Monthly Archives: August 2014

MAN’S BEST FRIEND… A BETTER WAY


According to an article by Bill Briggs (DOD And VA Can’t Prove Their PTSD Care Is Working, Study Claims), posted June 20th, 2014 on NBC News, despite an annual $3.3 Billion spent on medications and therapies, neither the DOD nor the VA can say that hundreds of thousands of troops and veterans are being treated successfully because neither agency is “adequately tracking long term patient outcomes,” according to a study released by the Institute of Medicine on June 20, 2014 and posted in the National Academies Press. Part of the inability to track results comes from the fact that physicians in both agencies fail to share their findings and results they’ve documented from their differing attempts to ease PTSD symptoms.

It is not possible to find a ‘one size fits all’ solution to PTSD. Every case is different. Every case is personal. Everyone responds to the trauma of war differently. They may suffer from common symptoms, but each individual’s experience is unique.

The most common treatment is to prescribe medications however, treating the symptoms with drugs does not fix the problem, any more than a bandage can heal a wound. Drugs are a temporary ‘quick fix’, often causing more problems due to side effects, and only serve to mask the symptoms. Drugs do not cure PTSD. There are better options available, although seldom recognized by the VA.

In 2009, Senators Al Franken and Johnny Isakson cosponsored ‘The Service Dogs For Veterans Act’ directing the VA to establish a pilot program in partnership with non-profit service dog agencies to pair service dogs with veterans with physical and mental disabilities, including PTSD. The bill was included as an amendment in the National Defense and Authorization Act that passed the Senate on July 23, 2009, and subsequently signed into law by President Obama.

In a New York Times article ‘For The Battle-Scarred, Comfort At Leash’s End’, published April 3, 2010, by Janie Lorber, several veterans suffering from PTSD gave testimonials to the ways their service dogs have improved their lives. “In dozens of interviews, veterans and their therapists reported drastic reductions in PTSD symptoms and in reliance on medication after receiving a service dog.”

According to an article (Canine Therapy for Military PTSD) by Rick Nauert, Senior News Editor of PsycheCentral.com, and reviewed by John M Groh, Psy.D., posted July 2010, “…the U.S, Army is using an innovative approach to help soldiers recovery 9th from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder…….According to the Army Surgeon General’s special assistant for mental health, Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, M.D., the Army is using dogs ‘much more’ to help soldiers recovering from PTSD.”

Just two years later, per an article ‘VA Cuts Funding for Service Dogs for PTSD’, by Kevin Dolak (via Good Morning America – ABC News) published September 8, 2012, the VA canceled funding for Service Dogs for veterans with mental disabilities. Although, 2014 on NBC News, despite an annual $3.3 the VA recognizes impaired vision, hearing. And mobility as disabilities, and continues to pay for service dogs to assist veterans with those conditions, the VA does not pay for service dogs to assist veterans suffering from PTSD, citing there have not been enough studies to prove the effectiveness of dogs in the treatment of PTSD. Further stating “Although we do not disagree with some commenters’ subjective accounts that mental health service dogs have improved the quality of their lives….VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness.”

On March 17, 2013, Robert T. Muller, Ph.D. published an article (A War Vet’s Best Friend, Cutting PTSD Service Dogs) in Psychology Today, stating “...Even though there are numerous personal accounts of the benefits of Service Dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD, formal research is lacking … anecdotal accounts, however, have shown that up to 80% of PTSD patients who owned trained service Dogs show decreases in symptoms, sometimes even eliminating the need for anti-depressants.”

Muller further states “The cost of treating veterans with PTSD and major depression is almost double the cost of general health care for veterans without PTSD. The cost of a Service Dog including purchase, veterinary bills, and training is approximately $5200.00… Given the high price paid in military spending, as well as the personal and social cost of not treating our veterans, this represents $5200.00 well spent.”

Apparently, the VA can’t prove ANY of their treatments have been effective, yet billions of dollars are spent annually, on drugs without proof of their effectiveness.

