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 . . .

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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Veteran Charities in Context

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Active Duty military personnel that I know generally despise being used as “poster-boys (or girls)” for political campaigns.  In fact, anyone who has served in the Armed Forces is well aware of DoD Directive 1344.10 which prohibits members of the Armed Forces from engaging in “partisan political” fundraising or actively campaigning on behalf of a political party, candidate or political cause.

While these regulations do not apply to Veterans, it has been my experience that most Veterans tend to avoid the limelight of partisan politics and, instead, pursue causes to support fellow Veterans that do not tend to attract much media attention.   Like Active Duty personnel, Veterans tend to avoid serving as “props” for political campaigns.

Donald Trump Veterans

As SFTT and others reported earlier when a Donald Trump fundraising event was announced during the Republican primaries:

. . .several Veteran groups accused Donald Trump of using Veterans like political pawns in his dispute with Fox News over the moderators of the last debate.    In many respects, I agree with Veterans that don’t want to be used as pawns in contentious posturing by politicians.  Sadly, every four years or so, most politicians tend to embrace Veteran causes as they might disingenuously cuddle a puppy dog to encourage voters to look favorably on them.

While it is completely understandable that some, many or all Veterans may not wish to be seen to embrace the policies of Donald Trump, it is most disingenuous – read dishonest – for the media to skew fund-raising efforts by anyone (including Donald Trump) to support Veterans.  

Yet, that is precisely what happened.  In a ridiculous article published on June 2 in the New Times entitled “Putting Donald Trump’s $1 Million to Veterans in Context,”  the author, Peter Eavis, argues that Mr. Trump’s contribution “to veterans’ charities is small compared with those of some fellow billionaires . . .” and that, “Mr. Trump’s $1 million gift to veterans not only came later than some expected, but it is also small for the plutocrat class.”

How silly to judge the merit of candidates on the amount of money they donate to charitable causes, but this is the insane world of partisan politics that dominates media channels rather than constructive solutions to the many issues faced by Veterans.

Last week, I noted Sebastian Junger‘s hope that we have a more united country to deal with  this nation’s many problems.   Even though SFTT has no political affiliation, it is very discouraging to see both the media and our politicians engage is such polarizing propaganda.  Mr. Junger clearly has his finger on the pulse of a huge adjustment problem facing returning Veterans when they see such a dysfunctional society.  It is certainly not comforting.

ZVets

Should the VA be Privatized?

With its colossal $180 billion annual budget, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) is in the focus of those who say this giant institution should be privatized.  Everyone knows the VA is not functioning properly and there have been countless GAO studies suggesting that something be done to address these problems.

When issues like the privatization of the VA surface during an election year, it immediately becomes politicized.  SFTT doesn’t have an answer let alone a position on this issue; however, SFTT has seen enough to know that the VA does not provide adequate care to a large number of its constituents on a timely basis.

The Libertarian Party and several others are suggesting that the VA should be privatized.    Why not take off our partisan political armbands and have a look at the implications.  Maybe some elements now administered by the VA could be handled more competently in the private sector.  If so, it could be a major benefit for underserved Veterans?

If charitable contributions to Veterans can become politicized, imagine the outcry in entrenched political sectors when the VA comes under serious scrutiny.   From the perspective of the SFTT, if it ain’t working properly we might as well look at different approaches; however unappealing they may be to certain entrenched interests.  After all, it is the Veteran who is the focus of our attention and these brave warriors deserve better than what they are receiving

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Veterans with PTSD: Can We Unite As a Society?

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As one who watched a largely unappreciative nation heap scorn on returning Veterans from our war in Vietnam, I am struck by the contrived efforts to celebrate Veterans who have now served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.   In particular, I shed a tear for Veterans with PTSD who have difficulty coping with an unsympathetic society that seems far different from the camaraderie they experienced while serving in a war zone.

While I do not doubt that many Americans genuinely honor the sacrifices of young men and women who have served in these wars;  the American flag pin in one’s lapel or tributes to Veterans at major sporting events fall well short of the support these brave heroes deserve.

This point was made abundantly clear by Sebastian Junger in a recent MSNBC interview. Sebastian Junger, an acclaimed war-correspondent and author, has just published Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In his book, Mr. Junger suggests that Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find a deeply divided and “alienated society” and argues passionately that our society may be as much to blame for Veteran suicides and depression as a Veteran’s war experience.

Mr. Junger articulates his views in a very moving Ted Talk that was filmed late last year.


As an anthropologist, Mr. Junger’s arguments are quite persuasive. It is hard to argue with his premise that the incidence of “suicides and depression” tends to decrease during periods of great stress: he cites 911, the bombing of London in WWII and many other similar situations. Junger suggests that people’s behavior tends to become “more tribal” during periods of great stress and that this provides a level of support and comfort that many returning Veterans do not presently encounter when they return home to our “alienating society.”

