Sharing Advantages of VA Home Based Care

A doctor visits a patient in his home and takes his hand.

Dr. Milton Havron treats a Veteran patient in his home.

“How inconvenient and needlessly expensive it is for a chronically ill patient who cannot walk to be brought to a clinic by an ambulance crew.

“How much more sense it makes for medical people to go to them. In the patient’s home I am in their milieu, and can better understand how they cope with their illness day to day.“

Dr. Milton Havron is describing VA’s Home Based Primary Care program. He is the director of the program at the Martinsburg, WV, VA Medical Center. And one of VA’s proudest proponents of the program.

“In the patient’s home I can better understand how they cope.”

In a recent letter to the Washington Post, Dr. Havron agreed with a doctor who says “In today’s corporatized, professionally fragmented medical landscape, it is almost impossible for a primary-care doctor to take the time to truly connect with patients and their families.” Dr. Havron’s friendly rejoinder was, “I am blessed, however, to work in a setting that allows just that: the Veterans Health Administration.”

Home based primary care (HBPC), pioneered in the VA system in the mid-1970s, started with a few major centers. Today it has expanded to about 150 programs at VA centers around the country.

It is designed to take care of patients with serious chronic illnesses for whom routine clinic-based care is difficult to get due to geographic barriers or severe physical disability.

HBPC Allows Time for Comprehensive Assessment

As Dr. Havron describes HBPC, “I can spend time getting to know their principal caretakers. I can spot things going on in their homes which may impede their progress. The design of VA’s HBPC program allows me and my staff time to do a comprehensive assessment which is very difficult in the private sector due to time pressure.

“HBPC also serves as an alternative to institutionalized assisted living, allowing the infirm Veteran to stay home. Without regular easily accessible medical care, many of these frail patients will get sick and get admitted to the hospital for prolonged stays.

“While HBPC cannot prevent all such hospitalizations, the statistics tell the story that patients admitted to VA HBPC programs have fewer and shorter hospitalizations, saving on inpatient expenses and sparing the patient much suffering and inconvenience.”

Dr. Havron says that there are many HBPC medical directors around the country doing the same thing he does. “HBPC is a team concept with multiple players, from our head of geriatrics Dr. Elisabeth Sethi, to the midlevels, the RNs, the allied professionals, and our staff.”

Dr. Sethi points out that, “Under Dr. Havron’s leadership, our HBPC program has been one of the fastest growing nationally, supported by VHA rural health grants, by our facility and the VISN (Veterans Integrated Service Network).”

Services Provided to Veterans in Their Homes

HBPC programs generally offer these core services to patients in their homes:

  • A medical provider (physician, nurse-practitioner, or physician assistant) to take a history, examine the patient and prescribe a course of treatment
  • a registered nurse to act as the provider’s eyes and ears in between provider visits
  • a psychologist if counseling is required
  • a social worker to untie many a bureaucratic knot
  • a pharmacist to help providers prescribe medications in the safest and most effective way
  • a physical or occupational therapist to check the home for safety and prescribe exercises for musculoskeletal ailments.

Dr. Thomas Edes, Executive Director of VA’s Geriatrics & Extended Care Clinical Operations, adds, “HBPC is an important part of the future of health care, demonstrating that for those who have the greatest need for frequent care yet face the greatest challenges in access to care, we can increase access, improve quality, and lower total costs of care. The success of VA HBPC contributed to the successful implementation of the Medicare demonstration of HBPC called “Independence at Home.”

“Proud that VA has been a leader”

HBPC also works alongside home hospice services for terminal patients and with specialized home care nurses providing wound care or short-term intravenous drug therapy in the home.

In recent years VA has also been developing telemedicine as a way to bring at-home patients and specialist doctors together.

Home-based primary-care programs can be a refuge where doctors, and their nurse-practitioner and physician-assistant colleagues, can practice traditional personalized medicine while enjoying the benefits of modern communications technology.

