SFTT Mourns Retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore

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LTG Hal Moore

Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”) is mourning the passing of Lieutenant General (ret.) Hal Moore. Every generation shares its own greatest men and women and LTG Moore was one of them. He is best known for his combat leadership as the commander of 1-7 Cavalry in 1965 Battle of Ia Drang memorialized in the movie We Were Soldiers where Moore was played by actor Mel Gibson. LTG Moore spent his life in the service of his Nation and the the men and women who served with him.

He was a member of the SFTT advisory board and we will continue honor him through serving in our mission to help our service members and veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of TBI and PTSD.

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Archi’s Acres: Promoting Veteran Wellness through Sustainable Agriculture

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Archi’s Acres has long been at the forefront of sustainable agricultural programs that promote Veteran wellness.  Stand For The Troops is proud to support their endeavors which allows Veterans to gain a valuable and self-sustaining education in farming.

Karen and Colin Archipley of Archi's Acres

Karen and Colin Archipley of Archi’s Acres

Found below are excerpts from a letter from Karen Archipley which explains Archi’s Acres programs in more detail:

“My name is Karen Archipley and I am a Co-Founder of Archi’s Acres, B Corp and Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture – and our accredited venture with Cal Poly Pomona (a college member of the California university system).

 “As a military family, when my husband Colin Archipley returned from his third tour in Iraq, our farm became his career and next place of service.    When he came to his End of Service, so many of the men he served with were re-enlisting due to not being able to find gainful employment.  Our farm model had proved out already in 2007 to almost equal Colin’s income just with a small greenhouse growing basil (which is what we are known for).    We had our first Veteran on the farm in July 2007; to date we have now trained over 450 students.

“When they graduate it marks day one of our extended relationship as we not only train them, we help identify employment and other business opportunities.  Additionally, they can review what they learned studying with us whenever they need to. We also have quite a few homeless veterans come through our program and for many we have been able to then connect them with farms where they now manage orchards, groves etc and have their own quarters on those farms.

“One story is Paul N. who came through our program last year.  He was very enthusiastic about organic farming to the point that we hired him as our Field Instructor for Lab Hours.  As we got to know him better, we found out that he was living in many of his classmates garages, couch surfing.  We were able to connect him with an 8 acre Apple Orchard looking for someone to take over their management and willing to train him in Apples.  They also offered him a 3 bedroom house on the property that the retiring manager was soon to move out of.   Or a studio apartment next door.  Paul is now a full member on that farm and has been there almost a year.   The 85 year old past manager took him under his wing to teach Apples and now the owner is helping him to purchase the land next door and together they are building a cidery on the property.   He is fully employed with a future.    Paul spends his holidays with us (for the second year) and now has a girlfriend with a child and they are excited to be moving into the 3 bedroom house.   This is just one of many stories.

“The grants that are currently needed ($13,500 for the class) are also compelling stories:  One such is Sarah H, who is still active duty, Sarah came to our program from Florida and had hoped to use her GI BILL, but due to shocking local bureaucracy nitpicking was not able to use it – even though Washington ruled she could.   Usually we would have had to turn her away to wait for another class until we could find a grant, but Sarah’s situation was different, she had found out about class while stationed in Florida.   She worked out with her command that due to her End of Service being in January, they would allow her to move with her two small children and her mother who she was taking care of after a surgery to North Carolina, their family land. Her Battalion deployed right after to Japan where they are still.   When the bureaucratic problem happened with the GI BILL, had we not allowed her to take the class, Sarah would have had 48 hours to be back in Florida with her family or would have been considered AWOL.  She also would have returned to a different command, which can be a challenging situation when there’s no history and where it could have been seen as special treatment for her to be allowed to come to us in the first place.

“Because of my husband’s service, we more than understand and therefore would NEVER allow that to happen.  Instead, we both let her take the class and took the responsibility for her financial debt.   Please know we are a very small farm and when we do not have grants for these students it comes right out of our basil income – which is how we live.

“As you consider donating to Stand For The Troops to assist our students, I wanted to let you know how much that means to us and tell you the story of those students who are so worthy of supporting. Your donation to Stand For The Troops goes 100% to the students via Cal Poly Pomona for tuition.  Stand For The Troops is our absolute Champion in assisting students!

“Please know if you are in a position to help, it means so much for so many.   For 2016 we actually still owe $13,500.   We offer follow up for all our graduates if you would like to follow their stories.  If willing for next year, $30,000 would help 10 students with partial grants, which really makes a difference in their lives.”

During this holiday season, do consider our Veterans and help them build a future in sustainable farming.  If you would like to contribute to their education, please CLICK HERE so SFTT can continue to support these vital programs.

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Interceptor Body Armor: End of a Chapter, Stench Remains

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A colleague at Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) sent me an email a few days ago informing me that David H. Brooks, the founder and former chief executive of DHB Industries, died on Thursday at the age of 61 in a prison in Danbury, CT.

david brooks and co

David Brooks and co-defendant Sandra Hatfield, photo source unknown

Convicted in 2010 of insider trading and “fraudulently enriching himself” with company funds, Mr. Brooks was a contractor who supplied bullet-resistant vests and other body armor to the military and other law enforcement agencies.   In particular,  DHB Industries and its successor, Point Blank Industries, supplies Interceptor Body Armor to the U.S. Army.

