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National Disabled Veterans TEE Tournament

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Veteran Receives High-tech Prosthetic Hand

Veteran Daniel Glanz shows off the new prosthetic hand, an iLimb Quantum

Veteran Daniel Glanz shows off the new prosthetic hand, an iLimb Quantum, which he received at McGuire VA Medical Center.

Photo by Jason Miller

Veteran Daniel Glanz lost his right hand while serving in Afghanistan 12 years ago. Today, Glanz has a brand new prosthetic hand with world-class technology which gives him the ability to adjust hand functions on the fly in ways that were not possible in the past.

For the past 10 years, Glanz has been coming to McGuire VA Medical Center to receive the latest in prosthetic hand technology. This past spring, he was fitted for an iLimb Quantum prosthetic hand, which is programmable with a smartphone app and can change functions with a simple gesture.

The device can be programmed with up to four different hand settings at a time. Each setting is activated by the wearer gesturing with his arm to the left, right, forward or back.

This allows Glanz, who served in the Army Reserves from 1993 to 2006, to instantaneously switch between various modes. For example, to shake hands, he can move his arm slightly to the left. With a slight gesture to the right, he could change to a pinching grip to hold a car key. Another gesture forward could switch it to a grip more suited to gripping a steering wheel.

The iLimb Quantum has dozens of modes used to make the prosthetic hand hold a wide variety of different poses.

There are dozens of potential modes, all of which can be selected via the smartphone app, and are tailored for everyday uses to help Glanz’s life. He selects four modes that are most useful to him for daily tasks and then has the ability to switch between them instantly.

If he wants to make changes later, it is as simple as grabbing his smartphone.

Glanz says this technology will make it easier than ever for him to use his prosthetic hand.

“It’s just going to make wearing this hand more useful every day,” he said. “It will be easier to use it in everyday environments.”

John Fox, the chief of McGuire’s Prosthetics Lab, said the technology is the best on the market right now and is far more advanced than technology available to most civilians.

Glanz now works as an aerospace engineer. He said he is hopeful his new prosthetic hand will help make life easier and allow him to do his job more efficiently than before.



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Veteran talks about suicide to help other Veterans

Veteran Alexandrea Gries and her service dog Sherman.

Veteran Alexandrea Gries and her service dog Sherman.

She tried to take her own life eight times in one year while serving as a soldier in the 4th Infantry Division in 2008. The stressors of combat, losing a couple of very close friends in battle and adapting to life back in the U.S. after serving in Iraq was too much for her to handle.

And when she left the Army a few months later after being assigned to a wounded warrior unit – and she came back to Fresno where she grew up – things didn’t get any better. But she went to VA for help, and the process of healing began.

“My job is to build trust so they too will seek help from the VA.”

Alexandrea Gries, now a peer support specialist with the VA Central California Health Care System, has come a long way in eight years thanks to the VA in Fresno and the people who work there, she said.

Starting out at the VA as a volunteer and work study student, escorting patients by wheelchair and working in the canteen store, the kitchen and then the coffee shop – Gries said she realized right away VA was a place she could relate to, and the people there were people she could relate with.

“I developed a very strong kinship,” Gries said. “I love these people, and this is the only family I have now.”

“Alexandrea Gries is a true leader. She has impacted so many lives in a positive way, and she’s been through so much,” said Mary Golden, the VA CCHCS Voluntarily Service Program manager.

Pushing Wheel Chairs Nine Hours a Day – “I love these Vets.”

Although she knows she’ll probably never fully recover from the scars of war, Gries said she believes the healing starts with sharing her experiences with others.

“I slit my wrist in December of 2008 and ended up in a hospital. I was fully intent on ending my own life,” said Gries, who suffers from both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma. “I developed an infatuation with death, and all I could focus on was killing myself.”

A lot has changed since then, though, she said.

“When I first started working at the VA as a volunteer, I pushed wheelchairs six days a week, nine hours a day. But I love these Vets, and I didn’t do it for any reason other than that,” said Gries, who served as a .50-caliber machine-gunner during convoy missions in Iraq.