“I am proud that the VA has been a leader in this concept,” he said.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/April/Sharing-Advantages-of-VA-Home-Based-Care.asp

Surgical Implant Prosthesis for Veteran Amputees

Black and white image of Veteran Patient standing with a implanted prosthetic, a close up of the legs and wheel chair.

The muscle grows stronger as the rod fuses with the bone

A giant step in the next generation of prostheses for Veteran amputees

Researchers and physicians hold their collective breath as Veteran Ed Salau clicks his new prosthetic leg into place and stands on it for the first time.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this day is here, it’s so surreal, I have goosebumps,” says Dr. Sarina Sinclair, a key researcher on the team.

And then fist pumps all around as Ed jokes about the Hokey Pokey dance being a whole lot easier now.

In 2004, Salau’s platoon was ambushed by the enemy while out on patrol in Iraq. Two rocket propelled grenades penetrated his patrol vehicle and his left leg was so badly damaged it later had to be amputated just above the knee.

“It’s so weird. I can feel the ground again. I haven’t had that sensation in eleven years,” said Salau.

“It’s perfect. I’m stoked”

Male Veteran with prothesis implant

What started as scribbled ideas on posted notes all over the wall of a research lab is now a reality that could impact the lives of these two Veterans and countless others in the future.

Leg is attached without a socket

The device is called a percutaneous osseointegrated prosthesis or POP. It features a titanium rod surgically implanted into the bottom of the thigh bone. The rod allows a prosthetic leg to be securely attached without the need for a socket.

This team has worked years to get to this day. Peter Beck, an attending orthopedic surgeon for VA and an adjunct professor for the University of Utah, has been invested for over a decade. He says the big barrier for years was preventing infection and perfecting the surgical procedures for inserting the rod into the femur bone.

“Bryant, you’re up.” Says Bart Gillespie, VA Salt Lake City physical therapist.

Veteran Bryant Jacobs was also injured in Iraq in 2004.

He sees himself as a trailblazer willing to take this risk for other Veterans that may follow. He wife is right by his side as he stands on the POP for the first time.

“It’s perfect. That’s what we want. I’m stoked”

Bryant wants to be able to use the rowing machine without a prosthetic sleeve jabbing him in the groin. He also wants to snowboard again in the Utah mountains. After voluntarily having his leg amputated two years ago, Bryant begged to be a part of the clinical study.

“I’m really excited. This is going to be a game changer for him,” said Gillespie.

Ed hopes to be able to climb Kilimanjaro one day, but in the near future, a long walk on the beach with his wife is a good start.

 

A Male Veteran patient wearing a hat and standing with a prosthetic implant

The pair is the first ever in the United States to receive the POP implant. Their first surgery was on December 7, 2015, to insert the metal rod. In a follow-up procedure on Feb. 8, 2016, doctors attached a docking mechanism, extending from the implanted rod and through the skin, to which the leg is attached.

Veterans enjoying fit and comfort

Both Veterans are already raving about the comfort and fit of the new device. Initial first steps have now become longer stretches of walking and stair climbing. Each day the muscle grows stronger as the rod fuses with the bone, and each day the Veterans feel a little more confident and comfortable with their new legs.

But researchers and physicians warn this is just the beginning of a long process and there may be more barriers to overcome along the way. “As researchers we are anxious to gather our results and allow for future improvements. The thing about research is we don’t have all of the answers when we start,” says Dr. Larry Meyer, Director of Research, VA Salt Lake City Health Care System.

This is a VA-funded clinical trial, approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It will assess the feasibility and safety of the new implant in ten VA patients over the course of several years. It could be five years or more before the technology is widely available.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/April/Surgically-Implanted-Prosthesis-for-Veteran-Ampute.asp

Marking 70 Years of Volunteers Serving Veterans

Voluntary Services Logo Celebrating their 70th Anniversary

“Even if it’s a little thing, do something for those who have need of help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.” —Albert Schweitzer

National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, is a great time to showcase the impact and power that VA volunteers have on those they serve.