Interceptor Body Armor

My colleague has been following this tragic story for approximately ten years from the perspective of “boots on the ground” who rely on government-issued protective gear to insure their safety.

As readers of SFTT are aware, senior U.S. Army officials have consistently claimed that the U.S. has “the best body armor in the world” and that there have been no battlefield fatalities as a result of defective body armor.

Of course, none of these outrageous claims are true, but the U.S. Army apparently went one step further arguing that medical and survivor benefits might be withheld if personnel were wounded or died if they were not wearing mandated government-issued body armor.

There have been many GAO and IG reports condemning flawed testing procedures by the military on body armor, but little was done to correct these deviations from well-established testing protocols.   After the stench of incompetence and, perhaps corruption, could no longer be contained, in 2009 the military brass decided to kick the process into a higher sphere of bureaucratic red tape: the National Research Council.

Since then, there have been periodic recalls of defective ceramic plates, despite repeated claims by the military brass that “the recalled plates have passed all ballistic tests so Soldiers who may have been using the plates were always properly protected.”   Clearly, if the ballistic tests were flawed (and they were), then it follows that our Soldiers were not adequately protected.

In fact, for any military officer in authority to assert that that our troops were “properly protected” despite repeated IG and GAO claims to the contrary should – in my opinion – be Court-martialed.

Of course, we know that will not be the case as subsequent actions by the Beltway spin-doctors showed.

Roger Charles, editor of SFTT,  filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to have the autopsy records released on 103 military personnel who had sustained fatal wounds to the torso.  Some of these bodies were shipped back with their body armor strongly suggesting that the body armor was flawed.

Although Mr. Charles received a favorable ruling by a Federal Judge to have the records released in 2010, those records continue to remain secret as a result of continued legal gymnastics by Defense Department lawyers.  Ir is unlikely that these records will be released anytime soon.

As someone who has served in the military, I find it difficult to believe that our military leaders would expose the brave young men and women in uniform to hostile fire without the best possible protective gear.   Sure, everyone knows that military equipment may sometimes be compromised, but we would expect after action follow-up to insure that improvements are made to improve reliability.

In the case of Interceptor Body Armor, I find little evidence of a sincere effort by military leaders to deal with this problem.  Rather than face up to faulty test procedures and clear evidence of deficiencies in the body armor, our Beltway military leaders tried to spin a tale to convince Congress, the public and the men and women who serve our country that they were wearing the best protective gear.

These frauds know it was a lie. Anyone with common sense knows it is a lie. Many serving in harm’s way knew it was a lie.   Frankly, continued denial by our military leaders that consciously misled our troops on the effectiveness of body armor disqualifies them from a position of leadership.   You know who you are.

Now, you can continue to deny responsibility in the coverup, but try explaining your complicity to grieving family members who have lost a loved one through your gross incompetence and lies.

While Mr. Brooks death in prison closes one chapter in this painful saga, the stench of self-serving incompetence, dishonesty and possibly corruption continues to foul the air.

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SFTT News: Week of June 17, 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.

Protests to U.S. Military Presence in Okinawa
Tens of thousands of people on Okinawa protested Sunday against the presence of U.S. military bases on the Japanese island, many wearing black to mourn the rape and killing of a local woman in which an American contractor is a suspect.  Read more . . .

VA from SFTT

VA Gets Third Benefits Chief in Less than a Year
The acting head of the Veterans Benefits Administration is retiring, leaving the position he has held since his predecessor left under a cloud in 2015. Danny Pummill, a retired Army colonel who joined the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2010, had planned to retire in 2015 but stayed on as acting undersecretary of benefits after his predecessor resigned last October, VA said in a statement. Allison Hickey called it quits after a long period of criticism from lawmakers and veterans organizations, most recently for allowing VA senior executives to move into jobs that they reportedly coerced others leave.  Read more . . .

Iraqi Forces Reportedly Retake Fallujah
Iraqi special forces swept into Fallujah on Friday, recapturing most of the city as the Islamic State group’s grip crumbled after weeks of fighting. Thousands of trapped residents took advantage of the militants’ retreat to flee, some swimming across the Euphrates River to safety.   Read more . . .

Shrinking US Military is Here
Every year at this time, we see the same kind of headlines: “U.S. biggest military spender in the world.” They’re are all based on the release of the global military spending database, an annual report compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).  What the headlines usually miss is that U.S. defense spending is going down while global military spending is going up. The fact that the U.S. spends more on defense than any other individual nation dramatically misses the point.  Read more . . .

Syrian President Assad Discusses Military Support with Russia
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to discuss “military cooperation” in Syria’s conflict, a bone of contention between Moscow and Washington.  Shoigu was sent by President Vladimir Putin for the unannounced meeting with Moscow’s long-time ally Assad on Saturday, the Syrian state news agency SANA said.  Read more . . .

Post Traumatic Stress on Veterans
Here’s a frightening statistic: Every day, some 22 American heroes take their own lives because of the stresses they experienced on the battlefield. Many more don’t seek treatment and find their lives spiraling out of control.  “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft will host “Combat Stress: Finding the Way Home,” a special radio hour exploring the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on our nation’s veterans to be broadcast during Memorial Day weekend.  Read more . . .

