SFTT News: Week Ending Jan 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

President Barack Obama

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

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

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

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

PTSD Support Veterans

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

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

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

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How the VA Hooked Veterans on Opioids

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In yet another example of well-researched reporting, the Washington Post details how the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) hooked Veterans on opioids and other powerful prescription drugs and then failed to provide these Veterans adequate treatment facilities.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges its role in creating a large population of opioid-addicted veterans by overprescribing painkillers for injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. After the agency tightened prescribing practices in 2013, many veterans bought pain pills sold illicitly on the streets. When those became too expensive, they sought heroin and fentanyl, a potent synthetic narcotic.

The VA is now struggling to undo the damage. Hampered by budgetary and bureaucratic obstacles, it has failed to build a rehabilitation program robust enough to meet the overwhelming demand for treatment from the tens of thousands of veterans with opioid addiction, say analysts who have studied the issue. That has left many veterans to fend for themselves, tapping whatever resources they can find to battle a chronic, complex—and frequently fatal—condition.

While the number of toxic opioids prescribed by the VA began to decline after 2013, the damage had been done to many Veterans returning from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  SFTT has long argued against the use of these addictive drugs, but the VA has been slow to respond to the evident abuse and potentially lethal consequences for Veterans suffering from PTSD.

Drug Abuse

While the much needed reform within the VA has received widespread bi-partisan Congressional support, labor leaders like David Cox have blocked any meaningful reform.  Clearly, the self-serving interests of VA employees appears to take preference over the needs of our Veterans.

The Commission on Care report on overhauling the VA was released on June 30th, 2016.  Sadly, political parties lined up on either side of the report to misrepresent the meaningful reforms sought by “disinterested” consultants seeking to improve treatment for Veterans.  It is difficult to speculate what – if any – of these reforms will be implemented by the new administration, but it appears that the labored search for a new VA Secretary suggests that it is a rather difficult position for the Trump administration to fill.

President Barack Obama

As the Obama administration gives way to a new one, President Obama would do well to heed the advice of John Rowan, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America, “to pardon all post 9/11 Veterans who received less-than-honorable discharges without the due process of a court-martial.”

Mr. Rowan argues that

The “misconduct” the military frequently cites to justify less-than-honorable discharges is often related to PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other service-related illnesses and injuries. Yet the military itself is culpable, having for years under diagnosed those problems. After service, things often get worse, since “bad paper” discharges can result in the denial of veterans benefits. Without proper care, and with the stigma of a less-than-honorable discharge, these veterans are often more likely to become substance abusers, homeless or incarcerated — or to die by suicide.

While some may be absolved by this sweeping policy, it could be a step forward to call attention to the plight suffered by many Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI that have been ill-served by the medical community in treating this debilitating injury.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Dec 23, 2016

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

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

Putin:  Russia Wants to Strengthen Its Nuclear Arsenal
Russia’s military today can overpower any potential foe but should strengthen its nuclear arsenal, President Vladimir Putin told an annual end-of-year meeting Thursday with defense chiefs. “We can say with certainty: We are stronger now than any potential aggressor,” he told the meeting. “Anyone!” His comments come at the end of a year when tensions between Russia and the West have remained on edge over the civil war in Syria.  Read more . . .

Putin

Hacking of DNC Tied to Russian Military Intelligence Unit
A hacking group tied to the incursion on the Democratic National Committee has been linked to Russian military intelligence, according to a new report by the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. This finding is just the latest indication the Russian government was directly involved in the hack, which led to the release of thousands of emails among Democratic officials. That assessment has been echoed by the US intelligence community. Last week, a US official told CNN the intelligence community assessed the hack could only have been carried out with the involvement of the “highest levels of government, including (President Vladimir Putin) himself.”  Read more . . .

Veterans Face Uphill Battle for College Credits for Military Service
Steve Mayou was dumbfounded when he was told he’d have to take courses in introductory physics and basic math on his path to a bachelor’s degree in sustainable building science and technology. Over a 14-year career in the Navy, Mayou had already worked as a nuclear reactor operator on three submarines. Yet just about the only thing his college offered in exchange for that experience was one credit for physical education. “Not only did I do a physics class as part of my training, I had the ultimate lab,” he said, the anger still evident in his voice. “I was splitting atoms every day.”  Read more . . .