With all the new revelations about the VA, I can’t help but question why the VA would prefer to spend so much money to drug our veterans, rather than invest a relatively small amount of money on Service Dogs. Perhaps it is because the non-profit groups that train Service Dogs do not have the same financial resources to lobby the VA and politicians, as the pharmaceutical companies.

Some Non-Profit Service Dog Organizations:

Paws for Purple Hearts

Veterans Moving Forward

Psychiatric Service Dog Society

Canine Companions for Independence

America’s Vet Dogs

NEADS Canines for Combat Veterans

Articles:

DOD and VA Can’t Prove Their PTSD Care Is Working, Study Claims’ By Bill Briggs 6-20-14 / NBC News

For The Battle-Scarred, Comfort At Leash’s End’ By Janie Lorber 4-3-10 / New York Times

Canine Therapy For Military PTSD’ By Rick Nauert 7-9-10 / PsycheCentral.com

VA Cuts Funding For Service Dogs For PTSD’ By Kevin Dolak 9-8-12 / ABC News

A War Vet’s Best Friend, Cutting PTSD Service Dogs’ By Robert T. Muller, Ph.D. 3-17-13 / Psychology Today

VA To Resume PTSD Service Dog Study’ By Rebecca Ruiz 11-22-13 / Forbes

THE BOTTOM LINE…


According to Greg Zoroya’s article “Report: VA Scandal Probe Targets Potential Obstruction of Justice”, published 8-26-2014 in USA Today, “The Inspector General report focused largely on problems at the VA Hospital in Phoenix, the epicenter of the scandal. Reports of deaths of veterans awaiting care first surfaced there, but investigators said they have not found conclusive evidence linking the deaths to delayed care… Investigators found thousands of veterans in Phoenix hospital who were not being seen by doctors and whose names were kept on secret lists to hide them from official records that might reflect scheduling delays… legislators said hospital executives and senior clinical staff were aware that false scheduling practices were being used.”

Zoroya goes on to report that Sharon Helman, the hospital director (currently on administrative leave) along with two senior colleagues, falsified data in order to gain substantial raises in pay and bonuses, since rescinded by the VA.

Prior to releasing the report, VA officials prepared “…a full court public relations response”, ranging from granting selective media interviews with “…Top VA officials”, and culminating with remarks delivered by President Obama before the American Legion “…heralding steps to correct failings.”

In addition, the article quotes Sam Foote, a retired former VA (Phoenix) physician and “whistle blower” as saying that “…up to 63 veterans died while awaiting care at the hospital”. Yet, according to the report, there is no “….conclusive evidence linking the deaths to delayed care”. Also, the new VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, claimed “the number of veterans waiting for appointments has declined since May by 57%.” That may be due to a large number of veterans just not even trying, due to disgust or lack of faith in the VA.

According to an article “When a Veteran is Injured by the VA: The Federal Torts Claims Act, You Can Sue the VA For Medical Malpractice Through the Federal Torts Claims Act” published on the website Nolo.com, “You can file a lawsuit under the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA) when any employee of the VA acts negligently and causes you an injury…..Under the FTCA, a negligent act by any agent of the VA (for example, even a janitor leaving a wet floor on which you slip and get hurt) can be the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit. This means that the FTCA covers many more negligent acts than Section 1151 benefits do… Unlike the VA rating system for service connected disabilities… money damages you could win are calculated based on your suffering and the economic loss that has resulted from your injury. And unlike disability compensation, which is paid monthly over a number of years, you receive a payment in one lump sum if you win an FTCA lawsuit.

I wonder just how expensive it would be for the VA if they had to deal with FTCA lawsuits for the 63 veterans that suffered the injury of death, not to mention the thousands of veterans whose conditions were worsened by delayed care. Could that be the reason the official report claims investigators “have not found conclusive evidence linking the deaths to delayed care”? Maybe that is the real ‘bottom line’.

