Honoring the Voices and Experiences of Veterans

Writer-Editor Rebekah E. Rickner interviews Veteran Richard Brye

Writer-Editor Rebekah E. Rickner interviews Veteran Richard Brye

The “My Life, My Story” project lets Veterans share what they would like their VA care team to know about them as a person. After a story has been approved by the Veteran, it is added to their VA medical record. Here is Veteran Richard Brye’s story.

“Somebody boil some water!”

Following college, I enlisted in the Army and was selected for a top-secret mission in a new unit within the Defense Department. 

“I was presented with the Chief’s crossbow and arrows which I still have.”

I was assigned to an operation in Vietnam where I developed a cover as an agricultural advisor. I was able to establish a covert intelligence collection operation working with an indigenous, primitive, mountain people called Montagnards who also provided security at my compound.

In December of 1966 a dental technician was sent to treat some of our personnel. A few days before Christmas, when the technician was to leave, monsoon rains developed and prevented him from returning to his ship. On Christmas Eve, we were getting ready to shut down operations. I had already prepared some vodka gimlets and put those in the fridge, when my interpreter informed me that a clan of Montagnards were heading toward our compound bearing a litter with a girl who was attempting to deliver a baby in the breach position.

When the chief of the clan said he needed my help my first thought went back to my younger days when I used to watch cowboy movies. Whenever a woman was about to give birth they always said, “Somebody boil some water.” That was really the first thing I thought. I was stuck. Then I remembered the dental technician. We frantically got on our shortwave radio to contact his ship. We were told we would have to perform a cesarean section but the only equipment we had were several scalpels and a little bit of Novocain.  

We agreed to attempt an episiotomy. Our generator didn’t have an extension that would allow us to use it in the annex where the girl was so we had to use flashlights. While the technician was performing the procedure I had to run back-and-forth, between the annex and the radio, relaying information. Eventually she delivered a little boy. For antiseptic I used the contents of a half a bottle of vodka.

A Ceremony to Thank Me

A month later the entire Montagnard clan was heading up towards the compound. The men were dressed in full military regalia. They wanted to perform a ceremony to thank me for assisting with the birth of one of their clan’s people. More specifically, the chief wanted to make me a blood brother by slitting both his wrist and mine and co-mingling our blood. There was no way I wanted that to happen because my first thought was of contracting any of the diseases they may have – the hepatitis alphabet came to mind.

I asked if he would consider an alternate ceremony whereby we would place several drops of our blood into the soil of the compound’s garden.  Luckily he agreed and removed his ceremonial sword, slitting his wrist and mine. He then removed an arrow from his crossbow’s quiver and stirred our blood together in the soil. I said to him, “This way, my blood and your blood will forever remain in the soil of your homeland.” 

As a token of their appreciation, I was presented with the chief’s crossbow and arrows, which I still have to this day. 

We were essentially sent to South Vietnam to eliminate an enemy.  I never once thought I would be sent there to assist in helping to deliver a baby. That certainly was an unexpected consequence of war. 

Writer-Editor Rebekah E. Rickner: The primary goal of My Life My Story is to honor the voices and experiences of our Veterans by sharing their stories with their VA care team and families. 

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/January/Honoring-the-Voices-and-Experiences-of-Veterans.asp

Veteran loses 30 pounds in VA's MOVE! program

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/January/Veteran-loses-30-pounds-in-VAs-MOVE-program.asp

Transgender Vets, the VA, and Respect

Image of doctor shaking hands with patient

Transgender Vets, the VA, and Respect

There are currently about 5,000 transgender Veterans receiving their healthcare from VA.

“That is certainly an undercount because not all transgender Veterans want to identify themselves to their provider,” noted Dr. Michael Kauth, co-director of VA’s National LGBT Program (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender).  Kauth is also a psychologist at the Houston VA and a professor in the Psychiatry Department at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. 

Transgender people, according to Wikipedia, are people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex.

Kauth said VA provides gender transition counseling, evaluations for hormone therapy, and evaluations for gender transition surgeries.

“VA doesn’t perform those surgeries, and doesn’t pay for them,” he said. “But we’ll be there to help the Veteran out if somethings happens to go wrong after transition surgery.  If complications occur following surgery, VA will provide the Veteran with medically necessary care.”