Sebastian Junger Draft Proposal:  Non-combat options
Junger avoids proposing a comprehensive solution to the problem he presents in “Tribe.” But he told Military.com in an interview this month that one possible way to build a more cohesive society might be to create a different kind of draft: one in which some form of national service is mandatory for all eligible citizens, but the military is only one of several service choices, along with options like the Peace Corps and urban improvement projects.  Read more . . .

PTSDcanna

New Jersey Assembly Passes Legislation on Treating PTSD with Marijuana
The Assembly on Thursday passed legislation to allow qualified New Jersey residents with post-traumatic stress disorder to get medical marijuana treatment. The Democrat-led Assembly voted 55-14, with seven abstentions, sending the bill to the Senate for consideration.  Read more . . .

 

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SFTT News: Week of Apr 11, 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.

sftt_soldier

Military Families Moved Out of Turkey
The U.S. military has ordered military family members to evacuate southern Turkey, primarily from Incirlik Air Base, due to security concerns, the Pentagon said Tuesday.  Family members will also be evacuated from facilities in Izmir and Mugla, according to a Pentagon statement.  Read more . . .

Gen. Lori Robinson appointed First Woman Commander
President Barack Obama intends to nominate the first female combatant commander in the military’s history, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Friday. Carter announced that he had recommended Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson to be appointed to lead U.S. Northern Command while speaking at a breakfast hosted by Politico.   Read more . . .

It Could be Worse:  How About the Canadian VA
In case you lost all hope in the Department of Veterans Affairs in the United States, just know it could be much worse. Take Canada for example.  Despite the fact that people have not evolved to grow new limbs in place of lost ones, a legless, Canadian master corporal named Paul Franklin must provide adequate proof of his status to his country’s VA annually.  Read more . . .

How to Prevent Army’s Brain Drain
On November 18, 2015, Defense Secretary spoke at George Washington University and laid out a series of initiatives focused on talent management within the services. Talent management has developed into a major concern of the Army as junior officers are leaving the Army at an alarming rate. A 2012 Rand study found that only 44% of West Point commissioned officers and 51% of Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) commissioned officers stay past their required eight years of service. Historically, junior officer retention has never been high, but the numbers from the Rand study show retention has reached all-time lows.   Read more . . .

The Challenges of Ranger School
The United States Army Ranger School is one of the most challenging military schools in the world.  It is the Army’s premier combat leadership and small unit tactics course.  For the last 12 years, only 49% of those who have attempted the course have succeeded.  Each month over 400 students arrive at Fort Benning, Georgia for their chance to face the toughest physical, mental, and emotional challenge they will likely ever encounter.  There is a reason Vietnam veteran and former Department of Military Instruction Director at the U.S. Military Academy COL Robert “Tex” Turner famously said, “I woke up in a cold sweat, I had a nightmare that I was still in Ranger School. Thank God that I was in Vietnam. Compared to Ranger School, combat was easy.”    Read more . . .

sftt-ptsd

Navy Seal Commander’s Suicide:  What did we learn?
In looking into the suicide of a Navy SEAL team commander, Job W. Price, during a deployment in late 2012, Times reporters learned more about the stresses on elite Special Operations troops, the stigma that many have felt about seeking help for mental health issues and what the military is trying to do to change that. Christopher Drew, one of the reporters who worked on the story, discusses these issues.   Read more . . .

Please bring other issues to our attention.  SFTT is looking for better ways to support the brave men and women who serve in harm’s way.

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SFTT Veterans Day Concert in NYC

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We are thrilled to announce that SFTT will be holding a benefit concert for Veterans on November 11 at the NY Society for Ethical Culture in NYC. Featuring talented artists such as Little Anthony, Bettye LaVette, The Manhattan Transfer, Michael Bacon and many more, this concert benefits our heroic veterans, serving soldiers and their families.

With a Special Guest Appearance by Judy Collins, who could ask for more?

Tickets to concert are in short supply, so get your Tickets Now by CLICKING HERE!

sftt_Poster

Join SFTT and this talented group of performers on Veterans Day to show support for deserving Veterans.

Again, tickets are going fast so please order your tickets now.

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Major Ben Richard’s at Bacon Brothers Concert

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Dear Friends,

Major Ben Richards New York Times

This is to reintroduce the amazing Major Ben Richards, a true hero for our time and an amazing American.  He led his men bravely and nobly in Iraq, then returned home only to have to continue fighting for his mental, physical and emotional health.  Which leads to my painful confession:  I read the NY Times – and first encountered Ben in a powerful op-ed piece by Nick Kristoff that spoke to the terrible truth:  22 Vets commit suicide every day.  I beg you to stop and think about it.  We are talking over 7300 American heroes a year killing themselves as a direct result of their service to our country.

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I read about Ben Richards; I quickly reached out to Ben as soon as HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen) expert Dr Paul Harch agreed to pro bono treatment for Ben; based upon the miracles I’d read that Dr Harch achieved in his self-financed clinical trials treating Vets, I had a very strong feeling he could and would help.

Ben wisely went off to New Orleans for immediate treatment – thanks here to both Dr Paul Harch and his wife Juliette Licarini as well as a group of New Orleans area West Pointers who answered our SFTT President General John Batiste’s plea for housing and ancillary support donations.