Mr. Junger concludes that many problems for Veterans with PTSD would be greatly diminished if we “can unite as a society.”

640px-Politics

As we watch an increasingly hostile and bitter presidential race unfold, it is not hard to understand Mr. Junger’s premise.  Imagine a young man or woman serving their country in a hostile and dangerous environment returning home to see a dysfunctional society at war with itself. How discouraging.

Indeed, if the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) doesn’t have your back, who does?

In an unfortunate analogy, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald stated “‘When you get to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?'” McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. ‘And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.'”

This is not the first time, Secretary McDonald has been embroiled in a controversy, but I am quite sure that Secretary McDonald wished he hadn’t been quite so candid.  Nevertheless, his “misspeak” provided plenty of fuel to other politicians.

House Majority leader Paul Ryan correctly pointed out that Veterans had lost their lives while waiting in line for someone at the VA to pickup the phone.

This is precisely the type of dysfunctional dialogue engaged in by “tribal leaders” that Veterans – and many others – find so frustrating and largely disingenuous.

Most everyone knows that the VA is not functioning properly.  Rather than simply point fingers to gain personal political leverage, let’s harness our efforts and begin solving the many problems faced by the VA.

One man or woman’s political advantage pales in comparison to the suffering of the many brave men and women who have placed their lives at risk for a society that seems hellbent on tearing itself apart.  How tragic.

Mr. Junger, your heartfelt appeal is noted and I sincerely hope that we as a nation can embrace the challenge.  I pray that our tribal leaders will unite to provide our country with the inspirational leadership that our brave men and women in the military service deserve.  Anything less is tragic.

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Opiate Abuse Mounts: Veterans in Crossfire

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The tragic death of Prince appears to have been an overdose of opioids designed to relieve pain.  While we are still awaiting toxicology reports, it does appear the Prince has suffered from excruciating pain for quite some time and was taking ever-increasing amounts of pain-killers to deal with this problem.

Prince

At this stage, it is unclear that these drugs were prescribed or that he was self-medicating with drugs obtained illicitly.   In fact, some argue that Prince did not die from pain pills but from chronic pain.

Whatever is determined to be the final cause of Prince’s death, it is abundantly clear that Prince was in great pain and that he took a variety of addictive drugs to help him deal with this problem.

You don’t have to stray far to see that addiction to pain-killers has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.  In fact, in late March President Obama called attention to this growing problem by saying the following:

“When you look at the staggering statistics, in terms of lives lost, productivity impacted, costs to communities, but most importantly cost to families from this epidemic of opioid abuse, it has to be something that is right up there at the top of our radar screen,” Obama said at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.

The epidemic is a rising issue in U.S. politics that has found its way into the presidential campaign. Both of the front-running candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, have been confronted on the campaign trail by ordinary people affected by drug abuse, and have responded with widely disparate strategies to confront the problem. The Obama administration has meanwhile proposed a dramatic increase in federal spending, to about $1.5 billion in fiscal 2017, for addiction treatment and other measures to stem the epidemic.

“Today, we are seeing more people killed because of opioid overdose than traffic accidents,” Obama said.

“We’re taking a number of steps, but frankly we’re still under-resourced,” Obama added. “I think the public doesn’t fully appreciate yet the scope of the problem.”

While the general public may not be aware of the problem, Veterans and our military leaders are well aware of the devastating consequences of taking prescription drugs to deal with PTSD and other brain-related traumas.

veterans with ptsd opioids

Stand For The Troops has been reporting for years on the effects of prescribing potentially lethal combinations to Veterans with PTSD.    Even the FDA is concerned as evidenced by their recent initiative to seek tighter controls on the use of prescription drugs.

Clearly, prescription drugs can play an important role in helping Veterans cope with the symptoms of PTSD, but it should now be obvious that prolonged use of opioids or other addictive pain-killers is not a long-term solution that will benefit Veterans.

Nevertheless, the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) continues to drag their feet on providing Veterans with access to other less dangerous treatment alternatives.

The VA can continue to stonewall this problem claiming “lack of resources,” or “lack of clinical evidence” for alternative treatments, but the continued use of haze-inducing opiates is certainly not the answer our Veterans expect nor deserve.

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SFTT News: Week of April 25, 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.

DEA approves Marijuana Study for Veterans with PTSD
Drug regulators said it would never happen, but now the DEA has approved the first ever marijuana study for veterans with PTSD.  It’s a groundbreaking decision and a major shift in policy for the DEA.  The Colorado Health Department is helping with the cost of the study. It’s paying more than $2 million in grant money.  Seventy-six veterans will be involved in the first round of testing next month.   Read more . . .

ptsd

States Step in to Help Traumatized Veterans
A staggering share of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been returning home with mental illnesses brought on by their time overseas. But as hundreds of thousands struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, many are going without the help they need, which is prompting several states to step in. State officials say they are trying to bridge what they see as gaps in services provided by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, whose medical centers have been plagued by mismanagement, often face lengthy backlogs and can be located far from rural communities.   Read more . . .

