Veterans Roundup: PTSD Help Comes in Many Forms, TBI Becomes Focus, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Commander of ill-fated Fitzgerald among veterans with PTSD helped by innovative writing and arts program
Military Times, Dylan Gresik (@DylanGresik)

Using various forms of art for creating something new out of the destruction of war is having a profound impact on our military and veteran communities. Community Building Art Works (CBAW) hosts monthly and weekly writing workshops, online writing sessions, art exhibits and live performances at various military hospitals. A quick Google or Facebook search of “arts and the military” will show a long list of initiatives, events and military veteran artists sharing their work at in-person and online venues across the country. Suppression of our experiences, thoughts and feelings is often a byproduct of serving in the military for people of all genders. It affects military family members, as well. Military enculturation is a powerful process that relies on traditional masculine norms to shape the behaviors and attitudes of those serving within its ranks. A recent study reported last week that strict adherence to masculine norms was associated with more severe PTSD symptoms. The belief that service members should control and restrict their emotions and strive to be tough no matter the circumstances sticks with us and is wreaking havoc on our ability to thrive in our post-military lives. Art can be used to accompany us along the difficult process of self-actualization or the finding of a renewed sense of self after military service. This week, stories highlight concerns about DOD recommended PTSD therapies that are not working for around two thirds of patients. But in the chaos of life, rarely are answers found in a singular method or approach to something. Therapy is important, and some therapies may work for one person and have a different outcome for another. It is important not to discount different methods. I think the answer lies somewhere in the realm of holism. We have to get better at treating our whole selves– the mental, the physical, the biological, our social selves, etc. This in and of itself is a learning process defined by trial and error. It can be really uncomfortable at first to push yourself into a place of discomfort, which different forms of art can do. But cultivation of expression through art, as it is described in the article, can counteract many of the stifling behaviors we acquired in the military, and lead us to a better understanding of our past experiences which will shape our current and future selves. There is a lot of truth to the old adage that in order to change, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable. If you are reading this and your first reaction is to say, “Well that’s a nice story, but it’s not for me,” consider attending an arts workshop. You will likely be surprised at how beneficial it is and how amazing it is when you start to actually feel something other than anger and frustration again. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

VA, DoD recommended PTSD therapies don’t help many military patients, review finds
Military Times, Patricia Kime (@patriciakime)

This story from Patricia has caused some consternation amongst veterans mental health advocates due to concerns it might encourage some veterans to not seek treatment for their PTSD and related afflictions. Like many of these issues, there is more to unpack than a simple headline. It starts with a new report published in JAMA Insights, saying the psychotherapy approaches most commonly recommended by the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense to treat military-related PTSD don’t work for up to two-thirds of patients, and do not outperform non-trauma-focused interventions. “Recent PTSD treatment trials show that military – related PTSD is a complex … condition, and treating it with a single course of trauma-focused monotherapy is not well tolerated by many patients and has limited efficacy,” concluded Maria Steenkamp, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Grossman, and Dr. Charles Marmar, psychiatrist at NYU Langone Medical Center. Without diving into the weeds too much, it simply means that not every patient responds to the same kind of treatment. Some work and some don’t for different traumas and experiences. My own experience was that talk therapy, group sessions and then eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, EMDR, worked extremely well in addressing my multi-trauma form of PTS. So, the important point comes at the end of Patricia’s piece that “the message is for people to keep trying different therapies, keep giving each one a real shot. Be patient. It can be a lengthy recovery process.” Recovery from trauma based mental health issues is not a straight line, it’s not easy and it’s not overnight with a magic bullet. I urge veterans to recognize you need help and start somewhere with getting better. There is no reason you can’t get better if you try. – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms with Téa Le, ScoutInsight Intern

Troops treated for TBI after Iran missile strikes may be getting Purple Hearts, Richard Sisk 

Dozens of troops who have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to the Iranian airstrikes on Al Asad Air Base, Iraq are now eligible for Purple Hearts, though it is up to the individual services whether or not they will be awarded. In order to receive the Purple Heart, those who have suffered TBI require “both a doctor’s diagnosis and that the service member [missed] at least two days of duty because of the injury.” As of now, there has been no update on whether or not the decisions to award the Purple Hearts have been made. Originally, officials stated that there were no U.S. casualties from the attack. However, since the Iranian missile strikes, in which there were an estimated 15 Iranian missiles to hit the base in Iraq’s province, officials have said that there are at least 11 U.S. service members who suffered TBIs. The number continues to rise, as the symptoms of TBI can take a number of weeks to show up.

