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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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.


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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