After two sets of 40 HBOT dives (plus about 8 more on an as need basis), Ben, as a result,  has begun to reclaim his function and his life to the point he can write about it below.

And in fact, he is joining John and me in Washington, DC on stage at GWU’s Lisner Auditorium next Saturday, March 22, at 7pm where General Pete Chiarelli, former Army Vice Chief of Staff, will present him with the Purple Heart for his invisible TBI wound at the beginning of an incredible show headlined by  the wonderful bluesy rock of The Bacon Brothers (Kevin and Michael Bacon) Band, super comic Jim Breuer’s zany lovable humor, and the talented gifts of Buskin (my adopted bro and show-runner) & Batteau, Bucky Pizzarelli & Ed Laub and Tom Prasada-Rao.

All volunteering to benefit SFTT’s lifesaving work!

Tickets are purposefully very reasonable – we want all our present and future friends and supporters and those who might need our help to join us.  And if price is an issue, please do get in touch with Maura at sftt.org and we’ll try to help.

Over,

Warrior’s Widow

An Update from Major Ben Richards

It is dark outside now. Farrah and I have completed another evening’s bedtime ritual of teeth brushing and story reading. Our four children are finally all in bed. I am in the room in our home appropriately labelled as a den. It is dark in here, too. The lights in the room are off. My computer screen is dimmed so that I can just make out the words as I type them. There is a lamp, but I only turn it on when necessary and then only as long as needed.

The most proximate reason this self-imposed blackout is necessary is the three windows on one wall of the room. In daytime these windows offer a therapeutic vista of the trees and flowering bushes that accessorize the front lawn, the fluttering American flag that garrisons a post over-watching the driveway and farther on the ubiquitous Iowan cornfields and the few houses and outbuildings on our semi-rural lane– a location where we selected to live because of its paucity of windows compared to a typical neighborhood. As daylight retreats, each evening the windows abandon their therapeutic role to assume a more pernicious part, picking at the lock to a disordered part of my mind where my demons lurk. The doctors call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTS). I call it Fear.

The problem is that at night I cannot see out of the windows but “they” can see in. “They” are sighting in for a headshot that will snuff out my life so quickly that I may never realize that I am dead. “They,” of course, do not exist. At least not today.  Not here.  The ordered part of my mind knows that, but there is a disordered part of my mind that I cannot convince. I have spent years working with professional assistance to persuade it, but that disordered part of me is still afraid.  Really afraid. A few times I have forced myself to stand in front of the window at night with the lights on in the room, silhouetted in the light for anyone to see, in a kind of self-imposed experimental exposure therapy. Like a game of chicken against myself. I always lose.  The sweat bears testimony.

They may not be here now, but I can assure you that years ago in a different place, they definitely were there.  It was a place where firefights were part of the daily commute, where there were more IEDs than STOP signs, more suicide bombers than taxi cabs, and wanna-be snipers pursued you with the persistence of a hunter stalking a prize buck.

I am not a particularly tough or brave person. A few years ago, I might have gone to great lengths to convince you otherwise, but I have had the privilege of knowing too many tough and brave men and women to now claim otherwise. One was my neighbor Vinny. A great man with a Puerto Rican heritage and a New York name, Vinny had served as a Force Recon Marine in Vietnam. Our adjacent homes backed into a few acres of woods. The occasional rain storm over the woods loosed the disordered, dark places in Vinny’s mind– unhealed by the decades– where the memories of mortal danger and survivor’s guilt mingled with images of monsoon-soaked woodlands.

Unlike Vinny, most of my traumatic experiences were set in the large cities of Baghdad and Baqubah. Woods and rain have no effect on me, but I struggle with windows. Every day for months I was surrounded by hundreds of windows, each a possible firing position for an al Qaeda or Jaysh al Mahdi terrorist. Almost every day we engaged in firefights with the often unseen insurgents behind those windows. So at night, safe in my own home, I still feel compelled to slink around the windows, often standing aside while closing a blind or curtain before moving across a room.

I admit to having been afraid before. There have been times when the my higher brain functions have been laid under siege by the nearby buzz of an angry swarm of AK near misses intermixed with the drumming staccato of machine gun fire against my Stryker’s armor and punctuated by the occasional sharp cracks of the high velocity bullets from Russian-made sniper rifles. Fear would begin to immobilize my limbs and freeze my ability to think.  For weeks after a suicide bomber exploded a sedan filled with explosives against my Stryker armored vehicle, I felt my knees weaken to the point of failure every time we drove past the site where the attack took place. Too many times I watched one of my troopers consumed within an explosive mushrooming pillar of burning black smoke and flame and been seized by the nauseating dread transmitted by the silence on the radio as I prayed for just one more miracle.

I was surprised to discover shortly after returning from Iraq that fear had found a way to follow me home. Fear had visited so often in Iraq that it had secured a foothold in my mind by disordering a part of my brain. The disordered parts of my brain still wanted me to be afraid of things– like windows– that the more ordered parts of my brain knew were no longer a threat. It didn’t help that a suicide bomber followed by another IED hit a few weeks later and had blown holes in my brain, severed neural pathways and substantially degraded my brain’s ability to deescalate the continuous onslaught of phantom threats.  A damaged brain left my mind unable to processes and evaluate the myriad of people and activities of daily life going on around me that the disordered part of my brain insisted were still threats.

