Seeking New Coping Tools for Veterans with TBI

A woman shows a man a plan written on a large paper pad

Occupational therapist Annemarie Rossi works with Veteran Lonny Ellison during a cognitive training session at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt

One of the most effective tools to manage a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), is a smartphone calendar app, say VA researchers. Considered the signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, mTBI can result in memory loss, mood disturbances and other potentially disabling symptoms. For some, the injury can prove life-altering.

“With mild TBI, one of the most common symptoms is problems with prospective memory—remembering to do things,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Twamley, a neuropsychologist with the VA San Diego Healthcare System. “We want people to remember to take their medication and buy cards for their wife’s birthday and do all the important things they need to get back to work and school.”

In previous conflicts, mTBI did not play much of a role, so little research has been done on the topic. Now, with between 10 and 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran having sustained at least one mTBI, VA researchers nationwide are hunting for viable treatment options. In addition to pharmacological and other medical therapies being studied, researchers are learning how to use various cognitive rehabilitation strategies to best effect.

Twelve-week program addresses problem-solving and more

“When the service members started coming back with TBI, we began to look for literature on how to treat them and there wasn’t really any evidence-based research,” says Twamley, also with the University of California, San Diego. “It became clear we needed to do something.”

Twamley developed Cognitive Symptom Management and Rehabilitation Therapy (CogSMART) to do just that. Over 12 weeks, Veterans going through CogSMART learn strategies to help with fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, stress, improving attention, memory and problem-solving.

Twamley’s team recently published the results of a CogSMART pilot study involving 50 Veterans. The study showed significant improvements in some areas.

Twamley compares the system to using a cane to support a weak leg. “By working around impairments, we can take advantage of an individual’s strengths … and use different ways and possibly different brain areas to perform cognitively-demanding tasks.”

One of the key tools in CogSMART is smartphone calendars. “They’re the strategies successful people use every day,” says Twamley. “There’s no stigma associated with using your smartphone calendar to remember things. I use mine.” Another smartphone feature that comes in handy is the alarm.

An example of the non-phone strategies included in the program is using acronyms to remember things.

 There’s no stigma associated with using your smartphone calendar to remember things. 

Online cognitive programs: Do they work?

Dr. Amy Jak, also a neuropsychologist with the San Diego VA, directs the site’s TBI cognitive rehabilitation clinic. She adapted a version of CogSMART for the patients in her clinic and, like Twamley, she speaks fondly of smartphones. “Smartphones do a lot of good things, particularly with our younger Veterans who have already embraced the technology.”

Jak also led a review of the scientific literature on publically available computer-based cognitive training programs. “We looked at all the things you see in the news—the Lumosity type of program,” says Jak of the $300-million-per-year online cognitive enhancement industry. “Veterans were coming in saying they heard about something on the Internet and wanted to know if it was any good.”

The programs generally feature game-like tasks that are practiced for up to about 100 minutes per day, three to five days per week, for up to 12 weeks.
Jak and colleagues concluded that “the good news is that there weren’t a lot of negative side effects. They don’t hurt you.” The not-so-good news? “Some of them may work, but mainly they work on the task you’re doing.” In other words, intensive use of a computer-based cognitive game may help you get better at that specific task, but doesn’t necessarily generalize out to everyday life.

Drawing on ancient mindfulness techniques

Meanwhile, other VA teams are exploring other ways to help Veterans cope with mTBI. A team at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, for example, has been testing a cognitive rehab program called GOALS, for Goal-Oriented Attentional Self-Regulation. It teaches participants how to focus on goal-relevant information and hold it in mind while managing distractions and then to apply those skills in managing their own real-life goals.

Neurologist Dr. Anthony Chen describes one of the GOALS strategies, called Stop-Relax–Refocus: “Stop, relax, refocus on the goal to be accomplished and when your mind wanders practice redirecting your attention back to the central goal. This is inspired by mindfulness training that’s been taught for thousands of years. The difference is that we have put a rehabilitation twist to it. This is not traditional meditation, but goal-oriented applied mindfulness.”

