After the Election: U.S. Military Assessment

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Each year the Heritage Foundation publishes a security threat analyis to determine hostile “hot spots” that may affect U.S. security.  The threat rating tends to be a blend of overt aggressive behavior and capabilities.

Trump and Clinton

For instance, in 2016, North Korea was considered more of a threat to vital U.S. interests than Iran and Middle East terrorism. (http://index.heritage.org/military/2016/assessments/threats/conclusion-global-threat-level/).

Regardless of which candidate wins the election and the political configuration of both the House and the Senate, it appears likely that our political/military resolve will be tested in the early months of the new administration.

External Military Threats

While North Korea will continue to an existential threat considering the unpredictability of its leadership, the more hostile threat with consequences for our military is Russia.  With incursions into the Ukraine and bellicose action in Syria, this is a calculating enemy with far more lethal capabilities than Middle Eastern terrorists or Iran.

In the later stages of the Obama administration, we have seen how Putin taunts the U.S. and this behavior may escalate as he tests the resolve of the new presidency.  Clearly, an military confrontation between NATO/US forces and Russia – either accidental or otherwise – would certainly place the men and women of our armed forces in a very dangerous situation.

Despite claims by Donald Trump (if elected) that he would deal with ISIS quickly and effectively, it seems unlikely that either he or Hillary Clinton can eliminate the military threat of ISIS without    the need for additional “boots on the ground.”  In other words, more rather than less military personnel are needed in this hostile region to end this military threat.

Terrorism will continue to remain a threat, but it now appears that European security and intelligence services are taking the threat far more seriously.  While isolated terrorist events will continue to occur, U.S. military personnel are unlikely to be at direct risk.  Nevertheless, high risk counter-terrorist initiatives by our military forces will continue to occur in hostile territories.

 Military Assessment on the Domestic Front

The new administration must finally come to grips with a rational and clear U.S. role in the Middle East, particularly Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.  As we have learned yet again in Afghanistan (and should have learned this lesson in Vietnam) there are limits to U.S. Intervention in foreign lands and We need to clearly articulate an exit strategy with well defined strategic goals.

As the military brass comes to terms with the goals of the new administration, the aftermath of a bitter election is most certainly going to effect relations between the executive and legislative arms.  While these relations are likely to be contentious, it will hopefully not affect military preparedness or long term defense strategies.  Certainly, the U.S. must deal far more aggressively with the cyber terror threat that has plagued the Election process and disrupted social networks.  Far more dangerous cyber terror threats certainly can’t be far behind.

One problem that merits a united front is the reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  In many areas, the VA is not responsive to the needs of its constituents.  Clearly, the eventual winner of the election needs to work with both parties in Congress to implement common sense reforms for the VA.  There is no reason why both parties can’t work toward this end.

It is no longer acceptable that our Veterans are held hostage by self-serving bureaucratic procedures that do not respond to their needs in a timely and effective manner.  Surely, this is something both parties can agree to despite the nasty rhetoric of the campaign.

The lives and wellbeing on our Veterans and their families depend on concrete and urgent reforms within the VA.

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Dr. Orange and Coverups at the DoD and VA

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SFTT reports frequently on the massive coverups, dishonesty and hypocrisy within the DoD and VA which continue to erode the confidence of the many thousands of men and women who have served our country so valiantly.

As we have stated on numerous occasions, SFTT takes no pleasure at all in doing so, but there appears to be no end to the deceit.  It is not all black and white – there is much good and healthy within the DoD and VA to be proud of – but their leaders do great harm to the institutions they lead by not being honest and forthright.

Priggee Cartoon from Denver Post

A recent article by Charles Ornstein of ProPublica and Mike Hixenbaugh of the Virginia-Pilot chronicles the sad story of retired Major Wes Carter who exposed the machinations of Alvin Young, aka Dr. Orange, to the terrible health costs of Vietnam Vets who had been exposed to Agent Orange.  Click on the hyperlink below to read this tragic article on how countless brave men and women are routinely sacrificed to assuage the ego of a paid consultant.

https://www.propublica.org/article/alvin-young-agent-orange-va-military-benefits?

