PTSD Breakthrough

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Jonathan Lubecky in dress blues looking over shoulder smiling with others in the background carrying US flags

By: Matt Saintsing

When it comes to treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nothing is better than trauma-focused psychotherapies, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

By centering on the memory or meaning of harrowing and often painful events, veterans can process and make sense of their most stressful experiences in war.

But momentum is steadily growing behind the use of alternative medicine to battle the symptoms of PTSD, including one illicit substance that’s showing tremendous promise in recent studies. MDMA, commonly known as the street drug ecstasy or Molly, is culturally linked to the rave scene of the 1990s. First synthesized in 1912 for pharmacological purposes, the CIA experimented with the substance as a potential psychological weapon during the Cold War.

More recently, however, it’s shown to significantly reduce PTSD symptoms when paired with psychotherapy. The research has been so promising that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted the drug “breakthrough” status and is fast-tracking final phases of clinical trials, in the hopes of developing a new countermeasure to PTSD.

Army and Marine Corps veteran Jonathan Lubecky told DAV—a nonprofit organization that helps over a million veterans each year— that he knows the challenges of living with the invisible scars of war all too well. While he was deployed to Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2006, an enemy mortar crashed down inside the portable toilet he was using. He was left without a single physical scratch, but he would later learn he suffered a traumatic brain injury and developed severe PTSD.

(Above image: Wearing his dress blues, Lubecky is an advocate for alternative therapies, including MDMA, which he says helped to cure him of PTSD).

This event marked the beginning of a life-changing and dangerous journey involving daily suicidal thoughts, which he acted on five separate times. After retiring from the Army in 2009, he began self-medicating with alcohol and marijuana, masking the underlying problems. He also tried the medication prescribed to him by the VA, at one point taking 42 pills per day. But help seemed beyond his grasp.“Most of what I was thinking was, is this going to be my life for the rest of it? Nightmares every night?” he said. “I felt like the world would be better without me in it.”

But in 2014, Lubecky signed up to take part in a study involving MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, organized and conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), an organization working to advance the science of potentially beneficial compounds like MDMA.

MAPS’ multiple clinical MDMA trials have shown to reduce PTSD dramatically. Under close observation, Lubecky ingested MDMA three times over 12 weeks in conjunction with psychotherapy sessions. “It worked,” said Lubecky. “Five years later, and I still don’t have PTSD, and I haven’t done MDMA since.”

According to Dr. Michael Mithoefer, the acting medical director for MAPS and a psychiatrist who is heavily involved in the clinical trials, MDMA can break down barriers some may have with PTSD and encourage trust—a vital component of a patient-therapist relationship.

According to Mithoefer, MDMA helps reverse the brain functions that can paralyze people when trauma is triggered. MDMA’s ability to overcome fear and defensiveness, increase empathy and compassion, and heighten introspection can significantly improve psychotherapy for PTSD. Of the 103 patients that had chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD who completed MAPS’ Phase 2 trials, just over half no longer met the qualification for PTSD diagnosis in the months following treatment.

At the one-year mark, 68% no longer qualified. The stunning results were published in the journal Psychopharmacology in May 2019. Phase 3 trials, the final step of research required by the Food and Drug Administration before deciding to approve a drug for treatment, are currently underway at 14 sites across the United States, Canada and Israel. Mithoefer is hopeful that following these stages, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy could be an accepted treatment for PTSD by 2022.

However, MDMA, like other psychedelics, remains illegal and can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Under the current regimen, MDMA is never given as a take-home drug, and patients only receive it two or three times over several months.

“DAV is supportive of nontraditional therapies, complementary and alternative medicine, and expanded treatment options for veterans,” said National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “Anything that can safely help our veterans heal from the lasting psychological impacts of war, particularly for those who tried treatment before without success, is worth studying further, which these trials are attempting to do.”

To learn more about how DAV helps veterans, visit DAV.org.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation Releases Best Practices for Organizations Providing Emergency Assistance to Veteran and Military Families

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The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic downturn have had a profound financial impact on millions of Americans, including our nation’s veterans and military families.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) quickly pivoted their 2020 grantmaking plans to get critical funding into the hands of their partners, enabling emergency financial assistance (EFA) for veterans when and where it was needed most. Based on insights gathered from their grantees, BWF has now released “Emergency Financial Assistance: Best Practices,” the latest issue in their Stand SMART for Heroes research series, to share key findings that can help organizations minimize risk and maximize impact for veterans and their families.

