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Sharing VA Successes, Pushing for More

Snow was falling and the roads were iced over when House of Representatives Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) was in Arkansas earlier this month. That didn’t stop us from showing the Chairman around our veterans’ facilities in Little Rock and meeting with officials at the Veterans Day Treatment Center, the St. Francis House and John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital so we could share some of our success stories and discuss ways we can improve our veterans’ services.

I was particularly eager to show Chairman Miller the unique and effective ways that our mental health professionals are helping Arkansas’s veterans. Dr. Kevin Reeder, the clinical consultant for the Residential Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Program of the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS) briefed us on a new form of therapy called prolonged exposure. This innovative program, along with other therapies offered at CAVHS, was recently featured on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Based off therapies that physical or sexual abuse survivors undergo, prolonged exposure forces a veteran suffering from PTSD to remember every detail of what he or she has tried to forget. Mental health professionals are using it, along with other therapies like Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), where the focus is on the impact the trauma has on the life and beliefs of the impacted veteran, to help our veterans cope with PTSD in a more effective manner.

Prescription drug abuse is one area that Chairman Miller and I pressed CAVHS to focus considerable attention. In a well-intentioned effort to help veterans manage long-term pain, the military and the VA are creating dependencies on prescription drugs with the over-prescription of pain medications. Local law enforcement will attest to the additional problems this creates as these narcotics often make their way onto the black market in our communities.

Professionals at CAVHS are taking steps to reduce the reliance upon pain medication. In some cases, doctors are using injections, like cortisone shots, instead. CAVHS is limiting prescriptions, instilling tough steps to ensure patients don’t “doctor shop” for prescriptions and focusing on overall health, teaching proper nutrition and offering exercise programs like yoga. All of these steps can yield positive results. The end goal is to promote a quality, productive life for our veterans, without relying on prescription drugs.

We are trying to help address this problem in Washington. I am cosponsoring a bill in the Senate that would create a prescription drug take-back program for members of the Armed Forces and veterans. Drug take-back programs are common sense efforts that offer a safe option to dispose of old or unneeded medications.

We are grateful that Chairman Miller took the time to visit Little Rock. It was an excellent opportunity to showcase some of our success stories in Arkansas. From the efforts to help veterans overcome substance abuse, find gainful employment and temporary housing at the Day Treatment Center in downtown Little Rock and the St. Francis House to the innovative medical programs offered by CAVHS, we have a great deal to highlight. More work remains to be done to ensure Arkansas’s veterans receive the best services available and Chairman Miller can be a very powerful ally in these efforts.

My office stands ready help to help Arkansas veterans having trouble navigating the bureaucracy and getting assistance with claims. Please contact me at (479) 573-0189 for more information.

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