New Study on Young Veterans, PTSD, and Fight or Flight Response

03 Aug 2017

A recent study found that young veterans with PTSD have an increased fight or flight response during mental stress. The research provides important insights into how to protect veterans with PTSD from the effects of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Medical experts have long suspected that over activity in the sympathetic nervous system was a factor in treating veterans experiencing PTSD. This study led by a team at Emory University was the first to measure the activity directly and analyze the potential mechanisms behind it.

Participants were tested for their reaction to two types of mental stress, mental arithmetic unrelated to PTSD and first person war images and sounds recreated through virtual reality goggles. Sympathetic nerve activity was recorded using techniques including microneurography whereby electrodes are placed inside a nerve. The researchers found that post-9/11 veterans with combat-related PTSD had an increased fight or flight response during mental stress, higher adrenaline levels, and less control of their heart rate in response to blood pressure changes.

The findings are significant given that an estimated 14% of post-9/11 veterans experience PTSD, and related increased risks for high blood pressure and heart disease. The researchers hope to use the findings to improve diagnosis and treatment. Currently, most doctors recommend controlling high blood pressure through lifestyle changes such as eating a low-salt healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and losing weight. Drugs such as Thiazide diuretics and beta blockers may also be prescribed.

Stay up to date on disability benefits and other issues affecting veterans. Contact us at the Veterans Law Group to learn more.

Discharged Under DADT? Upgrade May Be Possible

29 Jun 2017

Since World War II, approximately 114,000 servicemembers have been discharged from all four branches of the United States military for homosexual conduct. From 1994 to 2011, "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) was the official policy of the military, forcing many service members to actively work to conceal their sexuality or face a less-than-honorable discharge. After the repeal of DADT, various bills were introduced in Congress - perhaps the best known put forth by Reps. Charlie Rangel and Mark Pocan in 2013 - to automatically upgrade any other-than-honorable discharges given for homosexual conduct, but none ever gained traction. Still, it is possible for you to upgrade your discharge if you are able to show the right documentation.

Very few discharged veterans have chosen to apply for an upgrade - only about 8 percent of those affected - but it is widely believed that many simply are unaware of the option. Some do choose to retain the designation as a reminder of history, but others jump at the chance to correct their records. The rationale is not only to right a historical wrong but also to improve their quality of life after service.

In some states, a dishonorable discharge is seen as equivalent to a felony, meaning that those dishonorably discharged lose rights like the ability to apply for certain jobs, and even to vote. A federal law, the Brady Act, prohibits you from owning firearms if you have a dishonorable discharge on your record. There are also benefits granted to honorably discharged service members that are not available to those with a general, other-than-honorable, or dishonorable discharge. Those with general discharges, for example, are not eligible to apply for GI Bill benefits, and those with other-than-honorable discharges may not be eligible for veterans' retirement benefits. 

In order to upgrade your discharge or have your separation designation code changed, you must provide evidence that your discharge was "inequitable" or "improper." Those are specific legal standards ("inequitable" means unfair or not in keeping with the values of the service, while "improper" means mistaken or erroneous), so meeting that burden with evidence can be difficult. If for example, you had any incidents of misconduct or disciplinary issues while enlisted, you may be denied an upgrade simply because your record was not clean. However, if you had a clean record aside from the instance or instances of homosexual conduct, the odds may be in your favor.

For more information on upgrading your discharge and improving your quality of life, please contact us.

NPR Looks at Veteran Suicides and Gun Availability

15 Jun 2017

A recent NPR story examines the connection between veteran suicides and access to guns. Recent trends dramatize the urgency of the issue, but taking any action is controversial.

Suicide rates have been rising in the US, and veterans now have a higher rate than civilians for the first time in history. The situation is especially alarming for women. Female veterans have a suicide rate between two and five times higher than women who never served, based on figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While numerous studies show that limiting access to guns dramatically decreases the risk of suicide, it can be difficult to balance the right to gun ownership with the need to prevent suicides. Recent events in Congress highlight the dilemma. Currently, the VA makes veterans who have been declared mentally incompetent unable to buy a new gun by flagging their names in the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System. A bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, would add a provision requiring a judge or magistrate to put veterans on the NICS. Roe believes that strengthens due process while opponents worry that it could weaken suicide prevention efforts.

While reliable data is difficult to come by, the Harvard School of Public Health has conducted many of the key studies in this area. Work such as theirs suggests some initial steps:

Take private action. As the NPR story describes, veterans could be encouraged to voluntarily surrender arms to family and friends when they feel at risk.

Support mental health services. Maintaining and expanding mental health services would help deal with the underlying issues behind the rise in suicides.

Train gatekeepers. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers need training on how to discuss these issues with the clients they serve.

Change the debate. "The public health message is neither anti-gun nor pro-gun. It’s pro-data," says Matthew Miller, associate director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. It's a good point to keep in mind for moving ahead.

