Veterans Treatment Courts: Smart Justice

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Several years ago, I had the honor to meet Judge John Schwartz, one of the early pioneers in promoting the benefits of  Veteran Treatment Courts.

Drug Treatment Courts

Drug Courts began to emerge in the nineties to deal more effectively with a growing drug problem in the United States.  As I wrote earlier,

Since the mid-1990, the US judicial system has recognized the need to deal with drug-related criminal activity and have established some 2,600 Drug Treatment Courts in the United States.  Drug treatment courts are specialized community courts designed to help stop the abuse of drugs, alcohol, and related criminal activity. Non-violent offenders who have been charged with simple possession of drugs are given the option to receive treatment instead of a jail sentence.   These programs have proven to be remarkably successful for reducing the level of recidivism in our prison system.

Capitalizing on the infrastructure and success of the Drug Treatment Courts, some 50 or so Veteran Courts have sprung up across the United States to deal with veterans who have committed a crime while suffering from substance abuse.  In many cases, these troubled vets have the support of other Vets (often from the Vietnam era) who “mentor” their military colleagues through the rehabilitation process.

Since then, Veteran Treatment Courts exist in every state in the United States.  These Courts provide Veterans with PTSD and substance abuse issues with an alternative to serving time in a federal or state penitentiary.

As the video from Justice for Vets explains below, Vet Courts provide Veterans with a second chance to recover their lives with the support of wise counsel from fellow Veterans, judicial system and law enforcement officers.

Aside from the fact that this appears to be a most sensible way to provide brave Veterans with the steady supportive counsel of a fellow Veteran, the Vet Court system has also reduced our prison population and cut recidivism by almost two-thirds.

While the Veteran Court system was largely the inspiration of community judges, law enforcement officers and a supportive community, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) has been playing an active role in supporting these local and State programs since 2008.

Currently, there are approximately 220 Veteran Treatment Courts functioning in the United States with many other communities seeking to establish similar programs of their own. In fact, Justice for Vets recently provides a great deal of direct support and information for communities seeking to establish their own Veteran Treatment Court.

While 2017 applications for Justice for Vets support are currently closed, communities interested in this initiative would do well to contact Justice for Vets for more information on the Veteran Treatment Court Application Process.

Now, there are some – perhaps, many – who are opposed to any “special treatment” provided to people who break the law.  Nevertheless, the “cost” of incarcerating individuals who break drug laws and their exposure to hardened criminals seem to outweigh any potential long-term benefit to society.

For years, the VA has been serving up a cocktail of drugs to Veterans suffering from PTSD.  Only now have we come to the realization that this may not have been the proper way to deal with this serious problem.  In fact, opioid abuse is now an epidemic across the U.S.   One could argue that our Veteran population was well aware of this problem long before it hit mainstream America.

Should Veterans be subjected to incarceration, because the VA support system erred so badly?  I think not!

In May, we celebrate Drug Court Professionals across the United States who have contributed both their time, money and expertise to combat drug abuse in the United States.  If your community is currently planning – or thinking about – establishing a proactive response to drug abuse then you may well want to register for the NADCP Training conference that will be held this year in Washington, D.C. from July 9 – 12.

Justice for Veterans is a co-sponsor of this training conference and SFTT salutes those professionals who are giving their time and energy to fight drug abuse in America.


Will the VA Provide Better Service to Veterans?

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With much fanfare, Dr. David Shulkin, the new Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”), has moved quickly to address some of the recurring problems at the VA.

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

As the first VA Secretary without a military background, Dr. Shulkin appears committed to resolve several pressing concerns:

– Speedier processing of Veteran benefit claims and,

– Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and artificial constraints on “out-of-network” support for Veterans (Choice Program).

Indeed, Secretary Shulkin recently unveiled a 10 Point Plan to modernize the VA:

1. Firing bad employees

2. Extending the Choice program

3. Choice 2.0

4. Improving VA infrastructure

5. ‘World-class’ services

6. Better VA-DoD partnerships

7. Better electronic records

8. Stopping suicide

9. Appeals modernization

10. Internal improvements 

While there is little in these Powerpoint presentation bullet points that anyone would quibble with, implementing these broad goals tends to be far more complicated than listing the goals.   Unless there are rigorous benchmarks to assess progress toward achieving these goals, then this “goal-setting” exercise is rather fruitless.

