PTSD and Accelerated Aging
RQ Vol. 27 (3), 2016, by Erica J. Wolf, PhD
​October 11, 2016 

'Horses for Heroes' Among Recipients of Bob Hope Awards | Sep 28, 2016 | by Richard Sisk
They call it "horse therapy."
Exposure to horses and maybe even going on a ride can draw out veterans feeling cut off from their communities and possibly ease their post-traumatic stress.
At the Pentagon on Wednesday, the "Horses For Heroes Project," run by founder Debi Demick in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area, was a recipient of the Defense Department's 2016 Spirit of Hope Award, named for legendary entertainer Bob Hope. Demick was nominated for the award by the Navy

Governor Bradstad signs PTSI Proclamation

On 31 March 2016 Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation that 27 June 2016 is Post-Traumatic Stress Injury Awareness Day and that June 2016 as Post-Traumatic Stress Injury Awareness Month.

Oversight Subcommittee Holds Hearings to Examine VA Service Dog Program
"Those who risk their life for this country deserve the absolute best care upon their return"

BY: Stephen Gutowski
​April 14, 2016 5:17 pm
The subcommittee responsible for oversight of national security issues held a hearing on Thursday reviewing the Veterans Administration’s use of service dogs to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.
The hearings examined a VA report on its limited attempts to place service dogs with veterans. In the three-year study, the VA argued that there was not enough evidence that proves service dogs help veterans affected by PTSD. Subcommittee chairman Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.) questioned that argument in his opening statement at the hearing.
“The VA contends that there is insufficient evidence that service dogs help those with PTS,” he said. “However, ample scientific findings and ongoing research suggest that the VA is wrong. Service dogs are not intended to, nor do they, ‘cure’ PTS, but they provide a safe, non-addictive, tool for veterans to live more normal, functioning, productive lives and, they could provide a safe complement to existing treatments for PTS. The urgency of the veteran suicide rates demands that we explore this option.”
He also questioned why the VA has only placed 40 dogs with veterans thus far.
“While the VA is struggling to pair veterans with service dogs, other organizations are attempting to fill the void,” Rep. DeSantis said. “In fact, the Committee has spoken with various organizations that cumulatively claim to have hundreds of dogs that are trained and ready to be paired. Contrary to the VA’s assertion that “there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat [PTSD] and its symptoms,” there is ample anecdotal and scientific evidence that service dogs do help veterans with PTS.”
“Those who risk their life for this country deserve the absolute best care upon their return–and time is of the essence.”
Michael Fallon, chief veterinary medical officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, testified before the subcommittee on behalf of the agency. Rory Diamond of K9s for Warriors, Steve Feldman of the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation, and Cole Lyle, a veteran with PTSD, all testified as well.