In April 2020, BWF released a pivotal research paper, “Veterans and COVID-19: Projecting the Economic, Social, and Mental Health Needs of America’s Veterans,” indicating that half of veterans between the ages of 25 and 44 had less than $3,000 to $4,000 in savings before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Additionally, 15% of veterans were employed in industries that were most likely to be impacted by the pandemic.

In anticipation of increased need, BWF leveraged their findings and expedited their 2020 grants to provide direct support to the military and veteran population during the pandemic, broadening their usual granting criteria to include applications from programs providing EFA. At the same time, BWF developed a survey to evaluate applicants for risk and professionalism. The results of that survey formed the basis for this latest research paper publication.

“Providing support to cover rent, groceries, home or vehicle repairs, or other unexpected expenses can help veterans maintain stability in the short term, so that they can thrive in the long term,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, Chief Executive Officer of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “By sharing what we’ve learned from our network through our latest issue of Stand SMART for Heroes, we’re shining a light on this urgent need while also providing an important resource to organizations that want to help.”
For more information, and for funders interested in supporting emergency financial assistance programs, please visit bobwoodrufffoundation.org/stand-smart-for-heroes/.

About the Bob Woodruff Foundation:
The Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) was founded in 2006 after reporter Bob Woodruff was wounded by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. Since then, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has led an enduring call to action for people to stand up for heroes and meet the emerging and long-term needs of today’s veterans, including suicide prevention, mental health, caregiver support, and food insecurity. To date, BWF has invested over $76 million to Find, Fund and Shape™ programs that have empowered impacted veterans, service members, and their family members, across the nation. For more information, please visit bobwoodrufffoundation.org or follow us on Twitter at @Stand4Heroes.

Tens of thousands of veteran caregivers now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine through VA

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By Leo Shane lll
Military Times

Tens of thousands of caregivers providing critical medical support to disabled veterans will be eligible to receive coronavirus vaccine doses soon under a new policy announced by the Department of Veterans Affairs this week.

The move comes after a coalition of veterans groups lobbied for the caregivers to be pushed to the top of the vaccine list, arguing that they deserved to be included in the first wave of medical professionals being protected against the deadly illness.

In response, Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, released a memo this week asserting that individuals registered with the department’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers can be given the vaccine “in a coordinated manner with the veterans for whom they provide care.”

More than 6,700 Veterans Affairs patients have died from virus complications in the last 10 months.
Leo Shane III

Specifics on an exact timeline for vaccinations was not released. The memo states that decisions will be made “in balance with site-specific resources, needs, vaccine availability, hesitancy to accept the vaccine, and status of the pandemic locally.

In an interview with Military Times, Stone said that he is shifting many of those vaccination decisions to local officials, in an effort to provide coverage to more individuals.

“We need to leave it up to people at the besides, to make sure they are making the best decisions for veterans,” he said. “When someone brings a veteran in to give them the vaccine, they can easily identify what the other needs are.”

For caregivers like Jennie Beller, the news is welcome relief.

Read the full article on militarytimes.com

WWII veteran becomes first VA patient to get COVID-19 vaccine

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Less than three days after the first COVID-19 vaccine received government authorization, a World War II veteran in Massachusetts became the first Veterans Affairs patient in the country to get the shot.

The VA Bedford Healthcare System’s shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived Monday morning and the facility began to administer doses within a few hours.

Margaret Klessens, a 96-year-old resident of the Community Living Center in the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, received the shot Monday at 12:07 p.m., the VA Bedford Healthcare System announced in a statement.

Thirteen minutes later, Andrew Miller, a housekeeper in the environmental management services became the first employee to get the jab.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were arriving and hospitals are preparing to begin administering them to staff this week.

Boston Medical Center said Monday it received its first shipment of 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID19 vaccine.

Continue on to wvcb.com to read the complete article. Department of Veterans Affairs photo via Twitter.

VA announces initial plans for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced a preliminary plan for distributing COVID-19 vaccinations it will implement once the Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization for a vaccine.

VA has worked in close coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Operation Warp Speed to plan for COVID-19 vaccination of VA staff and Veterans.

VA will first provide vaccinations to front-line VA health care workers and Veterans residing in long-term care units in 37 of its medical centers across the country.

The centers, listed below, were chosen for their ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and store the vaccines at extremely cold temperatures.

Health care workers will be among the first to receive vaccinations because they are at high risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19 to other staff members and patients, and their health is critical to ensuring the continued care of Veterans.

Veterans in VA’s long-term care facilities will be the first patient group to be vaccinated. As vaccine supplies increase, additional Veterans will receive vaccinations based on factors such as age, existing health problems and other considerations that increase the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

VA anticipates a limited vaccine supply immediately after FDA’s approval, but expects more supplies to be available in short order.

“VA is well prepared and positioned to begin COVID-19 vaccinations,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our ultimate goal is to offer it to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated.”

The 37 VA sites chosen for initial distribution of the vaccine will closely monitor patients and staff for side effects and log this information in its vaccine monitoring and tracking system. This is the same system VA uses to monitor reactions to all vaccines, including those for the flu and shingles.

VA will report directly to the CDC data on all vaccine doses administered by VA. The department will also provide general, public updates on the number of people who receive the vaccination at these sites, similar to how VA posts COVID-19 testing figures.

The 37 VA sites are spread throughout the country and include:

Birmingham (AL) VA Health Care System

Phoenix (AZ) VA Health Care System

Greater Los Angeles (CA) VA Health Care System

Palo Alto (CA) VA Health Care System

Eastern Colorado (CO) VA Health Care System

Connecticut (West Haven Campus) VA Health Care System

Washington DC VA Health Care System

Orlando (FL) VA Health Care System

Augusta (GA) VA Health Care System

Edward J. Hines Jr. VA Hospital (IL)

Lexington (KY) VA Health Care System

Southeast Louisiana (New Orleans) VA Health Care System

Maryland (Baltimore) VA Health Care System

Bedford (MA) VA Health Care System

Ann Arbor (MI) VA Health Care System

Minneapolis (MN) VA Health Care System

Harry S Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital (Columbia MO)

St. Louis (MO) VA Health Care System

Omaha (NE) VA Health Care System

Southern Nevada (North Las Vegas) VA Health Care System

Raymond G. Murphy (NM) VA Health Care System

New York Harbor (Brooklyn) VA Health Care System

Western New York (Buffalo) VA Health Care System

Durham (NC) VA Health Care System

Cleveland (OH) VA Health Care System

Oklahoma City (OK) VA Health Care System

Portland (OR) VA Health Care System

Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center (Philadelphia PA)

Pittsburgh (PA) VA Health Care System

Caribbean (Puerto Rico) VA Health Care System

Memphis (TN) VA Health Care System

Dallas (TX) VA Medical Center

Michael E. DeBakey VA Health Care System (Houston TX)

Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital (San Antonio TX)

Richmond (VA) VA Health Care System

Puget Sound (WA) VA Health Care System

Milwaukee (WI) VA Health Care System

Veterans seeking additional information should visit the VA COVID-19 vaccine webpage, contact their care team or visit their facility website.

Source: VA.gov

Veterans with Crohn’s or Colitis, We Need Your Input!

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If you are a veteran of the U.S. military, and have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, we need your input!

The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation invites veterans affected by these diseases to participate in a survey that will help us understand their healthcare needs. Participants of who qualify and complete the survey can be entered for a chance to win a $300 gift card

Start our survey now!

The mission of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation is to cure Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and to improve the quality of life of children and adults who are affected by these diseases. The Foundation works to fulfill its mission by funding research; providing educational resources for patients and their families, medical professionals, and the public; and furnishing supportive services for those afflicted with IBD.

For more information about the Foundation, visit: www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org

Best Wellness Apps

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Your wellness is a top priority, and there are many resources out there to help you manage stress and access all the benefits and tools that will help you stay strong in body and mind. Below are self-care mobile applications developed within the Department of Defense, Veteran Affairs and other partners. All mobile applications are free and all are for iOS and/or Android devices.

Breathe2Relax
Trains you on the “belly breathing” technique that has proven benefits for your overall mental health. Use the app’s breathing exercises to learn and practice on your own or as part of a stress management program supervised by your health care provider.

App Store

Google Play

Positive Activity Jackpot
Helps users who may be overwhelmed by depression find nearby enjoyable activities. Can’t decide?  Let the app’s jackpot function make the choice.