In fact, it is difficult to reconcile the need for increased hiring within the VA unless one sees clear and conclusive evidence that “bad employees” are being fired.  In fact, the VA is recommending a hiring surge to deal with a backlog of benefit claims, a situation that has persisted for 4 years.

Are more employees needed or does the VA lack the “right” mix of employees to implement Shulkin’s 10 point plan?

For instance, State and Local VA coverage varies radically across the US.  For example, NPR reported in 2015 “that spending is nearly $30,000 per patient in San Francisco, and less than $7,000 per patient in Lubbock, Texas. Nationally, the average is just under $10,000. In places where more veterans are enrolled in VA health benefit plans, spending per veteran did tend to be higher.”   Why?  This is a huge variance that is not well explained.

Aligning the VA to Achieve Measurable Goals

As one looks at Shulkin’s proposed goals, it would be useful to determine their priority and the level of commitment (personnel and capital expenditure) that is required to attain them.  Furthermore, what are the benchmarks to chart progress toward achieving those goals.

For instance, “stopping Veteran suicides” is a goal that would find few naysayers.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to reconcile that goal with the sad fact that 30% of suicide watch calls are not currently attended by the Veteran Crisis Center.  Indeed, I find it disturbing that the Suicide Crisis Line has been centralized under the VA in the name of “efficiency.”

Perhaps, Dr. Shulkin and his staff have some measurable goals.  If so, they should be made public and both the Executive Body and Congressional Oversight Committees should receive regular updates from the VA on progress to date in achieving mutually agreeable goals.

Is this likely to happen?  Most certainly not!  This is an anathema to Big Government.

Is Firing Bad Employees Really Going to Occur?

With 365,000 employees, there are certainly going to be a few “bad eggs.”  While Dr. Shulkin praised the vast majority of VA employees, he told a cheering crowd  that “We’re going to make sure that the secretary has the authority to make sure that those (sic “bad”) employees … are leaving the VA system.”

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Really?  It seems to anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at staffing within the VA, that David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, will be calling the shots rather than Dr. Shulkin.

In most cases, distinguishing between a “bad” employee and an inefficient one is largely subjective.  Given the protection afforded by employees at the VA, it is highly unlikely that both the bad and inefficient employees will be “leaving the VA system” anytime soon.

In effect, this places a greater burden on both ” the good” and the many efficient and competent employees within the VA.  With little say or control on managing the workforce, I find it highly unlikely that Dr. Shulkin will be able to fulfill his promise to fire “bad” employees.

More importantly, it is unlikely that he will be able to realign staffing levels to implement his 10-point plan.

And Speaking of Bad Apples:  How About Dr. David Cifu?

If Secretary Shulkin is really serious about dealing with “Veteran suicides” and providing Veterans with alternative treatment for Veterans with PTSD, he would do well to question the credentials of Dr. David Cifu and others within the VA who continue to block Veteran access to better treatment alternatives.

When one looks at Secretary Shulkin’s complex agenda, one should focus on the signs that change is actually occurring.  Personally, I don’t expect to see much change over the next couple of years, unless there are clear bookmarks to measure that change.  Sadly, it seems likely that we will be looking at the same litany of complaints a couple years down the road.

Dr. Shulkin, I admire your bravado and enthusiasm, but question whether you have the right tools and authority at your disposal to bring about a much needed reform within the VA.

Veterans should be hopeful, but not too optimistic.


SFTT News: Week Ending Mar 24, 2017

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

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

Does President Trump’s Military Budget Help “Grunts?”
Trump, who positions himself as the champion of the working class, has promised to pump billions more into the military. Yet the initial numbers suggest those who really benefit will be the ones who always benefit: the big defense contractors and their enablers at the Pentagon and Congress. The last people to see that flood of spending will be the ones most likely to fight and die: the grunts.   Read more . . .

All Laser Military by 2025?
Lasers have been a mainstay of sci-fi battles for decades. But making them practical for the battlefield has proven difficult. Now, private contractors and government agencies have developed weapons systems that are making science fiction a reality. This was made evident when Lockheed Martin and the US Army recently announced, a successful test of a 60-kilowatt (kW) laser. This one was twice as powerful as one they assessed in 2015.  Read more . . .

