WASHINGTON — Pressurized oxygen chambers,
light-emitting helmets and neck injections are all treatments the
Department of Veterans Affairs is using to help veterans with
post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Following an announcement last week that the
VA would offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy to some veterans with PTSD, the
agency said Thursday that the move is part of an effort to explore
alternatives to the traditional therapies for PTSD and TBI, VA Secretary
David Shulkin said in a statement.
“We know that for a small group of veterans, a
traditional approach to health care may not be the most effective,”
Shulkin said. “With veterans who don’t improve, we have to look for
innovative, evidence-based approaches that may help them restore and
maintain their health and wellbeing.”
Shulkin has repeatedly cited suicide
prevention as his No. 1 clinical priority and promised lawmakers “big,
bold steps” toward that end.
The VA said light-emitting diode (LED)
therapy is now being offered to veterans with mild or moderate TBI to
use in their homes, or at the VA Boston Healthcare System in Jamaica
Plain. It involves a light-emitting frame being placed on a patient’s
head and a clip in their nose. The VA studied the treatment in 2015 and
found it increases blood flow in the brain and affects damaged cells to
possibly improve brain function.
At the Long Beach VA Medical Center in
California, doctors have started using a method called stellate ganglion
block for veterans with PTSD. The treatment consists of a shot of
medication into a patient’s neck.
VA researchers published a report on the
treatment in February stating they found improvements in PTSD symptoms
after the first test, but progress dropped in subsequent trials. The
study was inconclusive, and researchers called for more testing.
The VA said Thursday the treatment might ease anxiety.
A third alternative treatment, hyperbaric
oxygen therapy, uses pressurized chambers to send higher oxygen levels
to patients. For now, the VA is making the therapy available to a small
number of veterans in the eastern Oklahoma and northern California VA
health care systems.
The treatment has been federally approved for
illnesses such as decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning
and to treat wounds that won’t heal. It hasn’t been proven to work for
traumatic brain injury or PTSD, and the VA acknowledged it was an
“off-label” use of the treatment.
The American Legion applauded the VA’s
decision to use hyperbaric oxygen therapy, stating that they’ve been
asking the VA to offer it – and other alternative methods to treat PTSD
-- for more than four years.
Though studies by the VA and Department of
Defense have been mostly inconclusive, the American Legion said the
therapy was successful for many veterans and servicemembers and will be
an “important new tool” for VA patients.
Updated 7:06 PM ET, Thu December 7, 2017
Trump administration has abruptly canceled plans to shift dedicated
funding away from a program helping the most vulnerable homeless
The Department of
Veterans Affairs announced late Wednesday that it would not remove about
$460 million in funding from the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing
program. Known as HUD-VASH, it is a partnership between the VA and the
Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides housing and
counseling for chronically homeless veterans with disabilities including
mental disease and addiction.
"There will be
absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs,"
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said.
capped nearly a week of complaints from veterans advocates who learned
about the change on a three-hour conference call last Friday and
immediately voiced their concerns.
"Not a single
person spoke in support of VA's action in any way, shape or form," said
Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities, who serves on an
advisory board at the agency.
Even a top official
at HUD who spoke on the call "vocalized his strong concern" with the
shift, Harig-Blaine said. The HUD official said his department had not
not consulted prior to the VA decision.
"The VA's central
office made this decision and they talked to nobody," said Mark Walker, a
deputy director of the American Legion who is an expert on veteran
homelessness policy. "Everyone is left saying, 'Can we get some
sent advocates searching for a way to change the policy. Letters were
written, calls were placed and eventually they approached reporters with
Shortly after news outlets, including Politico and The Washington Post,
reported the change, the administration reversed course and issued a
short statement from HUD, which promised "we will not be shifting any
homeless program money" and a six-month period of public input "on how
best to target our funding."
The decision to
shift funding from the HUD-VASH program to a general fund at the
discretion of local VA officials was especially surprising because the
program is widely respected. It "has been a game changer" as veteran
homelessness has dropped in recent years, said Walker.
applauded the program just days before the conference call when he and
HUD Secretary Ben Carson visited a HUD-VASH facility in Washington. He
noted the success of the facility, which houses 60 previously homeless
veterans, while recognizing that there is more work to be done, citing
the 409 veterans on the facility's waiting list.
"I can tell you we
are extraordinarily proud of what has been put together here to serve
our veterans and serve the broader homeless community," Carson said.
Then, when a
government report on homelessness was released Wednesday, Shulkin said
it showed the "joint community-based homelessness efforts are working in
most communities across the country." The report showed more than
40,000 veterans nationwide are homeless, a slight uptick over 2016
numbers largely due to a spike in the Los Angeles area, where the cost
of housing has skyrocketed.
A VA spokesman
declined requests from CNN to explain what had led Shulkin and the VA to
change positions on the HUD-VASH funding.
The decision means
that VA's portion of the program will continue. It provides the
counseling services, which advocates say is essential for the veterans
to stay in the HUD-funded housing.
"You've seen the
program working. You've seen the decrease in homelessness," said Walker
of the American Legion. "Let's keep the foot on the pedal, keep these
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Despite an email to airmen that
discussed the potential for enlisted members to fly combat aircraft, the
Air Force is now insisting that it is focused solely on studying how
Air Education and Training Command said
in a Thursday release that although its new Pilot Training Next program
will include some enlisted airmen, it is not intended to create
In the release, AETC said that the
program is meant to study how the Air Force can help people learn more
quickly and effectively, using immersive technologies such as virtual
and augmented reality. The program, scheduled to begin in February, will
include 15 officers and five enlisted airmen without college degrees.
The release from AETC comes just days
after an email surfaced online earlier this week suggesting that the
command was interested in using the program to gauge the potential for
enlisted airmen to learn to fly.
In the email, Second Air Force
commander Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy said that the program “will provide
data to the AETC commander on the potential for enlisted members to
train to fly modern combat aircraft.”
Leahy also said in the email that successful candidates in the six-month program will fly solo in T-6 trainers.
“Enlisted volunteers will be pioneers
in innovating Air Force aviator recruitment, selection and training
processes by demonstrating the potential of non-college graduates to
succeed in a rigorous pilot training environment,” Leahy said.
Lt. Col. Robert Vicars, the director
for the new program, said in the Thursday release from AETC that
enlisted participants will move on to their predetermined technical
training after the program, not undergraduate pilot training, like the
officer participants. An Air Force spokesperson did not make that
distinction in an interview earlier this week with Air Force Times.
“Selecting enlisted members to fill the
non-college student role is not intended to develop enlisted aviators,”
Vicars said. “In this selection model, we can pool the data to
determine what qualities, habits of mind and patterns of thought equal
success in the flying training environment. We are then able to filter
that data to develop simulators, apps and testing tools to pull in the
very best talent.”
AETC commander Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast
said that the program focused on pilot training because of the urgency
involved with that career field. The Air Force is struggling with an
alarming shortfall in its pilot ranks that has prompted it to roll out a
wide variety of initiatives to correct it.
“However, our focus is on how airmen
learn, not necessarily what they learn, exploring technology and how
that technology can produce better and faster learning,” Kwast said.
Vicars said that AETC wants to build an “intelligent tutor” that monitors students and learns how better to teach them.
“It will track their biometrics and
understand the stress level they are under to optimize the learning
environment for the individual and put them under the right amount of
stress to create learning,” Vicars said.
AETC decided to specifically include
enlisted airmen who hadn’t graduated college to make sure the program
has a pool of students from a variety of different learning backgrounds.
The enlisted airmen chosen for the program will come from a pool of
airmen who recently completed basic training.
AETC said that the program seeks to revolutionize training and make “a more efficient path to pilots earning their wings.”