And for Veterans who are still in the process of transitioning, there’s counseling.

Following Your Path

“A VA counselor will talk to the Veteran about their transition goals, and how to achieve them safely,” Kauth said. “Our job is to help the Veteran successfully navigate their gender transition pathway, and to support them.”

Making sure transgender Vets get the support and understanding they deserve is the job of Dr. Jillian Shipherd, co-director of VA’s National LGBT Program and a clinical research psychologist at the Boston VA.  She said a big part of her job is making sure providers throughout the VA system are properly trained in how to interact with this very special segment of the Veteran community.

“We live in a largely gender binary world where we want things to be one way or another. But life is vastly more complex than that.”

“As a transgender person you’re accustomed to dealing with all sorts of issues on a daily basis,” she explained. “But when you walk into a VA facility you shouldn’t have to worry about that.  So here at VA we need to work extra hard to overcome any fear or anxiety you might be experiencing.  We want to make sure that you, as a transgender Vet, are getting the healthcare you need and the respect you have earned.”

Shipherd said transgender Veterans, like other minorities, tend to have considerably more stress in their lives than the rest of us.

“Veterans are at increased risk for suicide relative to the general population,” she observed, “and transgender Vets are 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than other Veterans.  This statistic highlights the level of daily stress some of our transgender Vets are experiencing.”

So… Why so Much Stress?

“As a transgender Vet one of your biggest battles is discrimination, which can take many forms–some subtle and some not so subtle,” Shipherd explained. “As a transgender Vet you might face discrimination where you work, or you might have trouble finding a job at all. You might face discrimination when you try to rent an apartment or purchase a home, or a car, or even a pair of shoes. You might face discrimination from your own family –your parents, your brothers and sisters, even your own children. That’s a lot of stress.”

She continued: “Being transgender can affect every aspect of your life. When you go to the bank to get a loan, you might experience some problems due to a lack of credit history under your new name. When you go to a new dentist for the first time, you might be worried about explaining why you’re on certain medications or hormone therapy.”

       Dr. Jillian Shipherd Dr. Jillian Shipherd

Is There a Problem, Officer?

And then there’s the dreadful event that tends to generate anxiety in all of us, but especially members of any minority group:  getting pulled over by a police officer.

“Any encounter you might have with law enforcement can be stressful, or downright scary,” Shipherd said. “Can you imagine being stopped by a police officer late one evening?  What are you feeling as the officer gets out of their cruiser and approaches your vehicle?  Are you nervous?  Are you afraid?  What will the officer say when they look at your driver’s license and it says John Doe, only you look like Jane Doe?”   

Shipherd said the unfortunate reality is that most transgender Veterans live with fear every day of their lives. “Just walking out of your house can provoke anxiety,” she said. “Chances are people on the street may roll their eyes when they see you, or actually snicker or laugh.  Some might verbally harass you.  And of course, there is the risk of physical violence.  It’s not an easy life.  This is why we work so hard at VA to make our transgender patients feel welcomed, and respected.  We want them to know that when they come to VA they’re coming to a safe place.” 

To make sure VA is a safe and welcoming place, the Department offers three levels of nation-wide training to help VA healthcare providers get up to speed on how to successfully interact with their transgender patients and how to address their sometimes unique healthcare concerns.  (For more info on what kind of LGBT training VA is providing to its personnel, visit http://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/index.asp

And Everything In Between

Shipherd said this kind of sensitivity training is essential, since even well-meaning VA staff can experience anxiety when interacting with a transgender patient — thus causing the patient to feel anxious.

“Sometimes even a well-intentioned healthcare provider can mishandle their encounter with a transgender Vet,” she said. “It’s not that they’re trying to be insensitive or callus; they’re simply not educated in culturally appropriate care.  So it’s our job to provide that education, to make sure our healthcare staff and providers are trained in how to communicate and connect with transgender patients.”

She added: “We all need to understand that gender is more complicated than what we like to think.  Male and female are not the only options.  Gender identity exists on a continuum, with male and female being the extreme endpoints.  Then you have everything in-between.” 