Changes in Tactics Required for “Megacity” Warfare?
Speaking at the Future of War Conference 2017 hosted by New America in Washington, D.C., Gen. Mark Milley said that the character of warfare will likely go through a fundamental shift over the next decade. The world’s population is steadily moving toward living in megacities. Currently, there are about a dozen of these huge urban areas with populations of more than 10 million. By mid-century, “we are going to have at least 50 or more,” Milley said.  Read more . . .

Nato Logo

Assessment of New NATO-Russia Balance
Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the military balance between NATO and Russia, after years of inattention, has again become the focus of intense concern and even alarm in some Western quarters. From NATO’s vantage point, Russia poses a serious military threat to its eastern flank—and to Euro-Atlantic security more broadly—for three reasons.  Read more . . .

VA Recommends Hiring “Surge” to Deal with Disability Claims
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is warning the backlog for veterans appealing decisions involving disability benefits will grow if the Trump administration goes ahead with its harsh budget cuts. Waiting times could grow to as much as eight-and-a-half years. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on Veterans Affairs Disability Benefits released on Thursday found staff resources at the agency had not kept pace with increased pending appeals, and concluded that additional staff were needed.  Read more . . .

Criticism of VA Suicide Hotline
The VA suicide hotline is still sending nearly a third of calls to outside back-up centers despite pledges by Veterans Affairs officials to stop the practice last year after a scathing report found the centers had routed veterans to voicemail, an inspector general investigation found. The VA opened a new call center and hired more staff to answer phones, but as of November, 30% of calls — or 14,600 that month — rolled over to backup centers.  Read more . . .

Refugees with PTSD Handle Stress Differently
PTSD is a mental health disorder that makes a person re-experience a traumatic event. “What we discovered was that a gene associated with a person’s mental health became overactive in refugees with PTSD and wasn’t able to respond the right way when working with the body’s stress defense system,” said Bengt Arnetz, a professor of family medicine who led the study. The methyl CpG binding protein 2 gene, or MECP2, helps control the normal function of nerve cells and plays an important role in mental health and the body’s ability to handle stress. The findings are being presented at the American Psychosomatic Society’s annual meeting on March 18.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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


SFTT News Highlights: Week Ending Mar 3, 2017

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

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

Does President Trump’s Military Budget Add Up?
“. . . as Trump invokes former President Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine, few in the military policy community know what Trump really wants to do with the proposed 10% annual budget increase or what vision he holds for the armed forces. Though Trump repeatedly has called for a military buildup, he spent much of his campaign promising to pull back from the type of expensive commitments and endeavors that would require such a large expansion. He pledged an “America First” policy and complained bitterly that trillions of dollars spent fighting wars in the Middle East could have been used to rebuild the homeland.”  Read more . . .

Sweden Reinstates Military Draft
Sweden is reinstating the military draft — for men and women — because of dwindling volunteers and growing concerns over a more assertive Russia in the Baltic and Ukraine. “The security environment in Europe and in Sweden’s vicinity has deteriorated and the all-volunteer recruitment hasn’t provided the Armed Forces with enough trained personnel,” the Swedish defense ministry said Thursday. “The re-activating of the conscription is needed for military readiness.”  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

VA Reportedly Not “Truly” Tracking Health Care Delays in Two States
Government inspectors say actual delays in delivering medical care to military veterans remain far worse at Veterans Affairs medical facilities in North Carolina and Virginia than internal records showed. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said Friday the new report by the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general found 90 percent of the vets eligible to see private doctors because of long VA delays weren’t getting the help they were due.   Read more . . .

Reported Unease Among Turkish Military Prompts Dismissal of Newspaper Editor
According to Turkish media reports, the headline angered President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government, leading to the removal of Sedat Ergin, Hurriyet’s veteran editor. Ergin, a journalist and political commentator, was appointed as the editor-in-chief of Hurriyet in August 2014.  Saturday’s news story, filed by Hurriyet’s Ankara bureau chief Hande Firat, was focusing on how the General Staff, the highest military body in the country, evaluated the criticism and speculation directed at the Turkish armed forces following last year’s failed coup attempt.  Read more . . .

Missing Chemical for Veterans with PTSD?
Dr. Lynn Dobrunz is a Neurobiologist and U.A.B. Associate Professor who has studied the human brain for years. Dr. Dobrunz explained, “Many people experience a traumatic or frightening experience and have a fear response at the time. That’s normal and appropriate.” In normal brain function, a release of the chemical Neuropeptide Y, or NPY, produced anxiety-relieving effects to trauma. Dr. Dobrunz said traumatic flashbacks replace reality for these people. Her new research now helps explain why. “I was not surprised to find that Neuropeptide Y was altered in this PTSD model,” said Dr. Dobrunz. “I was surprised to find that Neuropeptide Y seemed to be completely absent.”  Read more . . .

