Why Dr. David Shulkin is exactly what the VA ordered
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For every suicide committed by a veteran under the care of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, there are two vets not under VA care. 

That, according to President Donald Trump’s appointee to head the VA – Dr. David Shulkin – is a top priority of his new job.

“Losing,” Dr. Shulkin told U.S. Senators, “even one veteran to suicide is unacceptable, which is why suicide prevention is a top priority at VA.”

Dr. Shulkin’s nomination surprised many for the simple reason that he was already serving as the VA’s Undersecretary of Health appointed by and serving under – President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama offers support for UK after Manchester attack OPINION: Trump's budget will supercharge America's economy Budget chief: Trump won't continue Obama's ‘crazy’ spending on climate MORE.

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President Obama brought him in to rescue the VA from impotence and bad management. Veterans were dying every day because they couldn’t get treatment from the 360,000 employee VA. It is one of the largest health organizations in the world.

 

The entire U.S. Senate, all 100 Senators, voted to confirm Dr. Shulkin as President Trump’s VA Secretary.

He is responding in kind. So is Congress.

The VA, he says, provides “a different model of care, which treats the physical along with the psychological, the social and the economic aspects of health, all of which contribute to the well-being of the patient.”

Perhaps VA Secretary Shulkin is embarking the department on a new treatment paradigm, a paradigm of more treatment, more effective treatment, new treatments all under a new management.

Further he says, “We (the VA) should focus on the things veterans need us to focus on and work with companies that know how to do (health systems) better than we do.”

Perhaps the best known phrase that came out of our decade-long Vietnam War experience was – THE “THOUSAND YARD STARE.” It is a blank look that manifests a detachment from surroundings and people that chills witnesses.

There is a large population of veterans that have served in combat that have “thousand yard” stares; mental health professionals have attached a name to the stare and what it represents: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, “PTSD.”

The VA estimates that as many as 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans suffer from “PTSD.” Vietnam Era vets, now in their 60s and 70s require more and more treatment by the VA health system. No one can even guess how many Iraq/Afghanistan vets suffer from “PTSD.”

Can the VA handle a “crush” of new “PTSD” sufferers that need treatment? There isn’t a “pill” that treats “PTSD.” Other means must be used. There aren’t enough mental health professionals to work with such veterans, nor enough dollars to fund them. The VA employs over a third of a million people, how many more can it hire?

Physical and mental trauma experienced daily by many Americans also causes PTSD, not just war.

Good news. A new treatment is inching its way into treatment for “PTSD” and no, it isn’t yoga or meditation at a Tibetan monastery. Can the VA use this new treatment to help thousands of PTSD victims?

Speaking as a “rough, tough” former United States Marine any treatment that includes music, meditation, relaxation and soft lighting seems “touchy and feely” but…there is evidence a high tech combination of all those items seem to help some people with PTSD.

Dr, Shulkin: It’s called “Blue Room” therapy. One might say it is a form of “safe space.” The treatment is non-invasive, requires no special clothing, or professional treatment by doctors or psychologists and only takes 20 minutes a session.

One wonders why the VA isn’t using the technique in heavy veteran lived-in areas like California, Texas, et al. Is it cost or lack of desire? Dr. Shulkin has himself announced that the two worst areas of VA treatment efficiency is in Tennessee and Texas. That’s where this treatment should be implemented immediately.

Results of “Blu Room” use is the true test of the treatment not cost. Dale Vaughn is a Vietnam veteran who has suffered from nightmares for years. He has been formally diagnosed with PTSD.

Another vet, Cynthia Williams-Patnoe, served as a pilot in Afghanistan; her problem was not caused by combat but by a pickup truck that hit her causing brain trauma that required extensive physical and speech therapy treatments.

Both of these vets say they have benefited from Blu Room treatment. Studies from UCLA and John Hopkins University suggest positive results from such treatments, touchy feely or not.

Dr. Shulkin believes that the VA needs to go outside for private enterprise solutions and treatments; so do we. 

Budgets, desire and new treatments are the metrics we need to handle the coming deluge of Iraq and Afghanistan vets with PTSD -- they need Dr. Shulkin and us to help them. ###

Contreras is the author of The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and A Trillion Dollars in Trade and Murder in the Mountains: War Crime at Khojaly, both published by Floricanto Press and his work was formerly distributed by the New York Times Syndicate.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.