VA Voluntary Service is celebrating 70 years of Volunteer support and philanthropic donations to VA facilities this year. It is through the sincere dedication of volunteers and trusted partnerships that allow us to live up to the VHA mission of “Honoring Service and Empowering Health” of Veteran patients nationwide.

Personal contributions of time and expressions of care are the hallmark and the foundation of VA Voluntary Service. VA volunteers epitomize the one-to-one sharing and caring that is a core value of our Nation. Last year, over 76,000 VA volunteers gladly gave more than 11 million hours of service to Veterans.

Three generations of Volunteers.

The human connection is essential to providing great clinical care. Without volunteers, the quality of VA services and programs would be lessened.

Our volunteers do the endless list of jobs that are necessary in caring for Veterans. Some of our volunteers even blaze their own paths, using their unique skills and creative vision to find new ways to thank Veterans.

Our volunteers do what it takes to make their heroes feel at home.

A Veteran Patient work with a member of Voluntary Services

Voluntary Services, helping Veterans.

Our volunteers do what it takes to make their heroes feel at home. They read to patients, provide recreation transportation, entertainment and training. They offer respite for caregivers, coaching and friendship. Sometimes the value of a volunteer is as simple as the offer of a sympathetic ear.

Award-winning actor Gary Sinise asks “What will you do?”

VA’s Voluntary Service Office Director, Sabrina Clark, adds that, “The volunteer’s personal dimension of kindness and concern goes to the heart of VA health care. We are blessed to have volunteers who make life better for those who gave selflessly of themselves. As we treat increasing numbers of Veterans at VA, our reliance on community support and involvement continues to grow.”

A new generation of proud, young American fighting men and women is serving and sacrificing for freedom around the world, and they are coming to VA medical facilities like ours for care. Their special needs and challenges require the hearts and hands of a new generation of VA volunteers.

Hear stories from VA Volunteers and patients.

VA’s Voluntary Service program is a key link between Veterans who seek care with VA and their communities. It is an avenue through which every citizen and organization can show our Veterans, young and old, that America cares and remembers.

Find out how you can volunteer.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/April/Marking_70_Years_of_Volunteers_Serving_Veterans.asp

Occupational Therapists in Home Based Primary Care

A man in a wheelchair shows a wooden dollhouse to another man.

David Benthall, OT, visits with Veteran proudly demonstrating woodworking project. Benthall assisted with proper lighting and adaptive visual aids needed for the project.

Here’s another positive way teams of VA health care professionals are taking care of a special group of Veterans. And VA’s occupational therapists are key members of those teams.

It’s Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) which is a VA health care program provided to Veterans in their home, Veterans who have complex health care needs for whom routine clinic-based care is not effective.

The HBPC team at the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina is comprised of physician, physician assistant/nurse practitioner, social worker, occupational/physical therapy team, pharmacist, dietitian, psychologist and access to chaplain services.

April is Occupational Therapy Month

April is Occupational Therapy Month, an opportunity to learn more about this important profession that helps Veterans across the lifespan do the things they want to do and live life to its fullest.

Occupational therapists focus on “doing,” using occupations and meaningful life activities to help individuals maximize their potential.

Today, comprehensive primary care requires a coordinated team-based approach that promotes shared decision-making, sustained relationships with patients and families, and quality improvement activities.

In contrast to services reimbursed by other funding mechanisms such as Medicare, HBPC provides comprehensive care of the patient often for the remainder of their life.

HBPC targets frail, chronically ill Veterans who require interdisciplinary health care teams, continuity, coordination of care, and the integration of diverse services to cover their complex medical, social, rehabilitative, and behavioral care needs.

To manage the complex health problems of chronically or terminally ill patients, HBPC is provided directly by an interdisciplinary team.

This team promotes collaboration and coordination among all team members. The HBPC team members work interdependently in assessing, planning, problem solving, and decision-making to meet the complex needs of Veterans.