WRITING ON THE WALL…


According to Associated Press reporter, Ryan Lucas’ article “Islamic State Fighters Capture Syrian Airbase”, posted 8-24-14 on HuffingtonPost.com, ISIS has captured their third military base in northeastern Syria, complete with “several warplane squadrons, helicopters, tanks, artillery, and ammunition bunkers”, and now control “a stretch of territory running from Syria’s northern border with Turkey as far as the outskirts of Baghdad in central Iraq”.  In addition Lucas states that in the central Syrian province of Homs….the Islamic State group was withdrawing its fighters after handing over its headquarters to the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, according to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Of course, those unfortunate enough to be captured by them were brutally killed, decapitated, with their heads and bodies put on display.

Lucas further states that according to the official Saudi news agency, “…foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar, and Jordan met (Sunday) in the Red Sea city of Jiddah….Egypt’s foreign minister said ahead of the talks that the group would discuss the security threat posed by the Islamic State group and search for a way to bring about a needed political solution to the Syrian crisis.”  I am not really clear as to what is meant by a ‘political solution’, in this context, unless the Egyptian minister is referring to an alliance of governments between those countries, to join Iraq and Syria in an effort to fight ISIS.  

According to another Huffington Post article “10 More Horrific Numbers That Explain Why ISIS Is Impossible To Ignore” (posted 8-21-14 by Eline Gordts and Carina Kolodny), 12,000 is “the total number of foreigners who have joined the ranks of the Islamic State, according to the Soufan Group, a New York based consultancy.  Three thousand of those fighters come from the west…Officials have said they are worried that many of the fighters will eventually return to their countries of origin”, and “…up to 500 is “the number of British born fighters experts estimate are allied with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.”

It becomes more obvious, every day, that ISIS cannot be negotiated with, and they are determined to conquer not only the Middle East, but the entire world, in the name of their caliphate.  They have been vocal in their threats to attack the west, specifically the United States, and have demonstrated a brutality, not seen since Nazi Germany’s Final Solution.

I understand America’s desire to avoid entering into another country’s civil war.  However, it should be obvious that this is no longer a question of a civil war.  ISIS has openly and blatantly declared war on everyone in the world that is not them, and specifically, the United States.  They now appear to be teamed with al-Qaida.  Even though they have yet to attack us, that is their stated intention and it seems only a matter of time, before they attempt another 911 on American soil.  We cannot afford to underestimate them.  We must take them at their word, and act accordingly.  We should learn from the past, and not repeat it.  

In the 1970 film ‘Tora, Tora, Tora’, and in the 2001 film ‘Pearl Harbor’, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is portrayed as saying after his attack on Pearl Harbor, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”  Hopefully, this time, the writing on the wall will be all that is needed to fill us with resolve.

Group Therapy


In 1977, after suffering a Vietnam flashback psychotic break and a mandatory ten day stay at the Sepulveda VA Hospital, my husband found himself attending a group therapy session at a storefront in Canoga Park, California.

His first impression, as he entered the hall to sign up and introduce himself to the shrink, a young graduate student who volunteered to work at the VA in order to gain extra credits for school, was concern that this guy would not allow him into the meeting because it already seemed to be full.  As usual, my husband’s instincts were right.  The young man in his early twenties referring to himself as a Physician’s Helper, at least according to the plaque he had placed on his desk, told my husband he could not participate, until my husband gave him the VA doctor’s name that had told him to attend.

There were 15 other men in that meeting; all of them were Special Forces combat veterans with two to four tours under their belts.  That is, all except one.  He had served less than three months in country until a very minor ‘million dollar’ thigh wound sent him home.   Most of the other men in the room, including my husband, had been wounded, far worse than that, multiple times, and still continued to serve.  None of them wished to cash in the ticket to go home, even though it was offered to each of them.  The young PA conducting the meeting had never been in the military, never been through basic training, and never been in combat.  He had absolutely no point of reference to the life experiences of the men he believed he was in charge of.  To most of them, he was a child without manners.

