Veteran PTSD Epidemic Calls For Action

The results of the National Vietnam Veteran Longitudinal Study presented at the American Psychology Association convention on August 8 2014 show there are 283,000 active cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Vietnam Veterans. Earlier this year, during the Kentucky Assembly Interim Session Joint Hearing of the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee held July 10, 2014, focusing on Veteran PTSD cases, 3 representatives from the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Louisville who work extensively with Veteran PTSD patients testified. They reported that there are 350,000 cases of PTSD among Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. VA Guidelines for PTSD call for psychotherapy ranging from counseling and group therapy to exposure and cognitive therapies. These are educational therapies that would help in most mental health situations. Then they went on to list the drugs. Drugs with familiar names such as Paxil and Zoloft, Klonopin, Xanax and Prozac were named. They listed antidepressants, mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, anxiolytics and sleep aids, not to mention the various pain medications as many of these Veterans also suffer from physical as well as mental pain. They went on to say there is no medication that works for PTSD. The reported cases of PTSD totaling 633,000, does not include Korean, Gulf War or any Veterans of the small engagements of the Cold War.
Veterans suffering from PTSD that live in States having medical cannabis laws are using cannabis as treatment for their condition. These Veterans as reported by groups such as Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access (VMAC), relate stories of relief from many of the symptoms of PTSD. Many claim medical cannabis has allowed them the first decent night’s sleep since the onset of their PTSD and rely on it as their main and perhaps only effective medication. Indeed, Veterans applying for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis program report a 70% reduction in symptoms when using medical cannabis.
What should be done? Considering that, Veterans in medical cannabis States are using medical cannabis with great success and that almost half the States currently have medical cannabis laws and that the number of cases of PTSD among Veterans is of epidemic proportions, we call on the Veterans Administration to begin immediately to provide medical whole plant cannabis to Veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Currently the Federal Government provides tins of medical cannabis to survivors of the old Compassionate Care Program. These patients receive a tin of 300 cannabis cigarettes every month and it would be quite simple to expand this program to Veterans living in States without medical cannabis laws. For Veterans in medical cannabis States the VA could simply do a voucher with the local Cannabis Pharmacies to provide the medicine these Veterans sorely need.
We also call on the VA to immediately begin a study of the effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating the many symptoms of PTSD. Dr. Sue Sisley of the University of Arizona has managed to clear every hurdle placed in front of her in her quest to do a PTSD study of Veterans and cannabis. For the first time in 77 years the Government is actually providing the cannabis! Certainly if a civilian can shepherd a cannabis study through every hurdle placed in front of it by the Federal Government, then the Veterans Administration, a branch of the Federal Government should be able to!
Cannabis is currently listed as Schedule1, Dangerous and having no medical value. This rating was temporary in 1970 when the Controlled Substances Act was passed and it is still temporary to this day. A simple rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule 2 or lower, which can be accomplished by a signature of the President or Attorney General, would allow the Veterans Administration to provide this desperately needed medicine to the heroes who undoubtedly deserve it.
There is plenty that can be done! We call on the President, Congress, the Attorney General and the Veterans Administration to, ‘Git to doing it!’

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Dire Circumstances, Epidemic Numbers