Shulkin Proposes Changes to Veterans Choice Program
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Sunday proposed eliminating a controversial policy that limits veterans from receiving private-sector health care. Speaking to hundreds of people at the Disabled American Veterans annual conference in Arlington, Va., Shulkin laid out his top 10 priorities for the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was his first public address since becoming VA secretary. High on Shulkin’s list was redesigning the Veterans Choice Program into what he called “Choice 2.0.”  Read more . .

stealth destroyer

Stealth Destroyer, not the USS Porter



Details Emerge on Russian Jets who “Buzzed” US Destroyer
Russian pilots buzzed the guided missile destroyer Porter repeatedly last month, but also had “relatively large number of interactions with” U.S. and NATO aircraft the same day, according to the Defense Department. The DoD shared new details regarding interceptions that took place Feb. 10, “some of which were deemed to be safe and standard and some of which were assessed as unsafe and unprofessional,” according to a statement from the Office of the Secretary of Defense provided to The USS Porter incident involved Su-24 Fencer attack aircraft and an Ilyushin Il-38, an anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft, near the warship in the Black Sea on Feb. 10.   Read more . . .

Drop me an email at if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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


SFTT News: Week of Feb 24, 2017

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

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

Federal Hiring Freeze Confuses Military Parents
On Wednesday, the base commander informed parents that all part-day Child and Youth Services (CYS) programs at the garrison would end March 1 because they couldn’t replenish employees. That night, the Pentagon granted exemptions from the freeze, according to a Defense Department spokesman. But the exemptions come with disruptions. “This closure is a result of staff shortages due to the Federal Hiring Freeze,” said the Wiesbaden memo from Col. Todd J. Fish. “This hiring freeze prevents CYS from replacing staff who depart for any reason to include normal rotation.”  Read more . . .

Grow the Military the Smart Way
There are real demands for resources across the military, and many personnel and readiness challenges that need fundamental fixes — indeed, these challenges would be masked or even exacerbated by the infusion of more money, people, and platforms. The political debate is focused on quantity but more uniformed personnel is not a solution in and of itself, and lack of money isn’t the only obstacle to smart growth. Troop numbers make for easy talking points, but advocates for rebuilding the military must be able to explain why, what choices come first, and how to sustain it over time.  Update to personnel and readiness practice ought to come as part of this investment — otherwise, we could end up with a large force that isn’t formed to tackle America’s real threats, and undercut needed reforms.  Read more . . .

VA to Scrap Veteran Applications?
A whistleblower in the Atlanta office of the Department of Veterans Affairs warned President Trump on Tuesday that the VA is preparing to throw out hundreds of thousands of benefit applications due to an error the VA itself made during the Obama administration. Scott Davis, a well-known whistleblower who has testified before Congress, wrote an open letter to Trump saying that more than 500,000 of these applications might be scuttled in March unless he intervenes. “I am sending this whistleblower disclosure to your office due to the urgent need for executive intervention,” he wrote. “VA is planning on declaring over 500,000 Veteran applications for VA health care as incomplete and abandoned at the end of March 2017.”  Read more . . .

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

Dr. David Shulkin Pledges to Rid VA of Abuse
Dr. David Shulkin used his first public statement as the new Veterans Affairs Department secretary on Thursday to pledge management reforms that would remove the VA from a government agency’s “high risk list” for waste, fraud and abuse. “We will implement a plan that directly addresses these risks by building on the progress we have already made,” Shulkin said in response to a Government Accountability Office report naming the VA as a “high risk” agency in its treatment of veterans, handling of claims and efforts to lower wait times.  Read more . . .

Opioid Addiction a Problem for Many Veterans
Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald said veterans are 10 times more likely to abuse opioids than the civilian population, which likely drives Fayetteville’s numbers up. Jacksonville, another military city in North Carolina, ranks 12th on Castlight’s list of worst locales for opioid abuse. While the military is taking steps now to attack addiction, many veterans question why the military took so long to address a problem the veterans say it created.  Read more . . .