While this article is damning in-and-by-itself, Alvin Young’s template of deception is regularly used by the DoD and the VA to mask its gross incompetence and, more importantly, their failure to admit they are wrong.  In effect, “outside consultants” are regularly used by government institutions to hide the truth from both the public and the men and women they serve.

Do These Quotes Sound Familiar or Resonate with You?

Contrary to public opinion, outside consultants are often used to put distance between incompetent management and provide a layer of respectability to outright lies.  As we shall see, Alvin Young’s self-assured opinions (with the benefit of close to $7 million in incentives) are regularly used by consultants and the management of the VA and DoD.

Throughout, as an officer and later as the government’s go-to consultant, Young’s fervent defense hasn’t wavered: Few veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, which contained the toxic chemical dioxin. And even if they were, it was in doses too small to harm them. Some vets, he wrote in a 2011 email, were simply “freeloaders,” making up ailments to “cash in” on the VA’s compensation system.

In an interview and emails, Young defended his role. To date, he said, there’s no conclusive evidence showing Agent Orange directly caused any health problems, only studies showing a statistical association. It’s an important distinction, he says.

Young recently denied interfering with that research but took credit for helping to shut down a major Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of Vietnam vets in 1987 that sought definitive evidence of a link between health issues and Agent Orange. Young said data on who had been exposed wasn’t reliable enough, though others argued that military records on spray missions and troop movements would have sufficed.

In 2006, under contract for the Defense Department, Young had produced an 81-page historical report listing everywhere Agent Orange had been used and stored outside of Vietnam, and emphasizing that even in those places, “individuals who entered a sprayed area one day after application … received essentially no ‘meaningful exposure.’” Among the scholarly references cited were several of his own papers, including a 2004 journal article he co-authored with funding from Monsanto and Dow. That conflict of interest was not acknowledged in the Defense Department report.

While some of these quotes or exposes may not resonate with you, they are precisely the same arguments that VA consultant, Dr. David Cifu uses to insist that only he knows how best to treat PTSD.  Ask yourself – or better yet, ask the VA – how many successful cases have been treated using existing VA protocols?

Similarly, why does the DoD hide behind a bevy of “disinterested” consultants and lawyers that threaten to expose the shortcomings of government issued body armor?  Is the truth too painful or harmful to someone’s career or job opportunity in the private sector?

The health and well-being of Veterans and active-duty personnel is too precious to be trusted to self-interested and opinionated demagogues. Once lost, faith in the intrgrity of our institutions is difficult to regain.

 

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Swimming with the Sharks and Veterans with PTSD

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Last month, the New York Times published an article entitled “Scuba, Parrots, Yoga:  “Veterans Embrace Alternative Therapies for PTSD.”  The article focuses on Veterans with PTSD who seek alternative treatment programs.

shark and veterans with ptsd

In this article, author Dave Phillips, suggests that Veterans with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress) are seeking alternative treatment since conventional treatments approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) are not working:

Traditional medical approaches generally rely on drugs and controlled re-experiencing of trauma, called exposure therapy. But this combination has proved so unpopular that many veterans quit before finishing or avoid it altogether. This has given rise to hundreds of small nonprofits across the country that offer alternatives: therapeutic fishing, rafting and backpacking trips, horse riding, combat yoga, dogs, art collectives, dolphin swims, sweat lodge vision quests and parrot husbandry centers, among many, many others.

According to Mr. Phillips, one group of Veterans has even taken up swimming with sharks to help “overcome fears and build new experiences that put traumatic memories in perspective.”

Now, it is difficult to say whether swimming with sharks or parrot husbandry have any long term beneficial impact for Veterans, but it does speak volumes for the lack of treatment alternatives currently offered by the VA.

Prescription drugs and exposure therapy seem to be standard treatment procedures within the VA.  Sadly, the VA gatekeepers strongly discourage Veterans from seeking alternative programs provided by the private sector and charitable organizations (mostly small).

Hiding behind the cloak of “not FDA approved,” “lack of supporting clinical studies” or other bureaucratic protocols, the VA has effectively blocked many Veterans from seeking what many consider to be more effective treatment without the drug side-effects.

