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.”

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Was This A Hate Crime or PTSD?


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.

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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.

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Service-related PTSD Disability Claims have Tripled in the Last Decade



By Debbie Gregory.

More than 20 percent of veterans receiving federal disability are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a figure that has tripled in the last decade, from approximately 345,000 cases in fiscal 2008 to more than 940,000 cases today.

This includes all age groups, not just veterans from the recent wars.

PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not occur until months or years later. They also may come and go over many years. If the symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause great distress, or interfere with work or home life, the individual probably has PTSD.

Some of the common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • persistent memories of the event, nightmares, re-living the event over and over
  • not talking to anyone about the event, avoiding any situation that may trigger your bad memories
  • feeling numb and detached, depressed, disinterested in normal life activities, and
  • feeling on high alert all the time, always watching for danger.

PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. Both the VA and Defense Department have worked in recent years to combat the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

PTSD is treatable. Many places within VA provide PTSD treatment. General programs that provide mental health services include VA medical centers, community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs), and Vet Centers.

Vet Centers also offer services to families of Veterans for military-related issues. There are no fees or charges for Vet Center services, and services are confidential.

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Can an Injection Alleviate PTSD?

ptsd study

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Army has commissioned a study to see if an anesthetic injection to the neck can alleviates the symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)

Stellate ganglion blocks have been used to treat shingles and arm pain, but the $2 million Army study is the first to examine whether the treatment might be helpful to those with PTSD.

During the procedure, a doctor uses ultrasound to guide the needle carefully into the stellate ganglion, a mass of nerve tissue in the neck, and injects the local anesthetic. The injections work on blocking messages along nerve fibers that influence the fight-or-flight response, which can include symptoms such as nightmares and hot flashes.

The study is being led by scientists at RTI International, a North Carolina-based research and development institute. It has begun recruiting active duty troops who have PTSD at military hospitals in North Carolina, Hawaii and Germany.

Some military doctors have already begun treating PTSD patients, particularly Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, with the shot. It appears that once the treatment has been administered, the shot eases the patient’s anxiety enough so that they can receive other treatments.

“Once people have the shot, they get dramatically better immediately,” said Col. Jim Lynch, command surgeon at the joint Special Operations Command-Africa

Early experiments with the injection have proved effective.

The military is cautiously optimistic about the treatment, but won’t endorse it until there is sufficient evidence that proves its efficacy.

The researchers expect to complete the study in 2018.

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Veteran Sought Mental Health Care Before Murder- Suicide


A few days before 30-year-old Army veteran Joshua Stiles fatally shot his wife and took his own life, he had tried to get help, but he was turned away.

Stiles, who had been suffering with PTSD, depression and anxiety for years, shot his 22-year-old wife, Brittney Stiles, and then fled the scene. He committed suicide after a police chase.

According to Stiles’ sister, Jennifer Johnson, her brother had contacted a mental health treatment facility, but was told he needed to make an appointment.

He was willing to voluntarily commit himself for psychiatric treatment, but there wasn’t a bed available at Decatur Morgan Hospital. His sister said he then tried Veterans Affairs.

“They said they would send him some paperwork to fill out,” Johnson said. “They said if he was feeling suicidal he should go to the emergency room. At that moment, he wasn’t feeling suicidal. He just knew he was struggling with PTSD and depression.”

Johnson said her brother had been suffering with PTSD long before his military service.

Both Josh and Jennifer had spent time in foster care before going to live with their grandparents.

Josh and his wife had an ongoing domestic dispute the weeks leading up to the tragedy. The two reportedly were arguing at their home and the woman left. Brittney Stiles returned to the home after Joshua called her and threatened their two-year-old daughter if she wouldn’t come home.

Once Brittney returned home with the child, Joshua shot her. Their daughter, who was in the backseat of the mother’s car, was not harmed.

Authorities used a spike strip to deflate tires on the truck. Joshua Stiles reportedly lost control of the truck, hit a tree and then went in a ditch. Authorities surrounded him and used tear gas because they didn’t see any movement.

But as they got closer to the pickup, they realized he had shot himself.

“He wasn’t this person,” Johnson said. “My brother would’ve never done this if he was in his right mind. I wish I could’ve saved him, and I tried. But, the mental health system just makes it too hard.”

There are numerous resources for veterans who are struggling with mental issues, among them, Give an Hour, a non-profit that provides free and confidential mental health resources for those who serve, past and present, and their loved ones; the David Lynch Foundation’s Operation Warrior Wellness (OWW) program, which offers the Transcendental Meditation-based Resilient Warrior Program, a simple, easy-to-learn, evidence-based approach to relieving symptoms of PTSD and major depression and developing greater resilience to stress; and the Veterans Crisis Line  (800-273-8255) which connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline.

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.

Veteran Treatment Courts Offer Alternatives

vet treatment court

By Debbie Gregory.

Many military veterans have had life experiences that are very different from their civilian contemporaries. Depending on when and where they served, veterans may have experienced a vast array of physical, emotional and psychological injuries.

Untreated, unhealed emotional and psychological injuries lead to further veteran illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. These illnesses can lead to substance abuse, the commission of crimes, and even suicide. Special Veterans Treatment Courts seek to provide veterans suffering from these issues assistance that will help keep them from slipping into real legal problems.

Documented evidence suggests that a significant number of Vietnam veterans experienced severe problems adjusting to civilian life. So too, have many more recently minted veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Veterans Court offers opportunity for the VA, local support organizations, and local communities to offer treatment as an alternative to time in jail.