On July 10th 2014 three representatives from the Louisville Veterans Affairs Hospital testified before the Kentucky Assembly Interim Session Hearing of the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee. The VA Representatives testified that although they use many mental health therapies and dozens of pharmaceuticals to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, there is no medicine that works for PTSD. They reported that there are 350,000 cases of PTSD among Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. This does not count the results of the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study the findings of which were presented at the American Psychological Association on August 9, 2014. That study found 283,000 active cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Vietnam Veterans. Added to the cases reported by the VA for Iraq and Afghanistan and we are now talking about 633,000 active cases of PTSD. Korean, Gulf War and Veterans of the many conflicts of the Cold War are not included in this number. In all we could be looking at three quarters of a million active cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder based entirely on the VA’s own numbers!
The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa saw one of the brave doctors working to contain the outbreak infected with the disease and close to losing his life. The medical authorities allowed those treating the doctor to try an experimental medicine never tried on humans derived from the tobacco plant. To the relief of all concerned it seems to have worked. The doctor is recovering and the medicine is being looked at as a breakthrough in the treatment of the virus. Dire circumstances prompted the action that saved the doctor. The medicine could have just as easily hurt as helped the patient.
The situation with Veteran Post traumatic Stress Disorder is just as dire and given the number of cases approaching three quarters of a million Veterans, could be considered epidemic. The VA in dealing with this epidemic has used every conventional mental health therapy and pharmaceutical they can with minimal to zero effect. The VA itself, as it did in the Kentucky hearing, reports there is no medicine effective for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The VA would be correct in their reporting except for the fact that there is a medicine that is effective for PTSD and unlike the experimental Ebola medicine, has been used for thousands of years by humans with complete safety. Thousands of Veterans use medical cannabis to treat their PTSD in the States having medical cannabis laws all across the nation and they report it’s efficacy in treating their PTSD. As was reported in the Kentucky hearing by the two Veterans who testified, medical cannabis has returned to them a quality of life in dealing with their condition that no medicine or therapy provided by the VA has been able to give them.
Veterans, pointing out the magnitude of the epidemic of PTSD, are calling for the immediate implementation of a program to provide medical cannabis to Veterans suffering with PTSD and to begin a study aimed at determining the benefits of medical cannabis for PTSD and any other conditions which might benefit from cannabis therapy.
The sacrifice of these Veterans, which continues for some till death, and the huge number of cases demands that we do everything our power to relieve and mitigate the suffering of these heroes. The Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study showed that the risk of early death among Vietnam Veterans with PTSD is twice as high as those without the condition and for many Veterans is a life long struggle. Their circumstances are no less dire than that of the infected Doctor. We have the medicine. Let us begin immediately to do the ethical work required to get this medicine to those who need and deserve it.

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Cannabis Prohibition, Can We Just Stop?

The New York Times, a paper that has many times printed articles endorsing the prohibition of cannabis and editorializing in favor of continuing this prohibition has thrown in the towel. Sunday July 27 2014 saw the end of that position. The Editorial Board of the Times ran an editorial calling for the end of cannabis prohibition. The Times joins several conservative publications such as The National Review in this position.
The Times rightly considered the evidence and decided prohibition is a failure and the time has come for full legalization on the Federal level. Public opinion has moved on this issue over the last twenty years and at this time the majority of Americans favor, not just medical cannabis, but full legalization for the industrial, medical and recreational use of marijuana.
The Office of Drug Control Policy, (ONDCP), responded of course. Their response was what you would expect, vague assertions of negative outcomes when using cannabis for any reason. Interestingly, as public knowledge of cannabis and its many uses become common, the ONDCP has become more selective in it’s predictions of doom and gloom. They cited 4 talking points as the reasons for continuing the total prohibition of cannabis.
1. Marijuana affects the developing brain. This one started in 2009 when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister of England. He wanted to raise the penalties for cannabis claiming marijuana caused mental illness and schizophrenia. He was trying to gin up votes from the Conservatives. His Chief Medical Advisor quit over it. Since then, with no evidence to support it, this notion has devolved to, ‘Cannabis causes schizophrenia in teens’, and from that to, ‘cognitive impairment in the developing brain’. None of this has any solid evidence to support it.
2. Marijuana has a detrimental effect on academic achievement. Students who get d’s and f’s are more likely to be cannabis users. Ok. Let’s just say that having low grades are also more likely to come from teenagers living in dysfunctional circumstances. Which came first, dysfunctional families or cannabis use? Most likely the dysfunctional family.
These first two points are moot anyway because cannabis will still remain illegal for persons under 21.
3. Marijuana is addictive. Yes cannabis is somewhat addictive in the same way ice cream or Twinkies or television can be addictive and we haven’t made them illegal to save the citizens from them.
4. Drugged driving is a threat to our roadways. This one’s easy to debunk. Like the schizophrenia claim, one has only to ask, “Where are the bodies?” Just as there no numbers supporting the schizophrenia claim there is no increase in traffic accidents to support this claim either. Seventeen years of Californians accessing cannabis and no numbers showing any increase in accidents. Reliable studies show cannabis users get into accidents at the same rate as straight drivers.
There you have it! Seventy seven years of propaganda and the suppression of personal freedom and it all comes down to 4 talking points debunked easier than debunking a claim that water is not wet! The prohibition of cannabis has been as dismal a failure as the 13 year prohibition of alcohol was. We have destroyed millions of lives and wasted billions in treasure and for what? Can we just stop it now?