Worse than the fear that accompanied personal danger was the terror I felt every time I heard the explosions of IEDs or rocket-propelled grenades followed by a rapid crescendo of small arms and machine gun fire indicating one of my platoons was in yet another firefight. I stare at the radio dreading a radio call reporting another one of my soldiers killed or wounded. The memories keep me awake late into the night when my non-visual senses come alert to intercept and evaluate every noise on guard against a threat lurking in the dark or the distant sound of battle.

My Troop occupied a small combat outpost. The concrete protective walls were not tall enough to block direct fire from every angle. The door of our home-made, plywood outhouse had several bullet holes in it. Mortar rounds occasionally landed inside the compound (fortunately the post was so small, most of them missed). At times we fought the enemy from our own walls.  We slept with weapons loaded and by our sides.

When fleeting sleep finally releases my mind from the battles of the past, the disordered parts of my mind create new ones to fight in my dreams. The scenery is pixelated by gruesome images I mentally recorded in Iraq. I have seen too many grotesque corpses.

There were the decomposing, decapitated victims of al Qaeda beheadings in Anbar. In Dora, there were the bloated bodies dumped in piles on the roadside and reeking in the summer heat. They were always discolored at the knuckles, knees and joints where the local Shiite militia/terrorists had used power drills to torture their victims in the basements of the neighborhood’s mosques before finally applying the drill to victims’ temples for the life-ending cut. In the upscale Baghdad neighborhood of  Adhamiya, there was a young man on the street in Baghdad with three bullets in his head, delivered only moments before by a US-provided 9mm pistol in the hands of Iraqi Army-uniformed Shia militiamen who controlled many of the Iraqi army and police units with the sanction and protection of Shiite political leaders. The “death breath” — actually the final exhalation as the cessation of life causes the lungs to collapse– makes a distinct sound that I can still hear years later.

In Diyala there was a block of body parts– the human detritus of an air strike I had ordered. Scattered among the homes and school yard were enough unique parts for at least seven people including a pale, lifeless face staring into the air attached to a dismembered torso with one arm and entrails oozing out from  where the hips would have been like a broken jar of grey fruit preserves. A street away I found a lone survivor lying on a floor carpeted with glass shards from the shattered windows  in the front room of an abandoned house. He was shaking and unintelligible from pain.  He was naked. His clothing had burned away revealing the third-degree burns across most of his body. His skin resembled a marshmallow that had caught on fire but then been quickly extinguished before being entirely blackened. I still think that the right thing to do would have been to shoot him in the head to bring a merciful end to his agony, but the law of war required me to subject him to further torture with no prospect of survival under the unskilled and callous hands of the Iraqi army medical evacuation and treatment system (and I am using the word “system” quite liberally here).

And then there were the bodies of our Fallen Heroes. They are sacred edifices in the ordered part of my mind. They haunt the other part.

Although the setting and imagery of the dreams changes, the theme is always the same- Fear. I am terrified by the dreams. The dream Fear is worse than the real fear. In Iraq I could control my Fear. In my dreams I cannot. I am not a warrior. I am coward. And I am afraid.

As I said, I am neither especially brave nor especially tough, but I was generally surrounded by men who were, so I often found it necessary to fake those virtues myself. My main ally in this deception, and probably the preserver of my life of on more than one occasion, was Anger. In the chemical pecking order of my mind’s chemistry,  Anger trumps Fear. I didn’t really recognize it at the time, but Anger put me back in charge. It enabled me to move my limbs, stand firm against fear and return fire.

I suppose Anger deserves my gratitude and appreciation, but it has become an unwelcome companion that I cannot persuade to leave.

Years later brain imaging revealed that the part of my brain that regulated emotion had also been physically damaged by the blasts I had survived in Iraq. The damage gave Fear more freedom in my mind at home than it had had in the combat zone. My friend and partner Anger was also on the loose, still ready to faithfully come to my aid whenever I felt I was losing control. The combination of a mind besieged by Post-Traumatic Stress and a brain substantially degraded by the damage from multiple “mild” traumatic brain injuries ensures those times are frequent and humiliating. The physical damage to my brain makes my mind resistant to, perhaps even impervious to, the contemporary “treat the symptoms” medical treatment protocols used by the DOD and VA.

The journey home  is taking much longer for me, and other veterans like me, than the day-long plane ride  that I thought would mark my transition from warrior back to husband and father. Unexpectedly, I have found the journey often feels too much like our combat patrols. I often feel  like I am under persistent and insidious attack by a domestic terror organization supported by our own government.  Like the terrorist I have battled before, the attacks have left a part of my mind disordered and ruled by Anxiety, which as far as I can tell feels awfully lot like Fear. This insurgent force calls itself the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Their personnel champion a perverted ideology best described as bureau-fascism– a belief system focused on preserving the prerogatives and privileges of the bureaucrat to the exclusion of personal and organizational accountability, public service, and competing  values to those of our American society such as the respect and gratitude the rest of our Nation shows to those who have served in uniform. Although mostly a medical organization, members are unbound by values or standards like the Hippocratic Oath– at least not when bureaucratic privilege is on the line.  “Delay, Deny and Hope they Die” are the tenants of their faith– Google it.