To learn more about LGBT services offered at the Boston VA, visit http://www.boston.va.gov/services/Lesbian_Gay_Bisexual_and_Transgender_Veterans.asp

To learn more about some of the services VA is providing to transgender Veterans nationwide, visit http://www.patientcare.va.gov/LGBT/index.asp

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2017/January/Transgender-Vets-the-VA-and-Respect.asp

Dr. Eloise Harman – One of VA's Top Doctors.

Dr. Eloise Harman and Army Vietnam Veteran Winston Figueroa

VA has an exceptionally talented team of outstanding employees. We would like you to meet them, starting with our dedicated staff of doctors. We are introducing our eminent doctors in a continuing feature: VA’s Top Doctors.

Dr. Eloise Harman never knew her father but his legacy serves as her motivation and inspiration.

“My father was a doctor who died when I was an infant. I always heard stories about how he went the extra mile for his patients. My mother was a teacher and did the same for her students. She was also very generous in helping people in need. I try to follow in their footsteps.”

Going the extra mile for her Veteran patients is just one of the reasons she was selected as the 2016 recipient of the “Richard R. Streiff Award for Clinical Excellence” at the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.

Harman was selected as this year’s Streiff Award recipient for her decades-long track record of excellence as a clinician, an educator, and for her community service and volunteerism.  She has been recognized locally, regionally, and nationally as an outstanding clinician and is appreciated at her medical center as a model of patient advocacy and clinical expertise to the medical staff.

“I love to work with the Veterans and to hear their stories.

A native of Hanover, Pa., she graduated from medical school at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, served her internal medicine residency there and also a pulmonary fellowship at New York Hospital Cornell. In addition to her specialties in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and critical care medicine, she also has an interest in Medical Ethics and chairs the ethics consultation committee.

Harman has two daughters and a two-year-old grandson she visits in Chicago “as often as possible.”

Annual Volunteer Trip to Haiti

A professor emeritus at the University of Florida, Harman has published 63 peer reviewed articles in the scientific literature, seven book chapters and 42 abstract presentations. She has accumulated numerous honors, distinctions, and accolades over her career, including no fewer than 13 clinical teaching awards.  She has also received seven different professional and community service awards.


Dr. Harman and grandson

Dr. Harman and grandson

One example of her commitment to care is her annual trip to Haiti to provide medical care, a trip she has made with medical students and doctors for 20 years.

Harman also volunteers at Camp Boggy Creek for seriously ill children and does other volunteer work including service projects with her place of worship such as feeding the homeless.

First to Volunteer to Work Overnight

Her award states: “Dr. Harman has done an outstanding job as Medical Intensive Care Unit Director. She is often on call in the MICU, and is well known to rarely leave the unit out of dedication to the patients, residents, and nurses in the unit who benefit from her involvement and close oversight of the unit. When the facility needed physician volunteers to work in-house overnight for a pilot project to improve ICU safety and quality, Dr. Harman was one of the first to volunteer.”

Harman loves to cook and bake and follows a vegan diet most of the time.

About her job, she says, “I love to work with the Veterans and to hear their stories. I was honored to receive the award named for Dr. Streiff, a role model for his dedication to Veterans and for providing patient centered care.”

The reason her Veteran patients are always happy to see her is summed up in her award: “Dr. Harman is a tireless advocate for her patients and she consistently goes the extra mile to make sure her patients receive the care they need. She is often complimented by patients and families for going above and beyond the call of duty. 

“Dr. Harman has often seen outpatients at any time necessary, making space in her own administrative office for patient visits outside of regularly scheduled clinic hours.   In the realm of patient care, Dr. Harman is often the “go to” person to help make difficult or challenging diagnoses and is personally sought out by physicians seeking help.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/December/Dr-Eloise-Harman-One-of-VAs-Top-Doctors.asp

Nearly 100,000 Vets Enrolled in Burn Pit Registry

Female soldier burning old uniforms

Nearly 100,000 Vets Enrolled in Burn Pit Registry

Join VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry

VA launched the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry in June 2014 to better understand the long-term health effects of exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards during deployment. The number of new participants in this registry is climbing steadily, and will soon reach the milestone of 100,000 participants. As of December 9, 2016, the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry includes 95,593 Veterans and Service members.  An estimated 3 million Veterans and Service members are eligible to join the registry.

