VA To Make Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Available for PTSD

Hyperbaric Chamber

By Debbie Gregory.

In a continuing effort to treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and reduce the number of veteran suicides, the Department of Veterans Affairs has approved hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to some veterans with PTSD.

In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.

It’s suggested that the oxygen-rich environment produced in the brain during a HBOT treatment stimulates the growth of new neurons and neural pathways, although further research is necessary.

HBOT treatment is currently only available to veterans served in the eastern Oklahoma and Northern California VA health care systems. Only veterans who haven’t noticed a decrease in PTSD symptoms from two other, evidence-based treatments are eligible.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. HBOT uses pressurized hyperbaric chambers to deliver high oxygen levels.

“There is nothing more important to us than caring for our nation’s veterans, and that care must include finding different approaches that work best for them,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin.

HBOT is normally used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness,  and wounds that won’t heal. It has also been used for stroke victims, autism, cerebral palsy, cancer, fibromyalgia and lyme disease. Now HBOT is being used on patients with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as well as PTSD.

The VA intends to use its new research to determine whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy should be made available to more veterans with PTSD, the agency said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Colorado VA Used Forbidden Lists of Patients Wanting Mental Health Car

Denver VA

By Debbie Gregory.

A Veterans Administration (VA) investigation has revealed that VA facilities in Denver, Golden and Colorado Springs failed to follow proper protocol when keeping tabs on patients who sought referrals for treatment of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The “off-book” lists did not always contain complete information or request dates, calling into question whether veterans requesting care received it and how long they had to wait for it.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

Whistleblower Brian Smothers said the problems found in Colorado reach across the VA system. He worked on the VA’s PTSD support team in Denver and said he resigned in November 2016 after he was retaliated against for speaking up.

Smothers alleges that Colorado VA facilities in Denver and suburban Golden used unauthorized wait lists for mental health services from 2012 until last September. He said the longer that veterans have to wait for mental healthcare, the less likely they are to use it when it becomes available.

“It was totally unacceptable to me,” he said.

Smothers estimated the lists contained 3,500 entries but did not know how many individual veterans were on them because some names appeared multiple times. It was not immediately clear how long veterans on the lists had to wait for care.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

According to Smothers, “VA management knew that these wait lists were absolutely forbidden.”  “But they directed the use of these wait lists anyway.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Poll Finds Most Veterans and Military Support Legalization of Medical Marijuana

medical mara

By Debbie Gregory.

Attitudes towards the use of medical marijuana have been undergoing rapid changes. For many people who are in pain, medical marijuana is the only medicine that relieves pain and suffering, or treats symptoms of their medical condition, without debilitating side effects.

There is a plethora of scientific research establishing medical marijuana as a safe and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals. Perhaps that has contributed to the majority of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Included in that majority are U.S. military veterans and veteran caregivers. A recent poll conducted on behalf of the American Legion found that while 82% of respondents supported the legalization of medical cannabis, 92% supported expanded research into the medical benefits of the drug.

It has been argued that medical marijuana can be used to treat or manage the symptoms of a variety of ailments that affect veterans, including chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. It has also been thought that cannabis can be helpful in addressing the serious epidemic of veteran suicide.

While it is unlawful for VA doctors to prescribe marijuana as it is a Schedule 1 substance, in states where medical marijuana is legal, VA providers are allowed to discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Additionally, there is a push to reschedule the drug to a Schedule II or III. That would automatically lift the barriers to research, and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

According to the American Legion’s poll, one in five veterans surveyed consume marijuana “to alleviate a medical or physical condition.”

And it no longer needs to be smoked… medical marijuana is often administered to patients in alternative ways, including inhalers, pills, and even edible baked goods. These means of dispensation have proven to be healthier and sometimes more effective in relieving patients’ pain or discomfort.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

$2.3 Million Settlement in Marine Veteran’s Death

jason and heather

By Debbie Gregory.

Former Marine Jason Simcakoski was 35 when he died in 2014 at the Tomah VA facility. His death uncovered a reality of overprescribed opioid painkillers at the facility.

From 2006 to 2014, Simcakoski had been treated for a variety of conditions. He was admitted to the Tomah VA’s psychiatric unit on Aug. 10, 2014. Less than three weeks later, he was found unresponsive. It took 10 minutes for life-saving CPR to begin, but by then, it was too late.

An autopsy revealed that Simcakoski died from mixed-drug toxicity.

The government reached a $2.3 million settlement with Simcakoski’s survivors , namely his widow Heather and daughter Anaya.

Simcakoski’s death led to the passage of the Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act, a law aimed at improving the way opioid medications are used in treating veterans, improving patient advocacy by the VA Secretary, and expanding the availability of complementary and integrative health.