They use terror tactics including threats, intimidation and bullying. They operate in semi-autonomous cells that do not share information. They plan and conduct operations without regard to other cells while strenuously working to not give up any information or benefits to veterans without a protracted battle of attrition. They use this structure to ensure that the organization can never be compromised by attempts to make it accountable.  Like the shadowy insurgencies I fought in Iraq, there is no center of accountability where tormentors can be decisively engaged and brought to justice.

Is comparing the VA to terror groups like AQ fair? Perhaps there is an element of hyperbole, but one fairly made in the interest of truth and one which in no way understates the scale or depth of the problem.

I have never been as treated as poorly as I have by the VA. The problem extends beyond that frustrating maze of bureaucracy and paperwork. I left my first benefits appointment literally shaking with rage at how hostile and adversarial the doctor had been towards me. I have been bullied, threatened to have my benefits claims cancelled, denied needed care for wounds received in combat, accused of fabricating combat-related injuries that had been diagnosed by specialists and documented for years (note: the VA does not enter your military medical records into their record system nor does it provide them to your doctors and other health care providers, which in effect is the same as throwing them away). The way I have been repeatedly treated by the VA  has been  such a damaging experience that I can say without the slightest hyperbole that the Anxiety and Fear from contact with the VA is now worse than the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that has ravaged my life. Contact unleashes a chemical barrage that destroys the fragile armistice I have worked weeks using every tool and device six years of therapy, counseling and treatment have provided to attain .  Anxiety, Fear and Anger are unleashed again to stalk each other through the no-man’s land of my mind.

The VA is an organization where “Thank you for your service” is a taunt, not an expression of gratitude. As far as I can tell, no one is responsible for helping you. Chains of responsibility form an impossible-to-unravel Gordian Knot that protects employees not only from any obligation to help but also from any accountability for negligence, misconduct  or unacceptable behavior. Those employees that may be willing are not empowered to help you. One VA-employed “patient advocate” told me the only thing she could do for me was give the address and phone number of my congressperson. The VA works in secret and denies patients any access to the people making decisions about their disabilities and benefits. I feel like the VA is as much my ally as the Iraqi police unit my unit was “partnered” with in Baghdad that regularly ambushed our patrols with IEDs they emplaced next to their checkpoints, or the Iraqi Army unit I shared a Combat Outpost with that was controlled by the Shiite insurgent group Jaysh al Mahdi. I had to emplace a machine gun position directed within our combat outpost  just to protect my soldiers from our “friends.”

According to my wife:  “When Ben has contact with the VA, I notice immediate and continued emotional and behavioral effects.  He becomes noticeably agitated and emotionally distressed in the days leading up to appointments at the VA.  After appointments he is physically and emotionally drained as well as having heightened PTSD symptoms.  When representatives from the VA contact him for any reason including scheduling appointments, discussing treatment or to discuss/determine benefits, he also becomes emotionally distressed.  After contact with the VA, it often takes days, sometimes weeks for these symptoms to decrease.  As his spouse, it is very discouraging and frustrating to recognize that an agency that claims to help veterans is actually causing emotional distress and acerbating Ben’s PTSD symptoms.   It makes the process of getting benefits tiresome, frustrating and hopeless.  After witnessing Ben’s reactions to the VA and our struggle to get his deserved benefits, I clearly understand how so many veterans end up living on the streets or committing suicide.  The system brings on feelings of frustration and despair.”

Are there any good people at the VA dedicated to helping veterans? Yes. I know a few. I suspect there are many more of them, but I have seen no evidence that any of them can do anything about the sick organizational culture that rules the VA.

The battle to keep the disordered part of my mind in check has been a costly campaign, costly not only to me but also to the non-combatants that are closest and most important to me – my wife and family.  With PTSD there is still an ordered part of my mind that knows the moment of danger has passed. That part of my mind gives me hope. I can make myself stand in front of a window at night – at least for a little while – because that part of my mind knows that no one is out there sighting in on my head. I can wake up from a nightmare and ground myself to the present reality of my wife sleeping peacefully beside me. There is no grounding technique for the VA, however. The nightmare is the reality.

I have already had to fight al Qaeda. In some ways, I am still replucating fighting that battle – and my family and I take a little more damage each and every day that I do.

I do not understand why I have to fight the VA as well.

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F.D.A. on Prescription Drugs

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People complain that the F.D.A. takes far too long in approving “new” drugs, but they seem to be equally obtuse in pointing out the dangers of using drugs they have already approved.  According to a new article appearing in the New York Times, the F.D.A seeks tighter control on prescriptions for class of painkillers.     I suppose we should be grateful that the guys and gals in the white robes in D.C. have finally come to their senses and realize that we now have a nation of addicts: addicted to prescription and generic pain killers all approved by the F.D.A.   How sweet!

The “debate” is not without its polemics as this lengthy excerpt from the New York Times article suggests:

 

“In 2011, about 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing medications were written for some 47 million patients, according to government estimates. That volume of prescriptions amounts to about five billion pills.

