The VA and Opioids: Finger-pointing Begins

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SFTT has been reporting for a number of years the abuse at the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) for prescribing addictive prescription drugs to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

Despite repeated messaging by VA officials that it applies “science-based evidence” to prescribe treatment for Veterans, it would appear that the VA has been sadly duped into believing that painkilling opioids is a “science-based” solution to treat Veterans with PTSD.

The Washington Post reports tonight (Oct 15, 2017), that 60 Minutes will provide an expose on how the drug industry triumphed over the DEA.   While I have no idea how CBS will spin the narrative,  it has been evident for many years that the pharmaceutical industry “owned” Congress and government authorities who “regulated” their business practices.

Opioids for Veterans with PTSD

The fact that we have an opioid epidemic in the United States should be of no surprise to anyone who has watched this tragedy unfold.    What is a surprise, is that the same groups who enabled this tragedy are now sounding the alarm bells to curb the excesses they themselves created.

In an earlier blog, SFTT cited a few organizations that should have the decency to admit that their “science-based evidence” completely underestimated the effect that easy prescription practices would contribute to addiction.

I do not doubt that corporate greed has played a large role in this terrible prescription drug epidemic, but let’s not forget their important enablers:

More to the point, politicians of both parties deserve a large measure of culpability in providing pharmaceutical companies with the breathing space and easy access to peddle their lethal drugs to the medical profession and naive end users.

How the VA Fueled the Opioid Crisis

Just this last week, Newsweek describes in detail how the VA fueled the opioid crisis by prescribing potent prescription drugs to Veterans suffering from the effects of PTSD and TBI.

In 2011, veterans were twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdoses as non-veterans. One reason, as an exhaustive Newsweek investigation—based on this reporter’s book, Mental Health, Inc.—found, is that for over a decade, the VA recklessly overprescribed opiates and psychiatric medications. Since mid-2012, though, it has swung dangerously in the other direction, ordering a drastic cutback of opioids for chronic pain patients, but it is bungling that program and again putting veterans at risk. (It has also left untouched one of the riskiest classes of medications, antipsychotics—prescribed overwhelmingly for uses that aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as with post-traumatic stress disorder.)

The Newsweek article, written by Art Levine, goes into great detail how the VA let our Veterans down by prescribing prescription drugs to Veterans with PTSD with little – if any – required approvals from the FDA.

Like most other pseudo-science arguments spun by VA spokespeople, our brave Veterans did not receive proper therapy for PTSD and TBI but rather were served a concoction of addictive drugs that simply mask the symptoms rather treat the problem.

The VA then felt the need to discredit any other therapy programs for Veterans that might conflict with the limited “approved” VA treatment options.

While there does seem to be a strong effort to curb the use of prescription pain drugs, Art Levine points out that this has forced addicted Veterans to seek other alternatives:

Equally troubling, the crackdown on opiate prescribing—a swing from one dangerous extreme to another—may be contributing to an increase in heroin and illegal opiate medication use among veterans, as well as suicides from pain-wracked veterans going through poorly monitored withdrawal. (Even with new opioid guidelines, the number of veterans with opioid-use disorders increased 55 percent from 2010 to 2015.)

While recognizing the heart-wrenching impact of this epidemic is certainly an important first step, it seems ludicrous to suggest that the same cast of characters who created the problem should be the ones empowered to solve it.

Veterans, Veteran organizations and our political leaders have known for years that the VA is broken.   How many more needless Veteran deaths and suicides do we need to confirm the undeniable fact Veterans are not receiving proper care and treatment at VA facilities?

While 60 Minutes will no doubt cast a dark shadow on the pharmaceutical industry, shouldn’t their partners in crime stand up and admit their undeniable culpability?

Our Veterans deserve far better than the shady dealings between unethical drug companies and their no less reprehensible political benefactors.

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Opioid Abuse, Veterans and Mea Culpa

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With 80 people dying each day from overdoses of opioids, it is not surprising that Federal, State and Local authorities are seeking emergency measures and money to treat opioid abuse.

OxyContin - Veteran Addiction

Less surprising is the moral outrage and lynch-mob mentality of those who seek vengeance against those they deem responsible for the epidemic.  Just today, I read in the New York Times that the McKesson Corporation, “the nation’s largest drug distributor . . . finds itself at the center of the nation’s opioid epidemic.”