App Store

Google Play

LifeArmor
Touch-screen technology allows the user to browse information on 17 topics, including sleep, depression, relationship issues and post-traumatic stress.

App Store

Google Play

Virtual Hope Box
Contains simple tools to help users with coping, relaxation, distraction and positive thinking using personalized audio, video, pictures, games, mindfulness exercises, activity planning, inspirational quotes and coping statements.

App  Store

Google Play

Parenting2Go
Helps veterans and service members reconnect with their children and provides convenient tools to strengthen parenting skills. The app addresses challenges that come with parenting children of all ages and backgrounds.

App Store

Breathe, Think, Do
Laugh and learn as you help a Sesame Street monster friend calm down and solve everyday challenges. This app helps your child learn Sesame’s Breathe, Think, Do strategy for problem solving.

App Store

Google Play

Moving Forward
Provides on-the-go tools and teaches problem solving skills to overcome obstacles and deal with stress. The app is designed for veterans and service members, but is useful for anyone with stressful problems.

App Store

Provider Resilience
Offers self-assessment and stress reduction tools along with a dashboard to track your daily resilience rating.

App Store

Google Play

Big Moving Adventure
With Sesame’s Street’s Big Moving Adventure, your young child can create his or her own Muppet friend and help him or her through the moving process, including: Packing, saying goodbye, expressing feelings, traveling, and making new friends.

App Store

Google Play

COVID Coach
The COVID Coach app was created for everyone, including veterans and service members, to support self-care and overall mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

App Store

Google Play

Source: militaryonesource.mil/health-wellness/recommended-wellness-apps

VA resumes in-person benefits services halted by the COVID-19 response

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woman working at VA meeting with veteran about benefits wearing face mask for social distancing

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced  the reestablishment of in-person benefits services in select locations throughout the country.

Currently, there are 11 regional offices (RO) open to the public and more are expected to reopen in the coming weeks as reopening phases will vary by RO and local conditions.

“During the last few months, VA regional offices continued performing our essential mission virtually — to provide benefits to Veterans and eligible family members,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We have robust safety measures in place that will allow us to resume in-person services while protecting the health and safety of Veterans, their families and our team members who serve them.”

ROs will continue adherence to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines which includes the use of social distancing, face coverings, hand sanitizer and asking sick individuals to stay at home.

Veterans can continue to interact with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) virtually for accessing benefits information online or when filing a claim online. For claim-specific questions call 1-800-827-1000. To check the availability of an RO near you, visit VA benefits offices.

VBA’s return to normal, pre-COVID-19 public-facing operations align with White House guidelines for re-opening. Read more about our response to COVID-19.

Source: va.gov

America’s Warrior Partnership Study Reveals Gap in National Understanding of Suicide Among Military Veterans

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Despite the bipartisan acknowledgement that suicide among military veterans is a national crisis, research indicates that records under-represent the actual impact of veteran suicide in communities across the country.

The finding was revealed by Operation Deep Dive (OpDD), a community-based veteran suicide prevention study led by national nonprofit America’s Warrior Partnership and researchers from the University of Alabama with a grant funded by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.

One component of OpDD has researchers comparing state death certificates with Department of Defense (DoD) records in 14 states. Completed analyses within two of these states – Florida and Minnesota – reveal that 153 veterans who died by suicide were unaccounted in Florida records, while 68 veterans who died by suicide were unaccounted in Minnesota records. Comparisons underway in the remaining 12 states indicate these local occurrences may be present in other communities.

“We do not share these findings to point the finger at a state for inconsistencies in record keeping, but to ensure the country is aware of how much we do not know about the unique impact of veteran suicide in different communities,” said Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership. “Correcting these errors will take a concentrated effort that empowers community organizations to proactively connect with veterans before they encounter a crisis. Congress is on the right path with the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Healthcare Improvement Act, but time is running out. We urge the U.S. House of Representatives to pass this bill before the current session of Congress ends so that communities will be better equipped to prevent veteran suicide.”

Lorraine delivered this petition as testimony in two Congressional hearings held during the week of Sept. 7: the “House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing on Suicide Prevention” and the “Senate Hearing on Veteran’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.” The nation’s renewed call for immediate action coincides with National Suicide Prevention Month, an initiative for mental health advocates and communities to unite in promoting suicide prevention awareness throughout September.

