Entries in Veterans (12)


Veterans' Families Bear the Greatest Burden of War

Courtesy of NYU(NEW YORK) -- Corinne Camacho of New York City is anxious and having trouble sleeping since her husband's Army National Guard unit's recent deployment to Afghanistan.  For the next year, she will be on her own with their three children, aged 11, 6 and 3.

"I have a lot of anxiety about being with the kids myself," said Camacho, 42.  "I work full-time and he's the cook of the family. ... I will also be thinking about him -- I am definitely worried."

Camacho sought help from the Military Family Clinic at New York University's Langone Medical Center, one of the first clinics of its kind to provide mental health services for some of the 15,000 Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans and their families living in the region.

Conditions treated include anxiety, depression, panic, trauma, stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), grief, loss and bereavement, as well as children's behavioral problems or academic difficulties, all of which are associated with the impact of military service on families.

"Generally, they come in for anxiety disorders -- and PTSD is under that umbrella -- and a lot of readjustment issues in the family," said clinical psychologist Irina Komarovskaya.

"Sometimes, it not just psychotherapy they need but a bridge to other services like assistance in applying for benefits or insurance or housing," she said.  "We can refer them to other agencies."

The clinic, funded with a $500,000 grant from the poverty-fighting Robin Hood foundation hopes to serve 300 families a year, most of whom are economically disadvantaged or under insured.

Mental health treatment for spouses, children, parents or siblings of veterans is generally not available through the Veterans Administration (VA) health care system, and couples therapy is limited.

One 2008 VA study revealed that 41 percent of eligible veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars do not enroll because they fear medical records will damage their careers, according to NYU.

The clinic is now treating veterans who have served not just in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in Vietnam and even in World War II.  About half of the patients seen are post-9/11 returning veterans, according to psychiatrist Dr. Dara Cho.

"Half are not deployed or served in another era," Cho said.  "There are a lot of military spouses calling and seeking individual or couples treatment."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Veterans Report Poorer Health Than Active Military, Civilians

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Military veterans have poorer health compared to current servicemen as well as civilians, according to a new study by researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle.

They surveyed 53,000 veterans, 3,700 Guard and Reserve members, 2,000 active duty servicemen and 110,000 civilians about their health and access to health care.

Veterans as well as active duty servicemen reported higher rates of diabetes, alcohol consumption and tobacco use compared with civilian men.

In some ways, the findings, which were published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, are not so surprising given that current active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members are given routine physical screenings.

However, veterans are given unique lifelong access to health care systems such as the VA and TriCare, while National Guard and Reserve members are less likely to have health insurance, according to the study. Even with available health care, veterans still have poorer overall health than civilian men as well, the study found.

The current study did not look at female veterans, but a similar study conducted by the same research team found similar results -- female veterans also reported poorer health compared with other servicewomen and female civilians.

“We think our research substantiates claims that veterans bear a disproportionate disease burden,” said Katherine Hoerster, a psychologist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, and lead researcher of the study.

Only 37 percent of eligible veterans receive care through the VA system, the researchers wrote.

“Not all vets have a connection to the VA system, but they may need one in the future,” said Hoerster.

Previous studies also suggest that veterans are at higher risk for symptoms like hypertension, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, and obesity, which are typically seen in older Americans, ABC News reported in September. In some cases, veterans may be at higher risk for certain diseases because of their military service.

Veterans organizations are vital gateways to teach healthy behaviors and enroll veterans in the health care services they’ve earned, the researchers wrote.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Regenerative Medicine Helps Rebuild Wounded Warriors

Courtesy Ron Strang(NEW YORK) -- Ron Strang lay helpless in the dirt as the hole in his leg was packed with gauze and swathed in bandages.

The Marine sergeant was on foot patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand Province when an improvised explosive device tore through his left thigh, shredding his muscle and draining half his blood.

"I'm sure I would've died without the quick actions of my fellow Marines," said Strang, 28, who endured more than a dozen surgeries and painful skin grafts to close the gaping wound.

Though his skin eventually healed, Strang was left with half the quadriceps he once had.

"I had to use a cane or walker," he said, adding that he would fall "a couple times a week."

But an experimental treatment has tricked his body into regenerating itself, and now Strang can walk -- even run -- without help.

"I had no clue this even existed," he said of the pioneering procedure to implant pig tissue stripped of cells deep inside his thigh.  "I was skeptical at first, but it was amazing to learn how it works."

