Archives for June 2015

Wheelchair Vets Roll into Dallas for Annual Games

men racing in wheelchairs around a track

 

It’s time for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. This year, in Dallas.

The Games are presented each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) with additional support from numerous corporate and community sponsors.

VA North Texas Health Care System (VANTHCS) is hosting the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) in and around Dallas from June 21 through June 26.

Benefits to the Mind

The purpose of the NVWG is to provide Veterans with physical disabilities an introductory experience to a variety of wheelchair sports, and expose them to the numerous organized wheelchair sports and recreation activities available nationwide.

The Games serve to encourage Veterans to become aware of their abilities and potential while promoting a spirit of healthy activity and camaraderie.

Benefits to the Body

The NVWG clearly demonstrate the therapeutic value of sports and competition. As presenters of the event, PVA and VA are committed to improving the quality of life for Veterans with disabilities and fostering better health through sports competition.

While past Games have produced a number of national and world-class champions, most importantly, the event provides an opportunity for newly-injured Veterans to gain the knowledge and experience necessary for active lifestyles at home “free” from the perceived confines of their wheelchair.

Benefits to the Spirit

Since the Wheelchair Games began in 1981, thousands of disabled Veterans have enjoyed the health benefits provided by sports participation and have revitalized the spirit of competition within themselves. Veterans new to the Games realize quickly that they are part of a large and supportive community and through these relationships are encouraged to go further than they think they can.

Began After World War II

The NVWG are an outgrowth of VA’s historic involvement in wheelchair sports. Wheelchair sports had their beginning in the aftermath of World War II, when young disabled Veterans began playing wheelchair basketball in VA hospitals throughout the United States. Interest in wheelchair basketball soon spread to other sports such as track and field, bowling, swimming, and archery, spawning the formation of several associations devoted to new and innovative wheelchair sports.

While the participation of paralyzed and other disabled Veterans continued to flourish during the intervening years, it was not until 1980, when VA established a Recreation Therapy Service, that VA’s efforts brought about an enhanced awareness of the rehabilitative value of wheelchair athletics. Since then, VA therapists have used wheelchair sports as a therapeutic tool for treating Veterans with disabilities.

The first National Veterans Wheelchair Games was held in 1981, the “International Year of Disabled Persons,” at the VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va. That year, 74 veterans from 14 states competed in sports ranging from table tennis and billiards, to swimming and weightlifting. Over the next 35 years, the event has grown to be the largest annual rehabilitation and wheelchair sports program in the world.

Strong Sense of Common Identity and Camaraderie

Those first Games established an enduring trait that has characterized the event ever since, a strong sense of common identity and camaraderie among the participants. The hundreds of Veterans who choose to compete in the games each year demonstrate their continuing popularity.

In 1987, 12 British military Veterans were invited to participate in the Games and a team from Great Britain has come every year since. After that first year, the British athletes formed a new disabled sports group, The British Ex-Services Wheelchair Sports Association. This group extended the philosophy behind the NVWG to the rest of the world, hosting International Veterans Wheelchair Games in Great Britain in 1994, 1996, and 1999.

At the Games, Veterans compete in:

  • 9-Ball
  • Air Guns
  • Archery
  • Basketball
  • Boccia
  • Bowling
  • Handcycling
  • Field Events
  • Motor Rally  Power Soccer
  • Quad Rugby
  • Slalom
  • Softball
  • Swimming
  • Table Tennis
  • Track
  • Trapshooting
  • Weightlifting

Thanks to Our Volunteers

To accommodate the needs of the athletes, more than 3,000 local volunteers are required to assist with all aspects of the Games, from helping with transportation, event setup, water distribution, assistance with meals, and numerous other activities that will help guarantee a successful event.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/June/Wheelchair-Vets-Roll-into-Dallas-for-Annual-Games.asp

VA Expands Disability Benefits for Air Force Personnel Exposed to Contaminated C-123 Aircraft








VA Expands Disability Benefits for Air Force Personnel Exposed to Contaminated C-123 Aircraft

June 18, 2015, 11:10:00 AM





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 VA Expands Disability Benefits for Air Force Personnel Exposed to Contaminated C-123 Aircraft


WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today published a new regulation that expands eligibility for some benefits for a select group of Air Force Veterans and Air Force Reserve personnel who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange through regular and repeated contact with contaminated C-123 aircraft that had been used in Vietnam as part of Operation Ranch Hand (ORH).


VA published this regulation as an interim final rule so that it could immediately begin providing benefits to eligible Air Force veterans and Air Force Reserve personnel who submit a disability compensation claim for any of the 14 medical conditions that have been determined by VA to be related to exposure to Agent Orange.


Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald made the decision to expand benefits following receipt of a 2015 report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM) on Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft. This VA-requested report found evidence that as many as 1,500 to 2,100 Air Force and Air Force Reserve personnel who served as flight, medical and ground maintenance crew members on ORH C-123 aircraft previously used to spray Agent Orange in Vietnam were exposed to the herbicide.


“Opening up eligibility for this deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists is the right thing to do,” said Secretary McDonald. “We thank the IOM for its thorough review that provided the supporting evidence needed to ensure we can now fully compensate any former crew member who develops an Agent Orange-related disability.”


Under this new rule, Air Force and Air Force Reserve flight, medical and ground maintenance crewmembers who served on the contaminated ORH C-123s are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides during their service, thus making it easier for them to establish entitlement for some VA benefits if they develop an Agent Orange-related presumptive condition. In addition, for affected Air Force Reserve crew members, VA will presume that their Agent Orange-related condition had its onset during their Reserve training. This change ensures that these reservists are eligible for VA disability compensation and medical care for any Agent Orange-related presumptive condition, and that their surviving dependents are eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation and burial benefits.


The interim final rule can be found on the Federal Register: www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection. VA will immediately begin processing claims and issuing benefits to eligible Air Force crew members.


VA encourages reservists who were assigned to flight, ground or medical crew duties at Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Ohio (906th  and 907th Tactical Air Groups or 355th and 356th Tactical Airlift Squadron), Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts (731st Tactical Air Squadron and 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron) or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, International Airport ( 758th Airlift Squadron) during the period 1969 to 1986, and developed an Agent Orange-related disability to file a disability compensation claim online through the joint VA-Department of Defense web portal, eBenefits (https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/).


VA also has identified several active duty locations where ORH C-123 aircraft may have been used following their service in Vietnam. Active duty personnel who served in a regular USAF unit location where a contaminated C-123 was assigned and who had regular and repeated contact with the aircraft through flight, ground or medical duties during the period 1969 to 1986, and who develop an Agent Orange-related disability, also are encouraged to apply for benefits. For more information on applying for these benefits, including the affected units, Air Force Specialty Codes and dates of service for affected crew members, and a listing of Agent Orange-related conditions, visit www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/agentorange-c123.asp.


In order to avoid unnecessary delay of benefits, claimants should annotate “(C-123)” after each Agent Orange related disability in Part II, Block 14 of VA Form 21-526 or Section I, Block 11 of VA


Form VA Form 21-526EZ when filing on eBenefits.  Example: Diabetes (C-123).  If claimants have any of the following documents, they should be attached to their application:


  • Discharge, separation papers,  (DD214 or equivalent)

  • USAF Form 2096 (unit where assigned at the time of the training action)

  • USAF Form 5 (aircraft flight duties)

  • USAF Form 781 (aircraft maintenance duties)

  • Dependency records (marriage & children’s birth certificates)

  • Medical evidence (doctor & hospital reports)


VA will process all claims related to C-123 exposure at the St. Paul, Minnesota, VA Regional Office.  Claims not filed through eBenefits should be mailed to the following address (or faxed to 608-373-6694):


Department of Veterans Affairs


Claims Intake Center


Attention: C123 Claims


PO Box 5088


Janesville, WI 53547-5088


Individuals with specific benefit questions related to herbicide exposure on C-123s may call VA’s special C-123 Hotline at 1-800-749-8387 (available 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. EST) or e-mail VSCC123.VAVBASPL@va.gov.




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Source Article from http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/PressArtInternet.cfm?id=2714

Hundreds of Veterans to Participate in National Veterans Wheelchair Games








Hundreds of Veterans to Participate in National Veterans Wheelchair Games

June 17, 2015, 11:50:00 AM





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  Hundreds of Veterans to Participate in National Veterans Wheelchair Games


Largest Wheelchair Sporting Event Provides Therapeutic Benefit to Disabled U.S. Veterans


 


WASHINGTON – More than 600 of America’s best wheelchair athletes, all disabled U.S. military Veterans, are arriving in Dallas, Texas, for the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games being held there June 21–26, 2015. The Wheelchair Games is occurring this year during the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) “Summer of Service,” an initiative designed to build upon existing partnerships to grow the number of individuals and organizations serving Veterans in their communities.


“The Wheelchair Games is a great example of courage and athleticism,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “If you want to see grit, determination and some of the finest athletes on the planet, this week in Dallas is the place to do it.  These Veterans have overcome obstacles, they’ve trained, they’ve persevered, and now they’re ready to compete on the world’s stage.”


VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America present the Games each year. The multi-event sports rehabilitation program is open to U.S. military Veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological problems, and who receive care at VA medical facilities or military treatment centers.


“For 35 years now the National Veterans Wheelchair Games have provided a venue for veterans to experience the life-changing power of adaptive sports,” said Al Kovach Jr., national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “We’re proud to partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs each year to present the Games, and encourage the Dallas community to come out and support our veteran athletes.”


VA research and clinical experience verify that physical activity is important to maintaining good health, speeding recovery and improving overall quality of life. For many injured Veterans, the Games provide their first exposure to wheelchair athletics. Veterans competing in the Games come from nearly every state, as well as Puerto Rico and Great Britain.


Opening ceremonies will be held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Main Arena, 650 S. Griffin St., where many of the week’s competitive events will be held. The closing ceremonies will be held at the Sheraton Downtown Dallas Ballroom, 400 N. Olive St.  Other events will be held at Southern Methodist University, Victory Plaza, Fair Park, McKinnish Park, Ellis County Sportsman Club and many more venues around the Dallas metroplex.


For a complete schedule of events and additional information about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games visit www.wheelchairgames.org. For more information about the Summer of Service initiative, visit www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2706.


 


# # #


Media Inquiries:        Jordan Schupbach, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, jordan.schupbach@va.gov, (202) 664-3733 or  Lani Poblete, Paralyzed Veterans of America, lanip@pva.org, (202) 412-1709





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VA Partners with Richmond International Raceway to Increase Veterans’ Access to Benefits








VA Partners with Richmond International Raceway to Increase Veterans’ Access to Benefits

June 16, 2015, 07:56:00 AM





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 VA Partners with Richmond International Raceway to Increase Veterans’ Access to Benefits


 


RICHMOND, Va. – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced a partnership with the Richmond International Raceway (RIR) to promote greater access and awareness to VA benefits and services at the upcoming NASCAR races on Sept. 11 and 12 in Richmond.  The partnership with RIR is part of VA’s “Summer of Service” initiative designed to encourage and grow the number of individuals and organizations serving Veterans in their communities.


As part of a series of activities beginning this summer to reach Veterans, Servicemembers and their families, VA will honor past and present military members during the Pole Qualifying and Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. VA’s Mobile Vet Center will be onsite with a team of health and benefits experts who can answer Veterans’ questions, share information and help Veterans and family members’ access VA benefits and services. As part of the collaboration, RIR will offer Veterans and their families a 70-percent discount on tickets for the Sept. 11 race, as well as their traditional military discount on tickets for the Sept. 12 race.


“The best way to reach Veterans is to involve partners that engage Veterans in the communities where they live,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “Through innovative partnerships like this and our Summer of Service initiative, we have the opportunity to reach Veterans and their families who may not realize they are entitled to VA benefits and services or who may not know where to go for assistance,” said McDonald.


Prior to the Richmond race, VA and RIR will hold a “Driving VA Benefits and Services Home” event Sept. 10 at the Richmond VA Medical Center featuring NASCAR drivers, RIR representatives, VA benefits and services outreach staff, and a NASCAR  pace car.  These outreach events are part of the larger MyVA initiative, which is dedicated to improving the Veteran experience and increasing customer-service access points in communities where Veterans live.


“Richmond International Raceway is proud to partner with such an important organization as the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said RIR President, Dennis Bickmeier. “NASCAR is a very patriotic sport, and we pride ourselves on supporting the men and women who have served and are currently serving our country.  There’s no better way to do that than by partnering with VA to set the field for the Federated Auto Parts 400 ‘Last Race to Make the Chase.’”


These outreach activities at NASCAR events expands VA’s community footprint and increases awareness of benefits and services available to Veterans, Servicemembers and their families.  As the number one spectator sport in the country, NASCAR has more than 75 million race fans, one third of which are active duty Servicemembers or Veterans.


In addition to the upcoming RIR activities, VA participated in six other NASCAR events and will conduct outreach at three more during the remaining 2015 race season. VA’s health and benefits experts will be onsite to bring VA benefits and services directly into the community. Look for VA at Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 15-16), Darlington Raceway (Sept. 5-6) and Chicagoland Speedway (Sept. 18-20).


For more information about tickets and to learn more about the September RIR event, visit www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/nascar-outreach.


 


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VA Partners with Richmond International Raceway to Increase Veterans’ Access to Benefits








VA Partners with Richmond International Raceway to Increase Veterans’ Access to Benefits

June 16, 2015, 11:52:00 AM





Printable Version




 VA Partners with Richmond International Raceway to Increase Veterans’ Access to Benefits


 


RICHMOND, Va. – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced a partnership with the Richmond International Raceway (RIR) to promote greater access and awareness to VA benefits and services at the upcoming NASCAR races on Sept. 11 and 12 in Richmond.  The partnership with RIR is part of VA’s “Summer of Service” initiative designed to encourage and grow the number of individuals and organizations serving Veterans in their communities.