 Veteran helps Camp Hope in Houston
Camp Hope provides interim housing for veterans and their families suffering from combat-related post-traumatic stress. I’ve personally worked there as a Comcast technician, helping to set up computers in their facility, and I see what they do and how they impact the community for veterans who come out of the military with PTSD challenges. Every year we lose so many to PTSD, and how fortunate it is that we have a place like Camp Hope here in Houston to take them in, house them, feed them, and support them.   Read more . . .

Cyber Warfare

US Targets ISIS with “Cyber-Bombs”
The Islamic State has been deft in its use of the Internet as a communications tool. ISIS has long leveraged social media to spread propaganda and even coordinate targets for attacks, using an ever-shifting collection of social media accounts for recruitment and even to call for attacks on individuals ISIS leaders have designated as enemies. But the organization’s efforts to build a sophisticated internal “cyber army” to conduct information warfare against the US and other powers opposing it have thus far been fragmented and limited in their effectiveness—and more often than not they’ve been more propaganda than substance.  Read more . . .

Groups Sue Department of Veteran Affairs on Water Claims
Three groups have sued the Department of Veterans Affairs over the agency’s handling of claims about contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. The lawsuit says between 1953 and 1987 nearly one million Marines, sailors, civilian employees and family members unknowingly used contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.  Read more . . .

Cpt._Kristen_Griest

U.S. Army’s First Female Infantry Officer
Capt. Kristen M. Griest, one of two women who graduated from the Army’s Ranger School last summer, became the first woman named as an infantry officer Monday.“Like any other officer wishing to branch-transfer, Capt. Griest applied for an exception to Army policy to transfer from military police to infantry,” Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning spokesman Bob Purtiman said. “Her transfer was approved by the Department of the Army, and she’s now an infantry officer.”The Army Times was first to report the move. The paper reported that Griest, a West Point graduate, is expected to graduate on Thursday with the distinctive blue infantry cord.  Read more . . .

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Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD: VA on the Fence

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While much of the world is focused on transformative businesses and technologies, the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) remains oblivious to the needs of Veterans with PTSD.

SFTT and Razoo Support Veterans

Despite a slew of reports from the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) citing the need for major reforms with the VA, it seems like it is business as usual for these entrenched bureaucrats.  Found below is just a few of these GAO reports:

The list is endless, but the bloated VA bureaucracy seems unlikely to change in the near future.

A recent study by the Congressional Budget Office (“CBO”) concluded that while  VA health care “provided by VHA generally cost less than would equivalent care provided in the private sector.  But, “it has been difficult for these studies to fully explain why VHA care may be cheaper.”

In fact, the CBO study states that the VA “has provided limited data to Congress and the public about its costs and operational performance.  The overarching theme of the study is clear – CBO needs more data in order to make recommendations or be able to come to any credible conclusion.”

With an annual budget of $170 billion, it is unlikely that Congress, taxpayers or Veterans will ever get honest answers.   Far more disturbing is the fact that the VA doesn’t actually know or really give a damn about the needs of Veterans.  A case in point is the VA policy on Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD.

Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

VA Policy on Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

There is no better way to explain the futility of “fighting City Hall” than to examine the VA’s policy on Service Dogs.   While dogs certainly prove useful in combat the VA has decided that it needs a “research study” to determine their value in helping Veterans to recover from the trauma of PTSD.  Found below is the official VA position on Service Dogs Veterans with PTSD.

Research is underway to better understand if dogs can provide a disability service for persons with PTSD. VA has started a research study to determine if there are things a dog can do for a Veteran with PTSD that would qualify the animal as a Service Dog for PTSD. The study is expected to take several years to complete. The National Center for PTSD is not involved in this study, but we will provide results when they become available.

Currently, VA does not provide service dogs for physical or mental health conditions, including PTSD. VA does provide veterinary care for service dogs that are deemed medically necessary for the rehabilitation or restorative care plan of Veterans with permanent physical impairments. If research supports the use of service dogs for PTSD, VA will provide veterinary care for such dogs. Read more information on VA and service dogs.

While the VA continues to provide their lethal cocktails of painkillers supported by clinical research from Big Pharma, the VA insists on a research study to determine if pets are helpful for Veterans with PTSD.   Go figure?

Train a Dog Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”)

Fortunately, people from all walk of life have stepped in to fill the gap left by an unresponsive and brain-dead VA.   Train a Dog – Save a Warrior programs are cropping up all over the United States to provide our Veterans with the help they need. SFTT is proud to support TADSAW.  Found below is a brief description of the TADSAW program from SFTT.

Train a Dog – Save a Warrior (“TADSAW”) provides for the training of a Medical Alert Service Dog, as designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 2010 guidelines, for ANY wounded warrior, Active Duty or Veteran, surviving with PTSD, MST and/or TBI, in order to restore and improve the warrior’s Quality of Life with a canine “Battle Buddy”, at no charge to the warrior.