An inspector general’s report in 2015 found that Tomah VA doctors commonly over-prescribed opioid painkillers, earning the facility the nickname “Candy Land.” Tomah VA’s chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan, was fired and permanently surrendered his medical license.

Simcakoski was never advised of the risks associated with the medications he was given.  Additionally, the delays in the start of CPR and the lack of medication at the Tomah VA to reverse drug overdoses contributed to his death.

Heather Simcakoski, who is also a Marine Corps veteran, says there was a point when she didn’t know it was possible to move forward. But now she is ready to dedicate a significant amount of her time to the new project she and daughter Anaya are getting ready to launch that will give back to veterans and their families.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

MilitaryConnection.com and VAMBOA Join Forces with America Salutes You & Wall Street Rocks to Present Guitar Legends for Heroes

americasalutesyou_03

MilitaryConnection.com, one of the most comprehensive directories of military and veteran resources on the web, and non-profit trade association VAMBOA, the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association are proud to announce that they have joined forces with America Salutes You and Wall Street Rocks to Present “Guitar Legends for Heroes.”

On Wednesday, November 29th, some of the world’s best guitarists will hit the stage at Terminal 5 in New York City to thank our military, veterans and their loved ones for their sacrifices, while raising funds for the high impact charities that support them.

Co-hosted by country legend Trace Adkins and SIRIUS XM’s Eddie Trunk, the all-star event will feature special performances by Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Nancy Wilson (Heart), Sam Moore (Sam and Dave), Orianthi, Lindsey Ell, Robert Randolph, and Joe Don Rooney (Rascal Flatts)

The concert will air nationally on Tribune Broadcasting, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Hearst Television, Graham Media Group, Gray and Ion television stations on December 23rd.

Charity Recipients benefitting from the music-filled evening include Headstrong, Psych Armor,
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Hope for the Warriors, and Warrior Canine Connection.

The concert is made possible by the generous financial support of Presentation Sponsor the Independence Fund, and additional corporate sponsors including American Airlines, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, the National Football League, Broadridge and TIBCO.

“We have asked those who serve, past and present, to leave their home and their loved ones to protect our freedoms,” said Debbie Gregory, CEO of MilitaryConnection.com. “The number of men and women who have donned our country’s uniform and served multiple tours of combat duty is the largest in modern American history. We owe them a huge debt, and we can repay it by remembering their sacrifices and providing the resources for them to achieve the American Dream.”

About America Salutes You
America Salutes You is a 501c3 organization created to express our national gratitude to our troops, veterans and their families through an annual nationally broadcasted benefit concert that raises funds for a range of high impact veteran charities.

Lawmakers Want to Reduce the Number of VA Facilities

vava

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs are taking a hard look at VA facilities across the country to determine which ones have been outlived their usefulness. Many aging and underused facilities could be subject to closure.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said that the agency is considering a plan to close more than 1,100 facilities across the country, given that the VA continues to allow a larger number of veterans access to private sector health care.

Shulkin told a House hearing that the department has identified 735 underused facilities. There are also 430 empty buildings, most of which were constructed around 90 years ago.

Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat, want to create a paid commission to recommend which facilities should be closed.  Their bill, the Asset Infrastructure Review Act (AIR) is in its early stages. As it is currently written, the bill would require Shulkin publish the criteria to be used in choosing which facilities to close, modernize or realign in the Federal Register by January 15, which is less than two months away.

Shulkin said the VA and Congress would work together to review buildings for possible closure, possibly using a process like Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which the Pentagon has used in the past to determine which underutilized military bases should be closed.

But the BRAC process has been controversial, raising concerns among members of Congress about the negative financial impact of closing military bases in their districts.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Was This A Hate Crime or PTSD?

rodriguez

By Debbie Gregory.

There was a perfect storm brewing in Portland, Oregon’s DarSalam Iraqi restaurant.

Suffering from unsuccessfully treated PTSD, Marine Sgt. Major Damien Rodriguez was allegedly inebriated, a common self-treatment for PTSD, when he and his companion, a retired Marine, took a corner table in the restaurant. He sat where his back could be against the wall, typical behavior of a veteran with PTSD.

His four deployments to war zones had taken a heavy toll.

According to witnesses, after several minutes of not ordering, Rodriguez said that he had to get out of the restaurant. He tried to go through a side door but found it locked, so he stood, wringing his hands. Rodriguez began slinging racial slurs and profanity. Then suddenly, he picked up a chair and hurled it at a waiter.

Ghaith Sahib, the owner of the restaurant, said the incident left him and his staff deeply shaken, especially the employee injured by the chair.

Authorities came down hard on Rodriguez. While this would have normally been a misdemeanor, prosecutors charged Rodriguez with both assault and a hate crime, felony charges that carry a mandatory prison sentence.

Rodriguez was forced to retire following his arrest.