The tissue, called extracellular matrix, acted as a cell-scavenging scaffold, recruiting Strang's own stem cells to rebuild his muscle from the inside out.

"It's a game changer," said Strang's surgeon, Dr. Stephen Badylak, deputy director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "It's definitely more effective than anything that's been tried to date."

Strang's surgery is just one example of cutting-edge science aimed at making wounded vets whole again.

"We're basically pushing the envelope of regenerative and restorative medicine at a much faster rate than ever," said Col. John Scherer, director of the U.S. Army Medical Department's Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine Research Program in Fort Detrick, Md.  "We see it as a critical component of providing improved care for wounded service members."

Scherer oversees the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, or AFIRM, a program launched in 2008 to translate innovative laboratory research into treatments for troops with once-fatal injuries.

"We're saving a lot of people that would have died from their wounds 10 years ago," said Scherer, adding that advances in body armor and battle field care are helping more soldiers survive the wounds of war.  "Now we're faced with these very large, catastrophic injuries to the limbs, the head and neck that we've not seen before because they just weren't survivable."

In its four years, AFIRM has funded eight clinical trials, with several more on the horizon.

Veterans are eager to enroll, Scherer said.

"I think most of them say, 'If I can help my buddies, I'm willing to step up and participate in the trials,'" he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study Shows Veterans May Be at Risk for Aging at Accelerated Rate

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Men and women who serve their country come home every day only to suffer from mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.  And now there is increasing evidence that there are even more negative consequences to their time in the military: early signs of conditions that are typically seen in older people.

Preliminary research on veterans and active-duty members of the military shows that symptoms like hypertension, elevated cholesterol and glucose levels, and obesity, which are typically seen in older Americans, are plaguing members of the military at a much earlier age, according to Regina McGlinchey, co-director of the Transitional Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders (TRACTS).

“Other work prior to this has shown a link between PTSD and risk for metabolic syndrome,” said Dr. Ann Rasmusson, a research affiliate with the National Center for PTSD and TRACTS.  "We think that there may be common underlying risk factors for both, plus the trauma and stress they are exposed to may also have influence on cardiovascular risk.”

The center, which began testing veterans who suffer from brain injuries and PTSD in 2010, has seen more than 270 veterans and active-duty members. The center sees veterans of all ages, but the focus has been on those in their 20s and early 30s.

“People are coming in and have one or more of those risk factors, even in very young soldiers,” Rasmusson said. “It’s usually the kind of thing that happens when you’re 45 or 50 and you get a wake-up call. That doesn’t usually happen to people in their 20s.”

“What we are finding is alarming,” McGlinchey said. “We weren’t prepared for the numbers we’ve seen.”

While these findings are only preliminary, both researchers emphasized the importance of treatment.

“This is the earliest this has ever been looked at,” Rasmusson said. “We urge people to come in sooner rather than later for treatment of PTSD and any associated medical problems.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Soldiers and Veterans Should Have Annual PTSD Screenings, Report Says

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Servicemen and women returning from the war zones get screened for post-traumatic stress disorder, but a new report says too little happens after that.

An Institute of Medicine study says that of those who show symptoms, just 40 percent get referred for more treatment. The report also recommends that all service members and veterans should be screened at least once each year.
The review, mandated by Congress and funded by the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration, says many soldiers don't get PTSD treatment, worried it could jeopardize their careers.

"[There is] a certain amount of fearfulness around having psychological diagnosis, that it may affect a soldier's potential for promotion and a certain worry around the acceptability of the diagnosis," said report committee chair Dr. Sandro Galea at Columbia University.

The report also notes that there's no real systematic tracking of soldiers to pinpoint the most effective treatments. Galea says there's work to be done but he's optimistic.

"It will need a concerted system-wide effort on behalf of DOD [Department of Defense] and VA to raise awareness among all its ranks of the importance of PTSD, of the potential benefit of treatment and to implement specific programs," he says.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Wounded Warriors Helping Dogs Help Vets

Wounded warriors train service dogs to help other injured servicemen and women. (ABC News)(WASHINGTON) -- A group of disabled Iraq and Afghanistan military veterans has taken on an important mission -- training service dogs to aid other wounded vets on their road to recovery and beyond as part of a program just begun by the Pentagon.

Dogs like four-month-old puppy Cadence are part of a three-year training course that will eventually match them up to help wounded troops coming home who've suffered debilitating injuries such as loss of limbs.