At SFTT we are hopeful that the VA will soon come to its senses and embrace new treatment alternatives that appear to offer a lifeline to Veterans.   Learn more about these Rescue Coalition programs on the SFTT website.

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A Drug to Cure PTSD, Really?

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The folks at the Veterans Affairs Administration and the pharmaceutical industry must be drooling over the recent “Opinion” piece by Richard A. Friedman entitled a “A Drug to Cure Fear,” which was published in the New York Times on January, 24th, 2016.   In fact, Dr. Friedman believes a new prescription drug might be useful in helping Veterans with PTSD.

In this “Opinion” article, Dr. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and the Director of Psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, argues that prescribing a beta-blocker called propranolol may decrease anxiety according to recent tests.  He goes on to assert, “If we could treat our pathological anxiety, why wouldn’t we?”

Interesting choice of words by Dr. Friedman, “. . . why wouldn’t we?”   I much prefer “. . . why shouldn’t we?”   With no disrespect to Dr. Friedman, the cocktail of drugs currently prescribed by the VA to Veterans suffering from PTSD are lethal.   In fact, Veterans provided VA recommended pharmaceuticals have been known to flush them down the toilet because of their physiological and psychological side-effects.   Should we experiment with another prescription drug loosely supported by a limited number of clinical trials that may place the well-being of countless brave young men and women at risk?

Veterans with PTSD and Drugs

Dr. Friedman concludes by saying “I see nothing wrong with doing all we can to rid ourselves of pathological anxiety, including using drugs to alter our painful emotional memories.”  Really?  With a test lab of several hundred thousand Veterans suffering from PTSD and a drug lobby anxious to promote another “miracle drug” on these brave heroes, Dr. Friedman’s facile recommendation seems self-serving at best.

Dr. Friedman goes on to cite several studies in treating PTSD:

How effective this new memory-disrupting approach will be in treating more serious anxiety disorders like PTSD or panic is unclear. A few preliminary studies using propranolol in PTSD showed mixed results. Some found no effect, but a 2015 review of PTSD treatment studies published in Biological Psychology found that propranolol administered with six brief trauma reactivation sessions significantly improved PTSD symptoms compared with a placebo.

This is hardly an encouraging list of lengthy clinical studies required by the FDA to approve prescription drugs, but if I read Dr. Friedman correctly, he is suggesting that we give it a go.  Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the VA and Big Pharma will do just that.

 Say No to Miracle Drugs to Treat PTSD

Stand for the Troops has long been suspect of using drugs to treat PTSD.  While the use of prescription drugs is certainly necessary in many cases, there is clear evidence that the continued use of prescription drugs to deal with symptoms can lead to addiction and may cause suicide.  In fact, one must question the efficacy of using psychopharmacology drugs that create dependencies and appear to offer no longterm solution.

Indeed, there are many therapies that should be considered before prescription drugs.   Sadly, very few of these programs receive funding from the VA and most rely on efforts by other Veterans supported by the contributions of concerned citizens and local businesses and institutions.

We can do a much better job supporting our brave Veterans, but psychotic drugs that impair or interdict a brain’s normal response doesn’t seem to me to be the right solution.

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What I Should Have Said About Veterans with PTSD and TBI

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Not long ago I had the opportunity to represent the warrior-run non-profit One Mind for Research at a Hollywood Telethon to raise money for Veteran charities. My role in the production was a live, 90-second interview on stage with actor and host Alan Alda. We talked very briefly about my experience as a wounded warrior with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mr. Alda asked me: what did I expect when I returned home from a combat tour with TBI and PTSI? Perhaps because I was a little intimidated by the Hollywood venue, the big stars, and the brief time allotted, I didn’t deliver the message I would have liked, so I’d like to share with you now what I should have said then.

Actor Alan Alda played the irreverent trauma surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television comedy MASH.

Actor Alan Alda played the irreverent trauma surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television comedy MASH.

Alan Alda played the iconic character Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running television series MASH. Alda’s character was an irreverent army doctor serving in a forward Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or MASH) during the Korean War. The opening credits of every episode included footage of medical evacuation helicopters bringing in a load of wounded warriors from the front. Amidst the pranks and comedy, MASH did a good job of telling the story of what happens once those helicopters landed. I would like to tell you about what happens before those helicopters land.

Two “laws” govern that space. The first is the law of the “Golden Hour.” We believe that if we can get a seriously wounded comrade to the MASH alive and within one hour, then our buddy will make it. In the show, sometimes soldiers didn’t survive after arriving at the MASH and that is also true today, although due to better medical tools the survival rate is much higher today than during the Korean War. As warriors, we can’t control what happens in the MASH. But our responsibility is to get the wounded to the helicopter on time. When one of us is hit, every all can feel the timer begin its count down towards the end of the “Golden Hour.” They are the most unforgiving of minutes.