In fact, the VA has established itself as “Il Supremo” or the “Supreme Authority” in deciding what is “right” and proper for Veterans seeking help to cure themselves and re-integrate into society.

For many reasons, Veterans are finding that the VA’s recommended treatment for PTSD has its limitations and, in many cases, undesirable side-effects.  In fact, as we reported last week, the VA track record in treating PTSD is abysmal.

While VA administrators argue that they are open to “alternative therapies,” there is little in SFTT’s experience to suggest that the VA is openly encouraging Veterans to seek treatment outside the VA.  Quite the contrary, the gatekeepers at the VA consider alternative therapies as “black magic” with little or no scientific basis for support or VA funding.

As such, many Veterans are left to their own devices to find programs that may meet their particular needs rather than the VA pro forma cocktail of prescription drugs which masks symptoms and is often lethal.

While alternative PTSD treatment programs have grown exponentially,  it is difficult to gauge the efficacy of these programs given the vast differences in one program from another and the level of supervised care provided.  Who is to say whether swimming with sharks is better than parrot husbandry or which program may be best suited for a particular Veteran.

Despite these shortcomings, the VA would be wise to gather as much information as possible to evaluate the efficacy of these “alternative” treatment programs rather than simply dismiss them because there are no clinical trials or replicable results.

As the VA tries to redefine itself to provide more effective treatment programs for Veterans with PTSD, SFTT remains hopeful that the VA embraces other treatment alternatives and provides financial support to private foundations which try to make a difference in the lives of our brave Veterans.

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Please Pick Up the Phone at the Suicide Crisis Center

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It is fashionable these days to pick on people or institutions that promote a “political” agenda.  Mind you, there are plenty of targets worthy of scorn and outrage, but righteous indignation and self-promotion discourages meaningful dialogue.

As a 501 (c)3 non-political educational foundation, Stand For The Troops (“SFTT”) often focuses on the shortcomings of military and political institutions that fail to meet their obligations to support military personnel and Veterans.

In particular, SFTT has been most critical of the level of care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) to Veterans.  We get no pleasure in citing the many shortcomings of the VA, but it seems like every day one scandal or another emerges which captures national attention.

A few days ago, we learned that the VA’s “Crisis Line” to prevent Veteran suicides appeared to be woefully unresponsive:

An insider memo newly uncovered by the Associated Press indicates that more than one-third of calls to the national suicide hotline for troubled veterans are not being answered by front-line staffers because of poor work habits and other problems at the VA.

This follows an Inspector General Report in February which cited numerous problems in the Crisis Line now managed by the VA.

It is interesting to note that a little over a year ago the DoD suspended funding for a Veteran Suicide Hotline run by Vets4Warriors, to centralize the function within the VA.

Priggee Cartoon from Denver Post

Reading the IG’s report and recent disclosures that Veterans in crisis are underserved by the VA, this decision to close down an effective and privately-run Veteran Suicide Hotline now doesn’t seem to be a great idea.

Frankly, I am tired of listening to President Obama (or any other President for that matter) state that “I don’t want to in any way pretend that we are where we need to be,”  after having increased the VA budget by 85% during his presidency.

Any sane citizen would simply conclude that we are simply wasting valuable resources within the VA that could be more efficiently deployed to provide Veterans with support and treatment that might make some difference in their lives.  Let’s face it:  If VA employees at Crisis Centers don’t pick up the phone or respond to text messages, then no amount of money is going to solve the problem.

The VA appears to be a broken institution that has simply lost its way. It is hard to conceive of a more responsive and efficient VA, with the likes of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, seemingly more interested in defending the status quo of his constituency rather than encourage radical reform in a bloated bureaucracy.

The battle lines have been drawn and it is difficult to see how Veterans – who don’t seem to have much of a voice in the final outcome – will receive better treatment and care from an institution that is reeling out of control.

The VA has strayed far from its mission to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “’To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

va_payroll

More to the point, the Department of Veterans Affairs has effectively disavowed its five core values that “underscore” the VA’s mission: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.

Integrity: Act with high moral principle. Adhere to the highest professional standards. Maintain the trust and confidence of all with whom I engage.