“The benefit of the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry for participants is that they can document their exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards in an online questionnaire and print a copy of their questionnaire to discuss with their health care provider. Also, Veterans can get a free medical evaluation from VA.” said Michael Montopoli, MD, MPH, Director of the Post-9/11 Era Environmental Health Program in VA’s Office of Patient Care Services. 

“The registry will help VA provide the right health care services for Veterans in the future.”

Veterans and Servicemembers who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations after August 2, 1990, or in Afghanistan or Djibouti, Africa, after September 11, 2001 are eligible to participate in the registry.  Participants complete a survey which asks where the Veteran or Servicemember lives, what type of work they do, and their exposures, health care use, and hobbies. The survey takes about 40 minutes to complete.

Many Veterans have reported concerns about their respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and dermatologic health, along with concerns about cancer. VA would like to learn more about the experiences of those who served.

“The registry informs VA and DoD about the health concerns, exposures, and health outcomes of Veterans and Servicemembers,” said Montopoli.  “The registry will help VA provide the right health care services for Veterans in the future.”

Are you a Veteran or Servicemember who would like to join the growing number of participants in the burn pit registry?  Go to 
https://veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry/.  Additional information about the registry is available at  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/burnpits/registry.asp.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/December/Nearly-100000-Vets-Enrolled-in-Burn-Pit-Registry.asp

Vietnam Vet Gives His Time to the VA in Georgia

 Image of a volunteer pushing a patient in a wheelchair.

Gus Albritton has spent 25 years and 23,000 hours volunteering at the Dublin VA in Georgia. The 66-year-old Vietnam Veteran began volunteering as a way of coping with his PTSD.

Photo by Frank Jordan

Gus Albritton has spent 25 years and 23,000 hours volunteering at the Dublin VA in Georgia. 

“I have PTSD, and one day my doctor here at the Dublin VA told me I needed to focus on the future, not the past,” said the 66-year-old Army Veteran “He suggested that I volunteer here once or twice a week to see how I liked it.  So I started volunteering.”

As it turned out, he liked it.  That was back in October 1991.

Magic Bullet

“Everyone has their own way of dealing with things,” said Albritton, who earned three purple hearts in Vietnam.  “Volunteering turned out to be the magic bullet for me.  It might not work for everybody, but it worked for me. When I’m focused on helping people, I’m not thinking about a firefight or an ambush or anything else that happened to me in Vietnam.  The only time I think about Vietnam now is when I wake up with a nightmare.”

So what’s an average day at the VA look like for Albritton? 

“I help Veterans and visitors find their way around our campus here,” he said.  “I try to make them feel welcome.  If you’re a Veteran walking in the door here, it helps to have another Veteran come up to you and greet you.  I’ve been through what they’ve been through, so we connect with each other.

Last Stop:  The Basement

“This is a big place,” he continued, “so it’s easy to get intimidated and it’s easy to get lost.”

Albritton laughed, remembering one particular incident that demonstrates how overwhelming the big VA campus in Georgia can be.  “One day we had four guys come in here and they took the elevator to the basement by mistake,” he said. “They could find their way around Iraq but they couldn’t find their way around here…

“Gus is able to establish a rapport with people in about two seconds.”

“There’s four miles of hallways on this campus, and it can seem like a maze,” he continued. “But I have it all memorized.  There might be a couple of places here I haven’t been to yet, but not many.  So if you need to get somewhere, chances are I can get you there.  And if you need me to push you there in a wheelchair I’ll do that.”

“That’s why we call Gus our ‘volunteer extraordinaire’,” said Frank Jordan, chief of Stakeholder Relations at the Dublin VA. “Gus is able to establish a rapport with people in about two seconds.  It makes a tremendous difference to people, to have someone like Gus give them a warm welcome.”

The Veteran and the Angel

Albritton has no doubt provided warm welcomes to hundreds of Veterans who’ve walked through the doors of the Dublin VA over the years.  But one Veteran in particular stands out in his mind.