The title screen and opening credits of MASH featured a pair of H-13 medical evacuation helicopters transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the surgical hospital. Note the wounded soldiers on the litters placed on sponsons above each landing skid.

The title screen and opening credits of MASH featured a pair of H-13 medical evacuation helicopters transporting wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the surgical hospital. Note the wounded soldiers on the litters placed on sponsons above each landing skid.

The second law is recorded in a line in the Warriors Creed: “I Will Never Leave a Fallen Comrade.” To some this may be just another phrase from the canon of military tradition, but among warriors it is a sacred covenant that we make with each other that forms the foundation of a unique and special honor-bond.

Units that have this bond win. Units that do not, don’t.

As a student of the profession of arms, I had read and heard hundreds of accounts of these laws in combat. Many of these tales came accessorized with citations for valor like bronze and silver stars, even Medals of Honor. Remarkably, a large number did not simply because heroism is a daily duty and often goes unrecognized beyond the range of the last rifle round fired.

I would like to share how I learned about the persistent reality of these laws for myself.

My education began as a young lieutenant leading one of the reconnaissance platoons of the Brigade Reconnaissance Troop in the First Brigade (Ready First!) of the 1st Armor Division during a training rotation at Combat Maneuver Training Center (now the Joint Multinational Readiness Center) near Hohenfels, Germany. The brigade had tasked my platoon to conduct a recon and surveillance mission deep into Opposing Force territory. The mission was only part of a training exercise in the good ole’ pre-war days when a faithful warrior could look forward to a painless simulated death that would bring the Valhallan pleasures of a MRE and a nap before administratively resurrecting to roll out again in few hours. Levity aside, I was concerned about the level of risk the mission would have had we been executing in real combat conditions. If any of my troopers were wounded, it would be nearly impossible to evacuate them to a MASH.

I shared my concerns with my troop commander, Captain Jerry Turner. CPT Turner admitted that he had shared the same concerns with his boss, the brigade commander, then-Colonel Michael Tucker. Jerry Turner and Michael Tucker were both men I had learned to trust and respect. They cared deeply about their soldiers. In our middle-of-the-night discussion across a humvee hood in the dark German woods, CPT Turned shared with me the promise COL Tucker had made to us: if we got into trouble, he would roll the entire brigade– some 150 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles and thousands of soldiers– to come and get us.

That mission was a great success and the platoon contributed to the Brigade crushing the opposing force in simulated combat …and I “died” towards the end of the fight with just enough time left to eat an MRE and take a nap.

When a small team of Army special operations soldiers was forced down in their helicopter during a night-time raid into al Qaeda- controlled portion of Anbar province in Iraq, Air Force F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert was on station to provide emergency close air support. As a large al Qaeda force was closing with the isolated Special Forces team,  Gilbert brought his F-16 to tree-top level to strafe the insurgent force with his aircraft's cannon- an extremely high-risk maneuver, but one that Gilbert felt he needed to make to save the US soldiers on the ground. In the darkness, he lost too much altitude during his strafing run and his plane crashed.

When a small team of Army special operations soldiers was forced down in their helicopter during a night-time raid into an al Qaeda- controlled portion of Anbar province in Iraq, Air Force F-16 pilot Major Troy Gilbert was on station to provide emergency close air support. As a large al Qaeda force was closing with the isolated Special Forces team, Gilbert brought his F-16 to tree-top level to strafe the insurgent force with his aircraft’s cannon- an extremely high-risk maneuver, but one that Gilbert felt he needed to make to save the US soldiers on the ground. In the darkness, he lost too much altitude during his strafing run and his plane crashed.

COL Tucker’s promise remained tucked away in the recesses of my memory until the end of November 2006. I was about to take command of a Stryker-equipped Cavalry Troop in 3rd Brigade (Arrowhead!), 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq. We were in the process of moving from Tal A’far to Baghdad. While we were on the march, an Air Force F-16 providing close support to an Army special forces unit securing a downed helicopter in a sparsely populated section of the nearby Anbar province crashed during a low-level night strafing attack. The pilot was unaccounted for and possibly still alive. Just as COL Tucker had promised, we rolled an entire brigade (the Stryker infantry battalion I was attached to, an Airborne infantry battalion and a heavy cavalry squadron) to find and rescue him. Thousands of soldiers to save one.

Unrested, the battalion paused only enough to unload baggage and take on fuel before heading out along roads so infested with IEDs that US forces had up to that time effectively abandoned the road network and relied almost solely on helicopter air assaults. We spent three days scouring the area. My Troop searched every structure and vehicle within a hundred-square kilometers. We even forced the dump trucks traveling from a nearby quarry to dump their loads to ensure no body could be concealed in them. In the end we were able to confirm that the pilot had died in the crash. His name was Major Troy Gilbert. He left behind a wife and five children. We didn’t know that at the time. All that mattered was that he was one of us and we were going to get him back, one way or the other. It was not the ending we had wanted, but we had fulfilled our covenant to each other that we would never leave a fallen comrade behind.

