Veterans with PTSD: Can We Unite As a Society?

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As one who watched a largely unappreciative nation heap scorn on returning Veterans from our war in Vietnam, I am struck by the contrived efforts to celebrate Veterans who have now served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.   In particular, I shed a tear for Veterans with PTSD who have difficulty coping with an unsympathetic society that seems far different from the camaraderie they experienced while serving in a war zone.

While I do not doubt that many Americans genuinely honor the sacrifices of young men and women who have served in these wars;  the American flag pin in one’s lapel or tributes to Veterans at major sporting events fall well short of the support these brave heroes deserve.

This point was made abundantly clear by Sebastian Junger in a recent MSNBC interview. Sebastian Junger, an acclaimed war-correspondent and author, has just published Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In his book, Mr. Junger suggests that Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find a deeply divided and “alienated society” and argues passionately that our society may be as much to blame for Veteran suicides and depression as a Veteran’s war experience.

Mr. Junger articulates his views in a very moving Ted Talk that was filmed late last year.


As an anthropologist, Mr. Junger’s arguments are quite persuasive. It is hard to argue with his premise that the incidence of “suicides and depression” tends to decrease during periods of great stress: he cites 911, the bombing of London in WWII and many other similar situations. Junger suggests that people’s behavior tends to become “more tribal” during periods of great stress and that this provides a level of support and comfort that many returning Veterans do not presently encounter when they return home to our “alienating society.”

Mr. Junger concludes that many problems for Veterans with PTSD would be greatly diminished if we “can unite as a society.”

640px-Politics

As we watch an increasingly hostile and bitter presidential race unfold, it is not hard to understand Mr. Junger’s premise.  Imagine a young man or woman serving their country in a hostile and dangerous environment returning home to see a dysfunctional society at war with itself. How discouraging.

Indeed, if the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) doesn’t have your back, who does?

In an unfortunate analogy, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald stated “‘When you get to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?'” McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. ‘And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.'”

This is not the first time, Secretary McDonald has been embroiled in a controversy, but I am quite sure that Secretary McDonald wished he hadn’t been quite so candid.  Nevertheless, his “misspeak” provided plenty of fuel to other politicians.

House Majority leader Paul Ryan correctly pointed out that Veterans had lost their lives while waiting in line for someone at the VA to pickup the phone.

This is precisely the type of dysfunctional dialogue engaged in by “tribal leaders” that Veterans – and many others – find so frustrating and largely disingenuous.

Most everyone knows that the VA is not functioning properly.  Rather than simply point fingers to gain personal political leverage, let’s harness our efforts and begin solving the many problems faced by the VA.

One man or woman’s political advantage pales in comparison to the suffering of the many brave men and women who have placed their lives at risk for a society that seems hellbent on tearing itself apart.  How tragic.

Mr. Junger, your heartfelt appeal is noted and I sincerely hope that we as a nation can embrace the challenge.  I pray that our tribal leaders will unite to provide our country with the inspirational leadership that our brave men and women in the military service deserve.  Anything less is tragic.

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SFTT News: Week of May 27, 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 our 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.

Military Suicides:  Most Appear Before Combat
“We found the highest rates of suicide attempts were among never-deployed soldiers and those in their first years of service,” Ursano’s team (Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda) wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry. Six months into a deployment is often when they get their first break. “That six-month time is usually the time most soldiers are taking a visit home,” Ursano said. “They are transitioning home and back again.”  It’s not precisely clear why suicide attempts — as opposed to completed suicides — go up at these times. Other research shows the risk for a completed suicide has little to do with whether someone has been in actual combat.  Read more . . .