“If we do this right, and the students
learn all the functional competency sets, as well as key and critical
learning objectives and skills, then we would expect to be able to pin
wings on them,” Vicars said.
Shortly after President Trump announced
on Dec. 6 that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of
Israel, al Qaeda and its regional branches released several statements
decrying the move and inciting violence. Others, of course, are doing
the same. But al Qaeda launched its own media campaign targeted at
jihadists and possible sympathizers.
The general leadership of al Qaeda, which is part of the organization’s senior management, posted a statement online
that begins with a quote from Osama bin Laden. “I swear by Allah,
America and those who live in America shall never even dream of peace
until we experience it as a reality in Palestine,” bin Laden said.
Al Qaeda uses its
founder’s words, describing it as an “oath,” to emphasize America’s
supposed role as “the head of international disbelief.”
“It is the oath
of the martyr [bin Laden] of the Ummah who paved the way for a momentous
state in the Ummah’s history; a stage in which it became obvious that
the head of international disbelief, that is leading the war against
Islam and Muslims, violating their sanctities, plundering their wealth,
and supporting the Zionists and the tyrants of the Arabs and the Orient,
is none other than America,” al Qaeda’s statement reads.
leadership claims that the recognition of Jerusalem “as the capital of
the Zionist entity is a blatant aggression by the Crusader Trump against
the sanctities of Muslims – a high-voltage shock for the Muslim Ummah,
which may perhaps awaken from its slumber.”
outfit has long sought to tie the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to its
mission, even though the group has had little to do with it. Small
groups of al Qaeda loyalists have operated in Gaza and the West Bank,
but their operations have been minor. That could change in the future.
In any event, al Qaeda has consistently used Israel as a rhetorical
foil, portraying it as part of an imaginary Zionist-Crusader plot
against Muslims everywhere. This has been a consistent theme in the
organization’s propaganda since the 1990s.
And the jihadists are using America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in their attempt to spread this same idea.
“If we fail to
act — today rather than tomorrow — this aggression will be followed by
further resolutions, conferences, agreements threatening our very
existence as a Muslim Ummah and subjugating completely our Muslim World
to the Zionist-Crusader Alliance and its Rafidhi [Shiite] and apostate
allies of the Arabs,” the statement continues.
This, too, has
been a consistent part of al Qaeda’s messaging. The group papers over
all of the differences and conflicts within the Middle East to claim
that there is a grand alliance of not just the Jews and Crusaders, but
also including the Shiites of Iran and “apostate” Arab rulers. Of
course, there is no such coalition. And while the various wars raging
throughout the Middle East often make for strange bedfellows (for
example, the US and Iran have both fought the Islamic State in Iraq),
there is no grand conspiracy against Sunni Muslims.
For instance, al
Qaeda points to the Saudi regime as a central component of this supposed
scheme, even though the Saudis oppose Iranian expansion throughout the
“The Ummah must
recognize the fact that the Zionist-Crusader alliance would never have
mustered the courage to ridicule Muslims so arrogantly had it not
secured itself first by ensuring the complete submission of the puppet
regimes — specifically the government of the Family of Saud — who are
responsible for paving the way to this crime,” the statement reads.
It is possible
that al Qaeda will plot attacks or other information operations in light
of the announcement, using it as a pretext for terror. Al Qaeda and its
branches have attempted to use controversial issues for their own
purposes in the past.
For instance, al Qaeda planned attacks against Jyllands-Posten,
a Danish newspaper, after it published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed
in 2005. Newly-released files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound
in May 2011 show that al Qaeda made this a priority, although its
plotting didn’t come to fruition. In one 2008 memo, Ayman al Zawahiri
relayed an order from bin Laden to the leaders of the Islamic State of
Iraq (ISI) to “focus” on the issue of the cartoons in their “speeches”
The purpose of
all these operations was to portray al Qaeda as a defender of Islam. So
it is conceivable that al Qaeda could do the same in the wake of this
week’s announcement. In the meantime, al Qaeda and its regional branches
are trying to exploit discontent over the issue.