The Role of Occupational Therapy

The use of Occupational Therapy within the Home Based Primary Care at the Durham VA Medical Center is a non-traditional approach for the use of OT services with a proactive focus on prevention, education and wellness. This contrasts from traditional home therapy services which have a short-term, rehabilitative or restorative focus.

Occupational Therapists contribute to the team by performing the initial and ongoing assessments of the Veteran’s functional status in the home environment. This allows them to monitor and support clients as they go through the natural aging process and into the end-of-life.

A Veteran in a wheelchair poses next to an accessible ramp to his house

Jim Mathues, OT, coordinated a Home Depot Grant project to improve accessibility in the home of this Veteran who had been limited to living in his basement due to environmental barriers but now can enjoy his upstairs patio with door widening and ramp installation.

Occupational Therapists also evaluate the Veteran’s home for safety and structural modifications needed to make the home environment safe and accessible, including adaptive equipment needs.

Occupational Therapists maximize function and safety in the home environment supporting Veterans’ goal to remain in their home during the aging process.

Important Interventions

Other important interventions include helping with lifestyle modification to minimize the impacts of chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and dementia. They also focus on safety and falls prevention within the home environment.

There are numerous other unseen tasks involving a lot of important details such as educating the Veteran and their families about access to VA or community resources including grants to assist with modifying their home and automobile for accessibility, home repair resources and community transportation options.

As the largest health care system in the nation, VA is the single largest employer of occupational therapists, whose primary goal is to help Veterans optimize their functional performance in areas that are meaningful to their lives.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/April/Occupational-Therapists-in-Home-Based-Primary-Care.asp

VA Honors Vietnam Vets for Service and Sacrifice

A man captures a pencil rubbing of a Servicemember's name engraved on the Vietnam Wall

A man captures a pencil rubbing of a Servicemember’s name engraved on the Vietnam Wall.

It’s time for Americans to show their appreciation to those who served, especially those who continued to sacrifice long after the war ended.

As part of the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War, VA and 29 states and territories are marking the anniversary of the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam with a day of appreciation celebrated on March 29.

“Our nation’s Vietnam War Commemoration is a long-overdue opportunity for all Americans to recognize, honor, and thank our Vietnam Veterans and their families for their service during one of America’s longest wars.”

—Robert A. McDonald
Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs

Across America today, March 29, Vietnam Veterans Day, VA medical centers and other facilities will be saying “Thank You” to millions of Vietnam Veterans for their sacrifice on behalf of the United States and will thank and honor the families of these Veterans.

Philadelphia VA Medical Center

The VA medical center in Philadelphia is named the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center. Corporal Crescenz is the only Vietnam-era serviceman from the Philadelphia area to receive the Medal of Honor.

Dr. Himanshu Singh, Acting Director is sending a letter to all Vietnam Veterans enrolled at the Aleda E. Lutz Medical Center in Saginaw, Mich., which says in part, “Many of you never received a thank you when you were discharged from active duty. We want to take this opportunity to thank you for your commitment and sacrifice. Your dedication to serving when your country called on you will never be forgotten.”

Bronze sculpture of a soldier seated

Bronze sculpture of Pfc. Dennis Lee Lobbezoo.

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., is named after a Vietnam Veteran who posthumously was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Read his story here. The medical center also honors Pfc. Dennis Lee Lobbezoo, a young Marine who lost his life in 1968 during the Vietnam War, with the statue pictured above. The sculpture was created by Vietnam Veteran Dr. Edward Byrd.

Military and VA officials present Veterans with recognition pins.

Lt. Col. Nathan Molica of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Charleston, S.C. VA Medical Center Director Scott Isaacks recognize Vietnam Veterans.

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center also handed out special Vietnam 50th Commemorative lapel pins to Veterans who served in Vietnam. Medical Center Director Scott Isaacks and Lt. Col. Nathan Molica, Deputy Commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District, presented the pins.