VA Restores Benefits to Veterans Wrongly Declared Dead
A Florida congressman says the Department of Veterans Affairs cut off the benefits of more 4,200 people nationwide after they were wrongly declared dead.  Rep. David Jolly says these people were “very much alive” and their benefits were resumed after the VA looked into their cases, which happened between 2011 and 2015.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Compares Veteran Wait Times to Lines at Disneyworld 
Critics said Monday that Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald had trivialized the long-standing problem of lengthy wait times for appointments at California’s veterans medical centers by comparing them to waiting in long lines at Disneyland. His comments sparked an angry backlash from California lawmakers who felt that he had dismissed the angst and frustration of their constituents. McDonald made the comments Monday during a roundtable discussion with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Robert McDonald

Five Things to Know about President Obama’s Trip to Vietnam
President Barack Obama is visiting Vietnam, the third U.S. president to do so, for a series of meetings with officials aimed at deepening U.S. ties with the country through new economic and security initiatives. The two governments are expected to announce a host of new agreements. Here are five things to know about Mr. Obama’s trip to the Asian nation.  Read more . . .

Dining with President Obama in Hanoi
Deep in the heart of Hanoi, US President Barack Obama sat down for a $6 meal with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Tuesday. The chef, known for his love of adventurous street food, described the occasion in a series of tweets and an Instagram post.  Read more . . .

Obama Bourdain Hanoi

Former Navy Seal Sheds Light on PTSD
First Sgt. Clint Castro spent 15 months on the front line as a medic in Iraq. When he came home to East Meadow, he faced another kind of battle against post-traumatic stress disorder. He says it led him to drink and lose his temper, and he isolated himself from his family. Castro turned to Northwell Health’s Rosen Family Wellness Center for help. He admits it wasn’t easy initially to ask for assistance.   Read more . . .

Treating Ukranian Veterans with PTSD with Service Dogs

The Coming Changes to the War in Afghanistan
U.S. officials on Monday justified the weekend drone strike that killed Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour by saying the Taliban leader planned to attack American or coalition forces in Afghanistan. But some observers believe the secretive operation that targeted the extremist at a southwest Pakistan hideout represents a shift in how the White House plans to execute the long-running war.  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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VA Dismisses Alternative PTSD Therapies

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In what seems like a broken record, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) continues to dismiss alternative therapies for treating PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.

While not entirely dismissing the efficacy of “Complimentary and Alternative Medicine” or “CAM” for treating PTSD, the VA argues that CAM does not really fit-in all that well in the canons of Western medical practices:

Broadly conceptualized, “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) refers to treatments not considered to be standard in the current practice of Western medicine:

– Complementary refers to the use of these techniques in combination with conventional approaches.

– Alternative refers to their use in lieu of conventional practices.

Many treatments and techniques that are considered CAM within the U.S. are part of conventional medicinal practices in other parts of the world. As Western practitioners and consumers increasingly adopt these approaches, the boundaries between conventional medicine and CAM continue to shift. Please visit The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) for a complete overview of CAM interventions.

For instance, in describing acupuncture,  the VA notes that “. . . five of the six studies examined in that review were conducted in China, where acupuncture is a mainstream treatment. Therefore findings may not generalize to the use of acupuncture as a CAM modality in Western medicine.”

Accupuncture:  Alternative PTSD therapies

In effect, the VA is saying that clinical trials based on “western medicine” practices is the only recognized and authoritative standard to prescribe alternative therapies for treating PTSD.

The absurdity of the VA’s position is the assertion that Western medical practices are in some way scientifically better than Asian medical practices which date back over 2,000 years.  Imagine what Asian physicians might think of Western medical practices where:

– The first surgery using anesthesia was only performed in 1846;

Clean and relatively sanitary conditions in U.S. medical facilities didn’t really occur until 1900.  In fact, it is widely believed that President James Garfield died in 1881 because doctors used unsanitary medical instruments.

– The U.S. has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, far behind such countries (cities) as Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

The argument can be made – and should be made – that complimentary and alternative medicine that is non-invasive and has a long history of producing positive results in other countries should be made available to Veterans should they demand it.

As we are now discovering, FDA approved prescription drugs for treating the symptoms of PTSD are producing side-effects and dependencies that were simply not contemplated in clinical trials.  Why shouldn’t Veterans be given the option of determining what treatment alternative works best for their particular circumstances?

I have no idea why the VA has taken such an intransigent position regarding alternative treatment programs if its goal is to provide Veterans with improved outcomes for the many brave warriors who suffer the silent wounds of war.

Indeed, any non-invasive therapy seems preferable to the toxic prescription drugs now considered efficient by “Western medical practices.”