Marijuana PTSD

Clinical Trial for Marijuana to Treat PTSD
The first participant in a clinical trial designed to evaluate the effectiveness of smoking marijuana to treat PTSD in veterans was given cannabis on Monday, according to the organization conducting the study.  The study is the first such trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of using marijuana to manage symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder in U.S. veterans, officials with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies said in a release on Tuesday.  MAPS is a California-based non-profit research organization focused on “the careful uses” of marijuana, according to its website. The study is funded by a $2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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


Partner Support Resources for Veterans with PTSD

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While Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) primarily focuses on making sure Veterans with PTSD receive the therapy and support they deserve, we would be remiss in not acknowledging that Veteran families also suffer grievously from the “silent wounds of war.”

Caregiver for Veteran with PTSD

Indeed,  social media is inundated with heart-wrenching stories of partners of Veterans seeking advice and support of other Veteran partners on coping with the day-to-day problems of Veterans with PTSD and TBI.   In many cases, these partners (primarily wives) have benefitted from support groups in which they exchange advice and provide comfort to others as their husbands combat the demons of PTSD.

In fact, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (“the VA”) has a “caregiver support line for partners of Veterans with PTSD.    That caregiver support line is 1-855-260-3274.

Indeed, the VA provides some useful advice on the advantages of joining a “peer support group” and how to locate them:

Joining a peer support group can help you to feel better in any number of ways, such as:

– Knowing that others are going through something similar

– Learning tips on how to handle day-to-day challenges

– Meeting new friends or connecting to others who understand you

– Learning how to talk about things that bother you or how to ask for help

– Learning to trust other people

– Hearing about helpful new perspectives from others

Peer support groups can be an important part of dealing with PTSD, but they are not a substitute for effective treatment for PTSD. If you have problems after a trauma that last more than a short time, you should get professional help.

Aside from the VA recommendations, many other independent organizations have sprung up to support partners who feel the need to exchange ideas and support one another during a particularly difficult period in their relationship.

Found below in no particular order are online support resources that may help provide a peer support forum to exchange ideas and advice:

Wives of PTSD Vets (Facebook Page)

A useful Facebook Page of engaged partners who seek to provide useful resources to others on helping wives of military Veterans with PTSD

Hidden Heroes

Established by Senator Elizabeth Dole, Hidden Heroes has as its mission to:

– Raise awareness of the issues military caregivers confront every day

– Inspire individuals, businesses, communities, and civic, faith and government leaders to take action in supporting military caregivers in their communities

– Establish a national registry, encouraging military caregivers to register at to better connect them to helpful resources and support

Family of a Vet

A practical guide, gleaned from contributions by its many members, on how to cope with PTSD and TBI.  More practical and common sense advice than clinical evidence, but certainly a recommended resource for those who require guidance and a helping hand.

PTSD Support Group

Essentially, a forum to exchange ideas and vent.  Clearinghouse for frustrations that emanate from being a caregiver for a Veteran coping with PTSD

Army Reservist Wife (Blog)

Authentic – pulls no punches – blog featuring genuine stories of how caregivers cope with the difficulties of sustaining a relationship with Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

While there are many other notable online resources, local support groups that meet in person are probably far more effective than online advice.  Most base facilities provide programs for spouses of active duty personnel.

Veterans discharged from the military or reservists may find active support groups at religious centers or outreach programs supported by local community activists or charitable organizations.

Veterans suffering from PTSD and/or TBI value companionship.  While it may seem difficult to provide them the support they are seeking, it is a battle worth fighting valiantly.  Support groups may well provide the necessary resources one needs to persevere.


SFTT News: Highlights for Week Ending Feb 17, 2017

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

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

Theater Saves Lives for Military Veterans
For military veterans, theatre has the potential to be much more than just a pastime or a profession, it can help heal, and even save lives. Acting, Victor Almanzar says, has saved his life on more than one occasion. He gravitated towards the drama program at his high school, and later found a sense of belonging with a local theatre group. In 2000, Almanzar signed up for the Marines to work with heavy artillery—handling shells that were two-feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds each. Serving was tough, both physically and emotionally, but he was thriving. “I was able to swing in those waters, amongst men,” he says. “It gave me a sense of importance and confidence.”    Read more . . .