U.S.A. Sidelined as Russia, Turkey and Iraq Plot Syria’s Fate
The U.S. was reduced to the role of concerned bystander Tuesday as NATO-ally Turkey met in Moscow with Iran and Russia to plot Syria’s fate following the fall of Aleppo and the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey.  “We weren’t invited,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said of the Moscow meeting of foreign ministers, but Secretary of State John Kerry made follow-up phone calls to his Russian and Turkish counterparts for readouts of what was discussed.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD Turn to Yoga to Combat Stress
An estimated 8 million people in the United States suffer from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. In Indiana, as many as 50,000 Hoosier veterans could be dealing with it. But a new program is exploring a novel treatment, yoga. U.S. Navy veteran Larry Dodd has had multiple surgeries.  He deals with poor circulation; he’s a recovering alcoholic; and he and his wife are raising their two young grandchildren because his son is dealing with addiction.  Read more . . .

PTSD Research Highlights Early Intervention Strategy
Intrusive memories of a traumatic event and the associated physiological reactions to those memories in the acute period after the event appear to play a central role in the development of post traumatic stress disorder, suggests findings published in JAMA Psychiatry.   Read more . . .

Overhaul of VA Key to President-Elect Trump’s Pick for Secretary
President-elect Donald Trump may be preparing to ring in the drastic shakeup of the Department of Veterans Affairs he promised during his campaign for president.The incoming president is “not inclined” to keep the department’s current secretary Bob McDonald in his administration, a senior transition official told CNN on Monday. Instead, Trump is considering several potential successors who would align more with the sweeping VA overhaul Trump championed on the campaign trail as he railed against what he called the “most corrupt” and “most incompetently run agency in the United States.”  Read more . . .

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

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The VA Semantics of Treating Veterans with PTSD

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While watching the “Talking Heads” address the Russian hacking scandal through the prism of partisan politics, it struck me that much the same language is used by the VA when discussing the treatment of Veterans with PTSD.

PTSD Support Veterans

While I have always thought that the proper use of language should be celebrated rather than used as a divisive instrument, I am very much bothered by the implications of blurring the meaning of words to suit one’s political ends.

Specifically, hacking DNC or private servers is very much different than “intervening” in the election process.  Most, if not all, governments (including our own) hack foreign and often their own domestic communication’s networks.

While one can endlessly debate the ethics of hacking, it has been going on for centuries.  It is simply a derivative of spying.

Using that purloined information to disrupt or interfere in our own or any other election process can most certainly be construed as an aggressive act.

The point here is that the act of “hacking” and “weaponizing the information” from that hack are two very different subjects.    Blurring the meaning and intent of these two very separate activities is cause for alarm. Specifically, it introduces a number of conflicting and non-related elements into the equation that cannot be properly analyzed.  Formulating an “appropriate response” will even be more difficult.

The intent here is not to discussing Russian hacking, but to show how the use of language can be used to create a distorted view of the efficacy of various VA programs to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Specifically, there is huge difference between the following statements:

The VA is treating Veterans with PTSD;

The VA is treating Veterans for the symptoms of PTSD.

As Maj. Ben Richards eloquently points out, there is no evidence that VA-prescribed therapies have  “healed” or resulted in any significant improvement to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

 

Clearly, treating the symptoms of PTSD and TBI is quite a bit different than restoring brain function and permanently improving the physical and mental condition of military Veterans suffering from PTSD.

In effect, current VA programs seem to be designed to help Veterans cope with the side-effects of PTSD and TBI (i.e. depression, suicidal thoughts, alienation, etc.) rather than cure the underlying problem.    In many cases, we have seen that lethal combinations of prescription drugs have had the opposite effect.

The semantics of VA administrators stating that they are “treating PTSD” rather than “coping with the symptoms of PTSD” is not a trivial distinction.  In fact, there seems to be little evidence that the VA has provided Veterans with a clear path to restore some level of normalcy in their everyday life.

Clearly, with VA consultants like Dr. David Cifu suggesting unorthodox practices to deal with “concussive events” that no one in the medical profession seems to support, it is not surprising that the Veteran treatment outcomes have been so poor.

While there is clearly a need to help Veterans cope with the myriad of frightening symptoms that emanate from PTSD and TBI, we urgently need benchmarks to help provide Veterans with a path to recovery.