Gries said that while in Iraq, her roommate there was killed by a suicide bomber. Three weeks later, she watched one of her best friends die from a single sniper round on the side of the road.

“I had survivor’s remorse for a very long time, and I’m still recovering, but the VA is probably the single biggest reason why I’m still alive. And I’m not going anywhere.”

Gries works for the homeless program under VA CCHCS’ Social Work Service. She’s now a full-time employee with the VA, and her work puts her directly in front of Veterans in need nearly every day.

“I try to share my experiences with these Veterans and help them overcome their own obstacles and issues,” she said.

“Helps them understand they are not alone.”

Her area of responsibility, the counties of Tulare and Fresno, encompass an area that includes many Veterans in need – some who are homeless or living in poverty and some who are experiencing the same suicidal ideologies she did.

“It’s okay to talk about things like suicide openly with other people – with other Veterans. When I do I start to feel better, and I can see they start to feel better too,” said Gries. “It helps them to understand they’re not alone.”

“My job is to share my experiences and build trust so they too will seek help from the VA.”

And to this day, Gries continues to seek help from the VA herself.

She facilitates a peer support group once a month and sees a counselor regularly for her PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma. She also uses the Women’s Health Clinic at the VA regularly, and she recently applied for and was granted a VA Home Loan. The VA has connected her with non-VA resources, as well. She owns a beautiful service dog named Sherman who she received from Operation Freedom Paws, and she sees a speech therapist using the VA’s Choice program.

“Helping my fellow Veterans at the VA has made me whole again,” said Gries. “At this point, I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.”

If you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, and press 1.


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Helping Hands for Healthy Hearts for PA Veterans

Richard Weaver, Registered Cardiac Invasive Specialist and Dr. Izzat Shah, M.D.

Richard Weaver, Registered Cardiac Invasive Specialist and Dr. Izzat Shah, M.D. (back) provide Veterans advanced cardiac catheterization care at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center.

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure that examines how well the heart is working. A thin, hollow tube called a catheter is inserted into a large blood vessel leading to the heart. The results of the procedure tell doctors if patients have diseases of the heart muscle, valves or coronary arteries.

Wilkes-Barre’s team of cardiologists, nurses, and technologists is skilled in all aspects of catheterization care. They understand procedures involving the heart can be particularly stressful, and do all they can to address and alleviate Veterans’ concerns.

At the medical center, cardiac catheterizations are performed in a state-of-the-art suite. The suite is equipped with the latest technology, including biplane imaging (which allows doctors to follow the path of blood through blood vessels and create a roadmap for reaching and treating the precise location of problems) and three-dimensional mapping.


Wilkes-Barre’s Cardiac Catheterization Suite features state-of-the-art biplane imaging and three-dimensional mapping capability.

In cardiac catheterization, the catheter can be inserted into either the radial artery in the wrist or the femoral artery in the groin area. The vast majority of catheterization procedures done at Wilkes-Barre today are radial catheterizations, in which a flexible catheter is inserted into the wrist.

Benefits of the radial process, compared to femoral catheterizations, include a reduced risk of bleeding, getting people on their feet more quickly, and increased comfort. Veterans who undergo radial catheterizations are usually done two hours after the procedure is completed. In Wilkes-Barre, they spend the two hours in the catheterization lab recovery room, relaxing in heated massage recliners.

Every year, the cardiac catheterization team treats more and more Wilkes-Barre-area Veterans, so patients no longer need to travel to VA medical centers in Philadelphia and New York for care. This means that they no longer have to face invasive procedures in unfamiliar settings, without loved ones by their side.

The cardiac catheterization team, and the new lab, is another demonstration of how Wilkes-Barre improves the Veteran experience by using the latest medical technology to produce the best possible outcome for Veterans.



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Veteran Shares Green Thumb Hobby with Fellow Vets

Potted plants on display

An Iraq war Veteran tells his story of post-combat struggles and how Veterans Affairs health care professionals helped him commit to a better life…and share his green thumb hobby.