Training man's best friends to assist those with physical disabilities has been done in the past -- but what's different about this program is that injured military vets do the training. And that training has had a positive impact on the trainers themselves -- giving them their own kind of canine therapy, as well as giving the dogs more specified training.

Sgt. Brian Bradley, who is training six dogs, lost his right arm in Afghanistan in 2010. He credits the program with helping him readjust to everyday life. And in return, he uses his prosthetic limb to better train the dogs to better understand the disabled soliders they'll be assigned once their training is finished.

"When I first got to the program last year, some of the puppies -- they were like, 'What is that?' They see the hook moving around and stuff," Bradley said. "I got other prosthetics, but they see the hook and we introduce that to them because they know they are going to be seeing it later. Also, we introduced the wheelchairs to them too and the power chairs."

Bradley believes that with disabled vets doing the training, the dogs will better serve wounded soldiers when they are done.

"When a service member gets a service dog from another company, most of those people are able bodied, have no issues, so they aren't really working around anybody who is disabled," Bradley said. "So we train them completely how every disabled service member would be."

The dogs in the program are trained to help out with everyday tasks like picking up wallets, money and credit cards to turning on lights and pushing automatic door buttons.

"I can open the door for myself -- but if I have a lot of stuff, he can push the buttons for me," Bradley said. "He can flip lights as well. I'll say 'light' and he'll jump up on the wall and he'll flip it. Sometimes he uses his paw, sometimes he uses his nose."

But they are also trained to help heal another kind of injury that plagues so many soldiers when they return home from war -- post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Mine kicks in every time I put on a new prosthetic that looks identical to my other arm," Bradley said. "It's like an instant memory of me actually losing my arm that day. So PTSD is there."

Specialist Cory Doane, who lost a leg in Afghanistan in 2011 when his vehicle was hit by an IED, says the program helps him even more than it helps the dogs he's training.

"It helped me a lot more than it's helped the dog for sure," Doane said. "It's nice just to get out and about again. Because, you know, after I was wounded I was kind of stationary for a bit. So it's nice to get out and actually do something productive, instead of just healing. It's nice to contribute back."

Those contributions -- from the trainers and the dogs -- are being recognized by the military community.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised the program and those who make it happen.

"To be able to have someone who can be close to you and be a part of you as you go through some very tough times, as you rehabilitate, as you come back and try to come back into society and have the company of a dog -- that is really a true friend because they don't question what you are doing, they're just your friend through thick and thin," Panetta told ABC News' Jake Tapper. "Having that kind of relationship I think is just great for the veterans who serve this country."

Panetta has his own canine friend, a golden retriever named Bravo, who has shown him the kind of difference a furry friend can make.

"We could not do our job of protecting this country without people like you who are willing to put their lives on the line," Panetta said to the wounded warrior trainers. "And I really appreciate your service and your sacrifice. I appreciate the effort to, you know, be able to have a dog help someone be able to lead a fuller life. In many ways that's what Bravo does for me in some very tough jobs that I've been in -- having the company of Bravo around and having him provide emotional support.

"Thanks for everything you're doing to help our veterans. We owe them an awful lot," he said. "I guess one of the ways we can repay it is to have them have the company of a dog."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Prison Dorms for Vets Offer Special Programs to Address Needs

Kevin Horan/Stone(NEW YORK) -- A west Georgia county jail opened a new dormitory on Monday that will specifically house inmates who are military veterans.

The new dorm, built onto the Muscogee County jail nearly two weeks ago, adds to the growing number of prisons across the nation that have done the same in an effort to address the special needs of service members.  The Florida Department of Corrections, which opened special dorms for veterans in five Florida prisons in November 2011, is among them.

Muscogee County officials announced the opening of its new facility at the county jail in Columbus, Ga., at a public meeting on Monday.  Muscogee County jail is 20 minutes away from Fort Benning, one of the largest military bases in Georgia.

Inmates who are military veterans have substance abuse or mental health problems at higher rates than nonmilitary inmates, according to Neil Richardson, chaplain at the Muscogee County jail.

"Rather than trying to ascertain whether this is due to time in the military or not, the fact is they are veterans," said Richardson.

The new dorm can house up to 16 veterans.  Those assigned to it will have a variety of community services available to them, such as a post traumatic stress disorder treatment program and a special Veterans Court, which was developed by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The jail has also partnered with New Horizons for mental health counseling, and with the Plummer House for housing for homeless and previously incarcerated veterans.