Technically, the change involves the reclassification of hydrocodone-containing painkillers as “Schedule II” medications from their current classification as “Schedule III” drugs. The scheduling system, which is overseen by the D.E.A., classifies drugs based on their medical use and their potential for abuse and addiction.

Schedule II drugs are those drugs with the highest potential for abuse that can be legally prescribed. The group includes painkillers like oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin, methadone and fentanyl as well as medications like Adderall and Ritalin, which are prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

In recent years, the question of whether to tighten prescribing controls over hydrocodone-containing drugs has been the subject of intense lobbying.

Last year, for example, lobbyists for druggists and chain pharmacies mobilized to derail a measure passed in the Senate that would mandate the types of restrictions that the F.D.A. is now recommending.

At the time, the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society also said that making patients see doctors more often to get prescriptions would impose added burdens and costs on them.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, expressed dismay when the proposal died in the House of Representatives.

“They got their victory – but not at my expense,” said Mr. Manchin, whose state has been hard hit by prescription drug abuse. “The people who will pay the price are the young boys and girls in communities across this nation.”

As SFTT has been reporting for many months,  prescription drug abuse with terrible side-effects is chronic among the many brave warriors returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Sadly, treating the symptoms with OxyContin and other toxic pain-relievers has been the panacea prescribed by the VA.  Despite clear and irrefutable evidence that this was causing more harm than good for warriors suffering from PTS and TBI, the lobbyists and their political pundits in government were reluctant to pull the plug on what is little more than government-sponsored drug addiction.

Finally, we may get an opening to help these brave young men and women rebuild their lives without the terrible consequences of addiction.

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Brooks and Body Armor: Lies Kill Brave Patriots

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SFTT summarized a report yesterday from Wall Street Journal reporter Kristen Jones which reported that Body Armor King David Brooks was sentenced to jail for 17 years for a $200 million fraud scheme.   In the article, it was suggested that the Justice Department decided not  to pursue more serious charges of corruption in the military procurement process of body armor supplied to our brave young men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, the stench of corruption and dishonest procurement process by our military far exceeds the 17 year “slap on the wrist” given to David Brooks.  Found below is a more gut-wrenching account of the “real” story from former  DHB President, Jim Magee.

 

This (sic the David Brooks story) goes deeper than “defective body armor.” I quit as Point Blank Body Armor’s president after designing the Intercepter vest, and managing the Arthur D. Little Modular Body Armor (Intercepter) program when my DHB boss, David Brooks agreed to a US Army procurement office demand that Point Blank meet the Army’s target price of $626 each, regardless of what had to be given up in wearer protection. The price was Army procurement’s ONLY concern. When I pointed out we would have to reduce the vest’s protective coverage areas to reduce the Kevlar costs, coverage required by the Army’s Natick R+D and PM-Soldier Intercepter spec’s, Army procurement’s response was “…that’s not our problem; make coverage changes to cut your costs if you have to, but we’re only paying $626 per vest.”

Brooks told me to cut out all of the Army’s Protection Area III, (244 sq inches of lower abdomen and kidney area coverage), “make the vest in size medium but mark them large, etc.” and cut way down on the side and shoulder coverage to make it cheaper to manufacturer.” I told him we’d be screwing the wearer, and that I would resign first.

He laughed, and I quit. Brooks was a horrible human being; consistently abusive of all around him; a belligerent, hateful person. In one particularly doped up incident (he was either over medicated or under medicated-read doped up), he yelled at me on the production floor to “fire all the niggers.” My thirty or so Haitian and Jamaican-born sewers went nuts until I physically pushed Brooks out of the plant’s loading dock, and then told them I’d give them a couple of paid hours of unearned overtime to defuse the atmosphere.

Making lots of money was Brooks only concern. He routinely told anyone who worked for him, “people were to be used.” He had no idea why short changing the war-fighter, and delivering a substandard vest – short of PM Soldier’s specs – bothered me to the point where I would walk away from a potential million dollars in income and stock. Integrity and honesty were unknown character traits in Brooks. He viewed them as “weaknesses.”

I still haven’t decided whether he was a sociopath or a psychopath. Either way, he had and has no redeeming qualities. Prison is too good for him. A violent death would have been more suitable.

While one can argue whether Brooks is a sociopath or psychopath, the fact remains that our military leadership knowingly sanctioned the use of  defective body armor.   The Inspector General has reported many body armor testing violations that have been conveniently covered up by our military leadership.  In fact, the DoD continues to  block favorable court rulings requested by SFTT to release the autopsy  reports of military personnel killed in action wearing defective body armor.

More to the point, the public has been aware for quite sometime that “something is wrong in Denmark” when NBC’s Lisa Meyer reported on quibbling within the Army over the best body armor.

The corruption goes far deeper than the simple incarceration of  David Brooks. The dreadful and dishonest sycophants who approved and promoted this defective body armor are – in my opinion – accessories to manslaughter or even worse. Why aren’t they in jail? I suspect that most have been promoted or are now in lucrative contracts as “outside consultants”  perpetuating the merry-go-round of corrupt behavior or “business as usual” in our military procurement process.

How many more brave heroes have to die to feed the insatiable greed of people like Brooks?

Thanks for coming forward Jim.  I know it has been painful.  If more concerned individuals would do so, we could weed these monsters out of positions of trust.  Our men and women in uniform deserve better.