The various approaches share a common goal: to help Veterans improve their quality of life. The researchers all agree progress is possible. With the right combination of treatment and management strategies, Veterans are finding they can accomplish more than they previously thought possible — going to college, for example, or embarking on new careers.
Tamley said, “We’re excited about using these cognitive strategies to help Veterans reenter the community and to better themselves.”

Two types of cognitive rehab

There are two broad categories of cognitive rehabilitation:

Restorative
Restorative approaches aim to restore cognitive abilities through drills and practice, or through other therapies. New brain cells and networks may be created in the process, thanks to brain plasticity.
Compensatory
Compensatory approaches teach patients strategies to work around their deficits—such as using smartphone apps—so they can function better.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/Seeking-New-Coping-Tools-For-Veterans-With-TBI.asp

"Family" of Patients Appreciate VA Doctor

A senior man in a swimming pool smiles

“He’s a great doctor. One of the best.”

When I asked Vietnam Army Veteran Rufus how he felt about Dr. Cheng, he paused. For a very long time. Then tears filled his eyes and he whispered, “He saved my life. He’s a great doctor. One of the best. I wouldn’t have another doctor.”

Vietnam Marine Corps Veteran George feels the same way. Also through an emotional whisper, he said, “One more day and I would have been dead except for Dr. Cheng. He’s better than good. You won’t find a better doctor.”

Dr. Jianhua Cheng has been a staff physician in primary care at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, for 14 years. Although he does not want this story to be about him, it probably will be, in spite of his reminding me a dozen times that he is just part of a great team.

Dr. Cheng quickly points out that “We are here to provide the best medical care for our Veterans for their service to our country. We work together as a team, the doctors, the nurses, staff, social workers, everybody. We just want to do what we can to do our best, second to none. That is our guiding principle.”

Fulfilling His Father’s Dream

A native of Wuhan, China, he received his degree in biochemistry from Oxford University in 1991, fulfilling a family dream. “My father had a dream to be a physician but he did not realize it so I wanted to continue his dream.”

The soft spoken Dr. Cheng explained his philosophy. “When you get in the medical field, you realize it is not just the physical but it is also the soul and the mind. We are human beings, we are not just a body. If you have a bond with the patient, they really appreciate that.”

 But, please. Make this story about the great team here in Augusta. 

And why all the praise and affection from his patients?

“I see all my patients as a family member. I respect them and I treat them like my father and mother wanted to be treated. Sometimes you go to the doctor and you feel uneasy, you feel nervous, even me. I want my patients to feel very comfortable and open, to be able to talk to me, with no hesitation. Then you can really help them.”

Continuing the family tradition, one of his sons is going to be a dentist, graduating from the University of Georgia with honors. “We are very proud.” His other son also wants to pursue a medical career.

Remarkable Work Record

They will have big shoes to fill for Dr. Cheng has not missed one day of work in his entire professional career, including the 14 years at the Augusta VA Medical Center.

I asked him what about those days when you’re exhausted or don’t feel inspired enough to come to work, he quickly pointed out that “There are Veterans who may have to drive for two hours to get here. How could I not be here for them? When I do a job, I want to give 100 percent commitment.”

On an average day, Dr. Cheng will see 10 to 15 patients. “They did a survey of the actual hours physicians work and it was 50 to 60 hours a week when you include all of the paperwork and other follow through tasks we do. I don’t think the public knows this.

“But we do this. We should do this. Because of what our Veterans did for our country.”

“That is my reward.”

When asked about the heart felt testimonials by the Veterans at the beginning of this article, Dr. Cheng also became emotional as he explained the satisfaction he feels when patients send their thanks.

“I had one patient who told me the cardiologist said Dr. Cheng saved his life because he listened. He had told me one small thing, that he was always short of breath and so I ordered the heart work up. They found that he had major blockage and admitted him to the hospital for treatment.

“Later, his family called me to say thank you and to let me know that I had treated their father as family member. That is my reward.”

“But, please. Make this story about the great team here in Augusta, all the other physicians and the nurses and the staff and the compassion we all feel for our Veterans.”