An internal investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs released this week said tens of thousands of veterans waited far longer in 2011 to receive mental health treatment than what the VA reported.

About one-third of VA patients wait longer than 14 days to start treatment, according to a report released by the VA inspector general.  The VA is the largest veterans health organization available to service members.

Some VA benefits are suspended when a servicemember is in jail.  The Veteran Court allows for veteran inmates to be sent treatment programs outside the state.

All veterans will receive access to the special programs regardless of whether they are housed in the dorms, said Kimberly Perkins, Veterans Court coordinator at the New Horizons community service board.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


East Coast Earthquake 'Cures' Veteran's Deafness

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- For Robert Valderzak of Washington, D.C., Tuesday's earthquake was a miracle.

Ever since he fell and fractured his skull on Father's Day, 75-year-old Valderzak had suffered severe hearing loss.  But after the 5.8 quake, he could hear everything.

"It was God's blessing," Valderzak told ABC News, his voice shaking with emotion.  "It was a miracle for me."

Valderzak was visiting with his daughter and three sons when the quake rattled D.C.'s Veterans Affairs Hospital, where he is battling cancer.

"It shook me terrible -- right out of the bed," said Valderzak.  "But after that it stopped.  And my son talked to me, and I could hear his voice."

Tests confirmed Valderzak's significant hearing improvement.  But his doctors think they have a medical explanation for the "miracle."

"He had conductive hearing loss, caused by fluid in his middle ear, as well as loss due to nerve damage," said Dr. Ross Fletcher, chief of staff at the VA Hospital.  "A combination of a drug he was taking and the earthquake event itself likely led to him losing the fluid and gaining back his hearing."

Dr. Jennifer Smullen of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary said the shaking itself might not have been enough to clear the fluid from Valderzak's inner ear.

"But if somebody was startled, and yawned or yelled, sometimes that's enough to clear some fluid out from the ear drum," she said.

In any case, recovering the ability to hear after going months without is a gift.

"People are usually very grateful, very happy, very surprised," said Smullen.  "They'll walk around looking at things that they'd forgotten made noise.  It's very gratifying."

Valderzak had adjusted to his hearing loss with the help of a special microphone and a crash lesson in lip reading.  But the situation was far from ideal.

"The devices helped, but by the time I got them all hooked up, everyone had left and I was talking to myself," he said, adding that lip reading meant he could only talk to one person at a time.

But now he can talk to all four of his kids again.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Antipsychotic Meds Not Effective for Combat PTSD 

MILpictures by Tom Weber(CHICAGO) -- Risperidone, an antipsychotic medication normally prescribed to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, may not be effective in treating symptoms of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Risperidone is commonly prescribed as an add-on treatment for veterans with the more severe forms of PTSD who do not respond to antidepressants.

"There are many in the VA that are exposed to multiple traumatic situations," said Dr. John Krystal, director of the clinical neuroscience division for the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD and lead author of the study.

Eighty-nine percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD who are treated with medication are given antidepressants, the only type of medication that's FDA-approved to treat the disorder.

In Krystal's study, 267 patients from 23 Veteran Administration medical centers nationwide were randomized to either receive risperidone or a placebo along with additional therapies the patients received through the centers.

Common symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, hypervigilance, anxiety, depression and unwanted flashbacks. The study found risperidone was not more effective overall in reducing any of those symptoms compared with the placebo group.

PTSD symptoms in both groups improved over six months, regardless of whether risperidone was added to their treatment equation.

While the study suggested that antipsychotics did not work for some patients who did not respond to antidepressants, it did not clarify what subset of patients could potentially benefit from the treatment.

The study was limited to patients who had combat-related PTSD, and most of the patients studied were men.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dementia Risk More than Doubled in Veterans with Brain Injuries

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Veterans who are diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, or TBI, are at a higher risk for developing dementia, according to a new study released Monday.

Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco analyzed the medical records of over 280,000 U.S. veterans at least 55 years old,  searching for diagnoses of TBI and dementia and whether or not there was a link between the two.

They found that about 2 percent of older veterans had a diagnosis of TBI, and that for those who did, the risk of dementia was 2.3 times higher than for those without a TBI diagnosis.

The authors concluded that “the data suggests that TBI in older veterans may predispose them toward development of symptomatic dementia. And [the data] raise[s] concerns about the potential long-term consequences of TBI in younger veterans.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio