March 22 Veterans News

March 22 Veterans News

VetsHQ News UpdateVeterans are using pot to ease PTSD, despite scant research (AP)
A growing number of states are weighing whether to legalize marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. But for many veterans, the debate is already over. They’re increasingly using cannabis even though it remains illegal in most states and is unapproved by the Department of Veterans Affairs because major studies have yet to show it is effective against PTSD. While the research has been contradictory and limited, some former members of the military say pot helps them manage their anxiety, insomnia and nightmares. Prescription drugs such as Klonopin and Zoloft weren’t effective or left them feeling like zombies, some say. “I went from being an anxious mess to numbing myself with the pills they were giving me,” said Mike Whiter, a 39-year-old former Marine who lives in Philadelphia, where marijuana is illegal. “Cannabis helped me get out of the hole I was in. I started to talk to people and get over my social anxiety.” Others, though, have seen little benefit from the drug. And the VA has documented a troubling rise in the number of PTSD-afflicted veterans who have been diagnosed with marijuana dependence, which some experts say can hamper recovery from war trauma. Sally Schindel, of Prescott, Arizona, said the VA diagnosed her son Andy Zorn with PTSD after he served in the Army in Iraq. The agency later diagnosed him with marijuana dependence as well as depression and bipolar disorder, she said. Schindel said her son was using marijuana not for recreation but as self-medication, particularly to help him sleep. He killed himself at age 31 in 2014, writing in his suicide note that “marijuana killed my soul & ruined my brain.” … The stories of vets like Zorn and Whiter have helped fuel the debate over whether states and the federal government should legalize the drug for PTSD treatment. Lawmakers are increasingly sympathizing with vets like Whiter, despite the lack of scientific evidence. While some limited studies have shown that marijuana helps people manage PTSD symptoms in the short term, another suggested it may make symptoms worse. Starting with New Mexico in 2009, 10 states have listed PTSD among the ailments for which medical marijuana can be prescribed, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which seeks to end criminalization of the drug. A few more states give doctors broad enough discretion to recommend pot to PTSD sufferers. Similar measures have been introduced in Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Utah. In November, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to vets in states where it’s legal. The proposal failed to pass the House. Federal law requires randomized, controlled trials to prove that a drug is effective before VA doctors can recommend it. Such studies are underway, including two funded by Colorado, where the state health board held off on legalizing marijuana for PTSD because of the lack of major studies. “There surely is not enough scientific evidence to say marijuana helps PTSD,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, a University of Pennsylvania professor who is leading the Colorado-backed studies. “But we’ll get a heck of a lot closer to getting to know the answer in two to three years.” Since 2002, the percentage of PTSD-afflicted veterans who have been diagnosed with marijuana dependence has climbed from 13 percent to nearly 23 percent, according to VA data released last year . That translates to more than 40,000 veterans. Officially known as “cannabis use disorder,” dependence can mean someone is unable to sleep or becomes irritable without the drug. It can also mean marijuana use has diminished someone’s personal relationships or ability to hold a job. Dr. Karen Drexler, the VA’s deputy national mental health program director for addictive disorders, said the potential for dependency is yet another reason vets should wait for more research. “Marijuana may initially provide some relief,” but for those with PTSD, “it’s very hard to stop it once you start it,” she said. “It gets into this vicious cycle.” She added that the emotion-numbing effects of marijuana can also hinder the most effective treatment for PTSD: talk therapy, in which veterans try to process the trauma they went through. Some veterans and some doctors disagree. In Maine, where marijuana can be prescribed for PTSD, Dr. Dustin Sulak, a physician in private practice, said doctors can help vets manage their marijuana use, preventing dependence. Sulak also said pot can help vets engage in talk therapy. Whiter, the vet from Pennsylvania, said that was his experience. During his time in Iraq in the mid-2000s, Whiter said, he saw roadside bombs blow up Humvees and people get shot. After he got home, the smell of hot dogs triggered flashbacks to the smell of burning flesh. The VA eventually diagnosed him with PTSD and prescribed medications including Klonopin and Zoloft. The Klonopin left him nearly unable to function, he said, and he decided to try marijuana after reaching a point “where I didn’t care if I lived or died.” “I started really engaging in therapy every week and started being really honest with myself and getting over things,” said Whiter, who added that he still takes some Zoloft for his anxiety. “I can’t push enough that therapy is very key in this. It’s not just weed.”