Okay, Dr. Cheng. We’ll do that.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/Family-of-Patients-Appreciate-VA-Doctor.asp

Stand Downs – Putting Lives Back Together

A homeless man receives a haircut

Homelessness among Veterans has declined 23.5 percent since 2009

There will be a Stand Down for Veterans at the American Legion Post in Sharon, Pennsylvania, this Saturday, August 23. VA Butler Healthcare and the local community are partnering to host the event.

It’s a day-long respite from the streets and an opportunity for some Veterans to put their lives back together.

On August 27, there will be a Stand Down in Sheridan, Wyoming, followed that same week by Stand Downs in Honolulu, Hawaii, Fargo, North Dakota and Montgomery, Alabama. Similar events will take place around the country throughout the year.

Stand Downs are one part of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to provide services to homeless Veterans. They are usually one- to three-day events providing health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment.

Stand Downs are collaborative events coordinated between local VA facilities, other government agencies and community agencies which serve homeless Veterans.

A smiling woman hands a man a shirt

Department of Defense Surplus Clothing

A special arrangement between VA and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) provides a tremendous amount of Department of Defense surplus clothing for the Veterans at the Stand Downs.
VA’s Kevin O’Connell manages a warehouse in Hillsborough, N.J., where the items are made available to Stand Down coordinators around the country.

“I order items from DLA daily. We stow it and make it available for future Stand Downs. I generate an inventory the coordinators can order from for their event,” O’Connell explains.

His most recent inventory spread sheet included hundreds of items like 50 green blankets, 75 cold weather undershirts, four leather flyer’s jackets, 10 extreme cold weather parkas and more than 100 sleeping bags to support the Augusta, Maine, Stand Down on October 18.

In order to save both DLA and VA transportation freight costs, James Egler and Michael Johnson of the Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System pick up donated materials from DLA locations at Camp Pendleton and Barstow, California. The surplus supplies are used to support homeless Veteran Stand Downs throughout the Los Angeles area.

Also, Joe Levota from the Leavenworth, Kansas, VA Medical Center and Andy Dahlburg from the Honolulu VA Medical Center have been conducting local surplus pickups at Fort Riley and Pearl Harbor.

Ensuring basic needs are available to our most vulnerable and disenfranchised homeless Veterans

Vietnam Vets Started Stand Downs

The first Stand Down was organized in 1988 by a group of Vietnam Veterans in San Diego, Calif.

The total number of Veterans served during 2013 Stand Downs was 45,133. Of these, 41,421 (92 percent) were male Veterans, and 3,712 (9 percent) were female Veterans.

In addition, 7,553 spouses/companions and 4,269 children of Veterans attended for a total of 56,935 Veterans and family members served.

According to Robert Hallett, National Director, Health Care for Homeless Veterans, “Contrary to common belief, Stand Downs are not VA programs per se. VA does not have any ownership or proprietary relationship over them.

“They are intended to be collaborative events coordinated between VA medical centers, other government agencies and community agencies which serve homeless Veterans. Community interest in supporting Stand Downs continues to grow. Twenty sites held their first Stand Down in 2013. These events are a big part of VA’s overall efforts to end Veterans’ homelessness.

“In addition to this coordination role, staff from local VA facilities typically provide volunteer support for local Stand Downs particularly in health screening, triage and services, mental health assessments and referrals and increasingly, screening and referrals for housing placements.”

Many Pitch In for Collaborative Events

Stand Downs are successful because of volunteers. More than 24,870 volunteers supported Stand Downs during 2013. Stand Down coordinators offer a wide range of services to homeless Veterans with the most common services including: housing, personal care kit distribution, job training, mental health care and Veteran benefits.

Sleeping arrangements are made available to homeless Veterans at many sites with multiple-day Stand Downs.

According to a 2013 Point-in-Time Estimate of Homelessness, homelessness among Veterans has declined 23.5 percent since 2009.

Hallett adds, “Homeless Veteran Stand Downs represent a true example of our VA program staff and community partners working hand-in-hand to ensure basic needs and assistance are available to our most vulnerable and disenfranchised homeless Veterans.”