As part of a series of activities beginning this summer to reach Veterans, Servicemembers and their families, VA will honor past and present military members during the Pole Qualifying and Federal Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. VA’s Mobile Vet Center will be onsite with a team of health and benefits experts who can answer Veterans’ questions, share information and help Veterans and family members’ access VA benefits and services. As part of the collaboration, RIR will offer Veterans and their families a 70-percent discount on tickets for the Sept. 11 race, as well as their traditional military discount on tickets for the Sept. 12 race.


“The best way to reach Veterans is to involve partners that engage Veterans in the communities where they live,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “Through innovative partnerships like this and our Summer of Service initiative, we have the opportunity to reach Veterans and their families who may not realize they are entitled to VA benefits and services or who may not know where to go for assistance,” said McDonald.


Prior to the Richmond race, VA and RIR will hold a “Driving VA Benefits and Services Home” event Sept. 10 at the Richmond VA Medical Center featuring NASCAR drivers, RIR representatives, VA benefits and services outreach staff, and a NASCAR  pace car.  These outreach events are part of the larger MyVA initiative, which is dedicated to improving the Veteran experience and increasing customer-service access points in communities where Veterans live.


“Richmond International Raceway is proud to partner with such an important organization as the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said RIR President, Dennis Bickmeier. “NASCAR is a very patriotic sport, and we pride ourselves on supporting the men and women who have served and are currently serving our country.  There’s no better way to do that than by partnering with VA to set the field for the Federated Auto Parts 400 ‘Last Race to Make the Chase.’”


These outreach activities at NASCAR events expands VA’s community footprint and increases awareness of benefits and services available to Veterans, Servicemembers and their families.  As the number one spectator sport in the country, NASCAR has more than 75 million race fans, one third of which are active duty Servicemembers or Veterans.


In addition to the upcoming RIR activities, VA participated in six other NASCAR events and will conduct outreach at three more during the remaining 2015 race season. VA’s health and benefits experts will be onsite to bring VA benefits and services directly into the community. Look for VA at Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 15-16), Darlington Raceway (Sept. 5-6) and Chicagoland Speedway (Sept. 18-20).


For more information about tickets and to learn more about the September RIR event, visit www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/nascar-outreach.


 


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VA Campaign Encourages Public to Help Raise PTSD Awareness








VA Campaign Encourages Public to Help Raise PTSD Awareness

June 15, 2015, 01:35:00 PM





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 VA Campaign Encourages Public to Help Raise PTSD Awareness


 


WASHINGTON – As the country recognizes Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, the VA National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD) is inviting the public to participate in its “PTSD Awareness: June 2015” campaign, which began June 1. This year’s goal is to help more Veterans, their families, caregivers and community members understand what PTSD is and know that there are specific treatments that can help improve and save lives.


“Raising PTSD awareness is essential to overcoming the myth, misinformation and stigma that too often prevents Veterans from seeking help,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “VA is one of the largest integrated mental health systems in the United States that provides specialized treatment for PTSD, so we know that care works. We encourage everyone to join us in this important effort to share important information about PTSD and help Veterans receive care they need.”


This year’s campaign focuses on online materials and encourages the general public to “learn, connect, and share” to raise PTSD awareness. Anyone can “learn” how PTSD treatment can help, “connect” by reaching out to someone, and “share” what they learn by spreading the word.


June 27 also has been designated by VA as PTSD Awareness Day for the fourth consecutive year. For more information on PTSD and the ways to raise awareness throughout the year, professionals and members of the public can visit the National Center for PTSD website, www.ptsd.va.gov/about/PTSD-awareness/. This site offers resources such as:


  • PTSD Coach Online and the award-winning PTSD Coach mobile app, which provide symptom-management strategies. The app is always with you when you need it.

  • Continuing Education (CE) and continuing medical education (CME) opportunities for providers, including PTSD 101 Courses, on the best practices in PTSD treatment (CEs/CMEs offered).

  • AboutFace:  An online video gallery of Veterans talking about PTSD and how treatment can turn your life around.

  • Whiteboards: Short animated videos to learn about PTSD and effective treatments.

  • Subscribe to the PTSD Monthly Update Stay up to date on new information about PTSD and trauma year round.


 VA’S Treatment of PTSD


 The health and well-being of the courageous men and women who have served in uniform is the highest priority for VA.