“We had a guy come through here one day with his wife,” he said. “They were both in their mid-20s, and he was the worst case of traumatic brain injury I’d ever seen.  He’d been wounded in Iraq, and all he could do was shuffle along.  His arms were just hanging by his sides, and you could see that he’d suffered a really bad head injury…

“He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t communicate,” Albritton said. “So his wife was trying to communicate for him.  She looked at me and said, ‘I need some help.’  So everybody sort of jumped in to help them —our mental health folks got involved, our social work people, our disability benefits people, the whole team.” 

Albritton said his encounter with the wounded Veteran and his wife was perhaps the most deeply moving experience he’s ever had in 25 years of volunteering.  “His wife Cathy is an angel,” he said. “She’s hanging in there with him.  I hope she can continue hanging in there.”

The Vietnam Veteran said it’s experiences like this that make him feel fortunate to be doing what he’s doing at the Dublin VA.

“This work keeps me focused on the road in front of me, not the rearview mirror,” he explained.  “You can’t go through life staring at the rear-view mirror.  As long as I’m helping other Veterans, I’m not staring at the rearview mirror.”

He added: “God has given me a good life, and this hospital has given me a good life.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/December/Vietnam_Vet_Gives_His_Time_to_the_VA_in_Georgia.asp

Homeless Veterans Personal Scorecard was the Key

Michael Williams speaks to new employees

Michael Williams speaks to new employees, shares his story and reminds them of VA’s mission, to take care of our nation’s Veterans.

Michael A. Williams had a bedtime ritual.  Each evening he would go through a mental scorecard, a placeholder for his life.  This was a very personal scorecard, each item a valued life goal: Get my health issues addressed, particularly my pain management. Own my own home. Nurture family and friend relationships, especially with my mom. Get my financial house in order.  Make peace with the Lord. 

Insight, intellect, sensitivity, goal oriented, grounded – Michael has all of the qualities one admires and looks for in trusted friends and employees.  You might be surprised to learn Michael developed all of those outstanding and admirable qualities while living on the streets. 

Homeless for three years, Michael has now checked off every item on his scorecard: Conquer alcoholism.  Check.  Overcome serious health issues. Check.  Regain trust and respect of family and friends.  Check.  Get a job.  Check. Buy a house.  Check.  Come to Jesus.  Check.

“It has been a long ride and I am so happy and grateful for this opportunity.”

Michael is one of thousands of Veterans whose lives have turned around due to VA initiatives for homeless Veterans, particularly the Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program and the Housing First program.  Buried in the back pages of your newspaper and given modest attention by web and social media outlets, the story of VA’s undeniable success in housing homeless Veterans and supporting them in living independent lives is one of our country’s most encouraging societal turnarounds both inside and outside of government.  

Since President Obama’s initiative to end homelessness was launched in 2010, VA and its partners at federal, state and local levels have cut the number of homeless Veterans by half.  And although homeless numbers will always be a moving target, some major cities such as Philadelphia, Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Mobile report they no longer have homeless Veterans sleeping on their streets.  As of December 2015, Connecticut and Virginia have reported an end to Veteran homelessness in their communities.

The impact of VA’s success in reducing drug and alcohol dependency, housing, and re-training Veterans for work [SP1] impacts all of us.  Not only does it heal broken souls and families, it potentially makes our streets safer and lowers taxpayers’ outlays as these Veterans become reemployed and contribute to our economy.  It’s something we are doing right and the fulfillment of an obligation to Veterans we all recognize. 

Overcame a series of health crises

After 12-plus years in the U.S. Marines, a series of health crises led Michael to joblessness, despair and drink.

“As a homeless Veteran I wanted a lot of the things that I thought everyone else had,” he said.  “I mean things like respect, responsibility, happiness, independence, employment and a place to live. I was in search of security and some sort of dignity in my life.”

The VA’s Housing First and CWT programs gave Michael that opportunity.   Housing First is a new philosophy in treating homelessness.  In the past, in order to secure permanent housing, homeless Veterans had to demonstrate they were clean of drugs, psychologically competent, and had some source of income to supplement their housing.  Now, the stable home comes first and the medical treatment and job training follows.  In Michael’s case, after securing a transitional apartment through the Housing First program, he participated in VA’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) and the CWT employment preparation program at the Washington DC VA Medical Center.