‘Invisible wounds’: Navy SEAL’s family pushes for recognition of traumatic brain injuries after son’s death
Capital Gazette, Lilly Price (@lillianmprice)

Ryan Larkin was a decorated Navy SEAL operator and explosives breacher who was regularly exposed to high-impact blast waves throughout his ten years of service, causing microscopic tears in the tissue that were so small MRIs and PET scans couldn’t detect the damage on a living person. He died by suicide in 2017 with the medals he earned in service near him. Before passing, Ryan Larkin asked that his body be donated to traumatic brain injury research. His desires were met when his brain was examined at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Frank Larkin, a former Navy Seal, retired Senate Sergeant of Arms and Ryan’s father, has been on a mission to “advocate for more research in traumatic brain injuries and educate the public in hope that one day these injuries can be diagnosed before death.” Frank Larkin hopes to bridge the gap between information and action with his work to support the advancement of this research with a more holistic approach. Ultimately, giving patients suffering from invisible wounds “the opportunity to identify the biological connection to mental health issues and the chance to improve brain health.”

VA chief calls deputy’s sudden firing a ‘simple business decision’ but provides few answers
The Washington Post, Lisa Rein (@Reinlwapo)

On Monday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie abruptly fired his deputy secretary, James Byrne. Wilkie defended his dismissal, saying it was “a simple business decision” and that Byrne “was not jelling with other members of the team.” This firing “comes as Wilkie has openly expressed frustration with his own job and sought other high-profile positions in the Trump administration, rankling some White House officials, according to multiple people close to VA and the White House.” Wilkie stated that there is no connection between Byrne’s firing and the sexual assault allegations by Navy veteran Andrea Goldstein, a senior member on the staff of House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.). Wilkie, who issued a public letter calling Goldstein’s claims “unsubstantiated,” has said he is now making a “renewed push to get answers . . . to make sure those involved get satisfaction.”

Cost, usage of VA Mission Act still uncertain
Stars and Stripes, Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling)

The cost of the VA Mission Act, a new bipartisan program intended to connect veterans with private-sector doctors, is still under discussion as of Wednesday this week. With President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for the agency in fiscal 2021 being unveiled in the next week, the funding requirements for the program need to be discussed and settled. Sen Jon Tester stated, “I don’t see how we can figure out how many dollars are associated with those appointments and whether the usage is in line with what you estimated when this program was set up.” When Congress provided the VA with $15 billion dollars for community care, officials remained unaware if the money was enough to fund the program or not. Though there are many questions about the cost of the VA Mission Act, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, Richard Stone, believes that once they get the proper funding that they won’t need to ask for any additional dollars. The VA predicted that under the Mission Act, the number of veterans eligible for community care will increase from 684,000 to 3.7 million. 

Veterans groups want government to expedite forgiveness of student loans, Jim Absher (@jlabsher)

The bipartisan group that works to help military families with their education and careers, Veterans Education Success, led 22 veterans groups to send a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, urging her to follow an order signed by President Donald Trump that would forgive all outstanding student loans held by permanently disabled veterans. The 2019 executive order exempted totally and permanently disabled veterans from paying taxes on the amount of their forgiven loans. More than 400,000 severely disabled veterans are waiting for the DoE to forgive their loan debts, and the average dollar amount of the student loans is $30,000. The DoE has yet to act on this order, even though it has now been 6 months since the executive order was officially signed.

Toxic ‘black goo’ base used by U.S. had enriched uranium. More veterans report cancer
McClatchy DC, Tara Copp (@TaraCopp)

Last December, McClatchy reported that the Pentagon “had known from the beginning” that K2,  a former Soviet base in Uzbekistan, was contaminated with radioactive and toxic materials that “broke through the soil in a ‘black goo,’” but 7,000 American troops were still deployed to the base following 9/11. The Army reported in 2015 that over 60 service members stationed at K2 developed cancer, but a Facebook group of veterans who served at the base self-reported a cancer rate five times the rate disclosed by the Army. Last month the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s national security subcommittee sent letters to the Department of Defense and the VA requesting that both agencies “turn over…any documents that describe the conditions at K2 and what has been done to treat the veterans who served there.” While neither agency has responded, VA spokeswoman Susan Carter commented, “There is no indication of increased cancer rates among veterans who served at [K2].” For more information on veterans and toxic exposure, check out ScoutInsight’s article on the issue here.

The Lies We Tell About Soldiers’ Traumatic Brain Injuries
The New Republic, Bryan Box

In a response to President Donald Trump’s comments downplaying the severity of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) sustained by service members, veteran Bryan Box recounted his firsthand experience with TBIs suffered in combat. Box wrote that “six big blasts” damaged his pituitary gland which caused a severe and dangerous decrease in his levels of human growth hormone (HGH). His condition was finally stabilized two years after issues with his pituitary gland were identified, but Box commented that “if people can’t see your injury, they can’t really see you.” Box argues that invisible injuries aren’t in keeping with the image that the “‘pro-military’ crowd” puts on a pedestal. In noting that struggling with TBIs and disagreeing with “war-hawks” draws the ire of the “‘pro-military’ crowd,” Box wrote, “your service only matters when you remain in character.”

Fred Wellman

Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms

This entry was posted on Friday, February 07, 2020 6:10 pm

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