Commitment: Work diligently to serve Veterans and other beneficiaries. Be driven by an earnest belief in VA’s mission. Fulfill my individual responsibilities and organizational responsibilities.

Advocacy: Be truly Veteran-centric by identifying, fully considering, and appropriately advancing the interests of Veterans and other beneficiaries.

Respect: Treat all those I serve and with whom I work with dignity and respect. Show respect to earn it.

Excellence: Strive for the highest quality and continuous improvement. Be thoughtful and decisive in leadership, accountable for my actions, willing to admit mistakes, and rigorous in correcting them.

The VA’s “core values” are simply words that appear to have little in common with the “dignity and respect” we should show our Veterans.   How sad!  More importantly, how tragic it is that little will be done to restore today’s VA to an institution that we can all admire and respect.

President Lincoln’s “promise” is little more than a soundbite at a political rally.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Sep 30, 2016

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

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

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

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

VA Suicide Hot Line

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

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

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

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

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

special forces

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

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

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SFTT News: Week of Sep 2, 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.

Turkey Opens New Battlefront in Syria
Turkish tanks and other armored vehicles have entered Syria’s northern province of Aleppo and shelled Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) positions in the area, opening up yet another battlefront within the last two weeks, various media outlets reported. Turkey sent tanks into the town of al-Rai, located in Aleppo Province as part of its Euphrates Shield operation aimed at pushing both IS and Kurdish militants away from the border, Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported Saturday.  Read more . . .

Marines Collect Intel and Pinpoint ISIS Targets
Behind the scenes in the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq are Marine intelligence analysts who work around the clock to produce what are called, in military euphemism, “target development products” — essentially, information about enemy equipment and personnel to be destroyed.  As Iraqi security forces, supported by a U.S.-led coalition, fight ISIS militants with hopes to retake Mosul in the north by year’s end, troops with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Central Command provide “intelligence surge support,” developing from one to six or more targets in a given week, task force commander Col. Kenneth Kassner told Military.com this week.  Read more . . .

Veterans with PTSD

Can Combat PTSD be Cured?
According to Amy Marshall, associate professor of psychology at Penn State, when people suffer from Combat PTSD, there may be major changes in behavior and personality with no outward change in their appearance. Symptoms can include recurring nightmares and flashbacks of events, insomnia, feelings of anger or numbness, and the sense of being constantly on guard. Some studies suggest that twenty percent or more of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD; however, most researchers acknowledge that the stigma of mental illness, among other factors, makes accurate PTSD statistics difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, with an estimated twenty veterans committing suicide daily, there is a sense of urgency about finding solutions.   Read more . . .

US Army Introduces New Tourniquet
The service currently is training and equipping its combat medics with a new device, called a junctional tourniquet. It looks a bit like a belt, but comes with two inflatable bladders that can be pumped up to put pressure over a wound, even in locations where a traditional tourniquet would be ineffective. “Exsanguination (bleeding to death) is the most common cause of potentially survivable death for wounded warfighters,” said Ellen Crown, a spokeswoman for the US Army Medical Materiel Agency. The junctional tourniquet is designed so “a person can position it in under a minute — a crucial factor for combat medics who only have mere minutes to save a fellow warfighter’s life if he or she is hemorrhaging.”  Read more . . .

Money Won’t Fix What Ails the VA
A massive new report from the Commission on Care, created by Congress after the 2014 scandal, concludes: “Although VHA provides care that is in many ways comparable or better in clinical quality to that generally available in the private sector, it is inconsistent from facility to facility, and can be substantially compromised by problems with access, service, and poorly functioning operational systems and processes.”  Among the commission’s 18 recommendations for a sweeping overhaul: Create a more comprehensive and flexible “VHA care system.” That’s envisioned as a less rigid network of providers including doctors from the VA, military hospitals, other federally funded providers and facilities, and VA-credentialed private doctors and clinics.  Read more . . .

Lawsuit Filed a Wisconsin VA Facility
A lawsuit filed against a Wisconsin Veterans Affairs facility is alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death. The wife and the daughter of Jason Simcakoski filed the lawsuit in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 29th, 2016. It is not clear at this time what damages his family are seeking.  Read more . . .