Most group therapy sessions have the room set up with the chairs in a circle, so that everyone feels equally invited to participate.  The PA decided to break from this format and moved the chairs so that everyone sat as if they were in a classroom and he was the teacher.  This was not appreciated by his class.  In addition, he allowed the meeting to be dominated by the ‘million dollar wound’ man, who spent most of the meeting whining about the horror of his three months in country, and of being shot.

My husband, sensing the growing irritation in the room, finally could take it no longer.  He told the guy to ‘shut up, and let someone else talk’, and was immediately applauded by every other man in that room.  The PA, taking offense to someone interfering with his authority, began to lecture the room, telling them that although he, himself, was not a ‘killer’ he believed he understood the men that had the mindset of a killer.   Everyone in the room bristled at the offensive nature of his speech.  He spoke a few more sentences, with several references to the men in the room as killers, before he sensed the mood change of the soldiers he thought he was counseling.  My husband called him on the offensive nature of his speech, explaining that they were soldiers, not killers, and their job was to stop the enemy, and if that meant killing, then that is what they did.  It had become obvious to all that the PA was not qualified to work with these men, and had lost any chance of gaining their trust, or respect.  The meeting ended within minutes, with the veterans walking out.  That young PA never returned to the VA; neither did my husband, nor his best friend, who had served three tours with him and committed suicide, within three years, and probably several other men who had attended that particular group therapy session.  Their session with this so called Mental Health Care Professional, who behaved with such an air of superiority towards the ‘killers’ he treated with such insult and disdain, had poisoned them all for the group therapy process and the VA, and did more damage to them, than good.

Thirty seven years and a couple of wars later, with a veteran suicide rate of 22 per day (that’s only the deaths that are listed as suicides.  If you include the deaths that are listed as ‘accidents’ for the sake of the relatives, it’s probably a great deal higher), there are two separate bills in the Senate that deal with veteran suicide prevention.  The first bill, the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act (SAV), introduced in March 2014 by Senator John Walsh of Montana (a combat veteran himself) is collaboration between Walsh and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).  SAV extends special combat eligibility from five to fifteen years, reviews wrongful discharges, establishes a common drug formulary between DOD and the VA, creates greater collaboration between the VA and DOD by putting a timeline on the MDAA mandate to make the VA and DOD records electronic, increases health care professionals in the VA by repaying medical school loans for psychiatrists who commit to long term service in the VA, and requires the VA and DOD to ensure mental health care providers have special training to identify veterans at risk for suicide.  This bill was written by combat veterans who understand the devastating effects of PTSD, and have lost friends to suicide.  They take the issue very personally, and have written a very important bill.

In May, the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 was introduced by Senator Joe Donnelly and Senator Roger Wicker.  This bill appears to deal mostly with bureaucracy and logistics, than veteran’s problems.  It sets uniform standards and mandatory annual mental health assessments for all branches of service, improves DOD accountability by requiring a report analyzing the annual screenings and follow up care rates, establishes an inter-agency between the DOD and HHS (the Department of Health and Human Services) for the National Guard and Reserves, and requires the DOD to submit reports to Congress with evaluations and recommendations regarding specific tools, processes and best practices to improve the military’s identification, intervention and treatment policies and programs in relation to mental health conditions and traumatic brain injury.  Why not work with Senator Walsh to add these issues to SAV?  Why a separate and possibly competing bill?  SAV seems to be concerned with helping veterans, while the Donnelly / Wicker bill seems to be more concerned with giving Congress control over the process, jumping on a political bandwagon, and creating more bureaucracy, than actually helping veterans.

The major difference between the two bills is one was written by men that actually experienced combat, and one was written by politicians.  It is unclear whether or not either bill will actually become law, since that requires cooperation between the two parties, and given the past performance and gridlocked position of Congress, I don’t have much faith in their good intentions.  They seem to be more interested in winning elections, than taking care of the veterans they sent to fight wars and die for them, seemingly without a second thought.  God help our veteran’s.  America seems to have abandoned them.