SFTT is not wedded to any particular therapy program to treat PTSD.  In fact, SFTT has been quite supportive of Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (“HBOT”), dog and equine therapy programs, Yoga and many others.

Based on SFTT’s observations, Veterans who suffer from PTSD tend to react differently to alternative therapy programs or conventional drug therapy.  Shouldn’t Veterans be free to choose which program seems to be more effective based on their own personal preferences?

Sadly, it seems that only public outrage and a radical overhaul of the VA will bring about a much needed change to the way Veterans with PTSD are provided effective therapy by “Big Brother” VA.

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SFTT News: Week of May 20, 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 our 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.

Should women register for the military draft?
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that he believed the role of women in the military had expanded so broadly in recent years that they should be required to register for the draft just as men do.  Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, was quick to stress that he did not envision any return to the use of the Selective Service and believed that the volunteer, professional military had been “very successful.”   Read more . . .

Military Draft Women

Can Congress save the U.S. Military?
This week the House of Representatives takes up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2017. Much of the debate and media coverage will revolve around a handful of controversial provisions ranging from nuclear weapons to religious freedom. These debates are important, but the most important question that Americans should ask Congress is this: Will this bill begin to rebuild the U.S. military?   Read more . . .

The U.S. Needs to Revisit PTSD Treatment Guidelines
Organizations from the United Kingdom and Australia and the World Health Organization take the position that trauma-focused psychotherapies such as prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing are most effective when it comes to PTSD treatment. Basically, their stance is that the evidence for meds is just not as strong. A recent study carried out by military and VA researchers, and published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, supports this position.  Read more . . .

Size of Brain Region Associated with Response to PTSD Therapy
A study has found that PTSD patients with a larger hippocampus–a region of the brain key to distinguishing between safety and threat–are more likely to respond to exposure-based therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In this study, the researchers examined the relationship between hippocampus volume, measured with MRI, and response to treatment in 50 participants with PTSD and 36 trauma-exposed healthy controls. The participants were evaluated at baseline and after 10 weeks, during which time the PTSD group had prolonged exposure therapy, a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that has been shown to help patients with PTSD discriminate between real and imagined trauma.   Read more . . .

Brain size and PTSD Therapy

Worst Charity for Veterans Run by VA Employee
At first glance, the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is a roaring success. According to its tax filings, the charity has received more than $29 million in donations from generous Americans from 2010 to 2014 for what it calls on its website “aiding, supporting and benefiting America’s veterans and their families.”  But look a little closer on those same filings and you can see that nearly all of those donations have been cycled back to telemarketers, leaving less than 2 percent for actual veterans and veterans’ charitable causes.   Read more . . .

How Congress and the VA Left Many Veterans without a ‘Choice’
NPR — together with member stations from across the country — has been reporting on troubles with the Veterans Choice program, a $10 billion plan created by Congress two years ago to squash long wait times veterans were encountering when going to see a doctor. But as we reported in March, this fix needs a fix.  Around the nation, our joint reporting project — called Back at Base — has found examples of these problems. Emily Siner of Nashville Public Radio reported on troubles with overcrowding in Tennessee. And Monday, we reported on hospitals and doctors not getting paid in Montana and veterans getting snarled in the phone systems trying to make appointments in North Carolina.  Read more . . .

If you want to support our brave Veterans reclaim their lives, do consider a donation to SFTT

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Prescription Drug Abuse Hits Center Stage

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Veterans have known for quite some time that something was amiss at the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA’) with their “go-to” promotion of prescription pain-killers to treat PTSD.

There are countless well-documented stories of extreme behavior changes – including suicide – of “over-served” Veterans that were provided a lethal cocktail prescription drugs by VA doctors.

A number of Veterans interviewed by SFTT indicated that they simply “flushed the drugs down the toilet,” while many others reported that there was a thriving black market for pain medication.    In quite a few cases, Veterans were reported to sell VA-prescribed pain medication to others to feed other substance-abuse habits or simply to support their family.

Homeless Veteran with PTSD

Using US government statistics, CNN provides these alarming statistics on prescription drug abuse for the general public:

Death from prescription opioid overdose has quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that in 2014, about 15 million people in the United States older than 12 were non-medical users of pain relievers. On the agency’s website, it offers a behavioral health treatment services locator where individuals can type in their ZIP code and get directions to treatment centers in their community.

In fact, the CNN article goes on to suggest that Veterans should call  the Veterans Crisis Line which directs veterans and their loved ones to “qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hot line”: 1-800-273-8255, option 1.

Stand for The Troops (“SFTT”) has featured this Veteran Hot Line number prominently on its website for quite some time as well as other useful treatment options that Veterans or their loved ones may wish to consider.

In fact, I found it somewhat surprising that the CDC (Center for Controlled Diseases) should announce that “medical errors are the third largest cause of death in the U.S.” after cancer and heart disease.    The timing of this release over the public uproar of prescription drug abuse seems suspicious.

If we add “medical errors” and deaths attributed to “prescription drugs” together, one could argue that visiting a doctor is hazardous to your health.

It would be totally unreasonable and a specious assault on the integrity of the medical profession to suggest that malpractice and an undo reliance on prescription pain-killers is evidence of a medical profession that is out of control.

Clearly, more “good” is being done by the medical profession than “bad,” but it seems clear that individuals need to take more responsibility for the drugs they are ingesting.    In fact, our school system seems to have it right with their “Just Say No” campaign to cut back on drug addiction and substance abuse in general.

Just Say No

Veterans with PTSD and Treatment Alternatives

While the VA has often been singled out by SFTT and others – most notably by the GAO – for chronic mismanagement of Veteran care, most would acknowledge that this huge organization does a reasonable job to support our Veterans.

Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that the VA has been over-reliant on prescription drugs to treat Veterans with PTSD and publicly dismissive on other alternative treatment therapies recommended by third-party providers that conflict with their own treatment methodologies.

With substance abuse now rampant throughout the United States and fueled by a lackadaisical approach by an unsuspecting public and unscrupulous medical practitioners, it seems high time that the VA begin to encourage Veterans to seek alternative treatments that seem to provide better patient outcomes.

Indeed, SFTT lists a number of alternative treatments under its Rescue Coalition that provides community-based programs to Veterans without the dependency on addictive pain-killers.  Isn’t this the way forward?

The VA should take the lead in both nurturing and encouraging the  growth of these programs rather than rely on dated and stale practices which continue to rely on prescription drugs.

Samples of alternative treatments abound.  In fact, in a recent New York Times report, Dr. Denzil Hawkinberry, an anesthesiologist and pain management consultant for Community Care in West Virginia, imposes very rigorous standards on who should be prescribed opioids.  Perhaps, the VA could take a page out of Dr. Hawkinberry’s book and dial back the use of prescription drugs in favor of other treatment methodologies.

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SFTT News: Week of May 13, 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 our 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.

New U.S. Commander in Afghanistan
After 18 months in command during a period of military and political conflict, General Campbell handed off on Wednesday to Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. of the United States Army. The new commander, who leads a force of about 13,000, will oversee NATO’s reduced mission of training and assisting the Afghan forces at a time when the Taliban insurgency has spread wider than at any point since the group was removed from power in 2001.  Read more . . .

SFTTAfghan_village_patrol

DoD buys Faulty Drones that Failed Testing
U.S. Special Operations Command bought dozens of hand-launched drones that failed military tests and may not be able to meet mission requirements in the harsh environments they were designed for, according to a newly released report from the Defense Department’s inspector general.  Read more . . .

Donald Trump Adviser Signals Change to Veteran Health Benefits
Donald Trump says the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health-care system is badly broken, and this week his campaign released some guidelines that would steer changes he would implement if he wins the presidency.  While short on details, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would likely push VA health care toward privatization and might move for it to become more of an insurance provider like Medicare rather than an integrated hospital system, said Sam Clovis, Mr. Trump’s chief policy adviser, in an interview.  Read more . . .

Veteran EMT Support Act Passes Congress
Today (May 12), the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1818, the Veterans EMT Support Act, by a vote of 415 to 1. The legislation assists military medic veterans to efficiently transition their military medical training into the civilian workforce and addresses the shortage of emergency medical technicians in states.  This has been a key legislative priority of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT), as well as other national and state EMS organizations. H.R. 1818 directs the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a demonstration program for states with a shortage of emergency medical technicians to develop a streamlined transition program for trained military medics to meet state EMT licensure requirements.   Read more . . .