As long as a disproportionate amount of money is spent by the VA on drugs and ineffective therapy programs to deal with the behavioral symptoms of PTSD and TBI, then Veterans will be shortchanged by the organization responsible for their care.

With new leadership on the horizon at the VA, SFTT remains hopeful that Veteran trust in the VA will be restored and that the organization will be purged of the toxic leadership of Dr. David Cifu and others who defend the status quo.  Our Veterans and those in the military are not well served by these corrosive and divisive administrators.

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SFTT News: Week Ending December 9, 2016

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

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

Congress Approves 2.1% Pay Increase for Military in 2017
The U.S. Senate on Thursday joined the House of Representatives in approving a 2.1 percent pay raise next year for troops. The upper chamber passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which included the pay increase, by a vote of 92-7. The House last week approved the legislation by a veto-proof majority of 375-34. The bill now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.  The $619 billion authorization act includes $611 billion for programs overseen by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, including $524 billion for base defense spending, $68 billion for war funding and almost $20 billion for other national security programs.  Read more . . .

special forces

U.S. Military on Brink of Collapse?
Forget about the longtime standard of a military capable of fighting two major wars simultaneously, which the United States abandoned four years ago. The current military would have trouble fighting one major conflict. That is the assessment of some prominent defense experts, who contend the military has degraded to dangerous levels after eight years under President Obama. “We have lost our edge,” said Daniel Goure, senior vice president of the Lexington Institute. “We are no longer technologically superior in a whole list of areas … This is a military that is on the brink of collapse.”  Read more . .

Pentagon “Buries” $125 Billion in Bureaucratic Waste
The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post. The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.  Read more . . .

Tai Chi Could Help Veterans with PTSD
Around 7 to 8 percent of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder in their lifetime, and the condition is even more common among veterans, affecting around 23 percent of those involved in recent conflicts. According to a new study, the ancient Chinese exercise Tai Chi could help veterans manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress.  Read more . . .

Ben Weller - Reuters

Free Guide Dogs for Veterans Available in Florida
Suzy Wilburn’s voice cracked and tears welled up in her eyes when we asked her what her specially trained guide dog Carson means to her. Wilburn says, “I’m allowed to live again. I’m allowed to be in my community and be part of my community and I’m not sitting at home. He saved my marriage. He saved my life.” Wilburn’s dog was trained at Southeastern Guide Dogs which is located in Palmetto where she also works. Spokeswoman Ruth Lando says they provide all of their dogs and services free of charge and receive no government funding.  Read more . .

Equine Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
Those who serve in our military deserve our support, particularly those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to a Rand Corp. studyreleased in 2008, 20 percent of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, but 50 percent of them do not seek treatment because of the stigma associated with mental illnesses. They often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Families are destroyed and communities lose those who could have made valuable contributions. What is more tragic is through 2014 each day some 20 veterans committed suicide.   Read more . . .

Grant to Address Hyperarousal in Treating PTSD
Mathew and research colleagues at Baylor recently received a grant that will provide more than $1.35 million from the National Institute of Mental Health over two years to study and develop a drug that might mitigate hyperarousal in patients with PTSD. At present, there are two Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs to treat PTSD, the antidepressants Zoloft and Paxil (generics: sertraline and paroxetine). Though clinicians say these medications can be helpful, neither of the drugs was specifically designed to treat PTSD. “There’s a big dearth of effective drug treatments, and that’s what the focus of our research is,” Mathew says. “Psychotherapies help a lot of people, but still many will have residual symptoms or incomplete resolution.”  Read more . . .

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

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Preventing Concussions: Can Help be on the Horizon?

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Concussions and preventing concussions continues to be a hot topic in the media, particularly when parents decide whether to allow their kids to play contact sports.

Treating PTSD and TBI also receives its share of attention, but most of the media coverage seems to be focused on coping with the symptoms of brain injury rather than offer any meaningful long-term solution for Veterans with these conditions.

Far less attention is devoted to preventing concussions in the first place.  Perhaps, we should be moving forward on all fronts simultaneously.

military drugs

Just this week the FDA just approved a series to trials to evaluate ecstasy to help people cope with PTSD.

After successful preliminary trials, the FDA is moving forward with a large scale study for using Ecstasy as a prescription drug to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study approved on Tuesday would be the final measure necessary before the agency could legalize the drug, according to the New York Times. If the results are favorable, the drug also known as MDMA would be available to patients as early as 2021.