Michael J. Fitzmaurice

Michael J. Fitzmaurice, retired plumber at the Sioux Falls VA Medical Center, is South Dakota’s only surviving Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Vietnam Army Veteran Fitzmaurice served other Veterans as a VA plumber from 1987-2011. A humble man, he never mentioned that he earned America’s highest award for valor for his heroic actions at Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam in 1971. Read his story here.

Columbus Tyson

Want to know what it was like to serve in Vietnam? Read a dramatic diary of a Veteran who was there. Take a few minutes and read this extended account by Columbus Tyson, an Environmental Management worker at VA’s Brooklyn Campus.

Servicemember Sam Powell receives a medal in military uniform

The Martinsburg, W.V., VA Medical Center shared this photo of VA employee Sam Powell receiving an Arcom Medal for finding a well-hidden major VC base camp on aerial photography. They will be displaying more photos of Vietnam Veterans during their welcome home event on March 29.

Dr. John David Berryman at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Dr. John David Berryman pauses at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the Beckley, W.V., VA Medical Center. Berryman, Beckley Chief of Staff, is a Navy Veteran who served as a Surgical Medical Officer in Vietnam for two tours (1965 to 1971).

Check with your local VA facility for events near you.

Visit vietnamwar50th.com to learn more.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/March/VA-Honors-Vietnam-Vets-for-Service-Sacrifice.asp

Veterans with Epilepsy: You are not alone

A Veteran being treated by his VA doctor

Dr. W. Curt LaFrance Jr., principal investigator for a pilot study of Veterans with epileptic seizures at the Providence VA Medical Center, conducts a finger-tapping exercise with Veteran Ernest J. Avery as part of an exam at the Providence VA Medical Center. Avery served in Operation Enduring Freedom.


Photo by Winfield Danielson

VA Releases Video Series on Veterans with Epilepsy

In an effort to address the stigma of epilepsy and educate Veterans, their caregivers and the general public about living with epilepsy, VA Epilepsy Centers of Excellence have developed a video series titled “Veterans and Epilepsy: Basic Training.”

The video, now available on YouTube, focuses on the diagnosis of epilepsy. Subsequent videos will include topics such as, epilepsy medications, social issues faced by individuals living with epilepsy, seizure first aid, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The goal is to promote public awareness of the impact of epilepsy on the lives of Veterans and show that these patients are able to live full, productive and successful lives.

“There is a culture of stoicism in the military, which prevents Veterans with epilepsy from reaching out to get more information about their epilepsy. Hopefully these videos will show Veterans and all individuals living with epilepsy they are not alone,” said Stephanie Chen, epilepsy nurse practitioner with the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

“I’m not a quitter,” says Veteran Matthew in epilepsy video.

Many consider traumatic brain injury, or TBI, to be the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Department of Defense, 333,169 U.S. military Service members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000, and the number is growing. In addition to symptoms such as memory problems, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Servicemembers and Veterans with TBI are at greater risk for seizures and epilepsy.

“Veterans present unique challenges because their seizure-related psychosocial difficulties are often amplified by posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. W. Curt LaFrance Jr., principle investigator for a pilot study of Veterans with epileptic seizures at the Providence VA Medical Center. “Among our goals of caring for Veterans with epilepsy is developing effective treatments for these psychosocial comorbidities.”

Therapy Results in Improvement in Quality of Life

The Providence VAMC has been using a 12-session seizure therapy intervention in Veteran patients with non-epileptic seizures and with epilepsy, which resulted in a reduction in seizures, improvement in anxiety and depression, and improvement in quality of life. The treatment has been used successfully for epilepsy in non-Veterans in prior pilot trials at other facilities.