We paid a price to do so. During the mission one of our Strykers hit an IED. Specialist Billy Farris was killed and several others were seriously wounded. Inspired by his stepfather who had served in a Ranger Company in Vietnam, Billy had joined the Army immediately after graduating from high school in Phoenix, Arizona. His consistently superior performance had earned him a coveted position in the battalion scout platoon, and he had been recently honored as the Soldier of the Quarter. Billy also left behind a young son.

To a bureaucrat, who measures value with a financial ledger, the mission was a waste of resources. To a warrior, who understands both the true value and the true cost of the honor-bond, the mission was a necessary sacrifice.

Members of Bronco Troop, 1-14 Cavalry, search for Major Troy Gilbert in Anbar Province Iraq.

Members of Bronco Troop, 1-14 Cavalry, search for Major Troy Gilbert in Anbar Province Iraq, November 2006.

A few months later it was my turn to make and keep that promise. My Troop had just redeployed to the city of Baqubah, at that time the center and proclaimed capital of al Qaeda in Iraq. During a fiercely contested mission to search for weapons caches in a suburb of the city, al Qaeda ambushed one of my scout platoons and the platoon of combat engineers clearing the attack route through the city. At a narrow bend in the road, an IED built into the exterior wall of house exploded and disabled the lead engineer vehicle. As the platoon moved to recover the damaged vehicle, a large force of insurgents engaged them with RPGs, machine guns and AK-47s in the fiercest ambush we had experienced. Five of the combat engineers were wounded, some of them severely. The countdown toward the Golden Hour had begun.

The thundering explosions and rattle of automatic weapons fire brought silence to the Troop radio net as the routine reporting and chit chat between crews disappeared to clear the net for the inevitable contact report. The scout platoon leader was experienced, aggressive and cool-headed but his report was not good. The two platoons were surrounded and out-numbered. They had casualties, some seriously wounded. The outcome was in doubt.

“Hold on. We will come for you.”

My quick fragmentary order to the rest of the Troop was redundant before it was issued. Everyone had heard the report. Everyone knew what had to be done. Everyone was already moving.

As we reached the beleaguered platoons, my First Sergeant, who had already earned a Purple Heart earlier in the tour, moved his armored medical evacuation vehicle into the kill zone. In a scene worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, the scout platoon leader, Captain Aaron Tiffany, with his vehicle’s gunner, Sergeant Josiwo Uruo, and the platoons’ trusted Iraqi interpreter, Monroe, ran under heavy fire to the severely wounded soldiers and dragged them to the waiting evacuation vehicle.

The Medical Evacuation Vehicle, now escorted by a pair of Strykers, raced to the helicopter landing zone fifteen kilometers away. Medical evacuation helicopters had been called and were enroute. Inside the armored, eight-wheeled Stryker ambulance one of the wounded soldier’s heart stopped beating. The young medic in the vehicle, SPC Brian Mikalanis, beat the soldier’s heart for him, almost forcing him to live through the precious minutes to the door of the waiting helicopters. Before the Golden Hour ticked away they reached the medevac helicopters with five wounded soldiers still alive. A few minutes later the pair of helicopters landed at a real-life MASH where a real-life Hawkeye Pierce finished saving those soldiers’ lives.

Sergeant Josiwo Uruo willing exposed himself to heavy enemy fire that had already wounded five soldiers to rescue our wounded comrades. He was later killed while again exposing himself to enemy fire in order provide covering fire for members of his team.

Sergeant Josiwo Uruo willing exposed himself to heavy enemy fire that had already wounded five soldiers to rescue his wounded comrades.

Bronco Troopers had fulfilled their covenant. We had come for our fallen comrades. But again, not without a price. All five of the wounded combat engineers made it home alive, but Sergeant Josiwo Uruo, a courageous young man from Guam with an ubiquitous grin, did not.

So to answer your question, Mr. Alda, when I returned home from Iraq as a wounded warrior with TBI and PTSD, I expected to be treated with the same commitment and urgency by the medical providers at home in the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs that we expected from each other in any and all combat zones.

Unfortunately, my expectations and the expectations of thousands of other wounded soldiers and veterans like me have not been met.

They have not been met because the organizations responsible for caring for our wounded warriors not only do not share, but likely do not even comprehend, the honor-bond between warriors. Their creeds are written on their walls, not in their hearts.

This reality was brought to public attention in 2007 when journalists revealed the terrible living conditions and treatment being inflicted on Army wounded warriors by ambivalent Army Medical Corps bureaucrats– many of them superficial soldiers covered in warriors’ uniforms with hearts concealed beneath the camouflage fabric but bereft of any warrior honor-bond. Army leaders found the organizational ethos of the medical corps so antagonistic towards the warrior values espoused by the Army’s own creed that they made the unprecedented decision to bring in a combat arms officer – a warrior – to fix the problem. They brought in my old commander Mike Tucker, by then a major general, to take charge of and fix Walter Reed. I suspect Tucker knew as much about hospital administration as I do, which is very little. But he knew what he had taught me a few years earlier- that warriors do not leave their fallen comrades behind.