Operation Deep Dive researchers are currently conducting interviews to investigate veteran lives lost to suicide or a non-natural cause of death. Researchers seek individuals who are 18 years of age or older and have lost a relative, loved one, friend, or co-worker who was a veteran to suicide within the last 24 months. Both the interviewee and the veteran must have lived in the same community – which must also be one of the 14 states where OpDD is active – prior to the veteran’s death.

For more information on Operation Deep Dive, including the latest findings and details on how to participate in an interview, visit https://www.americaswarriorpartnership.org/deep-dive.

In addition to OpDD, America’s Warrior Partnership offers a wide array of services to community organizations seeking their local veterans’ assistance. One of them is The Network, a national coordination platform that expands veteran-serving organizations’ reach by connecting them with national resources.

VETERANS CRISIS LINE | A service member or veteran in crisis can call 1.800.273.8255 and press 1 or send a text message to 838255 to connect for help.

VIDEO | Operation Deep Dive

About America’s Warrior Partnership

America’s Warrior Partnership is committed to empowering communities to empower veterans. We fill the gaps between veteran service organizations by helping nonprofits connect with veterans, their families, and caregivers. Our programs bolster nonprofit efficacy, improving their results, and empowering their initiatives. For more information, visit AmericasWarriorPartnership.org

@AWPartnership #awpartnership

This Veteran is Helping Fellow Vets Transition to Civilian Life Through Video Gaming

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One medically retired veteran of the U.S. Army is helping recreate the brother and sisterhood people often find in the service through his YouTube channel that focuses on gaming—and self-care.

After Christopher Boehm left the army, he learned from a friend the staggering statistic that 22 veterans die each day by suicide.

Being injured and having a past struggle with alcohol abuse, he connected with the pain of these veterans.

He decided then that he wanted to help others leaving the service smoothly transition to civilian life.

When he learned that the U.S. Army uses Twitch, a live streaming platform for gamers, for recruitment purposes, he knew he could do something similar to connect with veterans and prevent the social isolation and depression that exists in the veteran community.

Christopher set up his own YouTube channel, Bayonet X-Ray, where he plays video games live for 22 minutes at sunrise each morning—representing the 22 veterans that die by suicide each day.

While gaming, Boehm shares strategies for combating PTSD and depression, daily motivation, and tips on healthy eating and breathing. He also provides general camaraderie for isolated veterans.

“My goal is to connect with veterans that can’t access other services,” explains Boehm. “This YouTube channel is my way of helping my brothers and sisters, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important to stay connected and break up the day to day monotony.”

Boehm has a kind, peaceful voice, and his YouTube channel isn’t just for veterans: It’s for everyone. Check it out today.

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

How I Got Into The Best Shape Of My Life At 51

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by Ellis King

Most are generally surprised to find out my actual age of 51. “How do you look so young and fit? That is a question I get often and with a grand smile I pass on the great advice I received from my father; if you take care of your body, your body will take care of you!

As a retired Navy Veteran for 26 years and spending 4 years in amateur boxing, I’ve developed my own blended fitness program that combines the physical military training with the intensity of boxing training. This approach I consider my “Ageless” workout plan consists of building and maintaining lean muscle mass while decreasing body fat to achieve a healthy body and mind.

Growing up in a large family of 6 brothers and 5 sisters in southern Georgia and whose father is a Brick Mason and Farmer, hard work and fitness came hand to hand.

Being the shortest of all my brothers and the only twin to my younger sister,  I’ve prove to myself that my strength matched their sizes and never needed their support.

During most of my tours in the Navy, I was appointed as Command Fitness Coordinator (CFC) where I’ve trained Sailors to pass a physical fitness assessment (PFA) twice a year!

I’ve developed a deep passion to continue this training after retirement and my results have been amazing!  I’m truly am at the best shape of my life!

Earlier this year I started to conduct live virtual workout sessions to support others looking to make improvements to their health regardless of their past fitness level which can be done from the comfort of their own homes.

Since COVID-19 made its entrance in 2020, the world has never been the same and now more than ever we need to make health and fitness our top priority. The truth of the matter is with a weak immune system, poor diet, and lack of exercise we’ve been a huge target of health issues before this pandemic occurred. The stakes are much higher now and we must do all we can to defeat it.

I am honored to mentor and coach others on their path to fitness success.

Learn more at www.50andfit.org

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