A grant from the Matty Fund, a Rhode Island-based nonprofit, in April 2015 is helping bridge treatments, research, training and education by supporting a Brown University student who worked with the study. This support is facilitating the Providence VAMC in providing seizure therapy for 20 Veterans with epilepsy in the pilot study. The Veterans will continue with existing treatment with their current care providers. Some will receive the additional seizure therapy provided as part of the study in order to compare a cognitive behavioral-informed psychotherapy with standard medical care by assessing seizures, co-morbid symptoms, quality of life and functioning.

To meet the needs of Veteran patients nationwide, VA created Epilepsy Centers of Excellence, or ECOEs, at 16 sites across the VA health care system, which are linked to four regional centers. The ECOEs strive to ensure high-quality care for Veterans with seizures, and conduct outreach, research and education efforts.

Veterans with seizures interested in seeking services at one of the ECOEs should speak with their primary care provider or neurologist who can help determine if the individual might benefit from the services provided by an ECOE, and assist with scheduling an appointment. For more information, please email ECoE@va.gov or visit www.epilepsy.va.gov.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/March/Veterans-with-Epilepsy-You-are-not-alone.asp

Were you exposed to burn pits while deployed?

Image of female Airman tossing old uniforms into a firepit to be burned

An airman tosses uniforms into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2008.

The military burns unusable uniforms so they don’t end up in enemy hands.


Photo by: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter, USAF

Were you exposed to burn pits while deployed?

Did you serve in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn, Djibouti, Africa, Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm or the Southeast Asia theater of operations after August, 1990?

Do you think you may have been exposed to burn pits and other airborne hazards?

Some Veterans have reported respiratory symptoms and health conditions that may be related to exposure to burn pits. The long-term health effects of exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards are not fully understood. In an effort to better understand these health effects, VA has launched the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry for Veterans and Servicemembers.

“While nearly 61,000 Veterans and Servicemembers have joined the Burn Pit Registry since its launch nearly two years ago, this is only a small fraction of the estimated 3 million individuals who may be eligible to join this registry,” said Dr. Stephen Hunt, National Director of VA’s Post-Deployment Integrated Care Initiative. “I encourage as many eligible individuals as possible to sign up for the Burn Pit Registry.”

“It provides Veterans long term follow up for any conditions they have or could emerge down the road.”

Since the early 1980s, Dr. Hunt has conducted registry exams for the Agent Orange, Former POW, Gulf War, Ionizing Radiation, and the Airborne Hazards and the Open Burn Pit Registries. According to Dr. Hunt, the Burn Pit Registry will help Veterans in a number of ways.

The Registry gives participants an opportunity to document any concerns they may have about deployment-related exposures and provides an opportunity to obtain a free health evaluation by a VA or DoD provider. The evaluation can identify and document any problems potentially related to the exposures and ensure ongoing follow up for any existing health conditions or any additional conditions that could emerge down the road.

One challenge when addressing environmental exposures is that we don’t always know what the long-term health effects of those exposures may be or when those health concerns might arise. Some exposures don’t lead to any long-term problems. Others, however, may have long-term or downstream health effects that aren’t identifiable early on. Through the registry, if health conditions related to exposures do emerge months or years later, we will be able to identify them more quickly and to make sure that Veterans get the health care that they need in a timely manner.

A common misunderstanding about the registry is that participation is required to obtain disability compensation benefits. This is not true. The burn pit registry and all other VA registries are unrelated to the disability compensation rating process. While a Registry note in your medical record summarizing your exposure concerns and related medical treatment may serve as evidence to support a claim, it is not a necessary document or step in the claims process.

The registry is open to anyone who served in:

  • Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New     Dawn
  • Djibouti, Africa on or after Sept. 11, 2001
  • Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm
  • Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after Aug. 2, 1990

Interested Veterans and Servicemembers can learn more about the registry in this short video, or sign up. “Ultimately, our goal in VA is to have 22 million healthy Veterans using VA services and resources as needed to ensure that they enjoy the most meaningful, satisfying, and productive lives possible,” said Hunt.