At the VA Medical Center, Michael found himself.  He proved he could get to work on time, manage projects, get along with other staff members and achieve both job and personal goals. His confidence grew and so did his determination to get his scorecard completed. 

On October 9, 2012, Michael was hired by VA as a full-time Program Support Specialist.  Four years later, he moved into his own home, fulfilling a promise to his mother that he would take care of her in her senior years.  “It has been a long ride and I am so happy and grateful for this opportunity,” says Michael.   

If you know a homeless Veteran, or one at risk for homelessness, please visit www.va.gov/homeless to learn about VA programs that could help.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/December/Homeless-Veterans-Personal-Scorecard-was-the-Key.asp

Blood Pressure Study: Vietnam Era Veterans

Veteran getting their blood pressure checked

Study of nearly 4,000 Veterans in the Army Chemical Corps between 1965 and 1973

VA researchers found a link between service-related occupational exposure to herbicides and high blood pressure (hypertension) risk among U.S. Army Chemical Corps (ACC) Veterans, a group of Veterans assigned to do chemical operations during the Vietnam War. Researchers also found an association between military service in Vietnam and hypertension risk among these Veterans.

Researchers at VA’s Post Deployment Health Services Epidemiology Program, Office of Patient Care Services, conducted the Army Chemical Corps Vietnam-Era Veterans Health Study, a three-phase study of nearly 4,000 Veterans who served in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps between 1965 and 1973. The study included a survey that requested information on these Veterans’ exposure to herbicides, whether they were ever diagnosed with hypertension by a physician, and their health behaviors such as cigarette smoking and alcohol use. To confirm self-reported hypertension, researchers conducted in-home blood pressure measurements and a medical records review for a portion of study participants.  

Hypertension highest among Veterans who distributed or maintained herbicides (sprayers) in Vietnam.

ACC Veterans were studied because of their documented occupational involvement with chemical distribution, storage, and maintenance while in military service.This study follows a request by former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki for VA to conduct research on the association between herbicide exposure and hypertension to learn more about if hypertension is related to military service in Vietnam. The research was originally designed and led by Han Kang, Dr.P.H., former director of VA’s Epidemiology Program (now retired). Yasmin Cypel, Ph.D., M.S., another researcher with VA’s Epidemiology Program, is currently the principal investigator on this study, which extends prior research on these Veterans.

“This study expands our knowledge of the relationship between hypertension risk and both herbicide exposure and service in Vietnam among Veterans who served during the War by focusing on a specific group of Vietnam era Veterans who were occupationally involved in chemical operations,” said Dr. Cypel.     

Self-reported hypertension was the highest among Veterans who distributed or maintained herbicides (sprayers) in Vietnam (81.6%), followed by Veterans who sprayed herbicides and served during the Vietnam War but never in Southeast Asia (non-Vietnam Veterans) (77.4%), Veterans who served in Vietnam but did not spray herbicides (72.2%), and Veterans who did not spray herbicides and were non-Vietnam Veterans (64.6%).

The odds of hypertension among herbicide sprayers were estimated to be 1.74 times the odds among non-sprayers, whereas the odds of hypertension among those who served in Vietnam was 1.26 times the odds among non-Vietnam Veterans.

The researchers would like to extend their thanks to all those Army Chemical Corps Vietnam Era Veterans who participated in this study for their contribution to the research.  Without their input there would be no findings to report and no additions to existing findings on the health consequences of military service during the Vietnam War. 

VA will review the results from this research, along with findings from other similar studies and recommendations from the recent National Academies of Science report on Veterans and Agent Orange, when considering whether to add hypertension as a presumptive service condition for Vietnam Veterans.

To read more about the Army Chemical Corps Vietnam-Era Veterans Health Study, go to http://www.publichealth.va.gov/epidemiology/studies/vietnam-army-chemical-corps.asp.  To read the published article containing findings from this study, go to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27820763.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/November/Research-on-Vietnam-Veterans-and-Blood-Pressure.asp

VA Telehealth saves Florida Veteran time, travel

Army Veteran Jeffrey Weinstock meets with Dr. Erica Dombrowsky, audiologist, through Clinical Video Telehealth.

Army Veteran Jeffrey Weinstock meets with Dr. Erica Dombrowsky, audiologist, through Clinical Video Telehealth.

Retired Army Major Jeffrey Weinstock has been wearing hearing aids for nearly 30 years after artillery fire during his service in Vietnam damaged his hearing. After moving to Key West from New York, he was expecting a difficult transition changing VA facilities and replacing his old hearing aids.

During his first visit to the Key West VA Outpatient Clinic, he was surprised. He was able to quickly and seamlessly transfer his VA health care to the Miami VA Healthcare System and even schedule lab and medical appointments. He met with Dr. Douglas Bond to discuss his health.

“I never felt rushed and felt he was really concerned about me and about my health,” Weinstock said.

“I have been so impressed with everyone I met.”

Before making his third visit, Weinstock was worried he might have to make the 300-mile round trip—one that under the best traffic conditions can take three to four hours in one direction—from Key West to the Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center in Miami to receive his audiology care. On Aug. 25, he went to the Key West VA’s Telehealth Audiology Walk-in Clinic and experienced his first Clinical Video Telehealth medical appointment.

Clinical Video Telehealth brings specialists to the Veterans and saves Veterans and their families the cost and inconvenience of traveling by road, rail or air to the nearest VA hospital. The Key West VA Outpatient Clinic is one of 700 VA community-based outpatient clinics nationwide using Telehealth technology to make diagnoses, manage care, perform check-ups, and deliver care to Veterans.

At the walk-in clinic, Weinstock met with Dr. Erica Dombrowsky, audiologist, and Lilith Brodsky, audiology resident, who were in Miami, through Clinical Video Telehealth.

He received a comprehensive hearing exam and ordered a new set of hearing aids the same day. Even though he had just met with a doctor who was more than 160 miles away, Weinstein said he didn’t notice a difference from an in-person audiology appointment and could tell Dombrowsky and Key West Telehealth Clinical Technician Pattianne Miller, really cared about him and his concerns.

“I have been so impressed with everyone I met, from the frontline administrative staff to my providers,” he said.

Jeffrey Weinstock and his wife, Elizabeth, both grateful for the                                             support they received at the Key West VA Outpatient Clinic

His wife, Elizabeth, remembers his reaction when he returned from the clinic later that day.

“He came home so happy,” she said. “He had such wonderful things to say about everyone he encountered and worked with.”

Weinstock returned with his wife to the clinic and was fitted with the new hearing aids. Neither of them could believe everything had been accomplished in just three weeks. He was extremely pleased with the sound quality of the new devices and his ability to hear on his cell phone, something he had never been able to do with his older hearing aids.

“This is truly life-changing, and I couldn’t be more delighted with this experience. We are so grateful.”

To learn more about how VA is using Clinical Video Telehealth nationwide to care for America’s Veterans, visit www.telehealth.va.gov.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/November/VA-Telehealth-saves-Florida-Veteran-time-travel.asp

Veterans Deal with Diabetes at Unique Camp

Veterans sitting around a camp fire.

Veterans share their stories at Diabetes Camp in the woods of Wisconsin

Steve Biever was slowly dying and nobody knew why. There were blinding headaches, loss of vision and unexplainable pains. Getting out of bed was a chore. Deep depression set in.

Then he met Carole Cole, a nurse and certified diabetic educator at the Appleton VA Clinic. “Have you ever had an A1c?” she asked.

A1c is a diabetic test to see how well your body controls the amount of sugar in the blood. Normal levels are between 4 and 5.6 percent. Biever’s were over 11 percent — far into the danger zone on the glucose scale, with a high risk of severe complications, including organ failure. He was only 43, but his body was attacking itself and shutting down.

“Carole saved my life, no question about it,” Biever said. “She said, ‘Oh my Lord, this should have been tested three years ago!’ But damn it, I never complained. I had all the symptoms — going to the bathroom 10 times a night, shakes, blurry vision, and the first thing I thought was,

‘I’m an Army guy. I can handle this.’ But then I couldn’t handle it.”

Out-of-control blood sugar can lead to blindness, kidney failure, loss of circulation, heart disease, stroke and dementia.

“I can’t take all the credit,” VA’s Cole said. “Steve was pretty sick and had multiple health problems, plus other issues that weren’t diagnosed yet. At first, he was treated for individual symptoms, but the more we start talking and the more he started telling me about all the symptoms, it seemed obvious.”