Plants, the more exotic the better, appeal to Greg Kolodziejczyk. The 46-year-old Iraq War Army Veteran has a green thumb and tends dozens of plants at his home. He recently shared his interest with fellow Veterans when he brought in some of his own plants to be repotted and provide green to our hospital Clubhouse, the setting for many different types of recreational and educational activities.

Reflecting on a complex, ongoing process of recovery from the trauma of war entwined with getting clean from dependency on drugs and alcohol, Kolodziejczyk points to two VA New York Harbor Healthcare System staff members as pivotal to his life. In very different roles, Psychiatrist Dr. Marion Eakin, Director of the Mental Health Clinic, and Outreach Specialist Lyn Johnson, engaged with Kolodziejczyk , who describes himself “a mess” when he first came to VA.

Both Johnson and Dr. Eakin gave him respect, and acknowledged his commitment to pulling himself away from a self-destructive path. When he initially met with Johnson, the Marine Corps Veterans said to Kolodziejczyk, “Let me take you around and introduce you to the best people.” What might seem like a simple “warm handoff” was very meaningful and memorable for Kolodzrekzyk.

Six years later, having run into trouble with the law, struggling with depression, survivor’s guilt and hurt over his military experience and life in general, Kolodziejczyk called his therapist Dr. Hanover (since retired from VA) to say goodbye. He had taken a lethal combination of pills and alcohol. “Dr. Eakin happened to be in the room and she called the police.” He was transported by ambulance to the Emergency Department of an outside hospital, resuscitated three times and remained in a coma for 19 days. Dr. Hanover and Dr. Eakin had saved his life. She has continued as his psychiatrist ever since.

Many other clinicians have been working with Kolodziejczyk as he continues both to make his health better and realize his commitment to supporting fellow Veterans. Kolodziejczyk has participated in numerous clinical therapies VANYHHS has to offer. He also applied for a service dog he expects to meet, train with and bring home in the fall.

He has participated in VA residential treatment programs, drop-in groups and individual and group therapies. He said he relates especially well to Vietnam Veterans and is clearly well-liked as he walks through the halls of the hospital and is stopped by fellow Veterans to have a conversation.

Dr. Marion Eakin, Director of the Mental Health Clinic and Army Veteran Greg KolodziejczykDr. Marion Eakin, Director of the Mental Health Clinic and Army Veteran Greg Kolodziejczyk

Kolodziejczyk ’s family have been consistently supportive. “His mother is like a canary sent in a coal mine. She has a sense when Greg is having a flare of his symptoms and calls us,“ says Dr. Eakin. His mother is a Caregiver in the VA’s post 9/11 Family Caregiver Support Program which provides her with training and support as a caregiver.

Kolodziejczyk agrees that his mother’s support has been extraordinary and he is also grateful to his younger brother for assisting his mother in the most stressful times involved with managing his care. As a single father, Kolodziejczyk has a good relationship with his daughter, now a student at Hunter College.

“Let me introduce you to the best people.”

Acknowledging his recovery means ongoing self-awareness, Kolodziejczyk knows he has a way to go. There are still people and situations that put him on edge. Although he lives on the beach in Far Rockaway, for example, he says, “I never go to the beach except maybe at night when there aren’t many people.” He says when he’s in trouble psychologically he withdraws, a behavior his mother is quick to report to his treatment team.

What happened to Kolodziejczyk that caused the damage that is taking him years to repair? Although Kolodzrekzyk is a very articulate and expressive man, some memories and experiences are too hard for him to express.

Approaching Future with Optimism

At age 31, he was living a seemingly glamorous life, making money, and there was a lot of drinking and drugs. When 911 happened, he went up on the roof and, witnessing the horror firsthand, he made the decision to join up and headed to the Times Square recruiting post.

“Kolodziejczyk’s War in Iraq,” as he calls it, combined the pumped-up experiences of military engagement that have always been part of combat, repeated involvement in large scale missions with heavy losses, frustration with extensive preparation for missions that were then aborted, relentless heat, days of sleepless nights, ongoing danger and emotional upheaval in loosing friends.

Told that he would be discharged for a respiratory problem, Kolodziejczyk was distraught knowing that others in his combat unit were still deployed into action. He turned to alcohol and drugs. He was court-marshaled and imprisoned, then discharged.