“The Burn Pit Registry is a nice way for Veterans to get their foot in the door at the VA and to explore the services, benefits and resources available to them through VA health care.”

The Burn Pit Registry is one more reflection of how far VA has come. It is a measure of how much progress we’ve made in taking care of individuals with deployment-related exposure concerns, and in taking care of Veterans in general.

Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn Djibouti, Africa on or after Sept. 11, 2001 Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm Southeast Asia theater of operations on or after Aug. 2, 1990.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/March/Were-you-exposed-to-burn-pits-while-deployed.asp

Were you exposed to burn pits while deployed

Image of female soldier tossing old uniforms into a firepit to be burned

An airman tosses uniforms into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in 2008.

The military burns unusable uniforms so they don’t end up in enemy hands.


Photo by: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter, USAF

Were you exposed to burn pits while deployed?

Did you serve in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn, Djibouti, Africa, Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm or the Southeast Asia theater of operations after August, 1990?

Do you think you may have been exposed to burn pits and other airborne hazards?

Some Veterans have reported respiratory symptoms and health conditions that may be related to exposure to burn pits. The long-term health effects of exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards are not fully understood. In an effort to better understand these health effects, VA has launched the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry for Veterans and Servicemembers.

“While nearly 61,000 Veterans and Servicemembers have joined the Burn Pit Registry since its launch nearly two years ago, this is only a small fraction of the estimated 3 million individuals who may be eligible to join this registry,” said Dr. Stephen Hunt, National Director of VA’s Post-Deployment Integrated Care Initiative. “I encourage as many eligible individuals as possible to sign up for the Burn Pit Registry.”

“It provides Veterans long term follow up for any conditions they have or could emerge down the road.”

Since the early 1980s, Dr. Hunt has conducted registry exams for the Agent Orange, Former POW, Gulf War, Ionizing Radiation, and the Airborne Hazards and the Open Burn Pit Registries. According to Dr. Hunt, the Burn Pit Registry will help Veterans in a number of ways.

The Registry gives participants an opportunity to document any concerns they may have about deployment-related exposures and provides an opportunity to obtain a free health evaluation by a VA or DoD provider. The evaluation can identify and document any problems potentially related to the exposures and ensure ongoing follow up for any existing health conditions or any additional conditions that could emerge down the road.

One challenge when addressing environmental exposures is that we don’t always know what the long-term health effects of those exposures may be or when those health concerns might arise. Some exposures don’t lead to any long-term problems. Others, however, may have long-term or downstream health effects that aren’t identifiable early on. Through the registry, if health conditions related to exposures do emerge months or years later, we will be able to identify them more quickly and to make sure that Veterans get the health care that they need in a timely manner.

A common misunderstanding about the registry is that participation is required to obtain disability compensation benefits. This is not true. The burn pit registry and all other VA registries are unrelated to the disability compensation rating process. While a Registry note in your medical record summarizing your exposure concerns and related medical treatment may serve as evidence to support a claim, it is not a necessary document or step in the claims process.

The registry is open to anyone who served in:

  • Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New      Dawn
  • Djibouti, Africa on or after Sept. 11, 2001
  • Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm
  • Southeast Asia theater of operations on or after Aug. 2, 1990

Interested Veterans and Servicemembers can learn more about the registry in this short video, or sign up. “Ultimately, our goal in VA is to have 22 million healthy Veterans using VA services and resources as needed to ensure that they enjoy the most meaningful, satisfying, and productive lives possible,” said Hunt.

“The Burn Pit Registry is a nice way for Veterans to get their foot in the door at the VA and to explore the services, benefits and resources available to them through VA health care.”

The Burn Pit Registry is one more reflection of how far VA has come. It is a measure of how much progress we’ve made in taking care of individuals with deployment-related exposure concerns, and in taking care of Veterans in general.

Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn Djibouti, Africa on or after Sept. 11, 2001 Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm Southeast Asia theater of operations on or after Aug. 2, 1990

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/March/Were-you-exposed-to-burn-pits-while-deployed.asp

Improvements in Brain Injury Data Collection

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/March/Improvements-in-Brain-Injury-Data-Collection.asp

Her Mission Rescuing Phoenix Homeless Veterans

Army Veteran Maria Beltran VA Social Worker talking with homeless Veteran

Phoenix VA Social Worker Maria Beltran attempts to talk with a homeless Veteran.

Her Mission: Rescuing Phoenix Homeless Veterans

Maria. I just met a girl named Maria…

“I get that all the time, that West Side Story thing,” said Maria Beltran, a social worker at the Phoenix VA. “It’s okay. I’m used to it.”

But West Side Story aside, the 35-year-old Army Veteran has been nothing less than a godsend to dozens of homeless Veterans who sleep under bridges, on park benches or anywhere else they can find to lay their heads at night.

“Some of these Vets, they’ve been out there so long, it’s all they know.”

Seek and Ye Shall Find

“We have six social workers here,” explained Beltran, who did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan before coming to the VA in 2013. “Our job is to go out there and find these Veterans, make contact with them, engage them. We explain what we can do for them, let them know we can find them a place to live, something to eat, clean clothes to wear.”

It’s not the kind of work everyone can do. After all, walking up to homeless strangers and striking up a conversation isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But Maria Beltran, an energetic extrovert with an endlessly sunny disposition, seems to be built for it.

“We try to just talk to them to see what they need,” she said. “If they want housing, we can do their housing assessment right there, on the street, because we always bring our computers with us. Or if they’re willing to come to the office to do their paperwork, we’ll give them a ride. We all take turns driving the shuttle bus. Even my boss drives the shuttle.”

Beltran’s line of work may be challenging, but it has its perks. For instance, there’s never a dull day.

Image of Army Veteran Maria Beltran, Social Worker at the Phoenix VA

Maria Beltran, Phoenix VA

My Little Family

“We had an elderly Veteran come into the office one day,” she said. “He had to be over 80 and he was homeless. He brought his wife with him. She was in her 30s and about eight months pregnant. She also had her 18-month-old daughter with her.”

“The first thing we did was get them diapers for their 18-month-old. Then we gave them a gift card for food, because they were hungry. The following day we got them into an emergency shelter. By the following week, they were in their own place through our Supportive Services for Veterans and Families rapid-re-housing program.”

Beltran paused and smiled. “That was my little family,” she said. “They even called us recently to let us know how they were doing. That was nice.”

Then there are the homeless Vets who have no one left in the world.

“One day we found this female Veteran at one of the homeless kitchens,” Beltran said. “She was crying when we found her. She had served during the 1970s. I don’t know how old she was but she was using a walker and didn’t have a place to live. She wasn’t enrolled with the VA so we contacted our regional office and they were able to send us her DD-214. So we got her enrolled, and got her into one of our transitional beds that same day.

“The following week she was approved for our HUD-VASH program to obtain permanent supportive housing. That was kind of nice to see. A lot of different people worked together to make that happen, to get a roof over her head.”

Someone to Listen

The most heartbreaking cases, perhaps, are the Veterans who don’t want a roof. They prefer the park bench, an underpass or a tent.

“They just don’t trust anyone,” Beltran explained. “Some of these Vets, they’ve been out there so long it’s all they know. So you just keep approaching them. You talk to them, try to get to know them. Sometimes, all they want is someone to listen to them. So we listen.”

She continued: “We found this one Vietnam Veteran who keeps telling us he’d rather sleep in his tent outside. He won’t let us help him. So all you can do is give him a hygiene kit and keep following up with him to see if he’s ready to accept some help.

“I haven’t seen him for a while now,” she added. “The nights can get chilly here. I hope he’s okay.”

To learn more about VA’s effort to end Veteran homelessness, visit: www.va.gov/homeless.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2016/March/Her-Mission-Rescuing-Phoenix-Homeless-Veterans.asp


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