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/Stand-Downs-Putting-Lives-Back-Together.asp

Veterans: Have a health question? Search here!

Man at a computer

Our Health Topics A-Z Index provides answers to hundreds of questions and links to dozens of VA programs.

Have a question about VA health care? Want to know which VA office to go to for information on a particular topic?

Your search starts here.

The Health Topics A-Z Index page includes key topics, the most popular inquiries and areas of vital importance to Veterans, their families and their caregivers.

It’s designed to help you quickly find specific information and is structured so that synonyms, acronyms and cross-referencing provide multiple ways for Veterans to access the topics and features on Veterans Health websites.

Starting with the letter A, for example:

About Face — Learn about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from Veterans who live with it every day. Hear their stories. Find out how treatment turned their lives around.

Agent Orange and Leukemia — Were you exposed to herbicides during service and have a chronic B-cell leukemia? You may qualify for VA benefits.
Under A, you’ll also find links to information on AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease.

A-Z Index helps you find information with multiple ways to access topics on VA websites.

Recent online traffic counts show that some of the most-searched topics are:

Browse through the Index and you’ll also find links to helpful information about Compensated Work Therapy, Seeing Eye Dogs, Multiple Sclerosis, Dementia, and dozens more health topics.

Want to know the precise details about the 2014 Copay Requirements at a Glance? Start here at the Health Benefits Reference Library.

What is VA doing to serve Veterans in rural areas? Look under R for the Office of Rural Health.

Thinking about a career as a VA nurse? Start here under N.

Returning Veterans have a very valuable link under W titled What Can VA Do for Me? It’s a portal to all of the services and benefits you’ve earned. In addition to health care, there’s a link to get you started on looking for a job and how to apply for your benefits under the GI Bill.

The Health Topics A-Z Index has answers to hundreds of questions and links to dozens of VA program. It could be one of your most valuable FAVORITE PLACES. Save it today and use it often.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/Veterans-Have-A-Health-Question-Search-Here.asp

Helping Women Veterans Find the Help They Need



A woman at a call desk smiles

Call Center was established in 2011 to let women Veterans know about the services they are entitled to.










“I think the benefit of having a call center that focuses on women Veterans is that we are letting the women who served our country know we recognize that they are out there and we are here to serve them now,” according to Tamatha Lee, Women Veterans Call Center telephone agent.


VA’s Women Veterans Call Center (WVCC) has greatly expanded VA’s outreach to women Veterans since it first began making calls to women Veterans by adding an incoming line in April of 2013. The incoming Women Veterans Call Center line—1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636)— receives and responds to questions about available VA services and resources from women Veterans, their families and caregivers across the nation.


Since its launch in April of 2013, the WVCC has received more than 11,000 incoming calls and made nearly 130,000 outbound calls, successfully reaching 76,000 women Veterans. In addition, the WVCC mailed over 10,000 packets of information to women Veterans at their request.


Here’s one more example of the formidable effectiveness of the service


“A few weeks into making calls, I spoke with a woman Veteran who was ecstatic to hear from someone from the VA. She told us she was about to become homeless and did not know where to turn. I got her connected to the Homeless hotline and I also sent a referral to the Women Veteran Program Manager (WVPM) located at the VA closest to her. Within a few hours I heard back from the WVPM.


“She had already made contact with the woman Veteran and had her connected with homeless services at the facility. In addition, the woman Veteran was given an appointment for the next day with a primary care physician. It is so nice to see the entire VA coming together to assist the Veteran” as recounted by Samantha Williams, telephone agent.


 I said you are welcome and that is why we are here. 


Nearly 400,000 women Veterans receive VA health care


The number of women using VA health care has more than doubled, from nearly 160,000 in 2000 to more than 390,000 in 2013. Women now make up 15 percent of active duty and 18 percent of Guard/Reserve service members. The population of women Veterans using VA benefits including health care is growing rapidly and is expected to double again in the next decade.