According to New York Times editor Gretchen Morgenson, McKesson shareholders and investors are likely to question the lavish pay packages earned McKesson executives while promoting the sale of lethal opioids to an unsuspecting public.

I do not doubt that corporate greed has played a large role in this terrible epidemic, but let’s not forget their important enablers:

I realize it is a lot easier to blame some Colombian or Mexican War Lord for our nationwide drug addiction, but it seems undeniable that the U.S. government and trusted private and public associations have colluded with drug companies to create this “semi-legal” drug epidemic.

The consequences are heart-wrenching for many families who have lost loved-ones to this terrible addiction. Large towns and cities across the country have been devastated. Communities can no longer support themselves due to drug addiction by large segments of their population.

Rather than seek villains from this terrible tragedy, it is an opportunity for all citizens to reflect on the dysfunctional medical and substance control and testing process that enabled privately-owned companies to “legally” hook so many Americans on prescription drugs.  The “mea culpa” has plenty of self-serving enablers who would do well not to point fingers.

Sure, Big Pharma may eventually pay the price, but political party operatives have had their hands out at every stage of the addiction process to accept  “political contributions” to keep the regulatory process well lubricated.

The Veterans and Opioids

As SFTT has reported on numerous occasions, the VA has regularly resorted to using opioids and other toxic prescription drugs to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  The VA and the Department of Defense (the DoD) have long known of the side-effects of opioids, but both have cited the FDA and “clinical trials” as evidence that their treatment procedures have strong support from the medical community.

According to the VA (whose numbers are generally suspect), some 68,000 Veterans are addicted to opioids:

“The Center for Investigative Reporting, using data provided under the Freedom of Information Act, said prescriptions for four opioids (hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine) surged by 270 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to addictions and a fatal overdose rate that was twice the national average.

“In 2014, the VA said it issued 1.7 million prescriptions for opioids to 443,000 vets to be taken at home.

“Citing a VA Office of Inspector General’s report, the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL) said: “Between 2010 and 2015, the number of veterans addicted to opioids rose 55 percent to a total of roughly 68,000. This figure represents about 13 percent of all veterans currently prescribed opioids.”

Even by the VA’s own admission, these numbers are staggering.  More to the point, the use of these opioids may have helped Veterans cope with their pain, but it has done little if anything to help treat Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.  In fact, many Veterans will argue that the use of these prescription opioids has led to deeper depression and anxiety and, in some cases, suicidal tendencies.

Frankly, the use of opioids in treating PTSD and TBI has been largely unsuccessful.  There are many less invasive treatment alternatives for PTSD and TBI, but the VA seems reluctant to pursue them.

Why?  Has the insatiable greed of corporations and their government enablers blocked the pursuit of new treatment alternatives?

I certainly hope not, but I remain sceptical.

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Techniques to Help Veterans Minimize Chronic Pain

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Dealing with chronic pain can be quite a . . . pain.  Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts longer than 6 months, chronic pain can be moderate or unbearable; episodic or continuous. Of course, whether due to past injuries, strain from overuse, or just general wear and tear, chronic pain is common amongst military Veterans.

Caregiver for Veteran with PTSD

On days when the pain is debilitating, you may not want to get out of bed. It may seem as though you are fighting a losing battle against the pain, but your quality of life can be restored. More importantly, it can be done without having to rely on opioids for relief. Here are a few tips on what you can do to minimize chronic pain.

Biofeedback Therapy for Chronic Pain

Biofeedback is a relaxation technique in which patients use their mind to control body functions that normally occur without fail. Participating in a biofeedback therapy session can give you the skills to lessen your pain at home. In a session, sensors will be attached to your body, then connected to a monitoring device. The device will measure your body functions such as breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. As you relax during therapy, your breathing slows and your heart rate will dip. As the numbers on the monitor begin to reflect your relaxed state, you will start to learn how to consciously control your body functions. Through biofeedback therapy, you will learn how to use your mind to overcome bouts of pain.

How to Reduce Inflammation for Chronic Pain

It’s no secret that chronic pain and inflammation go hand-in-hand. Inflammation is a normal immune response in  your body that usually alerts you when something is wrong. Pain, swelling and redness are all forms of inflammation that is needed to help with the healing process. Inflammation becomes an issue when it becomes chronic, and the initial healing process fails, which causes pain. Fortunately you can reduce chronic pain and inflammation by consuming a healthy diet. Certain foods can cause flare ups, therefore they need to be reduced or eliminated. Those foods include dairy products, fried food, refined flour, sugar, high-fat red meat and all processed foods. The proper diet should be rich in leafy-green vegetables, low-sugar fruits and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Exercise Regularly to Reduce Chronic Pain

Exercise is actually one of the best ways to reduce chronic pain. The less you move, the more pain you are likely to feel. The endorphins that are released during exercise are natural painkillers that increase your tolerance by changing how your body responds to pain. Routine exercise can help you reduce your medicine intake, increase your happiness and return your zest for life. If you find it difficult to move fluidly during exercise, start by walking a few times a week, then gradually increase your efforts.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

Naturally, you’ll want to do everything you can to maintain your independence, but know that it is more than ok to need help. Overdoing it in areas where you shouldn’t will only worsen your pain, causing you more stress and unhappiness. Figure out areas of your life where you could use some help and then see who might be able to provide it.

For example, keeping your house clean may be especially difficult when your pain is at its worst. Consider asking a family member to help you with cleaning once a week or if you have the resources, hire a housekeeper. Yard work can be another troublesome area for people with chronic pain. Chances are you can find a tween or teen in your neighborhood who would be more than happy to pick up leaves in your yard or mow it once every couple of weeks for a few extra bucks. Just having this little bit of extra help can make a world of difference.

Find Support

Chronic pain can be very isolating and it may seem as though no one in your immediate circle understands your frustration. Participating in a support group, such as those provided by the ACPA and its sister organization Veterans in Pain, will provide a safe haven for you and allow you the opportunity to vent. Those that suffer with chronic pain tend to see themselves in a negative light. Thinking negatively of yourself can lead to depression and more painful flare-ups. If you find that the group setting is not helping you solve your issues, consider reaching out to a therapist. Never be ashamed or prideful to ask for help –it just may save your life.

When you are in pain, it can be hard to find the motivation to do anything. Feelings of anger and resentment toward your body are to be expected, but it is important that you push forward. Chronic pain is a condition that can be successfully managed as long as you treat it with self-love and patience. Use these tips as a blueprint to help you combat chronic pain and start living your best life!

Guest Contributor, Constance Ray
Recovery Well

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SFTT Military News: Week Ending Mar 10, 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.

Turkey Seeks to Develop Military Cooperation with Russia on Syria
President Tayyip Erdogan sought to build cooperation with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Friday over military operations in Syria, as Turkey attempts to create a border “safe zone” free of Islamic State and the Kurdish YPG militia. Erdogan, referring to Islamic State’s remaining stronghold, told a joint Moscow news conference with the Russian President “Of course, the real target now is Raqqa”. Turkey is seeking a role for its military in the advance on Raqqa, but the United States is veering toward enlisting the Kurdish YPG militia – something contrary to Ankara’s aim of banishing Kurdish fighters eastwards across the Euphrates river.  Read more . . .

Dangerous Military Options for North Korea
Frustrated that North Korea has been undeterred by international sanctions, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is conducting a policy review to look for more effective ways to counter Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear threats. Adding new urgency to this longstanding security threat is North Korea’s accelerated efforts to develop the capability to strike the U.S. mainland with a nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM.) In January President Trump tweeted “it will not happen,” in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s statement indicating that his country would soon test an ICBM.  Read more . . .

Support Options to Help Veterans Finish College
Military veterans face steep challenges when trying to reintegrate themselves in school after service, ranging from lacking the structure of the military to being older than their classmates. Compared to their non-vet peers, veterans — 4% of undergrads nationwide, according to American Council on Education — report at higher rates that they struggle to connect with campus, which can lead to higher dropout rates. In 2011, 51.7% of veteran students graduated from college, compared to 58% of non-veteran students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. To help more vets stay in school and graduate, several universities nationwide have started programs to teach their staff and faculty about military culture and veterans’ issues. DuBord helped Binghamton adopt one such training program, called Vet Net Ally.   Read more . . .

Drug Abuse

Expanded Drug Testing for Military Applicants
The Defense Department will be expanding drug testing for military applicants to check for all drugs that are tested in active duty military members, according to DoD.  The change, set to take place on April 3, is meant to reflect “the level of illicit and prescription medication abuse among civilians, as well as the increase in heroin and synthetic drug use within the civilian population,” according to Army Col. Tom Martin.  Read more . . .