A Brief History of Opioid Abuse:  Courtesy of CNN
The abuse of opioids, including prescription painkillers and drugs like heroin, is something the United States has struggled with since before the 1900s. But it’s a problem that keeps coming back.  Now, federal agencies are trying to tackle the problem in different ways. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain, part of an effort to push doctors to prescribe pain medications responsibly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that immediate-release opioid painkillers such as oxycodone and fentanyl will now have to carry a “black box” warning about the risk of abuse, addiction, overdose and death.   Read more . . .


Memory Manipulation to Treat PTSD?
Imagine if memory could be tuned in such a way where good memories are enhanced for those suffering from dementia or bad memories are wiped away for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder. A Stony Brook University research team has taken a step toward the possibility of tuning the strength of memory by manipulating one of the brain’s natural mechanisms for signaling involved in memory, a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Their findings are published in the journal Neuron.   Read more . . .

If you want to support our brave Veterans reclaim their lives, do consider a donation to SFTT.

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Opiate Abuse Mounts: Veterans in Crossfire

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The tragic death of Prince appears to have been an overdose of opioids designed to relieve pain.  While we are still awaiting toxicology reports, it does appear the Prince has suffered from excruciating pain for quite some time and was taking ever-increasing amounts of pain-killers to deal with this problem.

Prince

At this stage, it is unclear that these drugs were prescribed or that he was self-medicating with drugs obtained illicitly.   In fact, some argue that Prince did not die from pain pills but from chronic pain.

Whatever is determined to be the final cause of Prince’s death, it is abundantly clear that Prince was in great pain and that he took a variety of addictive drugs to help him deal with this problem.

You don’t have to stray far to see that addiction to pain-killers has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.  In fact, in late March President Obama called attention to this growing problem by saying the following:

“When you look at the staggering statistics, in terms of lives lost, productivity impacted, costs to communities, but most importantly cost to families from this epidemic of opioid abuse, it has to be something that is right up there at the top of our radar screen,” Obama said at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.

The epidemic is a rising issue in U.S. politics that has found its way into the presidential campaign. Both of the front-running candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, have been confronted on the campaign trail by ordinary people affected by drug abuse, and have responded with widely disparate strategies to confront the problem. The Obama administration has meanwhile proposed a dramatic increase in federal spending, to about $1.5 billion in fiscal 2017, for addiction treatment and other measures to stem the epidemic.

“Today, we are seeing more people killed because of opioid overdose than traffic accidents,” Obama said.

“We’re taking a number of steps, but frankly we’re still under-resourced,” Obama added. “I think the public doesn’t fully appreciate yet the scope of the problem.”

While the general public may not be aware of the problem, Veterans and our military leaders are well aware of the devastating consequences of taking prescription drugs to deal with PTSD and other brain-related traumas.

veterans with ptsd opioids

Stand For The Troops has been reporting for years on the effects of prescribing potentially lethal combinations to Veterans with PTSD.    Even the FDA is concerned as evidenced by their recent initiative to seek tighter controls on the use of prescription drugs.

Clearly, prescription drugs can play an important role in helping Veterans cope with the symptoms of PTSD, but it should now be obvious that prolonged use of opioids or other addictive pain-killers is not a long-term solution that will benefit Veterans.

Nevertheless, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) continues to drag their feet on providing Veterans with access to other less dangerous treatment alternatives.

The VA can continue to stonewall this problem claiming “lack of resources,” or “lack of clinical evidence” for alternative treatments, but the continued use of haze-inducing opiates is certainly not the answer our Veterans expect nor deserve.

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Gut Check for Veterans with PTSD

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The search to help Veterans and active duty military personnel cope with Post Traumatic Stress (“PTS” or “PTSD”) continues to attract much attention from within the scientific community and alternative medicine pundits.

It seems that almost weekly some promising new cure to treat Veterans with PTSD appears on mainstream media, with the caveat that “it will take years” to prove its efficacy.  Must our Veterans wait so long?