Despite this rapid growth, women constitute only six percent of VA’s total patient population. VA has also found that women Veterans underutilize VA care, largely due to a lack of knowledge about VA benefits and available services. In response, an outbound Call Center was established in 2011 to contact women Veterans and to let them know about the services they have earned and are entitled to.


VA wants to encourage more women Veterans to try VA health care and let them know that they are welcome in VA centers around the country.


Jill Garrison, a telephone agent, shares a call she had.


“Last evening, a woman Veteran returned a voice message left for her from earlier in the day. We had called her to follow-up on a call we had made to her last month. The Veteran reported that she had indeed received the package of information we had mailed her and the information was very informative.


“She also shared that during the initial call we made to her, we walked her through how to complete the 10-10EZ form. She said she completed the form and is now receiving care from the VA. She stated that she had her first medical appointment at the VA last week. She thanked us. I said you are welcome and that is why we are here.”


A single avenue for women Veterans to find the help they need


“The Women Veterans Call Center is aimed at increasing women Veterans’ knowledge of VA services and benefits. Many women Veterans do not know that they may indeed be eligible for VA benefits. The Call Center provides a single avenue for women Veterans to find the help they need,” said Krista Stephenson, Army Veteran and Women Veterans Call Center Director.


The Women Veterans Call Center is staffed by knowledgeable VA employees who provide information about benefits, eligibility, and services, including health care services for women Veterans. Women Veteran callers are linked to information about claims, education and health care, VA cemeteries and survivors’ benefits.


The Call Center staff is trained to answer basic questions and provide referrals to the appropriate people to answer the women’s questions. If there is an urgent matter, the Women Veterans Call Center connects the caller with the crisis line or homeless call center.


In addition to linking women Veterans to information, the Call Center makes direct referrals to WVPM located at every VA medical center. The Women Veteran Program Manager helps the woman Veteran navigate services.






Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/Helping-Women-Veterans-Find-the-Help-They-Need.asp

National Veterans Wheelchair Games Come to Philadelphia

A man in a wheelchair tries to shoot a basket while another man in a wheelchair reaches to block

Competitors square-off on the basketball court during the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

The 2014 National Veterans Wheelchair Games is taking place this week in the heart of Philadelphia, a city culturally diverse and rich in history. Some of the greatest wheelchair athletes in the world will have an opportunity to make a little history of their own.

These athletes are good! Here are just a few of the highlights from last year:

  • Mike Savicki was training to become a Navy F-14 pilot when he suffered a spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia. In 1991, after eight months of rehabilitation, he entered his first National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Twenty-four years later, Savicki is still competing.
  • Austin Burchard, U.S. Army Specialist, says, “Tennis is fun and helps with agility.” He has competed in several Wheelchair Games after undergoing extensive recovery and rehabilitation from serious injuries caused by a gunshot wound while on duty in a gun turret in Afghanistan.

The city of brotherly love: Where liberty lives, Rocky rules and now the city where heroes will make history.

Freedom, physical exercise, exhilaration

  • At the very first adaptive water skiing exhibition event in the history of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, U.S. Army Veteran Margaret Mitchell, 62, described it as “An absolutely thrilling experience. I wasn’t nervous at all.”
  • “It’s awesome, fun and it gives us purpose,” said Navy Veteran and awesome handcyclist David Nelson. “We are competitive, but at the same time we take care of each other during the event.” Nelson has been competing in the event for six years.
  • It’s not just about the Veterans who win the events. The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are also about those heroes who overcome adversity and embrace challenge. When 51 year old Army Veteran Tracey Minter was the last cyclist to reach the turn-around point and was asked if she wanted to stop, her reply was “I’m not going to quit,” and she meant it. She pushed herself and made it to the finish line smiling the whole way.

You can read more about them and their careers here.

With a reputation as a serious sports town, the athletes will feel right at home in Philadelphia and fans will turn out to cheer them onto victory as they go for the gold, silver and bronze.

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games is an annual event sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). More than 500 Veterans compete in 17 sporting events to include basketball, handcycling and rugby.

The event is a sports and rehabilitation program for military service Veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations or certain neurological problems.