Can PTSD Risk be Estimated Before Deployment?
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are studying cortisol and testosterone in soldiers. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released as part of the body’s flight-or-fight response to life-threatening emergencies. Testosterone is one of the most important of the male sex hormones. Their findings, published in the journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology, look at cortisol’s critical role in the emergence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but only when levels of testosterone are suppressed.   Read more . . .

PTSD:  Misconceptions and Latest Treatments
Medscape recently interviewed Dr Sonya Norman, director of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Consultation Program, run by the executive branch of the National Center for PTSD, about common misconceptions related to PTSD and the latest treatments for the condition.  Read more . . .

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org 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

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How the VA Hooked Veterans on Opioids

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In yet another example of well-researched reporting, the Washington Post details how the Department of Veterans Affairs (“the VA”) hooked Veterans on opioids and other powerful prescription drugs and then failed to provide these Veterans adequate treatment facilities.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges its role in creating a large population of opioid-addicted veterans by overprescribing painkillers for injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. After the agency tightened prescribing practices in 2013, many veterans bought pain pills sold illicitly on the streets. When those became too expensive, they sought heroin and fentanyl, a potent synthetic narcotic.

The VA is now struggling to undo the damage. Hampered by budgetary and bureaucratic obstacles, it has failed to build a rehabilitation program robust enough to meet the overwhelming demand for treatment from the tens of thousands of veterans with opioid addiction, say analysts who have studied the issue. That has left many veterans to fend for themselves, tapping whatever resources they can find to battle a chronic, complex—and frequently fatal—condition.

While the number of toxic opioids prescribed by the VA began to decline after 2013, the damage had been done to many Veterans returning from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  SFTT has long argued against the use of these addictive drugs, but the VA has been slow to respond to the evident abuse and potentially lethal consequences for Veterans suffering from PTSD.

Drug Abuse

While the much needed reform within the VA has received widespread bi-partisan Congressional support, labor leaders like David Cox have blocked any meaningful reform.  Clearly, the self-serving interests of VA employees appears to take preference over the needs of our Veterans.

The Commission on Care report on overhauling the VA was released on June 30th, 2016.  Sadly, political parties lined up on either side of the report to misrepresent the meaningful reforms sought by “disinterested” consultants seeking to improve treatment for Veterans.  It is difficult to speculate what – if any – of these reforms will be implemented by the new administration, but it appears that the labored search for a new VA Secretary suggests that it is a rather difficult position for the Trump administration to fill.

President Barack Obama

As the Obama administration gives way to a new one, President Obama would do well to heed the advice of John Rowan, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America, “to pardon all post 9/11 Veterans who received less-than-honorable discharges without the due process of a court-martial.”

Mr. Rowan argues that

The “misconduct” the military frequently cites to justify less-than-honorable discharges is often related to PTSD, traumatic brain injury or other service-related illnesses and injuries. Yet the military itself is culpable, having for years under diagnosed those problems. After service, things often get worse, since “bad paper” discharges can result in the denial of veterans benefits. Without proper care, and with the stigma of a less-than-honorable discharge, these veterans are often more likely to become substance abusers, homeless or incarcerated — or to die by suicide.

While some may be absolved by this sweeping policy, it could be a step forward to call attention to the plight suffered by many Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI that have been ill-served by the medical community in treating this debilitating injury.

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A Fitting Tribute by Wes Moore to Honor our Veterans

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When I see a man or woman in uniform, I will often say “Thank you for your service.” While I truly do honor these brave men and women serving in harm’s way, I am never quite sure whether this oft-repeated phrase conveys the full extent of my THANKS!

Furthermore, those in uniform may have heard the expression so often that to them it may seems to carry as much genuine appreciation as “Have a nice day!”

While struggling to come up with a more effective way to say “Thank you” to our brave Veterans, I happened to have come across this wonderful Ted Talk by Wes Moore.

In my mind, it sums up pretty much about how I feel about the brave Veterans who serve our country so valiantly and have come “home” markedly changed by that experience.

This holiday season, SFTT honors your service and extends our best wishes for a joyous Christmas with friends and family. If you do have an opportunity to share bread with a Veteran over the holidays, do probe a little bit deeper than the simple exchange of pleasantries. It just might do you both some good.

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The VA Semantics of Treating Veterans with PTSD

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While watching the “Talking Heads” address the Russian hacking scandal through the prism of partisan politics, it struck me that much the same language is used by the VA when discussing the treatment of Veterans with PTSD.