While many doubt the efficacy of holistic medicine and practices that date back centuries in the Far East, the Western medical profession now agrees that bacteria from our digestive system may offer potential benefits in combating stress.

Bacteria to treat Veterans with PTSD?

In an article published by Science.mic entitled “The Military Wants to Cure Soldiers of PTSD by Hacking their Gut Bacteria,” researchers found

. . .  a means to improve the smaller mice’s moods: by feeding them the same bacteria found in the poop of the bigger, calmer mice. Subsequent brain scans showed the smaller mice’s moods improved significantly.

Past research has shown similar results. One 2015 study found that probiotics in fermented food — such as sauerkraut and yogurt — change the bacterial environment in the gut, which in turn affects our anxiety levels.

Indeed, these scientific “revelations” are hardly new to those remotely familiar to Traditional Chinese Medicine.  In fact, the New York Times reported some time ago that:

It has long been known that much of our supply of neurochemicals — an estimated 50 percent of the dopamine, for example, and a vast majority of the serotonin — originate in the intestine, where these chemical signals regulate appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion.

For centuries, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been using a variety of techniques including acupuncture, reflexology and herbs to reduce stress and treat stress-related disorders.

While I have no idea how these “new”  scientific studies will pan out in the long run, it seems to me that stress-related injury is not new and that societies all over the world have been treating “stress” for centuries.

While I am not advocating that the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) drop its reliance on prescription drugs to manage the symptoms of PTSD and embrace alternative medicine, it does seem disingenuous, if not foolish, to ignore the benefits of other treatment programs.

SFTT has long been supportive of several programs to treat Veterans with PTSD that have been shown to provide positive short and medium term benefits to Veterans.  In particular, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (“HBOT”) is regularly used by the Israel Defense Forces (“IDF”) to treat military personnel for PTSD.

Sadly, the VA claims that their own tests on the efficacy of HBOT are inconclusive.

Many more examples of the intransigence of the VA can be cited, but with Veteran suicides at 22 a day and with well over 20% of returning Veterans showing symptoms of PTSD or TBI, one must ask whether the leadership of the VA is doing what is necessary to support the men and women who have served our country so valiantly.

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SFTT News: Week of April 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 our 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.

DEA approves Marijuana Study for Veterans with PTSD
Drug regulators said it would never happen, but now the DEA has approved the first ever marijuana study for veterans with PTSD.  It’s a groundbreaking decision and a major shift in policy for the DEA.  The Colorado Health Department is helping with the cost of the study. It’s paying more than $2 million in grant money.  Seventy-six veterans will be involved in the first round of testing next month.   Read more . . .

ptsd

States Step in to Help Traumatized Veterans
A staggering share of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been returning home with mental illnesses brought on by their time overseas. But as hundreds of thousands struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, many are going without the help they need, which is prompting several states to step in. State officials say they are trying to bridge what they see as gaps in services provided by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, whose medical centers have been plagued by mismanagement, often face lengthy backlogs and can be located far from rural communities.   Read more . . .

 Veteran helps Camp Hope in Houston
Camp Hope provides interim housing for veterans and their families suffering from combat-related post-traumatic stress. I’ve personally worked there as a Comcast technician, helping to set up computers in their facility, and I see what they do and how they impact the community for veterans who come out of the military with PTSD challenges. Every year we lose so many to PTSD, and how fortunate it is that we have a place like Camp Hope here in Houston to take them in, house them, feed them, and support them.   Read more . . .

Cyber Warfare

US Targets ISIS with “Cyber-Bombs”
The Islamic State has been deft in its use of the Internet as a communications tool. ISIS has long leveraged social media to spread propaganda and even coordinate targets for attacks, using an ever-shifting collection of social media accounts for recruitment and even to call for attacks on individuals ISIS leaders have designated as enemies. But the organization’s efforts to build a sophisticated internal “cyber army” to conduct information warfare against the US and other powers opposing it have thus far been fragmented and limited in their effectiveness—and more often than not they’ve been more propaganda than substance.  Read more . . .