While some may view this new FDA initiative with relief, I am not encouraged by yet another new drug that treats the symptoms of PTSD rather than drugs that permanently reverse brain damage itself.   As we have seen with opioids, treating symptoms opens up a pandora’s box of other medical and neurological problems, particularly when these medications are combined with other prescription drugs.

Granted, reversing brain injury is new uncharted territory, but many Veterans seem to have lost hope that permanently improving  brain “wellness”  is considered to be a high priority for either the VA or the FDA.

If this is the case – and I hope it is not – then studies focused on reducing the incidence of concussion certainly take on far more importance.  Found below is a recent Ted Talk  by David Camarillo focused on developing new protective gear to reduce concussions:

Mr. Camarillo takes issue with both the CDC and NFL models of what happens when a concussive-event occurs. Swedish scanning imagery points to something far different occurring within the brain than what is argued by conventional sources.

Could it be that existing helmet designs for the military and the NFL are based on flawed models and questionable scientific research?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I continue to be disturbed by the conflicting messages sent out by the VA, the FDA, the CDD and the NFL.  Surely, “I don’t know,” is a far more honest answer than continued claims by those in authority that “we are making progress” in helping Veterans with PTSD or protecting NFL players.

If the flawed product were an automobile which caused a fatality, a recall notice would be issued.  How is it possible that the NFL continues to operate with impunity when the evidence strongly suggests that repeated concussions causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or ”CTE’)

The recent FDA “Ecstasy” trial isn’t particularly reassuring, particularly knowing that the results will not be available until 2021.

Questions that seem more relevant would be these:

– Will Dr. David Cifu continue to dictate VA protocols in treating concussive events?

– When will military helmet sensor data be released to the scientific community to help provide our brave military personnel with better helmets?

– Can the VA provide any clinical evidence that it has successfully treated and “cured” PTSD and/or TBI?

– Are more drugs the answer to treat PTSD?

I can’t answer these questions, but tens of thousands of brave men and women with PTSD and TBI deserve an answer.

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SFTT Highlights: Week of Nov 25, 2016

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

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

First U.S. Serviceman Killed in Syria Fighting ISIS
The first U.S. service member was killed on Thursday in fighting against the Islamic State in Syria, officials said. The troop died from injuries sustained in a roadside blast near Ayn Issa in the northern part of the country, according to a statement from Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter offered his condolences after the tragedy.  Read more . . .

ISIS Propaganda Photo

Rebuilding U.S. Military Capability
As a first order of business, we need to review and redefine our strategic objectives and what is vital to our national interest. For example, does our current involvement in Afghanistan make any sense as it relates to our vital strategic interests? Of course not. So why do we continue to expend our national treasure to sustain a corrupt tribal society? Concurrently, in order to restore our world leadership credentials we must reverse the decline of our military capabilities. There is no question that sequestration has decimated our military forces. It will take several years to rebuild the force structure to levels that are required for what we define as a “ready response” force. However, there are actions and programs that can be enacted now that will immediately raise morale and the readiness of our existing forces.  Read more . . .

U.S. Military Celebrates Thanksgiving at Iraqi Base
U.S. troops celebrated Thanksgiving at an Iraqi army base in Qayyara, some 60 km (38 miles) south of Mosul, where a U.S.-led coalition is helping Iraqi forces battle Islamic State. Dozens of soldiers lined up, rifles slung over their shoulders and heads bowed, as one member recited a Thanksgiving prayer. Around 5,000 soldiers are currently in northern Iraq, assisting and advising Iraqi forces participating in the offensive to recapture Mosul from Islamic State. “I want to tell my family now to be thankful that all these people out here and be thankful for being alive… That’s all,” said Joe Hamilton one of the soldiers at the base.  Read more . . .

Grant to Help Match Animals with Veterans
In honor of Rio Grande Valley veterans, The Laurie P. Andrews PAWS Center has utilized a Veterans with Disabilities Grant from a private donor which enables veterans with at least a 10 percent disability to adopt any of the pets available at the center for free. Adoption fees are typically $100 for cats, $120 for kittens, $150 for dogs and $170 for puppies. All fees, which are completely waived for veterans, includes spay or neuter operation, microchip for identification, first series of vaccinations and a month of free pet accident insurance. Joel Garza, a United States Army veteran, said he heard about the grant from a friend who knew he had just lost his dog.  Read more . . .