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

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Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

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It is not exactly known how many military dogs have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the service of their country, but most anyone in combat can attest to their valor.  While the number of military dog fatalities dwarfs the estimated 8 million horses that died in WW1, their protective role in combat cannot be underestimated.

Service Dogs and Veterans

While dogs have long served alongside men and women in combat, it is surprising (at least to me) that the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) continues to insist that there is no “clinical evidence” to conclude that service dogs offer any material benefit to Veterans with PTSD:

Owning a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed. Dogs can help people feel better by providing companionship. All dog owners, including those who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can experience these benefits.

Clinically, there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms. Evidence-based therapies and medications for PTSD are supported by research. We encourage you to learn more about these treatments because it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from the few studies on dogs and PTSD that have been done.

Fortunately, many States and private foundations feel differently than the VA about the emotional benefits Veterans may receive with a service dog.  As such, many charitable organizations have popped up around the country to provide Veterans with access to service dogs.   Veterans who receive these wonderful companions are most grateful.

Train a Dog – Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”)

It costs money to identify and train service dogs.  One organization that does a commendable job in doing so is Train a Dog – Save a Warrior or “TADSAW”.

Sadly, there are far too many Veterans with PTSD seeking “battle buddies” than TADSAW or other similar organizations can provide. While many Veterans find it difficult to make the time to train with their new “buddy,” there are many wonderful stories that suggest these dogs do have a positive impact on the lives of Veterans.

Some 3.9 million dogs enter animal shelters each year in the United States. If only 1% of these dogs could be properly trained and given to Veterans, we would make a serious dent on reducing the number of abandoned dogs and help 39,000 Veterans reclaim their lives.

This sounds like a win-win proposition.  Shouldn’t we give it a go or wait until further research is available at the VA?

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Throwing Snowballs at the Department of Veteran Affairs

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Many years ago I was reading a biographic sketch of the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.   According to the biography, teenager Trudeau was arrested by the Chinese police for throwing snowballs at a statue of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square.

Chairman Mao

He was released by Chinese police after explaining that “it was a Canadian tradition to throw snowballs at statues of famous people.”    I have no idea if this story is true, but it would not surprise me as the brilliant and iconoclastic Trudeau had a glib answer for most everything.

As readers of Stand For the Troops (“SFTT”) news are aware, we are not satisfied with how the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) treats Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  As reported last week, Maj. Ben Richards cites numerous internal and external studies demonstrating that VA protocols in treating Veterans with PTSD and TBI have not been effective.

For the well-being of our Veterans and their loved ones, we can only hope that our well-meaning “snowballs” will ultimately have some effect on breaking through the entrenched bureaucracy at the VA.

Sadly, this is unlikely to be the case.  But if hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of concerned Americans were lobbing snowballs at the VA through their elected officials in D.C., “a thousand flowers might bloom.”   I apologize to Chairman Mao for misquoting him.

If you listen to Dr. Xavier Cifu’s moronic defense of the VA’s “evidence-based” PTSD therapy programs to a Congressional committee, you get the sense that his “own personal opinion” is far more important than any scientific evidence.

Needless to say, not everyone within the VA is as oblivious to its shortcomings  as Dr. Cifu.  For instance,  Paula Schnurr, who heads the National Center for PTSD, which is part of the VA, says

. . . she’s “not concerned about veterans seeking alternative strategies in addition to effective strategies,” as long as the alternative doesn’t replace a method with more evidence behind it.

Schnurr says 90 percent of VA centers across the country do offer some sort of alternative treatment for PTSD. And many have been studied through clinical trials — some, like meditation and yoga, with promising results.

Schnurr also points out one approach to trauma, once approached with broad skepticism, is now on the VA’s list of approved treatments. EMDR — devised in the late 1980s — uses bilateral eye movement, looking side to side, during cognitive behavioral therapy. Only after about a dozen clinical studies did Schnurr feel comfortable recommending it.

“I’m convinced the treatment works; I’m not sure why,” she says.

But as long as the treatment is based on rigorous science, she says, that’s evidence enough.