WHEN LOCAL POLICE BECOME AN OCCUPYING ARMY…


Judging from the large number of actual combat veterans registering their disapproval of the actions taken by the Ferguson, Mo. police department, it is obvious that the ongoing escalation of the situation is due entirely to the incompetence and mismanagement by the leadership of that department, primarily, the Chief of Police, Thomas Jackson.

From the beginning, his actions and motivations seemed to be designed to protect and justify the actions of a cop who is alleged to have murdered an 18 year old, unarmed civilian. The lack of transparency in the investigation, and the attempt to portray the victim as a criminal low life, in an effort to infer the officer was correct in his actions, has only served to draw nation-wide attention to police brutality in America, and the problems of arming untrained ‘wannabe soldiers’ with state of the art military equipment.

I was not in the market when Michael Brown allegedly committed a ‘strong arm robbery’, but from multiple viewings of the video tape continuously looping on cable news, it looks more like the store clerk ran smack into Brown’s chest in an attempt to block his path, and Brown merely pushed him away, and then turned to face him when the clerk tried to come after Brown, a second time, causing the clerk to change his mind about pursuing Brown. Judging from the size difference, if Brown had tried to hit the clerk, or done anything more than push him aside, that clerk would have been damaged. He was not. There were no signs, or claims of injury, other than to the clerk’s pride.

Even if the allegation that Brown stole a few cigars is true, that hardly equals anything more than a petty shoplifting charge. Brown could have just as easily reached over the counter and stolen money, instead of cigars.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Michael Brown had been a dangerous hardened criminal, fleeing after committing a violent major felony, at the time he was shot and killed. According to multiple witnesses, Brown was unarmed and getting to his knees with his hands in the air, when Officer Darren Wilson walked up on him, continuously firing his weapon into Brown, until he fell over dead. That constitutes First Degree Murder, and Wilson should be prosecuted for it.

Let’s say, again for the sake of argument, that Officer Wilson believed Brown was dangerous and a threat to his life (although, according to Chief Jackson, Wilson had no knowledge of the so called strong armed robbery at the time he stopped Brown. He stopped him for walking down the road and ordered him to move to the sidewalk). After the first shot caused Brown to face Wilson, putting his hands in the air to surrender, every shot thereafter constituted First Degree Murder.

A man on his knees, with his empty hands in the air does not constitute a threat to a police officer holding a gun in his hands, no matter what kind of crime that man allegedly committed, prior to that moment. Either Officer Wilson made a conscious decision to ignore that fact, or he was incapable of recognizing it. In either case, he is unfit to carry a badge and gun, and should have been eliminated from joining the force, to begin with,
assuming there is some kind of psychological screening done for Ferguson Police Department applicants, as in most other police departments.

In addition to looking into the problems of supplying local police with military equipment (i.e. the ‘wannabe soldier’ mindset looks for any excuse to play with the toys), there needs be an investigation into the screening processes of those departments, in order to eliminate the mentally, or emotionally unstable. In addition, there needs to be a greater focus on proper training, both in the use of the equipment, prior to receipt of it, as well as communication and public relations.

Clothes don’t make the man. Dressing up as a soldier, posturing and pointing weapons at the local residents, who are exercising their First Amendment rights, and pretending you are an occupying army, does not create an environment of calm and safety for those residents. On the contrary, it only serves to create fear and resentment of the police, who is supposed to be there to serve and protect the people of that community, not terrorize and threaten them.

A CHANGE OF HEART


It is one thing for one country to invade and occupy another; no matter how justified they feel their cause.  It is an entirely different matter when that invasion comes from an organization attempting to force their own ideology on the population of the country they have invaded.   It changes the rules of the game.  It is no longer a war between nations with set borders.  It is a war against all people that do not share the belief system of that organization.  That makes it a fight for everyone’s right to think for themselves and to decide their own way of life.  That is a fight that goes beyond the borders of individual nations, since if that organization will invade one country, it is only a matter of time before they move to invade all countries, because they fight for an ideology that demands world submission.