PTSD Support Veterans

While I have always thought that the proper use of language should be celebrated rather than used as a divisive instrument, I am very much bothered by the implications of blurring the meaning of words to suit one’s political ends.

Specifically, hacking DNC or private servers is very much different than “intervening” in the election process.  Most, if not all, governments (including our own) hack foreign and often their own domestic communication’s networks.

While one can endlessly debate the ethics of hacking, it has been going on for centuries.  It is simply a derivative of spying.

Using that purloined information to disrupt or interfere in our own or any other election process can most certainly be construed as an aggressive act.

The point here is that the act of “hacking” and “weaponizing the information” from that hack are two very different subjects.    Blurring the meaning and intent of these two very separate activities is cause for alarm. Specifically, it introduces a number of conflicting and non-related elements into the equation that cannot be properly analyzed.  Formulating an “appropriate response” will even be more difficult.

The intent here is not to discussing Russian hacking, but to show how the use of language can be used to create a distorted view of the efficacy of various VA programs to treat Veterans with PTSD and TBI.

Specifically, there is huge difference between the following statements:

The VA is treating Veterans with PTSD;

The VA is treating Veterans for the symptoms of PTSD.

As Maj. Ben Richards eloquently points out, there is no evidence that VA-prescribed therapies have  “healed” or resulted in any significant improvement to Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI.

 

Clearly, treating the symptoms of PTSD and TBI is quite a bit different than restoring brain function and permanently improving the physical and mental condition of military Veterans suffering from PTSD.

In effect, current VA programs seem to be designed to help Veterans cope with the side-effects of PTSD and TBI (i.e. depression, suicidal thoughts, alienation, etc.) rather than cure the underlying problem.    In many cases, we have seen that lethal combinations of prescription drugs have had the opposite effect.

The semantics of VA administrators stating that they are “treating PTSD” rather than “coping with the symptoms of PTSD” is not a trivial distinction.  In fact, there seems to be little evidence that the VA has provided Veterans with a clear path to restore some level of normalcy in their everyday life.

Clearly, with VA consultants like Dr. David Cifu suggesting unorthodox practices to deal with “concussive events” that no one in the medical profession seems to support, it is not surprising that the Veteran treatment outcomes have been so poor.

While there is clearly a need to help Veterans cope with the myriad of frightening symptoms that emanate from PTSD and TBI, we urgently need benchmarks to help provide Veterans with a path to recovery.

As long as a disproportionate amount of money is spent by the VA on drugs and ineffective therapy programs to deal with the behavioral symptoms of PTSD and TBI, then Veterans will be shortchanged by the organization responsible for their care.

With new leadership on the horizon at the VA, SFTT remains hopeful that Veteran trust in the VA will be restored and that the organization will be purged of the toxic leadership of Dr. David Cifu and others who defend the status quo.  Our Veterans and those in the military are not well served by these corrosive and divisive administrators.

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SFTT News: Week of Nov 11, 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.

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

Ten Good Reasons to Hire Military Veterans
Companies take note: hiring a veteran of the U.S. Military comes with a host of benefits. A number of Quora users responded to the question “What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the U.S. Military?” Of the responders, retired Marine sergeant and current hiring manager Jon Davis outlined ten key reasons employers should hire military veterans.  Read more . . .

“Growing Veterans” to Assist Veterans
It’s an approach that’s far from typical, but when it comes to healing the scars of war, local veterans say a non-profit called Growing Veterans really works. The organization seeks to ease the tough transition that is life after the military.  It does so with the help of a farm, and a first-of-its-kind farmer’s market stand at the VA Hospital in Seattle. The goal is empowering veterans to grow food, communities, and each other.  Read more . . .

Trump Surges to Become Next Commander-in-Chief
In a stunning upset, Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday was elected to become the next commander-in-chief over his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump, 70, behind in polls going into Election Day, was declared the winner and president-elect by the Associated Press early Wednesday morning after seizing a number of key battleground states, from Ohio to Pennsylvania to Florida.  Read more . . .

More Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in Congress
More veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are headed to Capitol Hill next year, despite an overall drop in the number of representatives and senators with military experience. At least 27 veterans of the recent wars won congressional races on Tuesday night, with a handful of races still in the balance. The current Congress includes 26 veterans with time in those two war zones.  The number includes 18 incumbents who won reelection and three senators not facing contests this cycle.  Read more . . .