President Donald Trump

President Trump’s Military Problem
Despite the historically isolationist “America First” theme, President Trump is sticking to his campaign position that the U.S. military has become “depleted,” “obsolete” and too small to protect U.S. interests. The president is planning a “historic” military build-up, adding 80 more Navy ships, 100 more Air Force combat aircraft, and substantially enlarged Army and Marine forces. The price tag, in the hundreds of billions of dollars, may not go down well with the House Freedom Caucus. But squeezing a few hundred billion dollars out of the deficit hawks may prove easier for Defense Secretary James Mattis than dealing with the human side of the build-up.  Read more . . .

One Person’s Argument to Reinstate the Draft 
Our military loses the value of our service, the investment of our families and even social relevance. We ourselves lose the chance to perform one of the highest acts of patriotism and the chance to share the experience of that service with others of our generation. More importantly, the military feels alien to us, irrelevant and unimportant. Disastrously, we have ceded all authority and accountability over it. In light of these problems, and in the spirit of civic engagement, I propose we reinstitute the draft.  Read more . . .

Status of VA Disability Claims Backlog
Officials from the Veterans Affairs Department were pressed Tuesday to explain how the paperless fix to the disability claims process has initially resulted in growing backlogs. The claims backlog stood at about 76,000 last May before the VA solution called the National Work Queue was fully implemented, but the backlog last week was at 101,000 cases, said Rep. Mike Bost, an Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. At a hearing of the panel, Ronald S. Burke Jr., the VA assistant deputy secretary for Field Operations National Work Queue, didn’t dispute Bost’s numbers but said one of the problems is that “this is a relatively new initiative.”  Read more . . .

List of U.S. States that Permit Marijuana for PTSD
More than 20 states — plus Washington, D.C., and two U.S. territories — have an allowance for medical marijuana to be used in treating PTSD. Efforts are underway to add Colorado to that list this year. The state has not amended its list of qualifying conditions since the program was implemented in 2001, and over the years has rejected petitions that sought to include post-traumatic stress disorder — most recently in 2015. The Colorado Board of Health cited a lack of credible scientific evidence.  Read more . . .

PTSD:  A Cause for Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease?
In the first study, researchers outline the evidence supporting the role of PTSD as a potentially causative factor as well as a consequential factor in cardiovascular disease. “We conclude that post-traumatic stress disorder is a risk factor for incident cardiovascular disease, and a common psychiatric consequence of cardiovascular disease events that might worsen the prognosis of the cardiovascular disease,” the authors, led by Donald Edmondson, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center, New York City, write.  Read more . . .


Drop me an email at if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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


SFTT News: Week Ending Feb 10, 2017

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

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

Service Chiefs Divided on Base Closing to Cut Costs
The Army is adamant: It needs to close bases to save money, and it needs to do it now. The Air Force may also be open to the idea, but other services are not so sure. Before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on readiness Wednesday, the vice chiefs of the military services made well-worn cases to lawmakers for more money and an end to sequestration budget caps that they say have cut into maintenance and efforts to modernize the military.  Read more . . .

Marijuana PTSD

Trial of Marijuana for PTSD Symptoms
Researchers started this week the first-ever clinical trial of marijuana for treating the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. The trial will test four potencies of smoked marijuana and their effects to manage PTSD symptoms in 76 veterans, according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, the study is intended to develop marijuana into a legal prescription drug. “We are thrilled to see this study overcome the hurdles of approval so we can begin gathering the data,” Amy Emerson said in a written statement issued by the association. The nonprofit drives clinical research on the medicinal use of marijuana, LSD and MDMA, known more broadly as Ecstasy.  Read more . . .

Lack of Discernible U.S. Military Strategy Questioned
There is no grand strategy discernible in the multiple and simultaneous global deployments recently ordered, but neither is there a unifying vision for how military forces will be used in the theaters into which they are sent. For example, beginning in 2014 the president authorized the deployment of a small number of troops to Iraq, and the following year gave the order to begin airstrikes in Syria. Since that time, however, the size and scope of both missions have been consistently expanded in small increments.   Read more . . .

Military Widows find Hope and Understanding Together
During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the women seeking help from the group were young, with husbands who had been killed in combat. Today the widows contacting the organization are older, and their husbands aren’t dying abroad — they’re dying on American soil.  “I have to say, I haven’t genuinely laughed as much as I’ve laughed with these ladies, and shared things that … that I know that they understand,” says Erin Murzyn.  Read more . . .