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Veterans Administration Lacks Will for Post Traumatic Stress Study

At the recent Kentucky General Assembly Interim Session Hearing of the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee the issue at the heart of the proceeding and taking up the last half of the hearing was Veterans and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Three representatives of the Louisville VA specializing in PTSD were on hand along with 2 Veteran PTSD sufferers.
The VA discussed the many different therapies they use to treat PTSD along with the various conditions that sometimes accompany patients with PTSD, especially depression and addiction. The VA representatives cited a number of 350,000 current cases of PTSD however, this number only counts Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and does not include Korean or Vietnam War Veterans. The total number of cases is likely closer to a half million Veterans.
VA guidelines for PTSD cover psychotherapy ranging from counseling and group therapy, to exposure and cognitive therapy. These are all educational therapies that would help in most mental health situations. Then they listed the drugs. Drugs with familiar names such as Paxil and Zoloft, Klonopin and Xanax were named. They listed antidepressants, mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, anxiolytics and sleep aids not to mention pain meds as most of these patients suffer from physical as well as mental pain. The VA representatives went on to say there is no medication that specifically treats Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When asked about medical cannabis for PTSD, the representatives of the Veterans Administration stated the old saw that there is no research. That it might work but there are no studies stating so.
The two Veterans to testify were myself, and Vietnam Combat Veteran Danny Belcher. He spoke about suffering PTSD after participating in horrific combat and suffering physically with a broken back and other injuries. He told of alcoholism as a result of trying to live with the PTSD. Of having been through the VA mill of treatment and being buried in pills. Then he discovered that cannabis used therapeutically, eliminated the need for the majority of the pharmaceuticals he had been prescribed and left him with clarity of mind and a vastly improved quality of life.
After Danny, I spoke and started by informing the Committee that the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of Kentucky, having ratified a medical cannabis resolution, supports Veteran access to medical cannabis. I was also able to inform them that the PTSD study at the University of Arizona was all set. That for the first time in 77 years the Federal Government is providing the cannabis for the study. The study is currently on hold due to a problem with the University but on the federal level the study is ready to go. I also informed them that preliminary information of the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program has Veteran Patients reporting a 70% reduction in PTSD symptoms when using medical cannabis.
My own story with the exception that my PTSD is from childhood sexual abuse and not combat, is remarkably similar to Danny’s. I also went through alcoholism, street drugs and various forms of treatment. I knew the effectiveness of medical cannabis but until I retired I could not avail myself of it. Now I am living with a good quality of life and managing my conditions, PTSD and chronic pain from degenerative disc disease as a result of using medical cannabis.
There we were, Danny and I telling them that here is a medicine that accompanied with therapy really works. And there the VA was saying, we can’t listen to you! All I could think was what it will take to get the VA to listen and to act!
I had always suspected I had PTSD but I hadn’t been given the test for it. At a routine appointment about 7 years ago I was administered the test. I failed 3 of 4 questions. They sent me to a psychiatrist and technician. I told the psychiatrist the whole 50 year struggle with PTSD and how I had used medical cannabis to deal with the condition and that life was pretty well ok. He looked at me and said, “Well seems to me you are doing alright. I can’t write it down but keep doing what you are doing and call us if you need us.” Until the Veterans Administration is able to ‘write it down’ there will be no progress on medical cannabis as therapy to treat Veterans for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The claim of the Veterans Administration that there are no studies on PTSD is a bit misleading. The Israelis’ have studied cannabis extensively and provide it to their Veterans for PTSD, as do the Canadians. We are allies so I’m sure they both would probably be more than happy to share their research. The VA itself uses Veteran information for all kinds of studies and there is a large Veteran population to draw study subjects from. I venture to say they would be quite willing to participate.
The Veterans Administration could mount a study tomorrow if it deemed it necessary. The University of Arizona under the direction of Dr. Sue Sisley has cleared every hurdle placed in front of it by the Federal Bureaucracy and is ready to go. If a civilian agency can mount a study in the face of Government obstructionism, then there should be no problem with the VA doing so. With a patient population of PTSD sufferers approaching half a million Veterans and the numerous anecdotal reports of Veterans having success using medical cannabis, one would think the VA would be chomping at the bit to do a study.
It is disappointing that the Veterans Administration is not listening to it’s patients and at least trying to do a study instead of throwing their hands up in surrender and not listening to the very Veteran patients they are supposed to be serving. As Veterans we should demand the Veterans Administration stop this ridiculous policy of ignoring the benefits of medical cannabis and begin immediately to mount a study of medical cannabis and it’s effects in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For the VA to have knowledge of a medicine that can mitigate the suffering of a half million patients and to not at least check out efficacy of medical cannabis is a slap in the face to every Veteran suffering from this insidious condition.