Ah, there are those magical words again:  “rigorous science.”  What do those words actually mean?   Could the “observational model” be flawed?  At least, Ms. Schnurr has an open mind.

Is the Department of Veterans Affairs too Big to Succeed?

As we have seen last week, the VA continues to use flawed procedures to treat PTSD and TBI yet insists that the “treatment is based on rigorous science.”  Gosh, if the VA’s own internal and external audits demonstrate that standard therapies are not effective in helping Veterans with PTSD and TBI to achieve better outcomes, why not explore other alternatives?

Some weeks ago, we analysed the VA under the microscope of Nassim Taleb’s theory of Antifragility.   Even a superficial analysis of the VA suggests that the organization is Fragile and, in my opinion, far too big to succeed in its mission.

Veterans Cartoon by Gary Varval

Cartoonist Gary Varval

As if on queue, the New York Times asks the question:  Did Obama’s Bill Fix Veterans’ Health Care? Still Waiting.

When President Obama signed a sweeping $15 billion bill to end delays at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals two years ago, lawmakers standing with him applauded the legislation as a bold response that would finally break the logjam.

It has not quite worked out that way.

Although veterans say they have seen improvement under the bill, it has often fallen short of expectations. Nowhere is the shortfall more clear than in the wait for appointments: Veterans are waiting longer to see doctors than they were two years ago, and more are languishing with extreme waiting times.

According to the agency’s most recent data, 526,000 veterans are waiting more than a month for care. And about 88,000 of them are waiting more than three months.

What we are seeing, is increasingly discouraging outcomes for Veterans no matter how much money we allocate to “fixing” the problem.  In economics, one simply refers to this as “decreasing marginal returns on investment.”  This is not to say that some Veterans have not benefited with this new taxpayer largesse, but we should have received far better results if the VA were not so big!

So, if you are wondering what to do on this warm summer day, just pick up a few snow balls and gently lob them in the direction of our Congress and Senate in D.C.    Facing up to the realities that the VA is failing our Veterans is at least the first step toward helping these brave warriors reclaim their lives.

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The VA Can’t Handle the Truth So Why Not Lie

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In a moving round-table discussion hosted by Stand for the Troops (“SFTT”), Maj. Ben Richards provides a devastating overview of why the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) is failing to provide adequate care to brave Veterans suffering from PTSD. Let Ben explain why in his own words:

Drawing from internal and external VA studies, Maj. Richards exposes the great fraud perpetrated by the VA that claims to be providing adequate treatment to Veterans who suffer from PTSD and TBI (“traumatic brain injury”). Clearly, those in VA management are well aware that current treatment protocols to treat PTSD and TBI are seriously flawed.

Why is it necessary, for VA spokespersons like Dr. Xavier Cifu to articulate banal nonsense to Congress that seeks to provide better treatment for our Veterans? More to the point, why don’t those in authority within the VA simply acknowledge that “we don’t have the answers,” rather than persevere supporting treatment therapies that simply don’t work and may, in fact, be harmful?

Everyone realizes that egos and big money are on the line, but shouldn’t the well-being of our men and women in uniform and Veterans come first?

SFTT has long been partnering with several alternative treatment therapies designed to provide Veterans with options. Sadly, most of these protocols are not endorsed or supported by the VA. We long ago concluded that the entrenched bureaucracy within the VA appears to be far more interested in promoting its own path to wellness rather than acknowledge that other alternative therapies may provide benefits.

As Maj. Richards points out, the recommended VA treatment protocols do not work and those in VA’s management know that they are ineffective. Therefore, it seems evident that Congress and others must look beyond the VA to provide Veterans with PTSD therapy alternatives.

There is a growing awareness around the country that the VA is simply out of step with reality and several states are taking matters into their own hands to provide privately funded therapy programs.  In particular, Maj. Richards is able to avail himself of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in his home state of Minnesota.

Also, it was recently reported that a Joint study by Tel Aviv University, IDF, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and National Institutes of Health finds computerized training before deployment could prevent PTSD.

In fact, Dr. Yuval Neria, a Special Advisor to SFTT’s Medical Task Force,  explains that computerized training protocols may help patients cope with PTSD more effectively.