Suicide Bomber Kills 4 Servicemen at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan
A man wearing a suicide vest killed at least four people inside the largest NATO military base in Afghanistan early Saturday, a senior U.S. military official told NBC News. Around 14 others were injured in the attack on Bagram Airfield, according to a statement released by the NATO mission in Afghanistan.  Read more . . .

Nato Logo

More U.S. Troops in Europe Still on Track – For Now
The Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to deploy more troops, attack helicopters and artillery to Europe early next year as part of a multibillion-dollar effort to reinforce NATO’s defenses along Russia’s periphery, the military said on Thursday. A Fort Carson-based armored brigade is set to rotate to Europe in January as part of an effort to ensure a year-round presence of tanks and additional troops on the Continent. The deployment, part of the $3.4 billion European Reassurance Initiative, calls for series of other moves aimed at improving the military’s ability to respond to a crisis in Europe.  Read more . . .

Department of Veterans Affairs

Mike Pence Confirms Plan to Reform Department of Veterans Affairs
On the day it was announced that he will take the reins of President-Elect Donald Trump’s transition team, Mike Pence spoke at a Veterans Day event in Indiana. The vice president-elect stressed their commitment to reform the Veterans Health Administration. “Help is on the way,” he said.  Read more . . .

A Critical Moment for the Department of Veterans Affairs
This month, we remember and honor our veterans who have sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms. As a senior member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I want to take this opportunity to recognize the strides that the VA has made over the past few years, and identify my vision for where the VA needs to go to improve services for our service members into the future. The VA does some things well, but is still plagued by problems. While all government corruption and waste harms our nation and destroys the trust of taxpayers, the VA’s problems are particularly troubling because they also impact the everyday lives of our veterans, the brave men and women who sacrifice to defend American ideals. The VA is now at a critical moment that will define its ability to serve our veterans for the next decade.  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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Dysfunctional VA or a Paradise for Veterans?: Pause for Reflection

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Stand for The Troops (“SFTT”) has long been critical of the manner in which the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”) treats Veterans with PTSD and TBI.  Other critics have singled out long wait times for Veterans seeking treatment and other issues that have prompted Congressional inquiries.

Sadly, one can no longer discuss this issue dispassionately considering that many stakeholders and political candidates seem to be positioning themselves on one side of the debate or the other.  With a $170 billion budget and over 200,000 employees, a decision to make the VA more responsive to the needs of Veterans is never a black or white decision.

J. David Cox

J. David Cox

Like many others, I was appalled by the outburst of J. David Cox, the President of the American Federation of Government Employees, who threatened VA Secretary with “physical violence”

Cox was “prepared to whoop Bob McDonald’s a – -,” he said. “He’s going to start treating us as the labor partner … or we will whoop his a – -, I promise you,”

According to U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Chumuckla, Florida, and the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as reported in Military.com

The exchange perfectly encapsulates the corrosive influence government union bosses are having on efforts to reform a broken VA. It’s a never-ending cycle in which pliant politicians and federal agency leaders bow to the boss’s demands to preserve the dysfunctional status quo of our federal personnel system, which almost guarantees employment for government bureaucrats no matter how egregious their behavior.

The problem with union bosses like Cox is that they are more interested in protecting misbehaving VA employees than the veterans the department was created to serve.

The problem with VA leaders like McDonald is that, in their perpetual quest to placate big labor’s powers that be, the taxpayers and veterans they are charged with serving are paying the price.

Frankly, it is tough to find fault with Representative Miller’s assessment of the situation.  If we want meaningful reform within the VA to provide Veterans with the support they deserve, then we need to confront entitled thugs like David Cox and others that block long overdue change.

It will not be easy, but we must admit that the VA is fragile – if not broken – and we need to fix it to provide Veterans with the level of care they deserve.

Veterans with PTSD and the VA

As regular readers of Stand For the Troops newsletter are aware, we are keenly focused on the level of care and treatment provided to Veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress.

Based on our research, we have found that the care and treatment provided by the VA leads to no lasting benefit to the thousands of Veterans affected by PTSD and TBI.  We reported on this earlier, but it is worthwhile watching a video of Maj. Ben Richard’s explain the failure of the VA to provide meaningful solutions:

This sobering assessment by Maj. Richards was featured a couple of months ago in our article entitled “The VA Can’t Handle the Truth, So Why Bother.” SFTT’s goal is not to throw rocks at the VA, but to insure that Veterans get the needed treatment they deserve.