After a long rocky period of false starts with outpatient therapeutic programs and an inpatient residency, Kolodziejczyk finally committed on a deeper level. Today he has been totally clean for five years and approaches his future with cautious enthusiasm.

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Veteran Sexual Trauma Victims: You Are Not Alone

Female soldier standing in front of American Flag

After Mary experienced Military Sexual Trauma, she was afraid to report it. She thought she was alone. She got help at VA and now wants to get the word out to other Veterans about MST coordinators.

Mary spends her time raising three children and volunteering to serve other Veterans. Her father was a Vietnam Vet.  She loved soccer and Barbie dolls.  But, her love of the military began when she was in ROTC. She loved the lifestyle and the discipline.  She enlisted in the U.S. Army immediately after she completed school.  During her four years in the Army, she was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions. 

She is not alone.

What Mary experienced is called Military Sexual Trauma, otherwise known as MST. She was afraid to report what happened to her.  She was blamed for what happened to her.  Her command turned away.  So she soldiered on.  But she was assaulted at her next duty station, and the next.  She thought she was alone. 

She is not alone.

After experiencing MST, Mary says she felt “dirty” and confused. Her sense of self-worth plummeted.  She withdrew -“I didn’t want friendships-I didn’t want to trust anybody.”  She felt anger and hatred.  She panicked when confronted with reminders of the MST-the smell of cigarettes and alcohol, music that was playing at the time, and men.  She avoided the mess hall.  She went for supplies when she was less likely to be confronted by her attackers, or anyone who might be her next attacker.  Mary blamed herself – “Maybe if I hadn’t been so polite, maybe if I wore different clothes….”  She wasn’t able to have sex without using alcohol. 

She is not alone.

Mary’s family and friends told her they saw that “something is wrong” and encouraged her to seek help. This irritated her.  “I was in denial,” Mary says. “I thought I’m in control.”  But then, Mary says, she began to forget things and was crying frequently. It had been seventeen years since she was assaulted.  So she reached out. She sought help. 

She is not alone.

Mary was surprised when she met her providers. “I’m not a number.  Because I was embarrassed and thought I was trash, I thought they would think that, too.  But, my doctor was caring. Everybody was.  I was a person to them,” Mary paused, “That means a lot.”   Mary says her life has changed since seeking help.  “I’m happier and my thinking is clearer.  I’m more outgoing…more active.  I enjoy things more and I’m less angry.  I’m not as paranoid.”  She says her providers “gave me great guidance… I wish I’d come earlier.” 

She is not alone.

Mary also says, “There are a lot of people who were my stepping stones and they still are.” Now, Mary is dedicated to serving Veterans.  And she wants to get the word out about MST.  Women and men have experienced Military Sexual Trauma.  There is an MST Coordinator at every VA facility.  Medical and Behavioral Health Services related to MST are free of charge.  And you may be eligible for treatment even if you don’t otherwise qualify.  If you have experienced MST and are having mental health or physical health problems, please call or come to your VA medical center. 

You are not alone.

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Veterans Find Prostate Cancer Cure at McGuire

Dr. Schutzer conducting research

Dr. Matthew Schutzer examines a 3-dimensional diagram in preparation for the placement of radiated seeds which are placed into a patient’s prostate to fight cancer cells.

Photo by Patrick Gordon

Thanks to the nationwide scope of the Veterans Health Administration, a national referral program has allowed Veterans from around the country to descend on the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond for treatment of moderate to aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the second-most common type of cancer among American men, who make up the largest population of Veterans. The most common form of treatment in most VA facilities is external beam radiation, a six to nine week process that involves treatments five days a week.

“So far, we’ve had nothing but positive feedback. It’s a great program.”

At McGuire, brachytherapy offers a much better option for Veterans. Brachytherapy is a form of treatment that involves implanting radiated seeds directly into the prostate, where the seeds attack and eliminate the cancerous cells.

McGuire’s brachytherapy program dates back to the 1997. It was started by Dr. Michael P. Hagan, who is now the VA’s National Director for Radiation Oncology.