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Veterans turn to Yoga for PTSD

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Many veterans are turning to Yoga to deal with severe depression and the symptoms of PTSD rather rely on highly potent prescribed medication.   The recent report by the GAO confirms that the VA has dropped the ball in helping vets get the support they need in dealing with the crippling effects of PTSD.   In fact, Yoga is buy just one form of alternative therapy that Veterans are finding beneficial as they seek to regain control of their lives.

In fact, the video below highlights one such program which offers a 100 hour certification course from Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans.

Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans

Yoga has long been associated with “wellness” and it is encouraging to find so many programs popping up throughout the United States that Veterans find useful in dealing with stress.  Certainly, the rigor of Yoga requires a level of self-discipline and commitment that builds a more resilient body and attitude to deal with everyday stress.  Found below is a brief excerpt of the certification program for Mindful Yoga Therapy:

Yoga practices are a powerful complement to professional treatment for Post Traumatic Stress. A mindful, embodied yoga practice can provide relief from symptoms and develop the supportive skills that Veterans need in their lives. This in-depth certification prepares teachers to share Mindful Yoga Therapy with veterans in either a community or a clinical setting — and if you’re a certified yoga teacher, we invite you to help support the healing journey of Veterans in your area.

The Mindful Yoga Therapy’s 100-Hour Certification program consists of five modules presented over five weekends, covering both the Beginning Mindful Yoga Therapy Program and a new Resilience Program. 
The 12-week Resilience Program is the follow-up to the Beginning Mindful Yoga Therapy Program. Both programs include a 12-week protocol that incorporates Embodyoga® supports and all five “tools” from the Mindful Yoga Therapy “toolbox.”

Found below is the story of one veteran, Army Lt. Col. John Thurman who lost 26 co-workers during 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.  He suffered from severe smoke inhalation while trapped in the building under the debris.   “In the months after the attacks, Thurman found he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thurman’s PTSD meant he wasn’t sleeping for months after the attack, even with the prescription drugs he was taking. And his pulmonary function hadn’t returned to full capacity.”

But when Thurman started doing yoga, it “made all the difference in the world in my ability to deal with the stress and my injury from that day.” He fell so in love with his time on the mat — with yoga’s traditional asanas, or poses, and deep breathing — that in 2013 he attended teacher training. He left his job at the Pentagon and is now teaching yoga full-time, including at the  Pentagon Athletic Center, where his classes are packed.

Starting Friday night and running through Sunday, Thurman and 17 yoga teachers from five states will be gathering at Yoga Heights in the Park View neighborhood of the District for yoga for PTSD and trauma training. The studio will host workshops specifically designed to heal and help veterans suffering from both the emotional and physical wounds of war.  Credits: Warrior Pose — One way to help veterans with PTSD? Lots of yoga. – Washington Post (blog)

Research Studies Seem to Support Yoga Therapy

Indeed, so intense has been the demand by Veterans seeking alternative treatment therapies to prescription drugs that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Defense are funding research studies to determine the efficacy of Yoga in treating PTSD.  Found below are some of their findings:

Researchers have demonstrated that trauma-sensitive yoga, which focuses on stretching, breathing techniques and meditation, can help patients regain their inner balance, calming that part of the brain that has become hyper-aroused under severe stress.

Trauma or prolonged stress can cause a malfunction of the parasympathetic nervous system, researchers say. That’s the part of the brain which enables the body to relax, easing pain and even helping unblock digestive systems — often a problem for wounded troops who get high doses of medication and not enough exercise.

In war zones, researchers have found, this parasympathetic nervous system often becomes “frozen” as the body gears up for danger by injecting adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing rapid breathing and pulse and hyper-vigilance — the “fight or flight” response.

That’s good and necessary self-preservation in times of peril that helps keep troops alert and alive. Back home, however, that hyper-vigilance is out of place and can cause insomnia, anxiety and outbursts of anger. Returning warriors with PTSD become dependent on drugs or alcohol “because they have no other way to calm themselves down,” said Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a clinician and researcher who has studied PTSD since the 1970s.

Drawing from traditional yoga, trauma-sensitive yoga teaches patients to firmly plant their feet and activate their leg muscles in poses that drain energy and tension from the neck and shoulders, where they naturally gather, causing headaches and neck pain. “The goal here is to move tension away from where it builds up when you are stressed, and focus it on the ground so you feel more balanced and connected,” Carnes said.

One of her patients was struggling with outbursts of violent anger, a common effect of PTSD, and had gotten into raging arguments with his wife. Several weeks into regular yoga classes, he went home one day “and his wife lit into him and he could feel a confrontation coming on,” Carnes said. “He told me that he’d taken a deep breath and told his wife he was going upstairs to meditate. And that was the first time he’d been able to do that.”