Biased Threat Attention Computerized Training Protocols

Dr. Yuval Neria, Professor of Medical Psychology at the Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, and Director of Trauma and PTSD at the New York State Psychiatric Institute presents his Attention-Bias-Modification Treatment (ABMT) designed to implicitly modify a PTSD patients’ biased threat attention via computerized training protocols.

 

SFTT helped fund these experimental studies by Dr. Yuval Neria.  In the video above, he describes in scientific terms some promising breakthroughs on computerized training protocols to assist both Veterans and civilians cope with PTSD.

While I guess we should take some solace in the fact that Veteran suicides have now fallen on a daily basis from 22 to 20, the fact remains that we have tens of thousands of Veterans who are receiving inadequate treatment.  The suicide of one Veteran is too many, so let’s hope that the Department of Veterans Affairs wakes up to the challenge rather than disparage other treatment alternatives.

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SFTT News: Week ending Jul 29, 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.

High-Tech “Robo” Technology Raises Eyebrows
Israeli defense company Elbit Systems is turning some heads with its robot warship, the Seagull. The unmanned surface vehicle (USV) operates autonomously and is capable of protecting the maritime environment from underwater threats such as mines or submarines. In a military first, the vessel this week successfully fired a lightweight torpedo via its remote Mission Control System (MCS).  Read more . . .

Unmanned US Military Vehicle

Worldwide Military Expenditure Database at a Glance
The core work of the military expenditure project is to collect, analyse, process and publish data on military expenditure worldwide, and to monitor and analyse trends in military expenditure over time, looking at their economic, political and security drivers and their implications for global peace, security and development.  The military expenditure project is fundamentally data driven. At the heart of the project is SIPRI’s unique, freely available, military expenditure database. The database is updated annually, both with new data for the most recent year and with revisions to past data to take account of new information and ensure consistency over time.  Read more . . .

Next Generation Laser Eyewear Protection
Army land warfare experts are ready to kick off an industry competition to develop a new generation of laser-protecting goggles and other eyewear that safeguards soldiers’ eyes from shrapnel, laser beams, sand and dust, and bright sunlight. Officials of the Army Contracting Command at Natick, Mass., issued a presolicitation Wednesday (W911QY-16-R-0043) for the Next Generation Eye Protection (NGEP) project. Army officials say they plan to award one or more one-year contracts to develop prototype protective eyewear.  Read more . . .

Five U.S. Military Personnel Injured in Afghanistan
Five U.S. special operations members were wounded while working with Afghan special forces in an operation to clear areas controlled by Islamic State in eastern Afghanistan, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said on Thursday. Army General John Nicholson said two of the injured service members have returned to duty, while three others were evacuated but are “in good spirits” and are expected to make a full recovery, he said.  Read more . . .

special forces

Purge of Turkish Military after Unsuccessful Coup
Now, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wages a widespread purge, jailing and suspending tens of thousands of state employees, the military that has long served as a unifying force for the country is deeply divided, diminished and discredited. Nearly half of the top generals and admirals have been jailed or dismissed and thousands of foot soldiers charged. More than 1,500 officers were dishonorably discharged this week in advance of a meeting of the Supreme Military Council in Ankara on Thursday, where leaders were expected to consider a broader restructuring of the military.  Read more . . .

Memorial to Honor Vets Who Lost to PTSD
A unique memorial is planned to commemorate military veterans who have lost their battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to suicide. The Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall, to be erected in Channahon State Park, outside Chicago, will also serve as a national reminder of all those who suffer the invisible but potentially devastating mental and emotional wounds of war.  Read more . . .

Review of “The Fractured Republic” Helps to Understand VA Scandal
Since the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs first broke in 2014—leading to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki—a public debate has been simmering over what, exactly, should be done to fix the VA. This debate is fundamentally a good thing. In a political system such as ours, debate is crucially important to addressing problems, and few problems are so grave and morally meaningful to a national community as how its veterans are treated. Policy details matter, and most participants in the debate are sincere in their positions and seeking to do right by veterans.   Read more . . .

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

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