In addition to al
Qaeda’s general leadership, AQAP, Shabaab, and AQIM have all released
statements inciting violence in response to the US announcement. Hay’at
Tahrir al Sham (HTS), which is the middle of a heated leadership dispute
with al Qaeda’s senior leaders, has also staged rallies in Idlib. Other
al Qaeda-linked ideologues — such as Sheikh Abdullah al Muhaysini,
Sheikh Abu Qatadah and Sheikh Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi — have all weighed
in. The Taliban has as well, claiming that the decision has “exposed”
America’s “colonialist face and declared enmity towards Islam,” as well
as its “support” policies “of occupation and colonization of Muslim
It remains to be seen if al Qaeda can follow through on its threats.
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With the Veteran’s Affairs initiative
to transition their electronic health records system from the current
VistA program to a new system implemented by health IT company Cerner,
officials hope to both make the agency interoperable with the Department of Defense’s
system and to kickstart their data center consolidation efforts.
“I think that data center consolidation
really needs to go hand-in-hand with this migration to the commercial
Cener product. That’s where there’s a real opportunity to save a lot of
money in the data center area. We’re spending a lot of money, but we can
get a huge return from a data center point of view,” said Government
Accountability Office director of IT management issues Dave Powner at a
recent hearing on the subject.
That cost, $10billion over 10 years to
be exact, represents the largest implementation of an electronic health
record system ever, according to Scott Blackburn, acting CIO of the VA.
If successful, the change would enable servicemembers to keep the same
health record while transitioning from active service to retirement and
prevent doctors from needing to fill out duplicative information about
“Our new electronic health records
system will enable VA to keep pace with the improvements in health IT
and cybersecurity, which the current system, VistA, is unable to do,”
Though the VA’s IT initiatives as a
whole received a B+ on the most recent Federal Information Technology
Acquisition Reform Act scorecard, which measures agency success at
implementing a variety of IT initiatives and best practices, the agency
received a failing grade in data center consolidation.
According to a recent GAO report
the VA reported a total inventory of 415 data centers, of which 39 had
been closed as of August 2017 and 10 more were scheduled to be closed by
the end of the 2018 fiscal year.
“They fall far short of [the Office of
Management and Budget’s] goals on closures, savings and also with the
optimization metrics,” said Powner.
According to Powner, many of the agency’s data centers are already tied up in the current electronic healthcare system.
“We would like to get it down to 14
core data centers by the end of 2020. In addition to that, we would have
42 special purpose data centers,” said Blackburn.
According to John Windom, program
executive for electronic health records modernization at the VA, the
Cerner system has a data management hosting system called “Healthy
Intent,” which the agency plans to move data into and is similar to the
“That gives us, again, that seamless movement of data into DoD environments,” said Windom.
Initial deployment of the Cerner system
is expected to occur in the next 18 months, according to Powner, though
the complete transition will take longer.
“If we’re able to integrate DoD and VA,
the two largest healthcare providers in the world, then we’re going to
be able to integrate to every other system. So the VA is going to be
back to setting the curve and being on the cutting-edge,” said Rep. Will
Hurd, R-Texas. “This is the opportunity that we have here and if we
can’t do it in 10 years with $10billion then it’s never going to get
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Call it the “Pando Plunge.”
Army West Point senior quarterback Ahmad
Bradshaw’s 1-yard scoring dive with 5:10 to play, and the ensuing extra
point, gave the Black Knights a 14-13 victory Saturday in Philadelphia.
But the Mids didn’t go quietly: A missed 48-yard-field goal on the
game’s final play spoiled a standout performance by quarterback Malcolm
Perry and sent Navy to its second-straight rivalry-game loss.