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The War On Coal, Hot And Dirty Air

There has been a bevy of political advertisements, which I imagine; we will be seeing ad nausea, until the November elections.  The ads scream either there is a War on Coal, or there might be a War on Coal but I’m not part of it and if there is I will stop it.  No matter who wins the election, neither side is dealing honestly with the realities of the situation the coal industry in Kentucky is in these days.

Jobs in the Kentucky mining industry have been declining over the last 3 decades from some 160,000 in 1979 to roughly 17,000 today.  The vast majority of these losses are the result of mechanization, automation and the change from deep mining to surface and hilltop removal.  The industry has been shrinking for some time now.

The claim that the new Environmental Protection Agency regulations regarding carbon emissions is proof of the Administrations ‘War on Coal’, is somewhat misleading.  The New regulations do not require the closure of any coal fired plants.  They simply call for a reduction in the amount of carbon emissions by the State.  How the States reach that reduction is up to them.

Then what is the cause of the closure and refitting of so many coal fired plants across the nation? Put simply enough, it’s the Free Market.   The growth of fracking operations across the country has driven the cost of running and cleaning a coal fired plant above that of refitting old coal fired plants to gas operations or building new gas fired plants.  If anyone is engaged in a ‘War on Coal’ it’s the oil and gas industries doing the most damage!

Finger pointing and name calling over the sad decline of what is becoming an outdated industry gets us nowhere.  Our legislators should be looking for new industries to replace the jobs lost to the decline of the coal industry.   A good example is the cannabis industry.  Colorado’s cannabis industry, industrial, medical and recreational is booming and an estimated 11,000 jobs have been created in the industry as of April of 2014.  Currently the national legal cannabis market is worth 1.5 billion dollars and is expected to grow to 10 billion in the next 5 years.  Colorado has collected 6 million in revenue on legal sales in Jan and Feb of 2014 alone and estimates 98 million in revenue for the next fiscal year.  The predicted bad outcomes of legalization have failed to materialize.  The climate and soil in Kentucky is ideal for the cultivation of cannabis, and Kentucky cannabis products should be on the shelves of shops and pharmacies all across the nation.

Instead of giving Kentuckians the unkeepable promise of stopping the natural market driven decline of the coal industry, McConnell and Grimes should be telling us about the legislation they will support in Congress to free up the cannabis industry so Kentucky can get its share of this billion dollar industry.  If not the cannabis industry then what industry do they propose to replace the coal jobs with and what programs do they propose that can alleviate the stress on our communities due to the decline of coal?  Without the answers to these questions the back and forth of McConnell and Grimes over the ‘War on Coal’ is nothing more than political hot and dirty air.