  •  VA is one of the largest integrated mental health systems in the United States that provides specialized treatment for PTSD. 

  • From October 1, 2001, to December 31, 2014, nearly 400,000 Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn Veterans were seen for potential PTSD at VA facilities following their return from these overseas deployments.

  •  In fiscal year 2014, more than 535,000 of the nearly 6 million Veterans who sought care at VA healthcare facilities received treatment for PTSD.

  • As of September 2014, more than 5,900 VA mental health staff members have received training in Prolonged Exposure and/or Cognitive Processing Therapy, the most effective known therapies for PTSD.


 About the National Center for PTSD


The National Center for PTSD is the center of excellence for research and education on the prevention, understanding, and treatment of PTSD. Its seven divisions across the country provide expertise on all types of trauma – from natural disasters, terrorism, violence and abuse, to combat exposure.


Although the Center provides no direct clinical care, its purpose is to improve the well-being and understanding of individuals who have experienced traumatic events, with a focus on American Veterans. The Center conducts cutting edge research and applies the findings to advance the science of traumatic stress and promote its understanding.


 


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Tips to Keep Veterans from Falling Down

Two people walking with nordic walking sticks

Over 60% of falls happen at home and 30% happen out in the community.

You can help to prevent falls by making your health a priority.

Health problems, and changes in your vision, walking, and even balance are a few reasons why you may become more likely to fall. Taking certain kinds of medications may also increase your risk of falls. Improving your health, exercising, and taking safety precautions can help you avoid a fall. Talk to and work with your health care provider to manage health problems and to review your medications. If you have your health under control, your risk of falling is lessened.

How health problems can increase your fall risk.

Health problems like low blood sugar, high or low blood pressure, muscle weakness, low endurance, and joint pain are examples of symptoms that may result from chronic health conditions or diagnoses that you are living with. They can be managed, but they don’t go away. Chronic health problems put you at greater risk of a fall. This is because they can affect many parts of your body. They may cause problems with movement, balance, or vision.

Do you get weak or dizzy? Tell your health care provider.

Your health care provider can work with you to help prevent a fall. Notify your provider if you have symptoms such as leg weakness or dizziness that could raise your risk of falling. Have your provider or pharmacist review all the medicines you take, even over-the-counter medicines. As you get older, the way medicines work in your body can change. Some medicines, or combinations of medicines, can make you sleepy or dizzy and cause you to fall.

Discuss your concerns, health practices, nutrition, and exercise routine with your health care provider. And ask whether you need any tests to assess your risk of falling.

Any medication, even an over-the-counter medication, could increase your risk of falling.

Medications — even ones you buy over the counter — can cause side effects that lead to a fall. Common medications that can cause these kinds of side effects include blood pressure, heart, pain, and sleep medications, and antidepressants. Also, the way your body reacts to medications can change as you age. So certain medications that were fine in the past may cause side effects now. Your health care provider (such as your doctor or pharmacist) can help review your medications and make changes if needed.

Old glasses and inner ear problems can affect balance.

Problems with vision or hearing can lead to falls, so do the following to reduce your fall risk:

  • Get your eyes checked at least once a year. You may be wearing the wrong glasses or have a condition like glaucoma or cataracts that limits your vision. Poor vision can increase your chances of falling. Take time to adjust to new glasses.
  • Get your hearing checked at least every other year.
  • Have your doctor check your inner ear for problems that may affect your balance.

Over 60% of falls happen at home and 30% happen out in the community.

To make your home safer:

  • Remove things you can trip over — like papers, books, clothes, and shoes — from stairs and places where you walk.
  • Remove small throw rugs or use double-sided tape to keep rugs from slipping.
  • Keep items you use often in cabinets you can reach easily without using a step stool.
  • Have grab bars put in next to your toilet and in the tub or shower.
  • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
  • Improve the lighting in your home. As you get older, you need brighter lights to see well. Hang light-weight curtains or shades to reduce glare. Consider night lights or motion sensor lights.
  • Have handrails and lights put in on all staircases.
  • Wear shoes both inside and outside the house. Avoid going barefoot or wearing slippers.
  • Consider padding sharp edges of furniture to prevent fall-related injuries.

Eat breakfast and drink plenty of water — unless you are on fluid restrictions.

If you don’t get enough to eat or drink, you can become dizzy and fall.

  • Your sense of thirst decreases with age, so drink water throughout the day.
  • Eat breakfast. Plan regular meals.
  • Ask your provider whether you need supplements. These can help strengthen your bones and muscles to help prevent falls. They can also help prevent fractures if you do fall.

Call your health care provider if you have these symptoms.