New PTSD Therapy Option for Veterans
Like many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, US Navy veteran Hakim Mathis struggled with anxiety and had trouble trusting others – until he tried Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT.  In CPT, the therapist helps the patient re-examine beliefs that may have changed after combat.  “Beliefs about themselves, beliefs about the world and the level of safety in the world, and concerns about the future and what it may hold,” said Dr. Alan Peterson. CPT is the treatment recently used on hundreds of Fort Hood soldiers and military personnel suffering from combat-related PTSD.   Read more . . .

Equine Therapy for Veterans with PTSD
Animals have a natural ability and knack to soothe and calm those around them without effort. Many types of animals can provide comfort and healing to those in distress, and recent studies show that horses are very special in that ability. The Healing of Our Veterans Equine Service or H.O.O.V.E.S. is a program designed to help veterans with #PTSD or other concerns.   Read more . . .

Veterans Cartoon by Gary Varval

Cartoonist Gary Varval

Will Donald Trump Keep Campaign Promises to Veterans
Donald Trump made a lot of campaign promises, some of which he has retreated from a little more than two weeks after winning the presidential election.  In his “Vision for Veterans Healthcare,” Trump lays out his commitment to ensure veterans “get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it.”  His 10-point plan is an ambitious mixture of accountability, dependability and accessibility in a reformed health care system not bound by a 75-year-old, single-payer, government-controlled model.  Read more . . .

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

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SFTT News Highlights: Week of Nov 18, 2016

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

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

Poll of U.S. Military Shows Mixed Reaction to Trump Presidency
Despite overwhelming support for President-elect Donald Trump among active-duty troops, one in four service members worries he may issue orders that violate military rules or traditions, according to a new Military Times/Institute for Military and Veterans Families Poll.  The poll surveyed 2,790 active-duty troops. Among those who voted, 51 percent said they supported Trump. Many expressed optimism at his election, predicting a stronger military and better quality of life for service members.  Read more . . .

Changes Needed in U.S. Military to Keep America Safe?
Throughout the year, news organizations have feasted on stories of terror attacks, saber-rattling provocations and outright wars. Is the world really as dangerous as all that? And is the military’s ability to protect us against these dangers really on the decline? Unfortunately, the answers to both questions are: “yes.”  The adequacy of U.S. military power must be assessed in terms of what our troops must be prepared to deal with: the “bad actors” that threaten our vital interests.  Read more . . .

Concerns Expressed about U.S. Military Awareness
There are “significant concerns” about the U.S. military’s strength and its ability to combat global threats, according to a report released Wednesday by a leading conservative think tank.“Clearly, the takeaway on this … is that the military is too small,” said Dakota L. Wood, editor of the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Military Strength. “It’s much too small to handle the tasks being assigned to it.”This is the foundation’s third annual report on U.S. military strength in the context of global threats and opportunities. And as with the first two, it blames the military’s perceived decline on reduced funding — the mandatory spending caps known as sequestration.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Resigns Citing Retaliation
A Department of Veterans Affairs employee who told Congress the agency was using unauthorized wait lists for mental health care in Colorado has resigned, saying he was subjected to retaliation for speaking out. Brian Smothers told The Associated Press Wednesday the VA had opened two separate inquiries into his actions and tried to get him to sign a statement saying he had broken VA rules. He said he refused. Smothers also said the VA reassigned him to an office with no computer access, no significant duties and no social contact.  Read more . . .

PTSD Support Veterans

PTSD as an Excuse for Illegal Behavior
I’ve written about post-traumatic stress disorder dozens of times over the past seven years. I’ve discussed specific topics such as effective, ineffective and alternative treatments. I’ve opined about the benefits (or lack thereof) of changing the name by dropping “disorder” from the title. I’ve even railed against bureaucratic obstacles that get in the way of helping veterans gain quality care.  However, one aspect of PTSD that I’ve yet to spend much time on is one that’s rather controversial and rarely talked about — using PTSD as an excuse for illegal behavior. Read more . . .

Online Resources for Military Veterans
We’re lucky to live in a country that cares for its veterans. We can all level criticism at the VA, but it is getting better and there are plenty of good-hearted people willing to pick up the slack by offering their time, patience, and expertise. I’ve written previously about job training and mobile applications that are just for veterans, and today I want to cover online resources. These five websites offer a lot for veterans of the US armed forces: Whether you need job training, a home loan, emergency help, or info on how to use your well-earned benefits, it’s all right here.  Read more . . .