VA Suicide Hot Line

VA Fights Hiring Freeze
As one of his first acts in office, President Donald Trump announced a nationwide federal hiring freeze. The Veterans Administration has thousands of open position across the country that, for the most part, will continue to go unfilled until the freeze is over. Veterans Affairs Secretary Rob Snyder said in a statement,”The Department of Veterans Affairs intends to exempt anyone it deems necessary for public health and safety, including frontline caregivers.” The administration lists a handful of positions that are exempt on their website. Still, Congressman Ron Kind, along with 70 House democrats, are not satisfied with the department’s statement.  Read more . . .

 Drinking to Forget Could Make PTSD Worse
Drinking to forget may make the fearful memories associated with post-traumatic stress disorder worse, not better, experiments with mice suggest. A new study demonstrates that alcohol can strengthen such emotional memories, preventing the rodents from pushing aside their fears, say the scientists who conducted it. “Binge drinking or other attempts to use alcohol to self-medicate could be sabotaging any therapy efforts,” says Norman Haughey, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University.  Read more . . .

Why a Concussion May Raise Alzheimer’s Risk
Researchers have known for more than a decade that people who experience a severe or moderate traumatic brain injury are at greater risk of getting Alzheimer’s later on. However, they are far less is known about how “mild” traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, affect brain health over time, even though they make up more than 70 percent of all head injuries. “People tend to ignore concussion and just shake it off, and don’t follow up with care,” which makes it difficult to study the lifelong impact of such injuries, says Jasmeet Hayes, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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Will Much Change at the VA with David Shulkin as Secretary?

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Much was made during the election campaign over the failings of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) to serve our Veterans effectively.  While President-elect Trump had vowed to overhaul the VA, his selection of Dr. David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, as his nominee raises questions over what may change within the VA.

Dr. David Shulkin, VA Secretary

Indeed, the initial Senate confirmation hearings suggest a “love fest” according to Quil Lawrence of NPR.  Found below is the complete Senate confirmation hearing of the VA secretary-nominee’s testimony to the Senate committee:

Personally, I would like to think that Dr. Shulkin is the right person for the job – and he may well be – but I find it curious that not one of the questions at the confirmation hearing directly addressed the implementation of the Commission on Care recommendations. While some of these issues were addressed obliquely at the hearing, it seems to me that there should be a regular status report to the respective Congressional committees on how (or whether) these programs are currently being implemented.

While a good deal of the confirmation hearing was an opportunity for Senators to showcase their “genuine” concern for Veterans and pontificate on the silly rumors of “privatizing the VA,”  the hearing covered many of the same issues that continue to plague the VA.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged by some of the remarks by Dr. Shulkin at his confirmation hearing which are summarized below:

– Commitment to moving care into the community were it makes sense for the Veteran.  Currently, some 31% of health services are provided by local communities compared to 21% when Dr. Shulkin joined the VA.

– Expand Choice Program to ensure that Veterans are able to seek care in their community.

– Work to eliminate disability claims backlog (already significantly reduced) and seek legislation to reform the “outdated appeals process.”

– Need to address “infrastructure issues” . . . and explore expansion of public/private partnerships rather that build medical centers that have “large cost overruns and take too long to build.”

The Veteran’s Choice Program (“the VCP”) is the result of the Veteran’s Choice Act that was enacted to address chronic wait times for Veterans seeking care at VA facilities.  To a large extent, “the VCP” is the brainchild of Dr. Shulkin.

During the confirmation hearings, Dr. Shulkin agreed that the “mileage” requirement to access private medical services (currently 40 miles from a VA facility) shouldn’t be a deciding factor.  In Dr. Shulkin’s opinion, wait times should be the determining criteria.  Couldn’t agree more.

Furthermore, Dr. Shulkin acknowledged that there was far “too much bureaucratic” red tape involved when a Veteran received the green light to seek private care and the required VA approvals to actually receive it.

While praising the work ethic and dedication of nearly all VA employees, he admitted that he was frustrated by current legal constraints to shed the VA of a few bad apples.  Perhaps, he should enlist the support of government labor leader, David Fox, to join him in helping streamline the VA for the benefit of Veterans.

With 314,000 employees and a VA budget of $180 billion (of which only $76 billion is discretionary), SFTT has long believed that the VA is “too big” to succeed in its mission to provide adequate and responsive care to Veterans in need.