Be sure to call your health care provider if you fall and are hurt. Also, call if you have any of these signs, symptoms, or concerns:

  • Worrying about falling.
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy more than once a day.
  • Falling suddenly without getting dizzy.
  • Losing your balance often or feeling unsteady on your feet.
  • Having osteoporosis (brittle bones), which puts you at increased risk of fall injuries.
  • Taking blood thinners.
  • Feeling numbness in your legs or feet, or noticing a change in the way you walk.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/June/Tips-to-Keep-Veterans-from-Falling-Down.asp

Study may help Department of Veterans Affairs find patients with high-risk of suicide








Study may help Department of Veterans Affairs find patients with high-risk of suicide

June 11, 2015, 04:04:00 PM





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 Study May Help Department of Veterans Affairs Find Patients With High-Risk of Suicide


 


Clinicians are challenged every day to make difficult decisions regarding patients’ suicide risk. Using Veterans Health Administration (VHA) health system electronic medical record data, Veterans Affairs (VA) and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) scientists were able to identify very small groups of individuals within the VHA’s patient population with very high, predicted suicide risk — most of whom had not been identified for suicide risk by clinicians. Such methods can help the VHA to target suicide prevention efforts for patients at high risk, and may have more wide-ranging benefits.


John McCarthy, Ph.D., M.P.H, director of the Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center in the VA Office of Mental Health Operations, Robert Bossarte, Ph.D., director of epidemiology in the VA Office of Public Health, Ira Katz, M.D., senior consultant for mental health program analysis in the VA Office of Mental Health Operations, and colleagues report their findings today in the online issue of American Journal of Public Health. This paper is the result of a collaboration between the VA and NIMH, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.


Dr. McCarthy and colleagues developed their suicide-risk algorithm by studying the VHA patient population from fiscal years 2009-2011. Data on manner of death came from the National Death Index, and predictors of suicide and other types of death came from VHA clinical records. Dividing randomly the patient population in half, the team used data from one half to develop the predictive model, and then tested the model using data from the other half. Each of the two study samples included 3,180 suicide cases and 1,056,004 control patients. Researchers compared predicted suicide risk to actual mortality to assess the performance of the predictive model.


“As the largest health care provider in the U.S., VA has the responsibility to continuously examine how our extensive suicide prevention efforts are working, and to identify critical opportunities for improvement in service to our nation’s Veterans,” said Dr. Caitlin Thompson, Deputy Director for Suicide Prevention for VA. “This collaborative effort with NIMH provides us with unprecedented information that will allow us to design and implement innovative strategies on how to assess and care for those Veterans who may be at high risk for suicide. This model will advance the care provided to Veterans through VA’s suicide prevention programs to allow us to better tailor our suicide prevention efforts so that we can ensure that ALL Veterans remain safe.”


The VHA care system identifies patients as being at high-risk of suicide based on information assessed during clinical encounters. Researchers found that their predictive model was more sensitive than this clinical flagging, in the sense that, even in groups with the highest predicted suicide risk based on the model, less than one-third of patients had been identified clinically.


“This is valuable, because it gives the VA more extensive information about suicide risk,” said Michael Schoenbaum, Ph.D., senior advisor for mental health service, epidemiology and economics at NIMH and one of the co-authors of the report.  “If the VA can identify small groups of people with a particularly high-risk of suicide, then they can target enhanced prevention and treatment services to these highest-risk individuals,”


“It’s particularly encouraging that these analyses use the types of data available to any large health care system,” said NIMH Director Thomas Insel, M.D. “ These methods could help us prevent civilian as well as veteran suicides.” 


In addition to identifying suicide risk, the team looked at deaths among people identified as highest risk for suicide in 2010. The team found that this group had both very high suicide and non-suicide death rates over the next 12 months.


“This finding reinforces the idea that using this process to target suicide risk interventions may have wide benefits across an extended span of time,” concluded Dr. Schoenbaum. 


Reference:


McCarthy J.F., et al., Predictive Modeling and Concentration of the Risk of Suicide: Implications for Preventive Interventions in the US Department of Veterans Affairs. American Journal of Public Health (in press)


About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit http://www.nimh.nih.gov.


About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.


About the Department of Veterans Affairs: The VA is the second largest Federal department with close to 300,000 employees. The Department’s mission is to serve America’s veterans and their families with dignity and compassion and to be their principal advocate in ensuring that they receive the care, support and recognition earned in service to this Nation.


Links:


 http://www.annarbor.hsrd.research.va.gov/ANNARBORHSRDRESEARCH/investigators2014.asp   


 https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/people/27210512-robert-m-bossarte




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U.S. Army Celebrates 240th Birthday on June 14

Eleven soldiers wearing different uniforms depicting the history of the Army

 

Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation’s leaders established the Continental Army.