The Veterans Law Group is one of the most respected advocates for disabled veterans within the legal community. Contact us to learn more.

Fighting Hate and Intolerance: Vets Step Up

08 Jun 2017

One of the most divisive challenges our country faces is spreading intolerance and the use of hate campaigns to target vulnerable people. Since the last presidential election, instances of both individual and group sponsored hate attacks have been multiplying across America. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has been a leader in teaching tolerance and tracking hate movements in this country since the 1960's.

A new tolerance movement, #VetsFightHate, is taking to social media to spread the word about diversity, inclusion, and tolerance. The group is responding to hate-filled and intolerant messages on social media targeting immigrants. With so many current and former military members being new immigrants and first generation Americans, these veterans can speak with authority and experience about what it is like to be an immigrant in an America they serve and honor.

More than most, military veterans know that the best way to win a fight is to stop it from escalating, rather than from bringing a bigger gun to the battle. With an eye toward de-escalation, these immigrant veterans are bringing a message to increasingly divisive social media to stop and think before writing something that could be harmful or hateful; to understand who our immigrants are, and what they are contributing to America; to remind everyone what it means to live another person's life, and walk in their shoes.

In America, we respect our veterans. Or at least, we say we do. Many of our veterans are people of color, new immigrants, women--the very groups that are marginalized and victims of intolerance and hatred. #VetsFightHate is reminding people who we are, what we've done for our country, and the positive that comes from working together toward a common goal.

For more information about veterans' challenges and issues, please contact us.

The Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act

16 Mar 2017

 The US took a trusteeship role over Micronesia in 1946, a large group of islands in the Pacific, and five days later those islands became the Pacific Proving Ground. The islanders were moved off and the US spent nearly twenty years detonating nuclear bombs on the islands, then left them, covered with plutonium and other radioactive waste blowing in the wind and seeping into the Pacific ocean.

When the US was forced by threat of lawsuit by the Enewetak Islanders to clean up the nuclear waste left behind, they used military personnel to save money. Safety gear, respirators and monitoring equipment were ineffective in the humid heat of the local climate, and there was not enough of it to protect all of the servicemen brought to work on cleanup. One veteran remembers asking for a mask, and being told there were no masks, to use a tee-shirt instead.

In 1988, Congress passed a law granting automatic medical coverage for veterans involved in the bombing, but the veterans who did the cleanup without adequate safety gear were excluded. One veteran recalls being given new safety gear to put on, and after his picture was taken by the military, the gear was removed and stored, and he went to work in shorts and sandals, with no shirt and no other safety gear.

Today veterans who participated in the cleanup report cancers, osteoporosis, birth defects in children, and other well documented health effects of exposure to nuclear waste. After being repeatedly denied by the VA, who relied on readings and documentation of broken or failed or nonexistent safety equipment, Congressman Takai from Hawaii wrote a bill called the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, specifically to address the inequity for veterans involved in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll. The bill has been sitting in committee since the end of 2015. There is a Facebook group for Enewetak cleanup veterans to share information and support.

For more information related to veterans, please contact us.

Health Insurance and the VA

26 Jan 2017

Health insurance does not play a role in eligibility for health care at a Veterans Administration facility. 

The VA will ask if a veteran has insurance to provide the information. Providing insurance information does not impact eligibility for benefits at the VA nor does it impact your insurance benefits. The VA is required by law to bill your insurance company for the cost of non-service connected care provided by them. Your insurance company will not penalize you for services paid for at a VA facility. The VA will not refuse care because you have insurance. Having insurance will restrict your ability to receive emergency care outside the VA for a non-service connected illness or injury however.

Providing health insurance information may offset some of your costs for VA health care including copays. The requirement to pay copays is determined by the veteran’s enrollment priority and service connected status for the care being received.

Veterans may continue to utilize VA health care once eligible for Medicare. VA health care is considered credible coverage for Part D. Veterans do need to enroll in Part B coverage to prevent a penalty as the VA is not credible coverage for Part B. 

The Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obama Care, requires that everyone has insurance coverage to prevent a penalty. The VA is considered credible coverage under the ACA. Veterans who are registered in the VA health care system do not need to purchase health insurance to be in compliance with the law.

Veterans or caregivers having difficulty accessing VA health care benefits can call our experienced firm for assistance.

The FDA Approves Ecstasy for Clinical Trials for the Treatment of PTSD

05 Jan 2017

Ecstasy, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception. Because the drug, also called MDMA, causes a feeling of euphoria as well as very damaging side effects and addiction, it has been classified by the government as illegal since 1985. This decision was made despite the fact that MDMA was used as a tool for psychotherapy in the 1970s.