Attracting more than 500 athletes each year, the games are the largest annual wheelchair sports event in the world.

The presenters of this event 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 games also provide opportunities for newly-disabled Veterans to gain sports skills and be exposed to other wheelchair athletes.

Competitive events at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games include air guns, archery, basketball, bowling, field events, handcycling, a motorized wheelchair rally, nine-ball, power soccer, quad rugby, slalom, softball, swimming, table tennis, track, trapshooting and weightlifting, athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age.

The Philadelphia VA Medical Center is the host for the 2014 Games.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/National-Veterans-Wheelchair-Games-Come-to-Philadelphia.asp

The Purple Heart: One Veteran’s Long Journey



A man in uniform hands a senior Veteran a red coin

Veteran John Reist wears his new Purple Heart Medal for the first time as Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) Veterans Services Director Gene Wikle presents him with a commemorative coin to mark the occasion.










Today, August 7, is the anniversary of the creation of the Purple Heart.


Thousands of brave Veterans have received the award. John Reist, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, received his well-deserved and long overdue recognition this year. This is his story.


The Purple Heart was originally known as the Badge of Military Merit and was created by George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, on August 7, 1782.


Reist earned a Purple Heart and several other military medals for his service in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. John never received these awards due to a rough transition into civilian life after being honorably discharged from service.


Just months after turning 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Da Nang, Vietnam. On this deployment, John’s regiment stormed a hill under enemy fire and he was shot in the arm. John spent four months in rehabilitation therapy and went home to his family on leave. He married, but just before his daughter was born, he was redeployed.


John was injured again after pulling three wounded men out of the line of fire. This time, John was shot in the leg and fell down the hill on which the battle was fought. John suffered head trauma, shrapnel in his back and a wounded leg.


After recovering, John was sent back into battle. This time he was shot in the hip and after his recovery, was honorably discharged and returned home to his family.


The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I.


John Reist had many issues readjusting to civilian life. He had regular flashbacks, was anxious and felt lost. He ended up divorcing his wife. One night John’s car was run off the road by another vehicle. His car hit a telephone pole, injuring him and one of the passengers and killing two others. John fell into a deep depression and his flashbacks of Vietnam returned, now more frequent and intense.


For several years, John slept under overpasses and searched for food in dumpsters. Throughout his time on the streets, John was physically attacked three times and had all of his belongings stolen.


After one attack, he was brought to the Carl T. Hayden Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, with broken ribs. After his release, the hospital brought him to Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) where he was provided a bed at the shelter, access to continued medical care for his injury and a case manager specifically trained to address the needs of homeless Veterans.



A man in uniform and a senior Veteran smile at the camera

On December 3, 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the use of the Purple Heart to all services. The Purple Heart is the oldest military award that is still given to members of the U.S. military.


John and his case manager developed an individualized plan that provided him a stable transition into housing and independence. In addition to housing, John’s case manager helped him to secure the post-service benefits he earned during his many sacrifices serving our country and connected him with VA mental health services.


Today, John lives in an independent living facility and is grateful for his stability and happy to have a new view on life.


In May, in front of an intimate gathering of supporters, CASS’ Director of Veteran Services, Gene Wikle, and Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor had the honor of presenting John with his Purple Heart and other recognitions. Presenting John with the award was a humbling experience for VA and CASS staff that was touched by his perseverance to move his life forward.


Read more about the Purple Heart






Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/The-Purple-Heart-One-Veterans-Long-Journey.asp

The Purple Heart: One Veteran’s Long Journey



A man in uniform hands a senior Veteran a red coin

Veteran John Reist wears his new Purple Heart Medal for the first time as Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) Veterans Services Director Gene Wikle presents him with a commemorative coin to mark the occasion.










Today, August 7, is the anniversary of the creation of the Purple Heart.


Thousands of brave Veterans have received the award. John Reist, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, received his well-deserved and long overdue recognition this year. This is his story.


The Purple Heart was originally known as the Badge of Military Merit and was created by George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, on August 7, 1782.