I used to be of the opinion that America should no longer get involved in any further military actions that required ‘boots on the ground’ of any other country, for any reason, at all.  Like most Americans, I am tired of seeing our soldiers fighting wars in other lands.  I believe America should help our allies when the need arises, but without putting the lives of our soldiers on the line…not unless America is directly threatened.

I have changed my mind.  Not only is America being threatened by the extreme jihadist group, ISIS, not only the countries in the Middle East, but the people of every other country on this planet are being threatened, as well.  This is no longer a regional civil war, if ISIS is not stopped, their war will become global.  Unlike Nazi Germany, ISIS is not a country we can declare war on; they are the worst kind of terrorist organization that does not hesitate to inflict atrocities on anyone that is not them.  We must stop thinking in terms of conventional warfare.  We must recognize that whether we want it, or not, we are engaged in a world war on terrorism, and commit to it with every resource we have.  Like it, or not, we are in a struggle to survive… along with all the rest of the world.

If you think I am being an alarmist, consider the fact that ISIS is currently sweeping through the oil rich Middle East.  If they gain control of the oil fields, they threaten the life of all industrial nations.

ISIS wants only one thing; that everyone in the world, convert to their form of extremist Islam, or die.  They have declared a war on all humanity, and must be stopped, by whatever means necessary.       

TRADING PLACES


As Americans, our information about war comes primarily from the media.  We see it on TV, the internet, and sometimes, through social media.  We send our military ‘over there’ to fight our wars, so we never have to experience it, here at home.  We watch the horrors of war on television, available 24 hours a day, and we form our personal opinions based on the information we are exposed to.  Some of us even have family and friends in those war zones and a lot of us are veterans of both current and former wars, making our view of war far more personal.  Depending on the spin of events we receive, we know who the enemy is, as opposed to ‘innocent civilians’.  We want the enemy destroyed, innocent civilians protected, and our soldiers to be safe.  We have been told that we are fighting for freedom and democracy, to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people we are there to save, and we are positive that those people see us as liberators.

  What if another country, or countries, decided America’s approach to government was ‘evil’ and declared war on us?  What if they attacked us with powerful armies and invaded us?  What if we suddenly found ourselves living under an occupying army?  How would we feel?  Would we welcome our invaders?  I don’t believe there is a single American, no matter their political belief, that would not do everything within their power to resist that invader.  I believe we would fight to drive that army out of our land, no matter the personal cost.  Though that occupying army may outnumber us, or possess superior weaponry, we would fight a guerrilla war to defeat them, just as all revolutionary armies in history have fought against tyrants, or invaders.  Right or wrong, this is our homeland and we will fight for our right to govern ourselves.  In such a guerilla war, it might be very difficult for the soldiers in that occupying army to determine exactly who is ‘enemy’ and who is an ‘innocent civilian’ because, by virtue of the occupation, all civilians become the enemy, at one level, or another.

  Our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of that occupying army and have been given the task to take out the enemy, and win the hearts and minds of the civilians.  The civilians, and enemy look alike, dress alike, share the same language and religion, and probably feel the same way we would about living under an occupying army.  The people in those countries are in the position of trying to survive their occupation, hoping to drive out their invaders, reclaim their land, and the right to govern themselves… just as we would do, in their position.  

Whether in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan, we are the occupying army.  Our soldiers face a population that does not hesitate to use every man, woman, and child to fight.  There is no safe place for our soldiers.  They face snipers, IED’s, and suicide bombers, at every turn.  They are forced to operate at the highest level of paranoia, just to stay alive.  In addition, they are further burdened with threats of prosecution from their own, should they fire on an ‘innocent civilian’ in countries where even the children are programmed in the glory of jihad, and preach ‘death to Americans’.   It is wrong to ask our soldiers to fight a war, and then punish them for doing what they felt necessary to stay alive in a hostile land.  We need to recognize that with very few exceptions, in an occupied land, there are no civilians.