Sunday, May 28, 2017

Service Dogs Help Vets With PTSD

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune Photos

Many vets returning from combat have difficulties coping with what they experienced.  Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of shame associated with seeking mental health services in the military. This prevents numerous vets from seeking the help they need leading to untold suffering and poor quality of life.  This is especially troubling given that we have a new generation of combat vets, the first to be engaged in a long-term conflict since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, who may be silently hurting.

With the end of Iraq war, our veterans returned to an appreciative country, and while they may have survived physically, they may not have fully done so psychologically.  For some of these vets, reconnecting with their small children may be a problem since in Iraq if they saw a mother and child their first thought involved whether she was carrying explosives.  Some may be experiencing survivor guilt, unable to understand why others were killed and not them, or anger at what they had been forced to do.  Some vets can’t reconnect to friends since they saw too many peers killed and don’t want to experience the pain of losing someone else they care about.  Some can’t reconnect to anyone because they feel that while others may care, none of them can know or relate o what they encountered during the war. For many of these, such problems are just one part of a much larger picture.
Of those vets who fought in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, it has been estimated that 25 percent are suffering from PTSD.  This has also been said to be a gross underestimate, as it’s recognized that numerous vets who experience mental health problems do not seek help.  Even many of those diagnosed with PTSD do not follow through on recommended treatment.  In fact, it has been determined that as many as 60 percent of those identified as suffering from PTSD do not begin recommended therapy or drop out soon after beginning therapy.  This amounts to a huge number of our vets who are in pain and not getting the help they need.
K-9 for Veteran Warriors, a Chicago based organization, recognizes that many vets with mental health difficulties don’t pursue therapy or feel that it doesn’t always help with all the problems soon enough to prevent premature termination.  They have begun a program which matches specially trained dogs they get from no kill shelters with veterans suffering from PTSD.  The program takes into account the vets lifestyle including whether they live in an apartment or house, in town or a rural area  how active they are.

The dogs are selected in part because a calm and eager to learn temperament.  They are also chosen because they show evidence of empathy.  These amazing animals actually sense when the vet is beginning to experiencing anxiety and do things to help decrease it.  One vet who has been matched with one of these animals, an Iraqi war veteran who served in the Navy for 7 years before joining the Illinois National Guard which was deployed to Iraq, says the dog he was given has changed his life.  

When he talks about his war experiences in group therapy, the dog stands protectively nearby.  He says that she also prevents him from self-isolating since he has to walk her and that she has made it possible for him to go into crowded places again when she is with him.  When feeling the stress of heavy traffic the dog puts her head on his shoulder.  His wife is also thankful to the dog for helping her husband begin taking care of himself as the result of the responsibility of taking care of her needs.  “We’ve got an adorable little blonde at home that I don’t have to worry about,” his wife said.

The vet also credits the free three week intensive program at the Center for Veterans and Their Families at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, with helping decrease his problems related to the war.  But he added that nothing helped more that the energetic golden retriever/mastiff mix with whom he was gifted.

Those interested in these programs can find out more through the links below.

K-9 for Veteran Warriors - The mission of the program is to place service dogs to help veterans cope with PTSD so they can live happy and productive lives after their military career ends. They also provide free food and medical care for the life of the dog.

The Road Home Program, Rush Medical University -  The Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is a full-spectrum, three-week treatment program that connects veterans to individualized care for trauma-based disorders and injury.  The program is open to all veterans of any era.  Veterans need not live in Chicago to apply.  Food, lodging and travel expenses for veterans and one family member or significant other will be provided. In some circumstances, the program may be able to help cover other expenses incurred during the three week stay.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Psychology of Party Politics and Impeachment

Consider the current question of the contact between Russia and the Trump campaign. We know there was contact and we even know that sensitive information was discussed, as in the sanctions put in place by Obama against the Russians. We know the Russians, by their own admission, sought to get Trump elected over Clinton. We currently have no absolute evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as far as interfering in the election.

But, what if there was in fact collusion?  What if the current President did conspire with a foreign power in order to become elected president? And not just any foreign power but a foreign power with nuclear missiles aimed at us 24 hours a day since the 1950's. If collusion, was proven how hard would it actually be to impeach  the ?  It would, by all accounts, be extremely difficult to do and would certainly cause horrendous disruption in the country but treason is treason.  