VA joins the Army in celebrating its 240th birthday. The Army continues to demonstrate its competence, its commitment, and its character in defense of our nation.

Learn more about the history of the United States Army.

Every day VA cares for thousands of Army Veterans. Here are just four of their stories.

Vietnam Veteran Helping Other Veterans

Vietnam Army Veteran Larry Werst is the Chief of Community Affairs and Voluntary Service at the Walla Walla, Wash., VA. He is very passionate about the service he and his volunteers provide this nation’s heroes. Werst says the Walla Walla VA saved his life, and he is very thankful for that help.

Two men standing in front of a tent
Army Veteran Larry Werst (left) in Vietnam

In Vietnam, he was part of the 86th Transportation Company and drove a five-ton truck hauling small arms ammunition into fire bases and landing zones to support the ground troops.

Back home, Werst started out working as a cross-country truck driver but struggled as he attempted to integrate back into civilian life. When he became homeless and needed help, he came to the Walla Walla VA seeking treatment and assistance, carrying everything he owned in two large plastic garbage bags.

Werst completed a substance abuse treatment program and credits the VA for his sobriety. After earning a degree in Alcohol and Drug Studies, he began his new job as an addiction therapist at the Walla Walla VA. He expresses great satisfaction in being able to help his fellow Veterans who also may be struggling with sobriety and other issues. He says that he “just wanted to give back.”

Since 2004, Werst has led the volunteer program, and in 2012 his role expanded to include Community Affairs. Deborah McCormick, Walla Walla associate director, says his ability to be empathetic to the Veteran experience makes him shine as a VA leader, adding, “Knowing Larry’s story is humbling for me, and he serves as a constant reminder to me why I work at the VA. Larry is a VA success story.”

Army Veteran Receives Top-Notch Care at VA Community Living Center

When Army Veteran Darren Jones left the military in 1999 the last thing on his mind was signing up at the VA for health care. Jones served in the Gulf War and says joining the Army was one of the best decisions of his life.

Two men standing in front of a tent
Army Veteran Darren Jones works on his rehab at VA.

“It enabled me to get very good training, travel and learn valuable life lessons,” Jones said. Upon leaving the Army, he got a good job and settled into the community, but it wasn’t until 15 years later that VA came into his life.

“I was working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was having a few medical problems. And it wasn’t until that moment did I realize that I had this whole package of benefits available to me that I had totally forgotten about.” Three years after he enrolled in the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, his hip, which had been causing him problems for as long as he can remember, began getting steadily worse.

His VA physician suggested that he request his military medical records which showed a continued dialog that Jones had with his doctors when he was on active duty about aggravated pain in his hip after long marches and extended periods of standing.

“I didn’t even realize those notes were documented in my military record,” Jones said. “I had dealt with this hip pain for so many years. It was time to do something about it.”

Earlier this year he underwent a full hip replacement and checked in to the Biloxi VA Medical Center’s Community Living Center (CLC) for short-term rehabilitation. His recovery went extremely well, thanks to the excellent care and treatment he is receiving at the CLC.

“Everyone at the Biloxi VA has just been great,” Jones said. “From the housekeeping staff, to the nurses, physical therapists … they have all been so helpful. The therapists push you, but not too hard. They want to make sure you are strong enough to get around on your own before you go home. I am very thankful that there is a place like this for us Veterans to come for rehabilitation. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to recover.”

Army Veteran Teaches Tai Chi for Visually Impaired Veterans

Tony Vignali was an infantryman in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1966 assigned to the 116th Assault Helicopter Company, part of the 25th Infantry Division. He flew in Dustoff helicopters, the air ambulance of Vietnam, evacuating casualties from the battlefield.


Army Veteran Alvin Spears gets advice on a stretching exercise from Tony Vignali (right), volunteer instructor.

His time in Vietnam was a traumatic chapter in his life which he has great difficulty talking about, but Vignali looks back on his Army experience as an important path in his life’s journey. “For where I am right now, the experience was worth it.”

Jump forward half a century from Vietnam and Vignali stands barefoot on the wooden floor of the recreational hall at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M.

He has a long gray beard, his hair braided in a waist-length ponytail, and wire-framed glasses. Facing him are four visually impaired Veterans, standing an arm’s length apart from each other. The men exhale slowly as they bring their arms up over their heads.

Vignali, a Tai Chi instructor and medical center volunteer, exhales with his students, then asks the group to slowly bring their arms back down to their sides. He conducts the hour-long class with the help of two Veteran volunteers. A VA patient himself, Vignali says Tai Chi is an excellent form of exercise for these Veterans who may have limited recreational opportunities.