Now, MDMA is getting the go-ahead for clinical studies by the FDA for the treatment of PTSD, a debilitating mental disorder suffered by combat veterans, victims of violent crime, and first responders, such as police and fire fighters, according to the New York Times. Some initial studies show that the drug, when administered under the guidance of a mental health professional, has had some good effects for PTSD patients who have not responded to conventional medication and therapy. If the clinical trials pan out, MDMA may be available in a clinical setting as early as 2021.

However, some doctors worry that the use of a hitherto illegal recreational drug to treat a debilitating condition may lead to an increase in its abuse. They cite the experience with opioids, widely prescribed for the management of chronic pain. Opioid abuse has become a widespread problem, especially among people who have become accidentally addicted because of a legitimate medical use. MDMA may become addictive if used for too long, resulting in side effects including uncontrolled mood changes and impairment in the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Still, the use of MDMA may be a boon for people struggling with PTSD who have no other options, if prescribed with care and used in combination with other therapies.

For more information contact us.

Injured Veterans Benefit from Advancements in Artificial Limbs

01 May 2013

The recent Boston Marathon attacks are believed to have resulted in several amputation injuries. However, for these victims, life with a prosthetic device is likely to be much easier, than has been the case in the past.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to tremendous advances in prosthetics technology, and today, veterans, as well as civilians, have access to prosthetics that are not only easy to wear, more comfortable and more effective, but also contribute to more natural walking.

Not only that, modern prosthetics also enable users to run, jump and climb with their artificial limbs. Performing such activities with the use of a prosthetic limb was unthinkable just a few decades ago. These days however, it’s fairly common to find amputees fitted with artificial limbs participating in a number of outdoor activities and sports.

Many prosthetic limbs also now make use of artificial intelligence to increase the effectiveness of the limb, and efficiency of movement, taking prosthetic technology one step further. Artificial limbs nowadays are waterproof, dust proof and corrosion-free.

What is also very encouraging for California veterans’ benefits lawyers is the wide range of prosthetic limbs that are currently available. There isn't a one-size-fits-all limb that veteran amputees can choose. There are limbs that may be suited to you depending on your requirement and your lifestyle.

Prosthetic limbs can be expensive, but it's not necessary that the most expensive device is the one that is most suited to you. Not everybody needs a high-tech expensive device with sophisticated top-of-the-line features of the kind that a marathon runner might need. It's important to discuss prosthetic limbs with your doctor before you decide on a suitable prosthetic device for you

Too Many Veterans Don't Live to Receive Benefits

08 Jan 2013

Any California veterans benefits lawyer knows that processing of benefits claims can take months. Unfortunately, in too many cases, the delays are so long that the claim processing is completed only after the veteran's death. According to a new report, cases in which the claim is processed only after the veteran’s death are becoming increasingly common.

The report has been published by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which claims that such delayed processing of claims is leading to thousands of veterans dying, before they are approved for the benefits and pensions that are due to them. According to the estimates, in the fiscal year ending September 2012, the Veterans Administration paid out $437 million in retroactive benefits to survivors of veterans who died while they waited for the claim to be approved. These unfortunate veterans, who didn't live see their claim approved, include World War II vets and Iraqi war veterans. The causes of death ranged all the way from natural causes waiting for their veteran’s pension, to suicide because claims were denied.

In all, it is estimated that close to 19,500 veterans died while they were waiting for their claim to be approved. Those numbers are a dramatic spike from just 3 years ago, when survivors of less than 6,400 veterans received retroactive benefits. The number of survivors of veterans, including widows and children, waiting for benefits has increased from less than 3,000 back in December 2009, to a high of 13,000 in January 2013.

In fact, so heavy is the backlog of veteran’s benefits claims that many lawmakers and California veterans benefits lawyers are calling it a national embarrassment.

Pentagon Announces Multi-million Dollar Initiatives against PTSD, Brain Injury

02 Oct 2012

The Pentagon is investing more than $100 million in new efforts to fight both traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. The announcement of the new initiatives was made to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, which triggered off the 2 wars that have resulted in thousands of veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury.

California veterans benefits lawyers expect cases of post traumatic stress disorder to explode over the next few months, as soldiers return from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military has been very concerned about the high incidence of both traumatic brain injury as well as life-altering post-traumatic stress disorder, which has been blamed for the high incidence of suicides among returning veterans. The military has been investing in brain injury research, but it is clear that more needs to be done to understand how best we can help these veterans who are returning home in such a crippled state.

The Pentagon’s 2 new initiatives are the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD and the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium. These 2 consortiums will be managed by the Department Of Veterans Affairs and the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs on behalf of the Defense Department.

The Consortium to Alleviate PTSD will study the potential indicators of the condition, possible strategies to prevent PTSD, interventions and treatments. The Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium will try to understand more about the causes of brain injury, the conditions that are associated with a worsening of brain trauma, as well as other related issues.

What makes both traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder especially challenging to beat is that very often, both of these conditions are found in the same person. A person who suffers a brain injury is at a much higher risk of suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

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