And while special veterans courts have been set up throughout the country to offer therapy instead of jail time to veterans who commit minor crimes most of them bar veterans who have committed a violent crime. This means Rodriguez now faces years in prison.

“What he needs is help. That is what he has needed all these years,” said his mother, Roberta Bello. “But they just want to put him away.”

Raised by a Nigerian stepfather and married to a Guatemalan native, Rodriguez will tell you he is not prejudiced.

“How can they say I hate Iraqis? I gave my soul for Iraq,” he said.

Rodriguez said he did not know what caused him to hit the waiter. It is a blank. “All I can remember, honestly, is being handcuffed by the police,” he said.

After his arrest, Rodriguez entered an intensive program for substance abuse and PTSD. He is saddened that after years of service, he could be conviction for a hate crime.

“I’m sorry about what happened,” he said. “But no one tries to understand what we went through.”

The trial is scheduled to begin December.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

How Veterans & Their Doctors Are Getting Around VA’s Medical Marijuana Policy

medical maryjane

By Debbie Gregory.

Whether medicinal cannabis is legal varies depending on what state you’re in, what medical issue you have, and what form you’re using.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, medicinal marijuana is a Schedule One substance, a drug that has no “accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule One, Veterans Affairs (VA) health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans in obtaining it. With that said, while its use is not permitted on VA grounds, veterans on federal property in a federal rehab program are able to test positive for its use without penalty.  This is an unusual loophole in the VA’s approach to medical marijuana.

Currently, VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis, but in states where medical marijuana is legal, but VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans believe in its effectiveness in treating chronic pain. And with President Trump declaring the U.S. war on opioids, it makes perfect sense for it to be an alternative. In fact, the president campaigned in support of medical marijuana.

But his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is asking congressional leaders to undo the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment,  the federal medical-marijuana protections that have been in place since 2014.

Veterans groups say the fastest and most effective way to help veterans get access to treatment is to simply reschedule the drug. That would automatically lift the most onerous barriers to research and allow VA health care providers to immediately prescribe marijuana in states where it is legal.

“We’ve got young men and women with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries coming to us and saying that cannabis works,” said Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Alarming Rate of Suicide Among Servicewomen and Female Vets

female veteran

By Debbie Gregory.

Female military veterans run a 250% higher risk than civilian women for suicide, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces.

Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most research by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs has been focused on men.

Research regarding women in the military, especially in combat roles, is still a new and emerging area. Though the U.S. military has long provided camaraderie and a sense of purpose to men, it has been a harsher place for women.

Risk factors for female servicemember/veteran suicide may include: deployments in hostile environments, exposure to extreme stress, physical or sexual assault while in the service and service related injuries. In addition, there are also general risk factors such as alcohol or substance abuse, homelessness, financial problems, relationship issues.

The VA’s currently has the following suicide prevention initiatives and resources for women veterans in place:

  • Regional and national residential inpatient programs that either provide treatment to women only or have separate tracks for women and men.
  • Outpatient mental health services through VA medical centers, Vet Centers, community-based outreach clinics and partnerships with other local treatment providers across the country.
  • Evidence-based therapies for PTSD that have been shown to decrease suicidal ideation, available at every VA medical center.
  • Support for treating the effects of military sexual trauma.

Establishing mental health programs that are effective for women veterans will go a long way in ensuring they are receiving the best care possible, hopefully turning this issue around.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

The Long Road Home, a Must-See Miniseries

long road

By Debbie Gregory.

The National Geographic miniseries “The Long Road Home,” based on a book of the same name by ABC News Correspondent Martha Raddatz, is the true story of the 2004 deployment of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas to Sadr City, Iraq.

This is the story of the eight-hour battle in Sadr City on April 4, 2004, that followed the ambush of the newly-arrived American platoon. The soldiers, many of them young and inexperienced, were on a peacekeeping mission and weren’t expected to face heavy combat. Told in real time through the eyes of untested soldiers in combat for the first time, the series gives viewers an intimate and unforgettable portrait of what it’s really like to go to war.

The eight part mini-series tells the story of the ambush and the three heroic rescue missions launched to save the platoon. It also focuses on the home front, as wives and mothers waited anxiously for word and drew support from one another.

Instead of it being the low-key peacekeeping mission they were expecting, the deployment ended up being a series of a deadly ambushes and brave rescues, spread out over 80 days of fighting.

The day that came to be known in military annals as “Black Sunday” claimed the lives of eight troop members and injured 60 others.

“The courage I witnessed, the heartache and the survival of spirit both on the battlefield and the homefront, is something I wanted to share with as many people as possible,” said Raddatz.

The series was shot at Fort Hood. Aaron Fowler and Eric Bourquin, who had both been part of the deployments, served as technical advisers.

“The Long Road Home” premiered on November 7th on the National Geographic Channel.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.