Groups Sue Department of Veteran Affairs on Water Claims
Three groups have sued the Department of Veterans Affairs over the agency’s handling of claims about contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. The lawsuit says between 1953 and 1987 nearly one million Marines, sailors, civilian employees and family members unknowingly used contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.  Read more . . .

Cpt._Kristen_Griest

U.S. Army’s First Female Infantry Officer
Capt. Kristen M. Griest, one of two women who graduated from the Army’s Ranger School last summer, became the first woman named as an infantry officer Monday.“Like any other officer wishing to branch-transfer, Capt. Griest applied for an exception to Army policy to transfer from military police to infantry,” Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning spokesman Bob Purtiman said. “Her transfer was approved by the Department of the Army, and she’s now an infantry officer.”The Army Times was first to report the move. The paper reported that Griest, a West Point graduate, is expected to graduate on Thursday with the distinctive blue infantry cord.  Read more . . .

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Treating PTSD: An Evolving Science

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War produces many unforeseen consequences.  Not all of these “consequences” are detected – let alone understood – at the time they occur, but the long term effect can be quite unsettling to society for many years after a “war” has ended.

While it has long been known that trauma occurring in combat  can create radical changes in a person’s behavior, it has only been in the last few years that behavioral scientists and those in the medical profession have actively been identifying and studying the effects of Post Traumatic Stress (commonly referred to as “PTSD” for combat veterans from our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Veterans with PTSD - War in Afghanistan

In fact, in an article published in the Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health, they report that:

Military personnel experiencing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering wounds that are much greater in number and variety than those endured by veterans of earlier wars. This circumstance is due, in part, to advances in medical science and technology. Soldiers, sailors and  marines who suffered such severe wounds in earlier wars simply died because they were beyond the reach of then contemporary medicine or technology.

In addition, in earlier wars, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome was not even given a name, let alone recognized as a valid form of war-related casualty. Now, PTSD is thoroughly documented and a whole array of treatments are available to veterans of the Iraqi and Afghan Wars. Friedman (2006) summarized PTSD symptoms as being typified by numbing, evasion, hyper-vigilance, and re-experiencing of disturbing incidents via flashbacks. Veterans and other non-combatant participants in war who have outlived traumatic experiences typically suffer from PTSD.    Read more . . .

Given their own particular situation, many reading this article may disagree with the premise it is only recently that PTSD is now recognized as a “valid form of war-related casualty.”  Nevertheless, the public at large has little knowledge of the terrible toll that PTSD and TBI have on our Veterans and their loved ones.

As I reported last week in a column entitled “What the Greeks Knew About PTSD,” I highlighted some of the current literature that casts light on the symptoms of PTSD and possible therapy programs.

If the general public “buys into the silver bullet” therapy afforded by self-serving soundbites, you can rest assured that our politicians and administrators of VA and DoD programs will most likely conclude that they have the problem well in hand.

Quite the contrary is true, considering the number of Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI demanding access to new treatment methodologies.    Sadly, coverage for inexpensive treatments such as Hyperbaric Oxygen (“HBOT”) and “service dogs” are currently being denied Veterans because the VA has yet to prove their efficacy.

Fortunately, independent organizations have seized the initiative and are now actively providing alternative therapy programs to help Veterans and their loved ones cope with the terrible consequences of PTSD.

In fact, many of these self-help programs have been going on for years.  For instance, the Veteran Treatment Court provides Veterans facing jail-time the opportunity to recover their life by going “drug-free” for two years and gain a high school diploma.  Their mentors in these Court-sanctioned programs is often a Vietnam Vet who has faced similar demons from a war fought decades ago.

The camaraderie of military Veterans is, in my opinion, critical in building self-sustaining communities of trust as Veterans seek to reclaim their lives.

We are still a long way to being able to provide our brave Veterans and active duty personnel the support they deserve.  However, I sense that there is growing frustration by Veterans and the public at large that our political institutions – particularly the VA – lack the commitment to bring about meaningful change.

Frankly, if our politicians are willing to commit brave young men and women into harm’s way, the least we can expect from our elected leaders is the commitment that they will be properly cared for when they return home.  Other than sound-bites, this commitment is currently lacking.

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