The Mental Health Care Bill For Vets That No One Is Talking About

 on April 6, 2016

Since WWII, Congress has made it harder for vets with less-than-honorable discharges to receive basic services. A new bill is trying to change that.
Today, most of us know that veterans with general discharges lose access to the Post-9/11 GI Bill — and full disclosure, I’m one of those guys.
But, who determines who is a veteran and what benefits they receive has changed. Today, when a “former service member” with an other-than-honorable discharge goes to a VA OIF-OEF clinic, he or she can be told “for the purposes of VA benefits and eligibility, the VA doesn’t consider you a veteran.” Friends of mine who spent a year in Sadr City, and another 16 months fighting in some of the bloodiest battles in Iraq as part of the troop surge have been told, “You’re not a veteran.”
At a recent roundtable discussion, Bradford Adams, a staff attorney for veterans service organization Swords to Plowshares, posed a question to the community: “Is it reasonable that commanders can ban a combat veteran from a lifetime of benefits for minor misconduct?” Adams explained that there’s a difference between “reward benefits” such as GI Bill education benefits and federal hiring preference, and “basic veteran services” like health care, housing for those at risk of homelessness, and disability compensation.
On March 3, 2016, Marine colonel turned congressman, Mike Coffman of Colorado, introduced two bills to the House of of Representatives:HR.4683, otherwise known as the Fairness for Veterans Act, and HR.4684known as the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act. The Fairness for Veterans Act shifts the burden of proof in favor of veterans diagnosed with service-related post-traumatic, traumatic brain injury, or military sexual trauma who are appealing less-than-honorable discharges to the Military Discharge Review boards. This bill has received a lot of attention lately since it’s recently been revealed that tens of thousands of troops with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury have been administratively discharged despite attempts by Congress to protect them.  
The Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, however, hasn’t received quite the same fanfare. That bill would allow the VA to provide nearly all former service members with an initial mental health assessment and health care services related to suicide prevention. The only exception would be for those who received a bad conduct discharge or dishonorable discharge as a result of a general court-martial.
This bill isn’t a radical change. It’s a return to the spirit of the original GI Bill of Rights, where commanders did not have authority to issue a lifetime punishment for minor misconduct. For my generation who volunteered to serve after Sept. 11, I think this is a right worth fighting for.
As an advocate for veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, I’ve noticed that some members of the post-9/11 era have a certain mindset about benefits and discharge status that previous generations of war veterans don’t seem to have quite as much. On virtually every article advocating for an expansion of veterans benefits to those with less-than-honorable discharges, a handful of commenters seem to have the impression that something’s being taken away from them and their honorable discharge if a combat veteran with an less-than-honorable discharge gets to see a shrink. I believe this is a result of the “commander-decides-your-fate” mentality, which is all my generation has ever known.
“Who is a veteran” is complicated enough of a question that the Congressional Research Service was commissioned to come up with an answer, issuing a report last year that revealed the nuance of this topic.
According to Title 38, a veteran is defined as a “person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.” The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the original GI Bill of Rights, applied veterans benefits to everyone in this intentionally broad category.
According research released by Swords to Plowshares, the intent of Congress with the 1944 act was “simplification and expansion” of the implementation of veterans benefits. Congress recognized that at the end of World War II, the country could be facing a large enough unemployment crisis to trigger a second depression. To avoid this, it issued benefits such as disability compensation, health care, education, vocational rehabilitation, and home loans to nearly every veteran who hadn’t received a dishonorable discharge as a result of a general court-martial.
Since 1944, however, the definition of veteran, and who is eligible for veterans benefits has significantly narrowed. With the switch to an all-volunteer military and a reduction in forces during peacetime after Vietnam, the original intent of the GI Bill of Rights was lost.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted clemency to veterans who went AWOL during the Vietnam War. Congress rebuked this by passing Public Law 95-126, which denied entitlement of veterans’ benefits to those with other than honorable discharges. This, according to Kent Eiler, the project director of the New York City Bar Association’s Veterans Assistance Project, “was a deliberate effort by Congress at that time to twist the screws on vets with bad paper.” That’s where we get the seemingly arbitrary ban on VA services for veterans who have gone missing for 180 days.
Education and other benefits gradually became a Department of Defense enlistment/re-enlistment tool rather than a right guaranteed by the Veterans Administration through the 1970s and 1980s. Although the benefits are still disbursed by the Department of Veterans Affairs today, a veteran’s eligibility for some benefits are now up to the discretion of commanders.
In light of this, I’d remind my fellow veterans that we’re supposed to take the warrior ethos to heart and never leave a fallen comrade.
Here are the facts: Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are more likely to suffer from substance abuse issues, become homeless, become incarcerated, and go for years without treatment for the physical and mental wounds of war. Important to note, they’re also three times more likely to die by suicide.
Is someone pissing hot on a random drug test after two combat deployments worth making them a statistic?
The Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act is a simple, two-page bill with the potential to return the GI Bill to what it once was: the GI Billof Rights, which Congress passed with an intent to protect veterans from lifetime punishments issued administratively by commanders. In doing so, the VA would be granted the ability to care for some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. Considering that 125,000 post-9/11 veterans have been excluded from basic VA services due to less-than-honorable discharges, I’m left to wonder, why is this a bill no one is talking about?