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Reprehensible and Deserving of Shame

Well our legislative leaders have weighed in on the release of our only Afghanistan Prisoner of War, Sgt Bowe Bergdahl.  Instead of the rejoicing and cheering we should be experiencing, we are watching a sad performance of a play we have seen too many times before.  As Democratic legislators celebrate his release, Republican legislators are busy vilifying Sgt. Bergdahl and making assumptions about the details of his capture, captivity and survival.  Some even going so far as to question the character and loyalty of the man’s parents!  The negative and hurtful nature of the attacks on this young man and his family go beyond the pale and have even resulted in the cancellation of the homecoming celebration planned by his community, friends and family.

In an article in the D Day, June6, 2014 edition of the Kentucky Enquirer titled, ‘What Your Lawmakers Think About the Prisoner Swap’, only Senator Sherrod Brown, (D) of Ohio celebrated and supported the actions of the President in securing the release of Sgt. Bergdahl.  The other 7 legislators representing our region, Republicans Portman, Chabot, Wenstrup and Boehner of Ohio and McConnell, Paul and Massie of Kentucky shamed themselves and our region by using the captivity and release of Sgt Bergdahl to score political points and berate the President over what is clearly within his power as Commander in Chief to do, arrange for the return of our Prisoners of War.  Congress has known for two years of the details of this deal and the 5 guys traded for Sgt Bergdahl would have to be released at the end of this year anyway.  With all this in mind, the statements of the region’s Republican legislators and Republican legislators nation wide, are even more reprehensible!

It’s obvious to me and should be obvious to any parent that is paying attention that these legislators would have left your son or daughter to rot in captivity if it was not politically expedient for them to trade for their release.

Let’s hear it for the President.  He knew that he would take heat for the deal but for him, America’s sons and daughters are more important than scoring political points.  He said, “This is how you end wars.  You treat with the enemy and get your people back!”   Playing one- upmanship with the lives of our sons and daughters is reprehensible, deserving of shame and should engender the condemnation of all  the citizens of our region and that of the entire nation.

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Are We Stupid Or Sumpin’?

The latest affront to citizens of the Bluegrass State in the dumb hillbilly joke race is a variation of this one.  A Kentuckian is asked about the Kentucky Health Insurance website KYNECT.gov and he responds that he likes it just fine but he don’t want none of that ‘Obamacare’!   I think it springs from a lot of people saying that they,’ don’t want no Government Healthcare and keep your Government hands off my Medicare!’ during the last elections.  

I find it hard to believe we are so ill informed that after all the squawking about health insurance Kentuckians still do not know that the Affordable Care Act which touches all aspects of health insurance and includes all of us is Obamacare!  The KNECT website is doing on a local level what the Federal website is doing.  Had we not set up the KNECT site we would have been using the Federal website to register for Insurance.

This, sometimes willful, ignorance of the Affordable Care Act is definitely a tribute to the Republicans ability to deceive the citizens to reach their political aims.   It bespeaks the Republicans own weakness that they are driven to destroy the program Romney instituted in Massachusetts when he was the governor there.   Democrats favored a single payer plan, but seeing as the Mass. Plan worked, and was instituted by the Republicans, Democrats figured it as a great way to get health insurance to all our citizens as most modern countries do.  

It was very surprising that Republicans repudiated their own plan and have so vociferously opposed the implementation of a plan they invented but that just fits with their platform.   Opposition to health insurance for all citizens, opposition to raising the minimum wage, an effort to reduce or eliminate entitlements, welfare, food stamps and any number of programs that help or support the middle class and the poor, and an adherence to the economic policy of supply side, or ‘trickle down’ economics which puts the money in the hands of the wealthy to trickle down to the rest of us.  A policy that has led directly to the inequality we see today and the recession left to us at the end of the Bush presidency.

Now they are trying to get us to believe that having health insurance for all citizens is a bad thing.  That somehow raising the minimum wage will hurt Kentucky.   That living up to the call to treat all our citizens with dignity and to help them make their lives better will somehow destroy America!

It leaves me with the need to ask a version of the question asked of Forest Gump.    Do Republican politicians think we are stupid or sumpin’?    

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