting the attention of our military leadership.

While pleased brain injuries caused by frequent I.E.D incidents is receiving more careful diagnosis and serious medical study, the question remains:  Do our troops have the best protective gear and military helmets to cushion the immediate effects of an I.E.D. explosion?  Simply deploying our troops with sensors to “study” the effects of brain trauma injury is akin to a laboratory experiment with rats.  More succicntly, is there currently a better alternative to the current standard-issue military helmet that would help reduce brain trauma injury.

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