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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SFTT and PTS

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For several months SFTT, its medical task force and its Board have been thoroughly analyzing the battlefield of brave warriors suffering from Post Traumatic Stress and examining the resources and procedures currently available to treat this crippling disability. We have purposely dropped the “D” from PTSD since most scientific research indicates that PTS is far more serious than simply a “disorder”.

There are countless stories of brave young men and women suffering from PTS, some of which have been chronicled in SFTT. The social consequences of this growing problem are enormous and, sadly, there is no magic bullet on the horizon to deal with this problem in the numbers required to stem its insidious growth. Substance and alcohol abuse, joblessness, homelessness, alienation, low self-esteem and even suicide are just a few of the manifestations of PTS faced by returning veterans and their loved ones.

Sadly, the VA has been unable to stem the near epidemic growth of veterans suffering from the conditions of PTS and TBI (“traumatic brain injury”). Fortunately, a number of public and private institutions have emerged which are beginning to address some of the necessary conditions that must be in place to provide a lifeline to our veterans and promote a path to “wellness.”

Over the next couple of weeks, SFTT will be sharing some of these “new” treatment procedures and existing programs where our brave Veterans can receive the treatment they merit. Our ultimate objective to share these resources with Veterans and their loved-ones by re-positioning SFTT to become the go-to resource for those afflicted by PTS.

There is much information on PTS available to Veterans, but it is hard to identify actionable resources that have proven to be reliable to Veterans. SFTT – with the support of its medical task force – intends to become that “do-to” resource by partnering with other organizations that have the same goal: Help our brave Veterans reclaim their lives.

Join SFTT by becoming a Member and help provide our brave Veterans the Lifeline they deserve.

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Military Veterans with PTSD: A Failure of Leadership

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In the wake of a scathing report by the Inspector General which found fault with how quickly the Veterans Administration responds to the needs of veterans seeking mental-heath care, comes the inevitable hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth regarding how poorly we as a society treat our veterans.

While it is far easier to point fingers at the VA than propose meaningful solutions, it is evident that we have a serious and growing problem on our hands.  SFTT has reported earlier that government statistics suggest that

The question should not be limited to how quickly the VA responds to requests by veterans seeking mental-health care, but an overall evaluation of the effectiveness of the health-care or therapy that veterans actually receive from the VA.   Just because the VA is able to respond to a request for service within 24 hours is useful information, but shouldn’t the effectiveness of short and medium-term therapy and an evaluation of the overall rehabilitation of our veterans be the focus of any meaningful inquiry.

The magnitude of this problem in caring for veterans extends far beyond the treatment of PTSD as these statistics from John Kuhn, Acting National Directory, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (“SSVF”), suggests:

While many good-intentioned people are well aware of the problems facing our veterans and many studies have been funded to develop solutions, it is evident that the complexity of dealing with these issues has overwhelmed the capabilities of our institutional care-providers.  Yesterday, I attended a discussion hosted by the New York State Health Foundation on some of the challenges faced in providing “Community-Based Services for Veterans and Their Families.”

This fascinating discussion brought together care-providers and charitable organizations to determine how best to provide meaningful and effective services to our veterans.   The presentations and subsequent discussion suggested that there is no clear unanimity of how best to deal with the “well-being” issues faced by veterans, but that a community-based response seemed to offer the best prospects for success.    The Rochester Veterans Outreach Center was cited as an example of what can be done to mobilize local resources to help provide a community-based support structure for returning veterans.  Indeed, many other towns and cities appear to be feeling their way to develop similar programs within their own communities.

The key catalyst for change is leadership within the community to address the needs of veterans.  Those communities which appear to have the most resilient programs are those that recognized both the unique capabilities and needs of veterans and began the lengthy process of integrating the various local services, care-givers and donors to provide veterans with social services, education and employment possibilities that would probably have been overlooked in a “top-down one-size-fits-all” federally-mandated and managed program.

Clearly, essential and varied services provided by community-based and community-supported organizations seem to offer veterans and families a milieu of  services that can be tailored to the needs and aspirations of each veteran.  Unfortunately, these organizations often lack the visibility and/or capabilities to attract funding to support their initiatives.  Furthermore, there is little in place to benchmark performance and provide a meaningful framework to replicate successful programs for other communities.

Sharing success stories and evaluating available community-based services is essential to develop a framework to guide civic organizations and funding entities to support programs that have a reasonable chance of being successful.  For its part, SFTT and its newly created medical task force can help community leaders to develop programs that can attract the necessary resources to help change the lives of our brave veterans.

We are hopeful that community leaders will emerge and bootstrap similar programs to the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester.   The needs of our veterans are both varied and great and can be best met with inspired and dedicated local leadership supported by our Federal and State government institutions and charitable foundations.

Richard W. May

 

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