Yet, even with evidence, why do most say it would be nearly impossible to even start the impeachment ball rolling?  The answer is clearly seen every time there is a State of the Union Address.  Ever notice there is something odd about the frequent standing ovations the President always receives?  Specifically, I refer to how most of the standing ovations of the night include only one half of the room or the other.  When the President says something that the Republicans back, the half of the room comprised of Republicans gets to their feet while the other half of the room applauds politely.  When a comment that is supported by the Democrats is made this outcome reverses.  No one really believes that there would a motion or proposal that 100% of the Republicans and 0% of the Democrats support or vice versa, such that this can only reflect party politics.  

The same thing applies to impeachment.  The United States constitution sets up strict requirements for removal of a sitting president for transgressions of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  It requires, however, that both the House and two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of impeachment.  Given that impeachment is a political act and the Constitution does not set down any specifics as to under what conditions a President must be removed from office, Impeachment remains in the hands of Congress.  Congress is unlikely to act unless they decide it is in their best interests.  As the Republican Party controls both the House and Senate, they are highly unlikely to try to impeach their own President as it would only hurt them and the Republican Party to do so, also likely ensuring the winner of the next election will be a Democrat.    

For this to happen, several conditions would have to be present. There would need to be solid, irrefutable proof of criminal wrongdoing by the president. This proof would have to be so undeniable that the support Trump currently has would turn against him, making it impossible for the Republicans to fail to impeach him.  Essentially, the Republicans would have to perceive Trump’s continued presidency to be more harmful to them than his removal would be.  At this point there is nothing that approaches this criteria.  Additionally, Trump’s approval ratings would have to be extremely low, before the Republicans began to perceive impeachment they have a mandate for impeachment. Yet with the recent firing of the FBI director and Trump’s approval ratings dropping off significantly, impeachment may be becoming increasingly likely.

This is exactly what Alexander Hamilton was concerned about in Federalist Paper # 65.  In this paper, Hamilton acknowledges that having a political body be the ones to act as a court regarding impeachment proceedings is less than ideal.  He argued this due to the fact that in a bipartisan system, the body responsible for impeachment proceedings would have a majority of one party or the other.  Thus, the decision of whether to prosecute the President would likely be politically based not based on justice.  

While Hamilton recognized that any Government would have small imperfections in terms of handling every problematic situation that arose, it appears that the system of impeaching a President is more than a small imperfection.  It seems that when Congress and the President have the same party affiliation there is practically nothing the President can do that will result in impeachment while when party affiliation differs impeachment proceedings might be attempted to embarrass the other party or get the President out of office despite no true wrongdoing.  This means impeachment has become a weapon to use by Congress against a President of a different political party or as a means of protection allowing a President to stretch the limits of Constitutional authority without repercussion.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

New Study Shows Cannabis Reverses Aging in the Brain

In a monumental new study, conducted through a joint effort at the University of Bonn with researchers from The Hebrew University, Cannabis was shown to reverse aging processes in the brains of mice.  Old animals that showed memory loss and other brain related problems due to age were given low doses of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient of Cannabis.  The treated mice were shown to regress to a state that would be seen in two month old mice.

In this study, aging mice aged 12 and 18 months old were given a low daily dose of (THC).  After only four weeks, the treated mice displayed behavioral signs indicating a reversal of aging related cognitive impairments including learning and memory and learning difficulties.  When examining the brain tissue of treated mice on a genetic level, they determined the behavioral changes reflected real neurological changes at a molecular level.  Conversely, the mice who received placebos continued to display age related declines in performance reflecting the normal aging process.

Human trials are not yet in the works, as more animal studies need to be done to determine safety of long term use of the agent and potential undiscovered side effects. Additionally given the low dose used for this study, it appears using Cannabis for recreation will not improve memory.  At the same time earlier studies have demonstrated that cannabis is effective at decreasing brain inflammation while improving cognition and can help to control chronic pain.

While human trials may be a long time in coming, the findings from this study may bring us one step closer to understanding and treating normal and abnormal aging related changes to the brain. Subsequent research could eventually open up a range of new options for treating and possibly reversing brain aging in humans.  Should support be found for the use of the active agent in Cannabis for aging related memory problems, it could provide hope for those suffering from dementia, most cases of which are currently progressive and irreversible.  The study is published in the May issue of Nature Medicine.