Reist earned a Purple Heart and several other military medals for his service in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. John never received these awards due to a rough transition into civilian life after being honorably discharged from service.


Just months after turning 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Da Nang, Vietnam. On this deployment, John’s regiment stormed a hill under enemy fire and he was shot in the arm. John spent four months in rehabilitation therapy and went home to his family on leave. He married, but just before his daughter was born, he was redeployed.


John was injured again after pulling three wounded men out of the line of fire. This time, John was shot in the leg and fell down the hill on which the battle was fought. John suffered head trauma, shrapnel in his back and a wounded leg.


After recovering, John was sent back into battle. This time he was shot in the hip and after his recovery, was honorably discharged and returned home to his family.


The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I.


John Reist had many issues readjusting to civilian life. He had regular flashbacks, was anxious and felt lost. He ended up divorcing his wife. One night John’s car was run off the road by another vehicle. His car hit a telephone pole, injuring him and one of the passengers and killing two others. John fell into a deep depression and his flashbacks of Vietnam returned, now more frequent and intense.


For several years, John slept under overpasses and searched for food in dumpsters. Throughout his time on the streets, John was physically attacked three times and had all of his belongings stolen.


After one attack, he was brought to the Carl T. Hayden Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, with broken ribs. After his release, the hospital brought him to Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) where he was provided a bed at the shelter, access to continued medical care for his injury and a case manager specifically trained to address the needs of homeless Veterans.



A man in uniform and a senior Veteran smile at the camera

On December 3, 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the use of the Purple Heart to all services. The Purple Heart is the oldest military award that is still given to members of the U.S. military.


John and his case manager developed an individualized plan that provided him a stable transition into housing and independence. In addition to housing, John’s case manager helped him to secure the post-service benefits he earned during his many sacrifices serving our country and connected him with VA mental health services.


Today, John lives in an independent living facility and is grateful for his stability and happy to have a new view on life.


In May, in front of an intimate gathering of supporters, CASS’ Director of Veteran Services, Gene Wikle, and Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor had the honor of presenting John with his Purple Heart and other recognitions. Presenting John with the award was a humbling experience for VA and CASS staff that was touched by his perseverance to move his life forward.


Read more about the Purple Heart






Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/The-Purple-Heart-One-Veterans-Long-Journey.asp

The Purple Heart: One Veteran’s Long Journey



A man in uniform hands a senior Veteran a red coin

Veteran John Reist wears his new Purple Heart Medal for the first time as Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) Veterans Services Director Gene Wikle presents him with a commemorative coin to mark the occasion.










Today, August 7, is the anniversary of the creation of the Purple Heart.


Thousands of brave Veterans have received the award. John Reist, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, received his well-deserved and long overdue recognition this year. This is his story.


The Purple Heart was originally known as the Badge of Military Merit and was created by George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, on August 7, 1782.


Reist earned a Purple Heart and several other military medals for his service in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. John never received these awards due to a rough transition into civilian life after being honorably discharged from service.


Just months after turning 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Da Nang, Vietnam. On this deployment, John’s regiment stormed a hill under enemy fire and he was shot in the arm. John spent four months in rehabilitation therapy and went home to his family on leave. He married, but just before his daughter was born, he was redeployed.


John was injured again after pulling three wounded men out of the line of fire. This time, John was shot in the leg and fell down the hill on which the battle was fought. John suffered head trauma, shrapnel in his back and a wounded leg.


After recovering, John was sent back into battle. This time he was shot in the hip and after his recovery, was honorably discharged and returned home to his family.


The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I.


John Reist had many issues readjusting to civilian life. He had regular flashbacks, was anxious and felt lost. He ended up divorcing his wife. One night John’s car was run off the road by another vehicle. His car hit a telephone pole, injuring him and one of the passengers and killing two others. John fell into a deep depression and his flashbacks of Vietnam returned, now more frequent and intense.


For several years, John slept under overpasses and searched for food in dumpsters. Throughout his time on the streets, John was physically attacked three times and had all of his belongings stolen.