Biever is more to the point: “She’s my guardian angel. I’m here today because of her.”

Doctors immediately put Biever on Metformin, a drug to help regulate his blood sugars. Cole told him about the first-ever Diabetes Camp that was scheduled a couple weeks later at Camp American Legion. That was 2012. The camp was the brainchild of Diane Kesler, also a certified diabetic educator and nurse at the clinic, who each year brings Cole and other nurses and staff to manage the program, all on their own time.

Biever has since lost 56 pounds and is an ongoing success story at the annual Diabetes Camp to help Veterans learn about and manage their disease.

He was at Camp American Legion in Lake Tomahawk, Wis., this past September, along with 26 other Veterans from the Appleton area who were learning how to understand and manage their diabetes.

“I was still so sick and I don’t know how she talked me into it. I came up that first year, and couldn’t even get out of bed for the first part of it,” Biever said. “That’s how sick I was. I couldn’t even make it to some of the events. I was near death.”

Army Veteran Steve Biever with VA nurse and diabetic educator Carol Cole

Army Veteran Steve Biever with VA nurse and diabetic educator Carol Cole

Biever, who spent three years in the Army and another 10 in the National Guard and Reserve, wasn’t always that way. He built a successful DJ company and depended on his energy as part of his career.

“It really did sneak up, and nobody expects that,” he said. “At first you say you don’t feel good, and then it gets worse. I couldn’t figure it out. I don’t get the flu. I don’t get colds. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. And it’s really weird because I just lost a friend to diabetes and still didn’t realize.

“But they call diabetes a silent killer,” Biever added. “It’s very slow, it’s very painful. You lose a toe. Then you lose half a foot. Then you lose a leg. I love life. I’m an actor, or at least I’m trying to be. I run my company, and can’t afford to be sick. If you’re a fisherman, you don’t go fishing for trout in the toilet. You have to get to events like this and get educated.”

After staying in bed all day that first Friday, Biever made it out of his cabin Saturday and Sunday to eat and socialize with some of the other Vets.

“It was almost like an AA meeting, where people start sharing their stories and you find out you aren’t alone and there might be some hope,” he said. “But there is no magic wand. I was told you aren’t gonna get better unless you want to make it better. And if you want to make it better, you gotta exercise and eat right. You have to talk to the dietitian.”

Biever changed his diet. He walks and works out on the cardio equipment at his local gym. And slowly, ever so slowly, the weight dropped and he felt better. He went from 228 to 170 pounds. “Every day you feel a little better, but when you’re so sick you don’t realize it. It took me two years before I felt like I got my life back.”

Cole said those who are newly diagnosed have the hardest time working on a diet.

“You tell them to go to a dietitian and they will say, ‘I’m not going to listen to some skinny person tell me how to eat.’ They stay in denial and think it won’t matter until they get too sick and then it can be like putting scrambled eggs back together in the shell. The sooner people accept it and work at it, the better their chances.”

Even though Cole is retired, she said the Diabetes Camp is one of her favorite times of the year and she never misses it. For Cole, this fight is personal. “My dad died at 65 from diabetes. If he had something like this and if somebody talked to him, maybe he would have listened. Diabetes is the number one cause of heart disease. It’s the number one cause of non-traumatic amputations. It’s the number one cause of retinopathy blindness.”

“When you get sick and tired of being sick, then you meet with a dietitian,” Biever said. “Too many people are hard-headed. Look at the group photos we take every year. You can see people who came once and didn’t come back. You can see how many have died. That could be me.”

While he tells his story, a group of Veterans a few tables away learn how to make homemade soap. Earlier in the day, they took tai chi. There was also a fly fishing lure lesson and a chance to go fishing on the pontoon. “They don’t do that just for fun, they do it to show these guys they need to get their butts off the couch if they want to live,” Biever said.

And Biever said he wants to live, so he does what he can, encourages others and still looks forward to that one weekend a year at Camp American Legion.

“I can’t tell you how much it does for me, as a nurse, to see someone like Steve succeed,” Cole said. “This will always be one of my wonderful moments in my career.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/November/Veterans-Deal-with-Diabetes-at-Unique-Camp.asp

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