Veterans with PTSD: The VA Way or the Highway

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

Department of Veterans Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

FAKE NEWS from the VA on Veterans with PTSD

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

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

– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”)and,

– Prolonged Exposure Therapy (“PET”).

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

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

REALITY CHECK at the VA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding a Middle Ground for Veterans with PTSD?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Secretary Rumsfeld responsible for the lack of military leadership?

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As an Army 2nd Lt stationed at the Pentagon during the Viet Nam war, I still vividly recall the military brass scrambling to deal with one crisis after another while pretending that they were in control of a war that had already been largely lost. With Robert McNamara at the helm, competent military leaders were replaced by faceless  bureaucrats who were more adept at tabulating body counts than combat itself. Working at the Pentagon during that period was a surreal experience and one that has no doubt contributed to a somewhat cynical attitude toward our military leadership.

The emergence of Secretary Rumsfeld as spokesperson for the Iraq War reignited this cynicism as evidenced by his response to an young enlisted man requesting better protective gear: “You go to war with the Army you have – not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”  Many consider this to be a public admission that Rumsfeld was far more interested in military tech toys and hardware than the troops that were fielding this equipment.  Human resources – our frontline troops – were seen as little more than just another military asset to be deployed in  a way to support the overall mission as defined by our military leadership. In other words, how much firepower or protective gear does a soldier need to accomplish the mission the military leadership has set forth for them? With this vague philosophy and “value judgement”, our military leadership can justify providing our young men and women with  “adequate” equipment rather than the “best” equipment to have a chance to survive combat.

No where is this more evident than the US Army’s blatant disregard for the safety of our frontline troops in its testing and procurement practices for body armor. In October 2009, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a 110 page report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed before Fielding.” This devastating report proved conclusively what many had been saying for years: Army and DOD test procedures were flawed and overwhelmingly skewed in favor of contractors rather than our brave young men and women serving in combat areas. Read senior investigative reporter Roger Charles’ insightful analysis of the GAO report on body armor on the Soldiers for The Truth.

The Soldiers for the Truth Foundation (“SFTT”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit Educational Foundation established by the late Col. David H. Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England to insure that our frontline troops have the best available leadership, equipment and training. In the past four-plus years SFTT’S active campaign has focused on ensuring America’s frontline troops get the best available individual protective equipment and combat gear.

Thanks to the persistent efforts of organizations like SFTT and concerned Americans, our military may soon get the leadership our troops deserve.

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US Needs Military Leaders Who Make Waves

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Was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the only one in the Pentagon that helped propel the American war in Iraq into disaster? While many have also pointed fingers at the White House, there are more profound sources of the problems. Congress should look deeper, such as at the three- and four-star Army commanders, who have much to explain. Straus Military Reform Project  Adviser Col. Douglas Macgregor (U.S. Army, Ret.) explains in a commentary published by Defense News this week. This commentary by Douglas Macgregor was originally published by Defense News on Nov. 13, 2006.

By Douglas Macgregor

Iraq is disintegrating to the point where the Bush administration can no longer conceal the truth that American ground forces are islands of impotence in a sea of sectarian violence and civil war.  In fact, the climate of hatred against Americans cultivated by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and his division commanders, generals who transformed a minor insurgency in the summer of 2003 into an Arab rebellion against the American military presence in April 2004, has now spread to the Shiite south.

How did this happen? In his book, “Fiasco,” Tom Ricks explains that generals steeped in a military culture that exalts masses of men and firepower used a meat cleaver when a scalpel was needed — a strategic catastrophe from which American policy in Iraq has never recovered.  At the center of this tragedy stands Gen. John Abizaid, presented three years ago to the American public as the general fluent in Arabic with the perfect military resume.

Years of sterling service in the light infantry of the peacetime garrison Army earned Abizaid universal approval from the influential community of retired four stars, the men who selected all of the generals commanding in Iraq since the war began. For the Bush defense team, he seemed like the perfect choice.  Yet, when Abizaid took command in the summer of 2003, he did nothing to change the destructive pattern of raids, checkpoints and intrusive patrols, actions that created far more enemies among the Arabs than they killed or incarcerated. 

His response to the shameful revelation of Abu Ghraib was tepid. Sanchez and his generals escaped accountability. When Fallujah exploded in April of 2004, providing Abizaid with a tailor-made opportunity to dominate the enemy psychologically, Abizaid advised inaction.  Then, in the summer of 2004, in an unprecedented move, another four-star general, George Casey, was assigned to command in Iraq, effectively giving Abizaid political cover. Still in overall command, Abizaid could either deny responsibility or claim credit, depending on changing conditions.

To date, other than holding seminars on Arab culture for visiting members of Congress and the administration, it’s hard to know what decisive action Abizaid has taken. Insisting that Americans allegedly win all the battles despite the daily U.S. death toll, and, in 2006, that Iraq is on the verge of civil war are patronizing statements of the obvious. What can be said of Abizaid is that he is an intelligent, hard-working person, anxious not to offend anyone, especially his superiors. And therein lies the problem.

Frustrated with generals who were unable to win a single battle in the first years of World War II, Britain’s Winston Churchill wrote angrily to the chief of the Imperial General Staff, “We must not confine appointments to high command to men whose careers have excited no hostile comment.”  Churchill knew his defeated generals were amiable men who made no waves. Eventually, he axed most of them and Britain’s situation changed.

Unfortunately, during the Vietnam War, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara did not embrace Churchill’s philosophy. Taking the generals provided by the military’s system of cronyism, Johnson and McNamara simply elevated the most sycophantic officers to four-stars, men willing to be media props for their civilian masters in return for further promotion and reward in lucrative civilian jobs after retirement.

Sadly, President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chose the path of Johnson and McNamara, and that has made all the difference.  Tactical blunders have strategic consequences and the generals have blundered badly in Iraq. In war, military strategy is supposed to reduce the probability of armed conflict, to persuade those who might fight not to fight, and when necessary, to win at the least cost in lives and treasure. In Iraq, the top generals achieved the opposite outcome.

Democrats, celebrating their control of Congress, should be thorough and judicious in their investigations of why the military occupation of Iraq has gone so terribly wrong.  They should question the accepted wisdom of the retired and active four stars that flooding Muslim Arab Iraq with hundreds of thousands of Christian Europeans in U.S. and U.K. uniform would somehow have salvaged the disastrous decision to govern Iraq with American soldiers and Marines.And they should embrace the critical need for military reform to establish a professional system of general officer selection that rewards character, competence and intelligence, not just compliance with bad ideas in return for promotion.

But whatever the Democrats do, they should reject the current schoolboy excuse we hear from active and retired generals that “Rumsfeld made me do it.”  Douglas Macgregor is a retired U.S. Army colonel, decorated combat veteran and author of books on military reform.  He writes for the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, Washington. Author(s): Col. (Ret.) Douglas A. Macgregor, USA

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