10 Good Reasons to Hire Military Veterans
Companies take note: hiring a veteran of the U.S. Military comes with a host of benefits.  A number of Quora users responded to the question “What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the U.S. Military?” Of the responders, retired Marine sergeant and current hiring manager Jon Davis outlined ten key reasons employers should hire military veterans.   Read more . . .

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

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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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Mixed Signals for Veterans with PTSD

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It is reassuring to learn that Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc encourages troops under his command to seek help when dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Many in the military believe that headaches, depression and mood swings are simply job fatigue symptoms and that it is “not macho” to seek out treatment.  As Gen. Bolduc knows, these common wartime symptoms may be a clear signal of post-traumatic stress (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

In a recent article featured in the New York Times, Gen. Bolduc made the following observation:

General Bolduc wants soldiers under his command — who are stationed in some of the continent’s most difficult parts — to know that seeking help will not hurt their careers. In his opinion, PTSD is the same as a broken arm.

“The powerful thing is that I can use myself as an example,” General Bolduc said. “And thank goodness not everybody can do that. But I’m able to do it, so that has some sort of different type of credibility to it.”

SFTT applauds Gen. Bolduc for taking the lead in encouraging troops under this command to seek out help without the repercussions of a punitive career backlash.  Nevertheless, effective treatment options for PTSD are severely limited by current DoD protocols.

Nowhere is this more evident than within the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”). Currently, the VA provides two forms of cognitive behavioral therapy to Veterans with PTSD: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy.

Also, to address the symptoms of PTSD the VA may authorize “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant medicine. These can help you feel less sad and worried. They appear to be helpful, and for some people they are very effective. SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (such as Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).”

As SFTT has reported on numerous occasions, masking the symptoms of PTSD through cocktails of powerful prescribed drugs has not proved successful and may in fact have triggered suicidal incidents.

In fact, the track record of the VA in treating PTSD has been notoriously ineffective as Maj. Ben Richards pointed out recently in this comprehensive discussion of VA procedures to treat PTSD and TBI:

Contrast Maj. Richards experience, with VA spokesman Dr. David Xavier Cifu to a Congressional Committee:

Personally, I find Dr. David Cifu’s treatment recommendation: “get back to activity as soon as possible” to be particularly disturbing. Not only is Dr. Cifu’s judgement questioned by his peers, but even the NFL has instituted “concussion” protocols which REQUIRE a mandatory rest period after a concussion.

In effect, a battlefield commander could encourage troops under his command to “get treatment,” yet the medical gatekeepers could simply prescribe antidepressants and quickly put the troops back into harm’s way.

Gen. Bolduc is to be complimented on his leadership, but the medical support in the military and VA needed to effectively treat men and women in combat for brain-related issues doesn’t seem to be on the same page.   How sad!

Why?  Good question, but one can only speculate on the “right” answer.

NFL and the Concussion Settlement

While the VA continues to “whistle Dixie” as the lives of Veterans and their loved ones continue to deteriorate, the leadership of the NFL is finally beginning to acknowledge the terrible harm done to professional athletes caused by repeated concussions.

Joe Nocera of the New York Times reports that a “Crack Appears in N.F.L.’s Concussion Settlement.”   NFL leadership has fought tooth-and-nail to hide the corrosive effect of repeated concussions from its players and the public.   Nevertheless, thanks to the courageous effort forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, popularized in the film “Concussion” starring Will Smith, the NFL acknowledged that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or C.T.E. was a serious health concern.

chronic_traumatic_encephalopathy

Now, a Doctor at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center believes that “I really do foresee being able to diagnose C.T.E. pretty accurately while people are alive sometime in the next five to 10 years,” he said. “Hopefully, even earlier.”

While this is helpful, one must ask what preventive measures can be introduced into football now to prevent C.T.E. from occurring in the future.  More to the point, if C.T.E. is predictive, what about the large number of professional players who have settled with the NFL to keep this problem from gaining traction with the public.

The Leadership of the NFL and the VA Have a Problem

The leadership of the NFL and the VA can continue to stonewall investigative committees and deceive themselves, but lives are at risk.  Isn’t it about time that the leadership of both organizations step up and “own the problem” and do their best to help players and servicemembers recover their lives?

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