Minimal Side Effects and Recovery Period

Dr. Drew Moghanaki, an attending physician in McGuire’s Radiation/Oncology department, currently leads the brachytherapy program.

“What we offer is access to high-quality treatment of prostate cancer with minimal side effects and recovery period,” said Moghanaki.

Research has shown brachytherapy to be a more effective treatment for moderate to aggressive forms of prostate cancer. Additionally, the treatment is completed in one day, allowing Veterans to quickly get back to their regular lives.

Veterans from places like Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico and many other areas around the country have come to McGuire to take advantage of this innovative treatment. It’s only available in a handful of VA facilities, including McGuire.

Research has shown brachytherapy is safer for the patient, minimizing radiation to the prostate area and drastically reducing recovery time.

For Veterans around the country whose local facilities don’t offer brachytherapy treatment, the national referral program gives them a chance to receive top-notch care at McGuire without leaving the VA system.

Leaving No Man Behind

“Many Veterans prefer to stay within the VA,” said Moghanaki. “We make that happen. It increases access for Veterans in areas where the VA doesn’t offer radiation services onsite. We’re leaving no man behind.”

Nurse Practitioner Sandy Troeschel is the brachytherapy clinical program manager. She helps determine which patients are eligible to come to McGuire for brachytherapy and works with them to make treatment plans.

Using the VA’s telehealth system, she is able to meet with Veterans through a video chat and walk them through the intake process. Once she has the information she needs to proceed, a social worker assists with arranging transportation to Richmond. Often, organizations like Mercy Medical Angels assist with transportation costs for Veterans who need it.

“It has been very successful,” Troeschel said. “Patients have been very happy. It’s a fantastic program and it’s expanding.”

Carlos Alvarez, a Veteran who lives in Puerto Rico, was diagnosed with moderately aggressive prostate cancer.

“The following morning, I was on my way home”

Local doctors were running out of options. That’s when he was referred to McGuire for brachytherapy. From that point on, the process was a quick and easy one, Alvarez said.

After Troeschel determined Alvarez was a strong candidate for the treatment, he came to Richmond for the procedure.

“I went to Virginia, got everything hooked up, they did the procedure and the following morning, I was on my way home,” said Alvarez.

After Alvarez went home to Puerto Rico, the doctors at his local VA were able to follow up with him and had access to all of the information about his treatment at McGuire.

“Everything is documented in their records,” said Troeschel. “It doesn’t matter if things are done here or at their home VA facility, all the information is there.”

For the brachytherapy team, the continuity of care is a key to success.

“We’ve definitely improved access to brachytherapy for Veterans,” said Brachytherapy RN Steven Schlink. “We’re filling a need, bringing people from all over. So far, we’ve had nothing but positive feedback. It’s a great program.”

Approximately 100 brachytherapy procedures are performed at McGuire each year. Some of these Veterans are from the Richmond area, but many are Veterans who have been referred from other areas and who otherwise might have had to resort to weeks of external beam radiation treatment.

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10 Things About The Veterans Choice Program

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Veterans Compete in National Wheelchair Games

Wheelchair basketball game

Veterans Compete in National Wheelchair Games

Last year, Navy Veteran Jeff Deleon of Salem, Oregon, signed up for seven events and announced that he planned on taking home seven gold medals.

That’s the spirit of competition that hundreds of Veterans bring each year to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

It’s the 37th year for the event, being held this year in Cincinnati July 17 – 22.

The purpose of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games 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.

The games are presented each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America with additional support from numerous corporate and community sponsors.

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

Participation is open to Veterans having spinal cord injuries, amputations, multiple sclerosis or other neurological conditions who require a wheelchair for athletic competition and who are eligible to receive care at a VA medical facility.

Volunteers make it happen

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, to event set-up, water distribution, assistance with meals, and numerous other activities that will help guarantee a successful event.

Quality of life and better health

The games demonstrate the therapeutic value of sports and competition. As presenters of the event, Paralyzed Veterans and the 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, the event also provides opportunities for newly injured Veterans to gain sports skills and be exposed to other athletes who use wheelchairs.

Since the 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.

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