Congress sends bill on Veterans foreclosures to Obama (Sunshine State News)
On Monday, the U.S. House passed the “Foreclosure Relief and Extension for Servicemembers Act of 2015” which makes it tougher to foreclose on the property of veterans. The measure moved through the House on voice vote on Monday after passing the Senate without opposition back in December. The proposal extends the “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act” (SCRA) through the end of 2017. Under the bill, eligible veterans have more safeguards from unauthorized sale, seizure or foreclosure on their property without a court order up to a year after leaving the military. Currently accompanying President Barack Obama on his trip to Cuba, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, the bill’s Senate sponsor, cheered the House for sending his proposal to the president. “Some of the men and women who’ve served our country need time to find their financial footing as they leave active service,” Whitehouse said. “They should get it.” … Over on the House side, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the extension would help veterans as they return to civilian life. Miller announced earlier this month that he is retiring from the House this year. “Those who volunteer for active-duty military service shouldn’t have to worry about financial hardships at home,” Miller said on Monday.

The VA program for Veteran caregivers you may not know about (Task & Purpose)
Roughly 5.5 million people serve as caregivers for veteran family members. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a lesser known benefit for these family members. Known as Caregiver Support Services, these benefits aim to help family members who are tasked with the primary care of a disabled veteran. The services available include access to a caregiver support line, support coordinator, peer support for caregivers, adult day health care centers, and home care, among other things. One portion of this benefit — aimed specifically at post-9/11 veterans’ families — is the services for family caregivers of post-9/11 veterans under the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010.” Those benefits can include access to a monthly stipend, travel expenses, health insurance, mental health services, VA caregiver training provided by Easter Seals, and respite care, and are meant to ease both the physical, mental, and sometimes financial burden of supporting a veteran as a caregiver. If awarded, the stipend amount is based on the weekly number of hours of personal care services that an eligible veteran requires during the month. In order to determine the scope of benefits offered to a caregiver, the VA assigns a patient-aligned care team, which uses a three-tier system to evaluate the eligible veteran. According to the VA, a high-tier veteran equates to a maximum of 40 hours of care per week. The medium tier equates to a maximum of 25 hours of care per week, and the low tier equates to a maximum of 10 hours of care per week. … Lynda Davis, executive vice president of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, told Task & Purpose in an interview that the 5.5 million caregivers across the country support veterans of all the U.S. wars. Roughly 1.2 million of them are caregivers to post-9/11 veterans.

Push-ups and T-shirts take aim at reducing veteran suicides (WSAV)
There is an effort underway in Georgia and across the country that aims to save the lives of more than 8,000 veterans who commit suicide every year. It’s called Stop 22 because the daily average is 22 suicides by veterans, one every 65 minutes. A gymnastics team coached by two people from Savannah have worked awareness of this issue into their workout. Now 12 little gymnasts in Canton, Georgia are hoping to Stop 22 by doing 22 push-ups a day for 22 days. David Hix and Courtney Jackson, both from Savannah, attend Kennesaw State University. Both coach gymnastics at the Canton Gymnastics Academy. They approached their team about joining the growing effort to raise awareness by pledging to do push ups every day, for three weeks and a day. ” It’s kind of a dark topic for a couple of little girls, but you know, there’s a lot of them on the team that have parents or other family members that have been deployed, so I really think they understood it really hit’s home for ’em” Jackson said. Hix says he was prompted to do something when he did the math about 22 veteran suicides a day . ” When you’re looking at the 8,000 veterans a year that are committing suicide, when you look at the number, I mean you kind of don’t realize that a lot of that number right there, a lot of the 22 a day doing this to themselves, um, I mean these are kids that are 18 to 20 years old.” said Hix. Veteran suicides are more than statistics for the founder of a veteran own and operated business in Savannah. Daniel Merritt with NineLine Apparel says he was a squad leader when he served during the surge in Iraq in 2008. ” Since I’ve been home from that deployment, I’ve lost two of my soldiers, have taken their own life and are part of that 22 a day.” Merritt said. His screen printing business is producing a line of shirts and other apparel with the Stop 22 logo, a red stop sign shape, banner. Merritt says a portion of the proceeds benefits a non-profit foundation that aims to drop the number 22 to 0 when it comes to veteran suicides in the U. S. In the last two months, those sales have raised $1,200 dollars for Stop 22. Merritt says he really likes the campaign built around push ups. “I think the 22 pushups a day is a great way to raise awareness.” Merritt said. Hix encourages everyone to join in, giving time and effort to remember men and women who have given so much to the nation. But he stresses that participants do not have to perform push-ups like our troops do in training. “Be creative. Any way you do it, it doesn’t matter how you do it. the veterans don’t care how you do it, I mean just do it and let them know that you’re doing it for them.” Hix said. Jackson says a few push-ups could mean a lot to some veteran’s contemplating suicide. She says it’s a way to send a personal message to veterans, written with a little sweat equity. ” That they’re not forgotten. That they’re still important and we need them.” Jackson said. their team is in the 14th day of their Stop 22 Push Up Challenge.