It is hardly reassuring that some Veterans find it necessary to swim with sharks as an alternative therapy for PTSD, but it is evident that the lack of responsiveness and credibility of the VA has driven Veterans to embrace other solutions.

The Big Questions for Taxpayers and Government Leaders

Will the much needed reform within the VA be held hostage by self-serving labor leaders like J. David Cox and disingenuous medical practitioners like Dr. David Cifu?

Do we have the courage to change the VA system for the benefit of our brave heroes?

Can we agree to promote VA programs that work, improve those programs that are not effective and reform or radically change existing programs and protocols that simply do not work?

For all Americans, it is time to reflect on the kind of support we truly want to provide to Veterans.

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SFTT News: Week Ending Aug 19. 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.

“Heat Map” Suggests ISIS Branches Spreading Worldwide
The map is part of a classified briefing document received by the White House dated “August 2016” and prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center. It shows a stunning three-fold increase in the number of places around the globe where ISIS is operating.  U.S. State Department documents indicated that in 2014, when the U.S. military began its campaign to destroy the extremists, there were only seven nations in which the fledgling state was operating.  Read more . . .

NATO Round Table

Trump Remarks on NATO Triggers Alarm Bells
Donald Trump set off alarm bells in European capitals Thursday after suggesting he might not honor the core tenet of the NATO military alliance. Trump said the U.S. would not necessarily defend new NATO members in the Baltics in the event of Russian attack if he were elected to the White House. He told The New York Times in an interview published Thursday that doing so would depend on whether those countries had “fulfilled their obligations to us” in terms of their financial contributions to the alliance.  Read more . . .

DoD Considers New Benefit for Veterans
Plans are progressing to extend online military exchange shopping privileges to all honorably discharged veterans, Military Times has learned.  The Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board voted unanimously Aug. 9 to recommend the policy change, sources said. Extended shopping privileges would apply only to the exchange system’s online stores — not brick-and-mortar facilities located on military installations. The Pentagon did not immediately confirm the’s board move, and its unclear what its next steps will be. Officials have said previously that they’d like to implement the expanded benefit on Veterans Day 2017.  Read more . . .

Soldier Medals on U.S. Olympic Team
Army Reserve 2nd Lt. Sam Kendricks cleared the pole vault bar at 19 feet 2-¼ inches to take third place and win a bronze medal on Monday night at the Rio Olympics, becoming the first military member of the U.S. team to medal.  It also marked the first pole vault medal for the United States in a dozen years — since since Tim Mack and Toby Stevenson went 1-2 at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.  Read more . . .

PTSD “stigma” Helps other Soldiers in Combat
Social stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) actually helps soldiers by encouraging them to ostracize comrades who might otherwise endanger their mission, a top military psychiatrist claims. Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival at an event on PTSD, Surgeon Captain John Sharpley said “stigma seems to work” by causing those who are mentally ill to be ruled out of the most dangerous missions. He was in conversation with author and journalist Matthew Green, whose book on military mental health ‘After Shock’ looks at how armies have responded to the issue.  Read more . . .

 Veterans Seek Solace in Shakespeare
Under the oak trees that shade Central Park in Louisville, Ky., a troupe takes the stage. Although most of them have never performed before, they’ve been rehearsing for months. Their weekly rehearsals have paid off— the performance is flawless. Each performer recites their lines with conviction and poise. They conclude the performance by locking arms and reciting—“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Thunderous applause erupts from the stands and as the newly minted thespians exit the stage, many in the audience thank each one for their service.  Read more . . .

US Soldier in Combat

Combat Exposure May Jeopardize Health of Women
In the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 42,397 Army enlisted women who returned from Afghanistan or Iraq were assigned combat exposure scores of 0, 1, 2, or 3+ based on their self-reported experiences. Importantly, any report of combat exposure among Army women was associated with an increased likelihood of each post-deployment behavioral health problem (PTSD, depression, and at-risk drinking), suggesting that the impact of even one exposure event should not be overlooked.  Read more . . .

One in Three Suffer from Depression after ICU
Almost one in three people discharged from hospital intensive care units has clinically important and persistent symptoms of depression, a so-called meta-analysis of reports on more than 4,000 patients suggests. In some patients, the symptoms can last for a year or more, and they are notably more likely in people with a history of psychological distress before an ICU stay, the investigators say.   Read more . . .

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