Practices like iRest and other forms of yoga are so clearly effective that now they are taught and used at dozens of military bases and medical centers — even at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va., home of the Navy SEALs, the branch of commandos who killed Osama bin Laden.

“I knew anecdotally that yoga helped — and now we have clinical proof of its impact on the brain, and on the heart,” said retired Rear Adm. Tom Steffens, a decorated Navy SEAL commander and yoga convert. Within the military services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said, “I see it growing all the time.”

Steffens, an energetic man with a booming voice, first tried yoga to deal with his torn bicep, an injury that surgery and medication hadn’t helped. He quickly became a convert, practicing yoga daily. Visiting with wounded SEALs a decade ago, he noticed that “the type of rehab they were doing was wonderful, but there was no inward focus on themselves — it was all about power as opposed to stretching and breathing.”

The military’s embrace of yoga shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, yoga — a Sanskrit word meaning to “join” or “unite” — dates back to 3,000 B.C., and its basic techniques were used in the 12th century when Samurai warriors prepared for battle with Zen meditation. Credits: Military Battle PTSD With Yoga – Huffington Post

Stand For the Troops is committed to providing our brave warriors with the best treatment available as the seek to reclaim their lives from the debilitating effects of PTSD.  Certainly, funding for Yoga therapy is a welcome relief to many of our Veterans.

 

 

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GAO Hammers VA on Protocols for Veteran Suicides

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In yet another devastating report recently released by the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”), this government oversight agency calls into question the VA’s data records with the tragic conclusion that “63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed.”   As readers of SFTT’s Blog, you are probably not surprised by these latest findings but many in the public may be scratching their heads since they thought these problems were addressed in the wake of the 2014 Phoenix, AZ Veterans Hospital Scandal.

WAKEUP CALL AMERICANS!:    Despite much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” by our elected leaders, at least 22 Veterans still commit suicide each day.

While SFTT and many others are doing their part to stem the “invisible wounds of war,” many veterans suffer from depression and anxiety caused by their wartime experiences.  Sure, giving to charities that support Veterans maybe one way to help, but Sgt. Tony Hogrefe has a far more practical and personal suggestion.   Let our veterans know that you care and extend that Lifeline to as many military service men and women in your community.  Who knows?: Your phone call just may help a veteran with severe depression get through another day and, perhaps, reclaim control of their life.

 Improper Processing of Suicides

Found below are the heart-wrenching results of a recent GAO report on the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) protocols for treating Vets with depression.   As the report suggests,  “Patient data was flawed, inconsistent and incomplete.

Here is a brief breakdown of the stats based on the audited sample:

10% of vets treated by VA have major depressive disorder and 94% of those are prescribed anti-depressants
86% of audited files of vets on anti-depressants did not receive a follow up evaluation within the required 4-6 weeks
40% of the same group of veterans on anti-depressants did not receive follow up care within the recommended time frame
63% of suicide cases were inaccurately processed

This means 500,000 veterans have major depressive disorder and 470,000 of those are prescribed anti-depressants. This means it is possible that 404,200 veterans on anti-depressants are not receiving timely follow up assessments.

With data integrity breaches like this, it is no wonder GAO cited the suicide data VA relies on as “not always complete, accurate, or consistent.”
Credits: GAO Audit Shows 63% Of Suicide Cases Improperly Processed

These numbers are terribly frightening to anyone with a conscious.    Please spare our Veterans the soundbites of political posturing.    While some may argue that we have a “crisis in Syria and Iraq with Islamic terrorists,” I would argue that the real crisis is much closer to home:  “How we treat our Veterans!”   Let’s get together and provide these brave heroes “more than lip service,” and insist that our military and civilian leaders do the same.

Depression and Suicidal Thoughts In Soldiers

Most studies of PTSD suggest that “major depression” or “severe depression” are the single strongest drivers of suicidal behavior.    In fact the somewhat dated Canadian study highlighted below highlights the gravity of the problem which persists today among Veterans of foreign wars.

“Current and former soldiers who seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should be screened closely for major depression since the disorder is the single strongest driver of suicidal thinking, say authors of a new Canadian study.

“Researchers evaluated 250 active duty Canadian Forces, RCMP members and veterans.  The study comes at a time when record numbers of suicides are being reported among American troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the number of suicides reported among Canadian forces last year reached its highest point since 1995.

In veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, about half also have symptoms of major depressive disorder during their lifetime, said the researchers.”
Credits: Depression Strongest Driver of Suicidal Thoughts in Soldiers, Vets

As Sgt. Hogrefe suggested above, we can all do our part and reach out to a Veteran to let him or her know that we care.  For those who want to play a more active role in channeling your energies into SFTT’s Rescue Coalition projects that help Veterans acquire new skills or receive better treatment, please contact SFTT.

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