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SFTT Medical Task Force to Focus on PTSD

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Dr. Henry Grayson, Ph.D., Co-Chair of SFTT’s Medical Task Force – Is a  psychologist practicing in New York City and Connecticut. He has a PhD from Boston University, as well as a postdoctoral certificate in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy from Postgraduate Center for Mental Health and a Theology degree from Emory University. He is the author or three books, founded both the National Institute for Psychotherapies and the Institute for Spirituality, Science and Psychotherapy, and the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy.

Dr. Frank M. Ochberg, M.D., Co-Chair of SFTT’s Medical Task ForceA Psychiatry professor at Michigan StateUniversity with degrees from Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University and the University of London. Formerly an associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health, more recently he has been involved with numerous organizations dealing with PTSD including founding Gift From Within, a non-profit PTSD foundation, and consulting at Columbine High School in Colorado. In 2003 he received a lifetime achievement award from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Dr. Grant Brenner, M.D A graduate of the New Jersey Medical School and as assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Beth Israel Medical Center. He is a member of Physicians for Human Rights and the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Dr. Brenner is the director of trauma services at the William Alanson White Institute, a board member at the Disaster Psychiatry Outreach, and the author of Creating Spiritual and Psychological Resilience-Integrating Care in Disaster Relief Work.

Dr. Eric D. Caine, M.D. – A Psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Medical School, and a chair of the department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry. In 2001 he received the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry’s Leadership in Training Award for Chair of the Year.

Dr. Robert Cancro, M.D A professor and chairman of psychiatry at the New York University Medical Center. He is a graduate of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, has served as the director or the Nathan Kline Research Institute, a long time consultant of the U.S. Secret Service, and the recipient of numerous awards in the field of mental health including the New York State Office of Mental Health Award and the Irving Blumberg Human Rights Award.

Lorraine Cancro, MSW – A psychotherapist with a Masters from the New York University Silver School of Social Work. She is the executive director of the Global Stress Initiative, a senior consultant at The Barn Yard Group, and formerly the director of business development and military health editor at EP Magazine.

Jaine L. Darwin, Psy.D., ABPP A graduate of Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology is a psychologist-psychoanalyst specializing in trauma and PTSD, relationship issues and depression. Dr. Darwin has run a volunteer organization SOFAR that provided services to family members of military service members and veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kathalynn Davis, MSW – A psychotherapist with Masters from Columbia University, a certified Sedona Method Coach, Life Coach certified at New York University and Practitioner for International Institute for Spiritual Living.

Dr. Stephen V. Eliot, Ph.D.,  A Psychoanalyst with private practice in Westport CT.

Dr. Mark Erlich, M.D. – is a graduate of the of Profiles & Contours, a clinical assistant professor at New York Medical College and Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine, and a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is also the president of the New York Facial Plastic Surgery Society.

Dr. Mitchell Flaum, Ph. D. – A clinical Psychologist with private practice in New York City.

Dr. Joseph Ganz, Ph.D.,  –  A psychotherapist and a graduate of the Stress Reduction Program from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  He is also trained in couples and family psychotherapy and is the co-founder, co-director and faculty member of The Metropolitan Center for Object Relations-New Jersey.

Dr. Stephen Gullo, Ph.D.,  –  received his doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, and for more than a decade, he was a professor and researcher at Columbia University Medical Center. He is the former chair of the National Obesity and Weight Control Education Program of the American Institute for Life Threatening Illness at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. His first book, Thin Tastes Better, was a national best seller as was his second book, The Thin Commandments.  He has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and Barbara Walters and has also made numerous appearances on Today, Good Morning America, and Hard Copy. Dr. Gullo is currently president of the Center for Health and Weight Sciences’ Center for Healthful Living in New York City.

Joan S. Kuehl, L.C.S.W. –  Is a social worker with private practice in New York City.

Dr. Judy Kuriansky, Ph.D., –  A graduate of New York University, an adjunct faculty member at the Teacher’s College Columbia University and at Columbia Medical School. She has
provided “psychological first aid” after bombings in Israel, SARS in China, the tsunami in Asia, and after 9/11 in the US. She is a representative to the United Nations for the International Association of Applied Psychology and the International Council of Psychologists.

Dr. Robert Rawdin, D.D.S. –  A graduate of the Northwestern University School of Dentistry and New York University. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Prosthodontics and currently serves as president-elect and program chair of the Northeastern Gnathological Society. He is also a clinical assistant professor at the New York University College of Dentistry.

Dr. Stephen Ross, M.D.  A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the UCLA School of Medicine. He is the director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at Bellevue Hospital, director of the NYU Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship, and director of the Bellevue Opioid Overdose Prevention Program.

Dr. John Setaro, M.D. – A graduate of Boston University, and a resident and fellow at Yale-New Haven Hospital, as well as an associate professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine.

Editor’s Note: While these notable physician give freely of their time, there still remains the task of supporting our troops with “more than lip service.” The needs of our brave warriors are great and SFTT looks to your contributions to help support our Investigative, Information and Intervention campaigns. As a 501(c)(3) educational foundation, we rely on the contributions of concerned Americans to help get the proper treatment to those who need it most. Contribute what you can.

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