The issue is not the “quality of care” provided by the VA, which according to a recent Rand Corporation study compares favorably with private institutions.   The question remains, who gets access to these quality VA services and when?

During his confirmation hearing, Dr. Shulkin stated that only 61% of interviewed Veterans “trust” the VA (up from 41%).   I am quite sure that as the new VA Secretary, Dr. Shulkin, will seek to improve trust levels among Veterans, but ease of access to urgent medical services – whether at the VA or private facilities – is critical.

Furthermore, Veterans should be provided with a wider range of choices in determining the type of treatment they feel is appropriate for their medical condition.  Specifically, it is simply not acceptable that “gatekeepers” at the VA should determine ALL “eligible” treatment procedures.

Certainly, Dr. Shulkin appears to have the “right” temperament for the job, but in my opinion, far more is needed to turn around this largely non-responsive ship that is currently adrift and aloof from meeting the needs of Veterans.


Will Vincent Viola as Army Secretary Help Veterans with PTSD and TBI?

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By all accounts, the selection of Vincent Viola for Army Secretary by President-Elect Donald Trump has received widespread bipartisan support.  Hopefully, a man of his military record and impressive private-sector track record can bring about competent leadership within the Army.

Vincent Viola

Vincent Viola, Forbes Photo

SFTT certainly hopes so, but is concerned that certain National Hockey League (“NHL”) Florida Panther business connections may cloud his judgement regarding Veterans and active duty personnel that have symptoms of PTSD and/or TBI.

Mr. Viola is a West Point graduate and the owner of the Virtu Financial.  In Sep 2013, Mr. Viola and minority shareholder, Douglas Cifu purchased the NHL Florida Panthers.   “Douglas A. Cifu is the Vice Chairman, Partner and Alternate Governor of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, the Florida Panthers Hockey Club, BB&T Center, and SSE’s additional operating entities.”

Like the NFL, the NHL is also under the gun for its approach in treating concussions:

As has been the case in the NFL, repeated hits to the head in hockey can cause brain injuries, like chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease that leads to suicidal thoughts and erratic behavior. But unlike the NFL, which has been heavily criticized for its handling of concussions on the field, the NHL won’t acknowledge the risk of CTE.

Dr. David Cifu (the brother of Doug) is Senior TBI Specialist in the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”).  In recent Congressional testimony (see video excerpt below) Dr. Cifu claims that he has treated “twenty thousand” brain injuries and “provides care for an NHL team” in treating concussions.  Could it be the Florida Panthers?


Clearly, Dr. Cifu is out of touch with the majority of physicians who treat PTSD and TBI. In fact, Dr. Cifu is largely responsible for blocking less expensive and far more effective therapy for Veterans suffering from PTSD. Will Dr. David Cifu’s toxic legacy continue after Mr. Viola is appointed Secretary of the Army?

As a counterpoint to Dr. Cifu’s grandstanding at the Congressional hearings, I recommend West Point graduate Maj. Ben Richard’s stunning analysis of how the VA treats Veterans with PTSD and TBI. How sad!


Rather than simply point fingers, SFTT has proposed a number of alternative treatment therapies.  One existing therapy, Hyperbaric Oxygen (“HBOT”) has been used around the world for some 50 years and many hospitals currently use HBOT to treat a variety of brain-related traumas.  More specifically, it is the go-to option for the Israel Defense Forces (“IDF”) for soldiers suffering a head injury in combat.

Nevertheless, the VA continues to avoid endorsing HBOT for lack of sufficient clinical evidence.  As SFTT reported last week, Xavier A. Figueroa, Ph.D. has written extensively in a well-researched article entitled “What the <#$*&!> Is Wrong with the DoD/VA HBOT Studies?!!” which refutes many of the “convenient” studies by the VA.

HBOT in chronic TBI

While other new therapies may emerge, HBOT currently provides tangible improvement in brain function.  Furthermore, it can be provided at a fraction of the cost of currently administered VA programs.    Best of all, it is available at hundreds of hospitals around the United States (SFTT highly recommends that all HBOT treatment protocols be reviewed to insure proper application).

On behalf of our men and women in uniform and the tens of thousands of Veterans currently suffering from some form of brain injury, we are hopeful that Secretary Vincent Viola can put an end to current dysfunctional leadership within the VA.

Please, no more time for glib lobbyists like Dr. David Xavier Cifu.    Secretary-elect Viola, our brave heroes need you to act NOW!

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