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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SFTT News: Week Ending Sep 30, 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.

President Obama Faces Tough Questions from Military and Veterans
Obama was at this Army base near Richmond to take part in a military-focused special that aired Wednesday night on CNN. The cable network selected questioners who were respectful but who reflected a military population that is more conservative than the population as a whole and generally skeptical of the president’s performance as commander in chief over the past eight years.  Read more . . .

U.S. Military Readiness Questioned
Four of America’s top military officers recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on long-term budget challenges facing the military. While the hearing didn’t grab many headlines, some of the statements from these leaders should make all Americans concerned about the status of our military. Ultimately, these four officers (the chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force, the chief of naval operations, and the commandant of the Marine Corps) stressed the dire and potentially deadly effects of inadequate funding on military readiness.  Read more . . .

VA Suicide Hot Line

A Third of Calls to Veteran Suicide Hotline Don’t Get Answered
More than a third of calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ suicide hotline aren’t being answered by front-line staffers because of poor work habits and other problems, according to the hotline’s former director.  Some hotline workers handle fewer than five calls per day and leave before their shifts end, even as crisis calls have increased sharply in recent years, said Greg Hughes, the former director of the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line.  Read more . . .

Privatization of Some VA Programs Becomes Election Issue
A key Democrat wants to bring the presidential campaign fight over veterans health care to the House floor, offering a resolution Wednesday that opposes the privatization of Veterans Affairs programs.  Republicans counter that department health systems are overburdened and unable to meet veterans’ needs, and proposals to expand health care choices for veterans in no way represent privatizing the department.  Read more . . .

Military Funding and Pay Raises Still on Congressional Agenda
After months of debate, Congress was unable to pass an annual budget on time and came within days this week of a government shutdown – and potential troop pay freeze – due to a dispute over emergency funds for the Flint, Michigan water crisis. A deal on money for Flint allowed lawmakers to pass the temporary budget, called a continuing resolution, and it set up another potential last-minute showdown over a final defense budget and other difficult military issues in November and December.  Read more . . .

Studies Suggest that Concussions May Lead to PTSD
Studies of troops who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have found that service members who have suffered a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury are far more likely to develop PTSD, a condition that can cause flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety for years after a traumatic event.  And research on both people and animals suggests the reason is that a brain injury can disrupt circuits that normally dampen the response to a frightening event. The result is like “driving a car and the brake’s not fully functioning,” says Mingxiong Huang, a biomedical physicist at the University of California, San Diego.  Read more . . .

U.S. on Verge of Ending Talks with Russia over War in Syria
Speaking at the Atlantic Council think-tank on Thursday, John Kerry (Secretary of State) said that the US is “on the verge of suspending the discussion because it’s irrational in the context of the kind of bombing taking place”. He said the US has no indication of Russia’s “seriousness of purpose” and discussions made no sense at a time when Russian and Syrian warplanes were bombing rebel-held areas of Syria’s second largest city.  Read more . . .

special forces

U.S. to Send 600 More Troops in Preparation to Retake Mosul
The United States will send around 600 new troops to Iraq to assist local forces in the battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State that is expected later this year, U.S. and Iraqi officials said on Wednesday.  The new deployment is the third such boost in U.S. troop levels in Iraq since April, underscoring the difficulties President Barack Obama has had in extracting the U.S. military from the country.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement that his government asked for more U.S. military trainers and advisers. Obama called it a “somber decision.”  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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Dysfunctional VA or a Paradise for Veterans?: Pause for Reflection

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Stand for The Troops (“SFTT”) has long been critical of the manner in which the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) treats Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  Other critics have singled out long wait times for Veterans seeking treatment and other issues that have prompted Congressional inquiries.

Sadly, one can no longer discuss this issue dispassionately considering that many stakeholders and political candidates seem to be positioning themselves on one side of the debate or the other.  With a $170 billion budget and over 200,000 employees, a decision to make the VA more responsive to the needs of Veterans is never a black or white decision.

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Like many others, I was appalled by the outburst of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, who threatened VA Secretary with “physical violence”

Cox was “prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s a – -,” he said. “He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his a – -, I promise you,”

According to U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Chumuckla, Florida, and the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as reported in Military.com

The exchange perfectly encapsulates the corrosive influence government union bosses are having on efforts to reform a broken VA. It’s a never-ending cycle in which pliant politicians and federal agency leaders bow to the boss’s demands to preserve the dysfunctional status quo of our federal personnel system, which almost guarantees employment for government bureaucrats no matter how egregious their behavior.