Study offers help for Veterans with chronic back pain (WLTX)
Military veterans, who are suffering with chronic back pain, are invited to participate in a study testing a new therapy for increased pain relief at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. With thousands of veterans and personnel sustaining injuries during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, opioid prescription use is at an all-time high as these patients struggle to manage their chronic back pain. The study, led by Jeffrey Borckardt, Ph.D., MUSC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences professor, offers a potential treatment path that looks to minimize the need to take medication to manage chronic pain. While opioids can help manage acute pain well, they are not ideal for long-term pain management. The study is looking for veterans, ages 18-70 years old. Participants in the study will receive 11 therapy sessions and three follow-up visits. The study treatment combines cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in an effort to increase pain relief for those suffering from chronic back pain. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy aimed at identifying and changing negative thoughts and unhelpful behaviors. Numerous studies have already shown that CBT helps people better manage chronic back pain. Transcranial direct current stimulation is a safe, non-invasive form of neurotherapy whereby a small, targeted and controlled electrical current is pulsed into the brain. Studies have demonstrated that tDCS can help reduce pain and may also increase the benefits known to result from CBT. Researchers think that by combining CBT and tDCS, even greater pain relief may be achieved for chronic back pain sufferers than when administered as stand-alone treatments. For more information about the study, including compensation, call (843) 792-0291 or email

OIG finds VA fails to meet IT security protocols (HealthITSecurity)
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), in its efforts to update its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VISTA) EHR, has failed to meet several health IT security protocol that is a part of the Federal Information Security Management Act and Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). In a hearing held last week, Brent Arronte of the VA gave the Office of the Inspector General’s testimony, stating that VA has failed to meet several required security protocol, as made evident to the high volume of security incidents that have occurred at VA in recent years. “[T]he Government Accountability Office identified Security of Federal Information Systems as “high risk” and stated that Cybersecurity incidents to systems supporting the federal government and national critical infrastructures have significantly increased over the past eight years,” Arronte explained. For it’s part, VA has implemented security initiatives, most notably the Continuous Readiness in Information Security Program (CRISP) in 2012. According to Arronte, however, this program has not been fully developed and still presents several security holes. … Arronte testified to several other security issues within VA, including configuration management controls, access and password controls, security management, and contingency planning controls. Likewise, OIG stated that there were numerous security flaws with regard to sever control and the flow of sensitive information from one server to another. In order to alleviate the issues VA is experiencing, the agency needs to improve communication and collaboration between all of its satellite offices. “Moving forward, VA needs to complete implementation of an enterprise-wide information security program and improve its monitoring process to ensure controls are operating as intended at all facilities,” Arronte testified. … To counter Arronte’s testimony, the VA’s LaVerne Council explained some of VA’s Office of Information and Technology’s (OI&T) current security initiatives, including the Enterprise Cybersecurity Strategy. “OI&T is committed to protecting all Veteran information and VA data and limiting access to only those with the proper authority. This commitment requires us to think enterprise-wide about security holistically,” Council said. “We have dual responsibility to store and protect Veterans records, and our strategy addresses both privacy and security.” The strategy, which aims to improve cybersecurity across the entire VA enterprise, has five main goals: Protecting veteran information and VA data. defending VA’s cyberspace ecosystem, protecting VA infrastructure and assets, enabling effective operations, and recruiting and retaining a talented cybersecurity workforce. According to Council, the Enterprise Cybersecurity Strategy works within federal security protocol to enable VA’s goals to provide quality healthcare to its patients. … This hearing came amidst VA’s efforts to update its VISTA EHR system. The agency seeks to implement its own new EHR system, that also will need to be interoperable with the Department of Defense’s EHR system. However, this project has created much controversy, between large funds spent and the amount of time it has taken the two agencies to complete their goals.