“They take walks and that’s about it, but Tai Chi gets their shoulders, hips and backs moving,” Vignali said. “It also gives them a better sense of balance, which they really need. They’re fast learners, they love it and it makes them feel good.”

Dr. Darel Siebert, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, attends the regular Tai Chi classes and volunteers to assist his blind comrades during this class. He said taking three years of Tai Chi classes at the VA has changed his life. “I’ve got Parkinson’s and Tai Chi has really helped me with my balance. Three years ago, I was walking around with a cane. Now I don’t use a cane anymore.”

Vignali has been teaching Tai Chi at the VA rec hall for 10 years. His dedication in volunteering to help his fellow Veterans is evident by his commute as he lives 67 miles south of Albuquerque. He said teaching this class for visually impaired Veterans has been an education for him.

“I’m learning a lot,” Vignali said. “I’m learning how to teach them.”

World War II Army Veteran Gets High School Diploma – 60 Years Later

World War II Army Veteran James Plummer entered the military as part of the Greatest Generation to serve his nation when it needed him — before he had a chance to finish high school. After his service, Plummer never had the chance to go back to finish and graduate.

man in wheelchair next to woman
Angela Williams, Grand Island VA site manager, presents James Plummer an honorary high school diploma.

In 2015, his day finally arrived on January 16, nearly 60 years after the war, when he received an honorary high school diploma at the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System Community Living Center, Grand Island, Neb.

“A program called “Operation Recognition” enables Veterans from World War II and the Korean War to receive honorary diplomas in place of the ones they missed out on when they left to fight in these wars,” said Ken Ward, recreation therapist.

Angela Williams, Grand Island VA site manager, presented Plummer his diploma in a ceremony that featured him wearing a graduation cap and gown, a procession with the traditional pomp and circumstance music and led by a VA employee carrying the U.S. flag. VA employees joined in the celebration, with each personally shaking Plummer’s hand after the ceremony.

“It means a great deal,” Plummer said, as he looked at his diploma. “It was a surprise to me. I never did think I’d get it.”

Operation Recognition is a collaboration between the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs and the Nebraska Department of Education. Since the program was implemented in 1999, more than 1,700 honorary diplomas have been awarded to eligible Veterans.

The Army continues to demonstrate its competence, commitment and character in defense of our nation.

Happy Birthday U.S. Army

US Army logo

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/June/US-Army-Celebrates-240th-Birthday.asp

VA Launches Community-Based Employment Service for Homeless Veterans








VA Launches Community-Based Employment Service for Homeless Veterans

June 10, 2015, 01:07:00 PM





Printable Version




 VA Launches Community-Based Employment Service for Homeless Veterans


Securing Stable, Long-term Employment A Key Step To End Veteran Homelessness


WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs today announced a new employment program aimed at helping job-ready Veterans exiting homelessness, and those on the brink of homelessness, gain stable and long-term employment. 


The new program, Homeless Veteran Community Employment Services (HVCES), relies on Community Employment Coordinators (CECs) who know their communities and can work with local employers to identify suitable jobs based on a Veteran’s skills and abilities.


“Securing long-term, stable and fulfilling employment is important for Veterans who are exiting homelessness or are at-risk of becoming homeless,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “We know that finding gainful employment can change the life of a Veteran. This new program is a key component of the overall strategy to prevent and end Veteran homelessness.”


Each VA Medical Center (VAMC) will have a dedicated CEC who will be responsible for connecting homeless and at-risk Veterans to appropriate VA and community-based employment services. The goal is to establish relationships with employers who may be able to hire Veterans while VA provides the necessary support services to ensure each Veteran’s transition back into the workforce is successful.


CECs also will work with existing VA employment programs and local workforce development organizations to identify other employment-related resources for this subset of the Veteran population. Veterans exiting homelessness offer a diverse skillset that is applicable to many different fields and leadership roles within organizations.  VA offers a variety of wraparound services including health care, housing assistance and other VA supports to increase the likelihood of on-the-job success.


Employers who are interested in hiring a job–ready Veteran exiting homelessness should contact a local CEC who can work with them to find local Veteran candidates with applicable skillsets. Visit www.va.gov/homeless/cec-contacts.asp for a list of the CECs in your local area. 


More information about VA’s homeless programs is available at www.va.gov/homeless. If you know a Veteran who is homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, refer him or her to a local VAMC, where homeless coordinators are ready to help. Veterans and their families can also call 1-877-4AID-VET to get connected to VA services.


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