The problem with union bosses like Cox is that they are more interested in protecting misbehaving VA employees than the veterans the department was created to serve.

The problem with VA leaders like McDonald is that, in their perpetual quest to placate big labor’s powers that be, the taxpayers and veterans they are charged with serving are paying the price.

Frankly, it is tough to find fault with Representative Miller’s assessment of the situation.  If we want meaningful reform within the VA to provide Veterans with the support they deserve, then we need to confront entitled thugs like David Cox and others that block long overdue change.

It will not be easy, but we must admit that the VA is fragile – if not broken – and we need to fix it to provide Veterans with the level of care they deserve.

Veterans with PTSD and the VA

As regular readers of Stand For the Troops newsletter are aware, we are keenly focused on the level of care and treatment provided to Veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress.

Based on our research, we have found that the care and treatment provided by the VA leads to no lasting benefit to the thousands of Veterans affected by PTSD and TBI.  We reported on this earlier, but it is worthwhile watching a video of Maj. Ben Richard’s explain the failure of the VA to provide meaningful solutions:

This sobering assessment by Maj. Richards was featured a couple of months ago in our article entitled “The VA Can’t Handle the Truth, So Why Bother.” SFTT’s goal is not to throw rocks at the VA, but to insure that Veterans get the needed treatment they deserve.

It is hardly reassuring that some Veterans find it necessary to swim with sharks as an alternative therapy for PTSD, but it is evident that the lack of responsiveness and credibility of the VA has driven Veterans to embrace other solutions.

The Big Questions for Taxpayers and Government Leaders

Will the much needed reform within the VA be held hostage by self-serving labor leaders like J. David Cox and disingenuous medical practitioners like Dr. David Cifu?

Do we have the courage to change the VA system for the benefit of our brave heroes?

Can we agree to promote VA programs that work, improve those programs that are not effective and reform or radically change existing programs and protocols that simply do not work?

For all Americans, it is time to reflect on the kind of support we truly want to provide to Veterans.

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NFL Reluctantly Opts to Research Concussions

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In yet another token concession to those concerned with repeated trauma of concussions on NFL players, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new initiative “intended to increase the safety of the game, specifically by preventing, diagnosing and treating head injuries.”

As reported by CNN, Goodell said:

. . . the league and its 32 club owners will provide $100 million in support of engineering advancements and medical research — in addition to the $100 million previously pledged by the league to medical and neuroscience research.

The Play Smart Play Safe initiative also requires hiring a physician to serve as the league’s chief medical officer.  The physician will work with each team’s medical staff and establish an independent scientific advisory board to consider head injury research proposals.

Concussions and, more importantly, chronic traumatic encephalopathy ( or”CTE’) continues to be a subject that is only whispered about behind closed doors at the NFL.  Nevertheless, it is a problem that will not soon disappear and SFTT remains hopeful that researchers will be able to improve the safety of the game and provide insights into how this horrific “sport” injury can be prevented and,  hopefully, treated more effectively.

chronic_traumatic_encephalopathy

While the NFL has been slow to address this problem, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) have been even slower.  Consider what SFTT stated in March, 2016 in its article entitled “NFL Preempts Veterans with Brain Injuries“:

With hundreds of thousand of Veterans suffering from brain trauma, isn’t it about time our political and military leadership quit burying their heads in the sands and deflect public scrutiny by investigating the NFL, which has Congressional immunity from antitrust regulation?  What a strange but convenient retreat for our feckless political leadership.

If the NFL owners had any sense, they would embrace the battle against brain trauma and work with the military to help both its gladiators and the brave men and women suffering from PTSD. Indeed, this public relations initiative could help deflect “public” outrage and provide the medical profession and others with the resources and impetus to deal with the silent wounds of war.

While the causes of brain trauma are different, shared research could go a long way in helping both Veterans and NFL players deal with the problems of repeated concussions.  No one expects easy answers, but the military has collected a wealth of data on concussions over the last six years from sensors implanted in helmets of soldiers serving in combat.

The first step in solving a problem is to admit you have a problem.  Sadly, both the NFL, the VA and the DoD have been slow to address this most serious problem and one wonders how committed either organization is to do so.

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