After one attack, he was brought to the Carl T. Hayden Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, with broken ribs. After his release, the hospital brought him to Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) where he was provided a bed at the shelter, access to continued medical care for his injury and a case manager specifically trained to address the needs of homeless Veterans.



A man in uniform and a senior Veteran smile at the camera

On December 3, 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the use of the Purple Heart to all services. The Purple Heart is the oldest military award that is still given to members of the U.S. military.


John and his case manager developed an individualized plan that provided him a stable transition into housing and independence. In addition to housing, John’s case manager helped him to secure the post-service benefits he earned during his many sacrifices serving our country and connected him with VA mental health services.


Today, John lives in an independent living facility and is grateful for his stability and happy to have a new view on life.


In May, in front of an intimate gathering of supporters, CASS’ Director of Veteran Services, Gene Wikle, and Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor had the honor of presenting John with his Purple Heart and other recognitions. Presenting John with the award was a humbling experience for VA and CASS staff that was touched by his perseverance to move his life forward.


Read more about the Purple Heart






Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/The-Purple-Heart-One-Veterans-Long-Journey.asp

The Purple Heart: One Veteran’s Long Journey



A man in uniform hands a senior Veteran a red coin

Veteran John Reist wears his new Purple Heart Medal for the first time as Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) Veterans Services Director Gene Wikle presents him with a commemorative coin to mark the occasion.










Today, August 7, is the anniversary of the creation of the Purple Heart.


Thousands of brave Veterans have received the award. John Reist, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, received his well-deserved and long overdue recognition this year. This is his story.


The Purple Heart was originally known as the Badge of Military Merit and was created by George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, on August 7, 1782.


Reist earned a Purple Heart and several other military medals for his service in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. John never received these awards due to a rough transition into civilian life after being honorably discharged from service.


Just months after turning 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Da Nang, Vietnam. On this deployment, John’s regiment stormed a hill under enemy fire and he was shot in the arm. John spent four months in rehabilitation therapy and went home to his family on leave. He married, but just before his daughter was born, he was redeployed.


John was injured again after pulling three wounded men out of the line of fire. This time, John was shot in the leg and fell down the hill on which the battle was fought. John suffered head trauma, shrapnel in his back and a wounded leg.


After recovering, John was sent back into battle. This time he was shot in the hip and after his recovery, was honorably discharged and returned home to his family.


The Badge of Military Merit was only awarded to three Revolutionary War soldiers. Although never abolished, the award of the badge was not proposed again officially until after World War I.


John Reist had many issues readjusting to civilian life. He had regular flashbacks, was anxious and felt lost. He ended up divorcing his wife. One night John’s car was run off the road by another vehicle. His car hit a telephone pole, injuring him and one of the passengers and killing two others. John fell into a deep depression and his flashbacks of Vietnam returned, now more frequent and intense.


For several years, John slept under overpasses and searched for food in dumpsters. Throughout his time on the streets, John was physically attacked three times and had all of his belongings stolen.


After one attack, he was brought to the Carl T. Hayden Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, with broken ribs. After his release, the hospital brought him to Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) where he was provided a bed at the shelter, access to continued medical care for his injury and a case manager specifically trained to address the needs of homeless Veterans.



A man in uniform and a senior Veteran smile at the camera

On December 3, 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the use of the Purple Heart to all services. The Purple Heart is the oldest military award that is still given to members of the U.S. military.


John and his case manager developed an individualized plan that provided him a stable transition into housing and independence. In addition to housing, John’s case manager helped him to secure the post-service benefits he earned during his many sacrifices serving our country and connected him with VA mental health services.


Today, John lives in an independent living facility and is grateful for his stability and happy to have a new view on life.


In May, in front of an intimate gathering of supporters, CASS’ Director of Veteran Services, Gene Wikle, and Arizona Congressman Ed Pastor had the honor of presenting John with his Purple Heart and other recognitions. Presenting John with the award was a humbling experience for VA and CASS staff that was touched by his perseverance to move his life forward.


Read more about the Purple Heart






Source Article from http://www.va.gov/health/newsfeatures/2014/August/The-Purple-Heart-One-Veterans-Long-Journey.asp


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