Bradshaw finished with 94 rushing yards,
good enough for best on his team but far behind Perry’s 250-yard,
30-carry effort. The teams combined for three pass attempts, completing
two, with their already run-heavy offenses further grounded by the
As for his final, most meaningful yard of the game, Bradshaw said he had a much-needed assist.
“It was just a quarterback sneak,” said
the senior, who would raise the Commander in Chief’s Trophy after the
contest. “I felt myself kind of stop ... I felt Andy [Davidson, Army
running back] pick me up and kinda walk me into the end zone.”
Bradshaw completed the only pass he
threw, a 20-yard strike to junior Calen Holt, earlier in the drive.
Aside from a trio of pass attempts, both teams mounted ground assaults
that chewed up yards at an impressive clip: Army averaged more than 6
yards per carry.
“Obviously, a disappointing loss,” Navy
head coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the contest. “This is a great
rivalry, it was another classic game. Unfortunately for us, we were on
the short end of the stick.”
Decked out in all-white uniforms honoring
the “Pando Commandos” of the 10th Mountain Division, Army appeared
ready for the wintry clash. Junior Darnell Woolfork capped an 11-play,
68-yard, game-opening drive with 1-yard TD run up the middle to give
Army (9-3) a 7-0 lead.
Perry ran the ball nine times on Navy’s
first drive, which resulted in a field goal, but his first breakout came
on the Mids’ second possession. Down 7-3 and facing a third down in
Navy territory, Perry started to his left, but saw his blocking
collapse. He paused, cut right and darted 68 yards for Navy’s first
“My performance isn’t satisfying unless
we win,” Perry said. “We put ourselves in a position to possibly win the
game and we didn’t. We made too many mistakes.”
The offenses stalled for the rest of the
half; after an Army punt early in the third quarter, Perry was at it
again, this time rattling off a 46-yard run on second down to bring the
Mids to the Army 11. Senior captain John Voit made the TD-saving tackle,
barely, but the Black Knights would allow a field goal to go down 13-7.
“I think I got enough [of him so] he tripped, or slipped in the snow,” Voit said. “Thank God he went down.”
Army’s ensuing drive resulted in a missed
field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, but Navy couldn’t
answer, going three plays and out.
That set up a 13-play, 65-yard drive led
by Bradshaw, who pushed his way into the end zone on a third-down run. A
delayed signal by the officials sent the Army fans among the crowd of
more than 68,000 into a frenzy, and a Blake Wilson extra point put the
score at 14-13.
Perry again took the bulk of the carries
on the Mids’ final drive, including a fourth-down conversion in Army
territory with about two minutes to play. That 12-yard run gave Navy a
first down at Army’s 25-yard line.
Then came a collapse. A game with few
penalties would end with this Navy offensive sequence: false start,
2-yard run, false start and 0-yard gain by Perry, mostly to get the ball
near the center of the field for a three-point try with three seconds
“In a close game, it is the team that doesn’t make mistakes” that wins, Niumatalolo said, “and those penalties hurt us.”
Navy kicker Bennett Moehring, who’d hit
from 28 and 24 yards already, was wide left and a bit short on his kick.
The miss handed the Black Knights their first Commander in Chief’s
trophy since 1996 and their first back-to-back rivalry wins since
Army next faces San Diego State in the
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23. Navy will host Virginia in
Annapolis for the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman on Dec.
NOTES: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
performed the coin toss. ... Perry fell shy of Eddie Meyers’ record for
rushing yards in an Army-Navy game; the Mid had 278 yards in 1979. ...
Bradshaw added to his single-season Army rushing record, which now sits
at 1,566 yards.
He should snap the service-academy single-season mark, which stands at
1,587 yards (Napoleon McCallum, Navy, 1983) in Army’s bowl game. ...
Army hadn’t won back-to-back rivalry games since 1995-96, which is also
the last year the Black Knights won the Commander in Chief’s Trophy.