The first Veterans’ Court in the U.S. was established in 2008 in Buffalo, New York. Veterans’ Courts are modeled after Drug and Mental Health Courts, in that they promote sobriety, recovery and stability through strict court appointed measures.

Usually Veterans Courts hear cases involving misdemeanor charges, and veterans who choose to participate are assessed by a mental health professional and their treatment needs are determined. Most of them receive treatment through the VA’s health network.

Veterans Treatment Courts increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation through early and continuous judicially-supervised treatment.

Veterans Treatment Courts also provide veterans with services and benefits that aid in their successful transition back into society.

Below are some resources that may assist any veterans in need of legal assistance:

Justice For Veterans

National Association of Veteran Advocates

American Bar Association Military Pro Bono Project

Jail Diversion and Trauma Recovery Program

California Veterans Legal Institute

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Ecstasy (MDMA) Moving Through FDA Approval Process for PTSD


By Debbie Gregory.

The active ingredient in the drug ecstasy, MDMA, is set to be studied in large-scale clinical trial as a treatment for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed the use of MDMA, better known as the illegal drug ecstasy (or Molly) in the treatment PTSD.

Researchers at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, California presented the results from trials involving the treatment of 107 people diagnosed with PTSD. The FDA has recommended that the researchers move forward with the next phase of the trials, the final stage before potential approval of the drug.

About 8% of the U.S. population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

“The results I’ve seen so far with MDMA are so much better than anything I’ve seen so far,” said Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist in Charleston, South Carolina, and a principle investigator in the MDMA trials.

As early as the 1990s, scientists showed that MDMA was reasonably safe when taken a few times in a controlled setting. The FDA permitted researchers to move forward with clinical trials exploring the drug as a treatment for PTSD.

Researchers believe that MDMA reduces the fear response and triggers the release of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that induce a feeling of well-being.

“MDMA provides a sweet spot where therapeutic change can happen,” says Mithoefer. “It affects neural networks so that people’s experiences are not hijacked by fear.”

Researchers hope to expand the enrollment of up to 300 people with PTSD to participate in the upcoming phase III trials.

The researchers will spend this year training therapists from 14 clinics across North America and Israel to deliver the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

The non-profit organization that is sponsoring the trials, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), is also sponsoring trials studying MDMA’s effects on social anxiety in adults with autism.

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Can a Common Antibiotic Prevent or Treat PTSD?


A common antibiotic, doxycycline, may prove useful in the treatment and/or prevention of Post- Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to research by British and Swiss scientists.

PTSD is caused by an overactive fear memory and includes a broad range of psychological symptoms that can develop after someone goes through a traumatic event. This medication can disrupt the formation of negative thoughts and fears in the brain.

In a specially designed trial involving seventy-six (76) healthy volunteers, participants were given either doxycycline or a placebo and placed in front of a computer. The screen would flash either blue or red, and one of the colors was associated with a 50 percent chance of receiving a painful electric shock. After 160 flashes with colors in random order, participants learnt to associate the ‘bad’ color with the shock.

Those who were on doxycycline had a 60 percent lower fear response than those who were not.

In a follow-up experiment one week later, without any medication, the volunteers repeated the screen flashes, but this time there were no electric shocks, but a loud sound played after either color was shown.

Fear responses were measured by tracking eye blinks, as this is an instinctive response to sudden threats. The fear memory was calculated by subtracting the baseline startle response, to the sound on the ‘good’ color, from the response to the sound when the ‘bad’ color was showing.

The participants may not forget that they received a shock when the screen was red, but they “forget” to be instinctively scared when they next see a red screen.

Further experiments will explore doxycycline’s potential effects in a phenomenon called “reconsolidation” of fear memories. This is an approach to helping people with PTSD in which memories and associations can be changed after an event when the patient experiences or imagines similar situations.

The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

Video Conference Therapy Effective for PTSD


By Debbie Gregory.

Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technology to provide clinical health care from a distance. And now, veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who have difficulties making it to in-person therapy sessions may be able to get treatment that’s just as good via videoconference.

Telemedicine helps eliminate distance barriers and can improve access to medical services that would often not be consistently available in distant rural communities.

Recently, researchers compared home-delivered prolonged exposure therapy to treatment received at VA clinics and found no difference in effectiveness.

“We can now save the travel time and bring the treatment right to them,” said lead study author Ron Acierno, a psychologist and researcher with the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 127 men and five women who participated in the study were assessed with standard PTSD scales designed to measure symptom severity and depression. After being randomly assigned to two groups, each participant received 10 to 12 prolonged exposure therapy sessions, either at a VA medical center or at home by video conference, depending on their assigned group.

Those who received treatment at home used their own computers, tablets or smartphones. Equipment was provided to those participants who didn’t already own the necessary equipment.

The researchers repeated the PTSD scales in two- three months intervals. They found that at both time points, the vets who were treated at home showed similar improvements in PTSD symptom severity as those treated in the clinic.

The at-home treatment scores for depression were not as good at three months, but by six months they were similar to the scores of the group treated in the clinic.

About 33 percent of the at-home group dropped out of  the program compared to 19 percent of the clinic group.

Acierno said participants who dropped out reported difficulties such as feeling worried about losing control during exposures, the feeling they couldn’t tolerate assignments to go out in public and that imagined exposures made them feel bad.

To minimize this from happening in future treatments, Acierno is exploring the idea of pairing peers who have been through prolonged exposure therapy and no longer meet criteria for PTSD with veterans currently receiving the treatment via telehealth to help them through the difficult parts of the therapy.

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.