Mindfulness Training May Treat Veterans With PTSD

By Katrina Pascual, Tech Times | April 4, 6:27 AM

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the scourge of the veterans, is a real illness. Seemingly without an off-switch, it can replay terrible thoughts and memories over and over again in the patients’ minds.
Mindfulness – a mind-body technique focusing on in the moment attention and awareness – offers a ray of hope to PTSD sufferers, with a new study showing how it could change veterans’ brains and help them find the off-switch to that endless loop of negative memories.
Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System studied 23 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They split them into two groups assigned to different forms of therapy: nine participants received regular therapy such as problem solving and group support, while 14 of them were given mindfulness training.
The mindfulness group saw greater improvements in symptoms through decreased ratings on the standard PTSD scale. While many reported easing symptoms, the mindfulness group revealed surprising brain changes.
"The brain findings suggest that mindfulness training may have helped the veterans develop more capacity to shift their attention and get themselves out of being ‘stuck' in painful cycles of thoughts,"says Anthony King, the study's lead researcher.
Before the mindfulness practice, the veterans’ brains had excess activity in regions involved in threat or external stress response – signifying the endless loop of thoughts in PTSD. However, based on functional MRI results after they learned mindfulness, their brain networks, those involved in thoughts and that of directing and shifting attention, developed stronger connections.
At the end of the two-hour, weekly mindfulness course for four months, the mindfulness group showed increased brain connections, particularly the area leading one to purposely move attention to think or act upon something. Those with the greatest relief grew the most brain connections.
These findings, said King, offers the potential to help PTSD patients who might initially reject therapy that involves trauma processing, allowing them to regulate their emotions and better process their traumas.
“[Mindfulness] helps them feel more grounded, and to notice that even very painful memories have a beginning, a middle and an end – that they can become manageable and feel safer,” he adds.
King reminded, however, not to use mindfulness in isolation and to seek out providers specially trained in PTSD management. Mindfulness sessions, for instances, can sometimes trigger a flare-up of symptoms, making trained expertise necessary.
The findings were published in the journal Depression and Anxiety.
Among Iraq War veterans alone, 11 to 20 percent are afflicted with PTSD symptoms every year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. These include concentration problems, extreme sensitivity to all sounds, nightmares, fear, and disorientation.
A study in the Netherlands in 2015 warned that PTSD can exhibit a spike of recurrence even five years after soldiers returned home from being deployed in Afghanistan, making long-term recurrence a more critical aspect of care.

Veteran Suicide Documentary on PBS

Adam Steel Philanthropist-Filmmaker-Youth Mentor 04/04/2016 03:50 pm ET
Called “the catalyst for a movement that will define a generation”, by Danny Farrar (SoldierFit/Platoon 22), PROJECT 22 is a crowd-funded, community-driven feature documentary, co-directed by two combat-wounded Veterans. Daniel J. Egbert and Doc King’s documentary follows the very personal story of a Marine Infantryman and a Combat Medic on a search for hope that expands into an awareness campaign spanning 6,500 miles on motorcycles. Comprised of real conversations with warriors, providers and researchers, PROJECT 22 needs no combat footage to comprehensively explore the transition home, and leaves audiences hopeful and motivated to take action. The film released theatrically by request in April 2015 and has since screened over 100 times around the United States, sparking dialogue around underlying issues and inspiring Post Traumatic Growth and healing.
Project 22 includes interviews with veterans who have found help and support for problems they faced after coming home through various therapies and programs. Some which they found effective in easing their pain are shown in the film and include: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Equine therapy, Military Therapy Dogs, Meditation, Veteran Sailing Groups, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, and more
View Video