Vets: Effects of Agent Orange extend to next generation (Post-Bulletin)
Despite all of his service-related illnesses, Pat Neville looks back on his Vietnam service with pride. But as he has gotten older, the retired Spring Valley teacher has come to believe that his military service entailed a sacrifice that reached beyond his own life and exacted a toll on his descendants. Neville, 73, says his prostate cancer and 100 percent disability rating are due to his exposure to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam. The deadly dioxin that he was exposed to fifty years ago, he believes, also affected his daughter, Mariah Mihm, who suffered two miscarriages before giving birth to a son and now no longer is able to have children. He has little doubt about the connection. “I have no doubt about it,” Neville said. “I have friends who have been through the same situation.” On Saturday, a town hall-style meeting was held under gray clouds at Veterans Memorial Park in Kasson. An estimated 60 Vietnam veterans and their wives gathered under the pavilion there to share testimonials and stories about how their service imposed a cost on their children. The stories of these vets, men mostly in their 70s and 80s, underscored how much the notions of sacrifice and service have been redefined by Vietnam. When they returned from their tours overseas, many carried the dioxin in their bodies. And that sacrifice is now being borne by their children and grandchildren, they say. “It may be the price of my dad’s service,” Debi Neville, Pat’s wife, recalled her daughter saying one time about her miscarriages. The gathering was both a meeting and a picnic lunch/corn feed organized by Kasson resident and Vietnam veteran Don Broskoff. The main speaker was Maynard Kaderlik, chairman of a Vietnam veterans Agent Orange committee. Kaderlik of Montgomery, Minn., has held 40 town hall meetings across the Midwest, gathering written testimonials from vets. The forms seek details and information on the medical condition of their children and grandchildren. Kaderlik’s goal is to build support for legislation that would mandate an investigation into the possible link between veterans’ exposure to toxic substances and the affect its had on their descendants. It also includes veterans of more recent wars, including Iraq. But he admitted that the bill so far is at a “standstill.” Part of the challenge lies in the fact that the political voice of Vietnam vets is diminishing with time, as an estimated 350 of them die each day, he said. “We’re in the fourth quarter of our lives, and we have to fight for our children and grandchildren,” Kaderlik said. Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide, was used extensively by the U.S. during the war to clear the foliage and jungles that were used as hiding places by the Viet Cong and to give American service members a clear line of fire. As he spoke, Kaderlik stood next to portraits of his own children and grandchild on a picnic table. As a Navy vet, Kaderlik said his exposure to the agent while stationed along Mekong Delta led to his prostate cancer diagnosis years later. But it was his children that he wanted to spotlight. His now-37-year-old son, Joshua, was born with a severe learning disability and a dislocated hip. His 10-year-old granddaughter, Jada, was diagnosed with autism seven years ago. He said the town-hall meetings and testimonials have helped identify 800 medical conditions suffered by the kids and grand kids of U.S. service members in Vietnam. They include learning disabilities, blood and immune disorders, and autism. He said what’s striking about many of these cases is that the illnesses emerge from families with no history of such maladies. “I’m not a scientist, but common sense tells me: It’s got to be the dioxin,” Kaderlik said. The VA officially recognizes 50 diseases connected to Agent Orange exposure, including Hodgkins Disease, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Parkinson’s Disease and 38 forms of cancer. The VA estimates that any of the 2.8 million U.S. veterans who had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 may been been exposed to the herbicide. The Vietnamese Red Cross says up to 3 million Vietnamese have suffered health effects from dioxin exposure, including at least 150,000 children with birth defects. Pat Neville served 13 months in Vietnam, stationed at a medical compound. He said the perimeter of the compound was regularly sprayed with the herbicide. “It was a fine mist,” he said. “You could feel the chemicals. It was just part of life. You didn’t pay much attention to it.” He later returned to the states and teaching at Spring Valley. As he and his wife learned more about Agent Orange, the couple was forced to reevaluate medical events in their own lives. Before giving birth to their daughter, Debi went through numerous miscarriages. She had long thought the miscarriages had more to do with her. But “then we thought, what if those miscarriages had to do with him?” Debi said. “If it isn’t connected, OK, fine,” Debi said. “But if it is, we need to know that.”
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Marine’s toughest fight: getting compensated for exposure to Camp Lejeune’s toxic water (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
There’s no doubt in Stanley Furrow’s mind that his health problems and those of his wife, children and grandson come from drinking contaminated water and bathing in it years ago when he served in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. They all have classic symptoms, according to the EPA, of people who have consumed water tainted with a witch’s brew of benzene, solvents and compounds with long names such as perchloroethylene, trichlorethylene and vinyl chloride. That is what was leaking into the camp’s water supply when Furrow, a Vietnam War vet, and his wife, Linda, lived there in the early 1970s. He blames his exposure for the migraine headaches and neurological maladies he’s suffered from for years. They believe it also explains why Linda had miscarriages; their son was born with only three fingers on his left hand; their daughter has battled cysts and tumors on her head all her life; and their 13-year-old grandson, Joseph, was born with twisted legs. “We were living right outside the gate where the water was bad,” Stanley Furrow said during one of several interviews this month at the family’s east Las Vegas home. “I was bringing water home at that time. But I also had to bathe in our barracks” after physical training and maneuvers, he said. “I took showers there. My eyes, and ears and throat and nose was all being affected. Plus I was drinking the water.” Between 1952 and 1987, nearly 1 million Marines, sailors, civilian employees and military family members unknowingly drank, cooked with and bathed in contaminated water while living or working at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. A National Academies report in 2009 found that the camp’s water supply was tainted by industrial solvents that resulted from spills and improper disposal practices by a dry cleaner outside the base. Some contaminants came from leaking underground storage tanks on the base, it said. Three years later, President Barack Obama signed into law the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. While it offered hope for the Furrows and other military families that they would receive disability compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs repeatedly has denied Stanley’s claims. The stated reason: lack of documentation because his health records were lost some 30 years ago. Now he is banking that he will get the benefit of the doubt for what’s called “presumptive disability status” — a provision of the act that presumes that certain conditions were caused by factors connected to the veteran’s military service. But that, too, appears out of reach, at least for now, because the VA is in the midst of developing rules for applying the provision. That leaves Furrow in a medical Catch-22, though April 11 “Progress Notes” by medical personnel at the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center’s mental health facility acknowledged that “it is possible that there might be some connection” to the Camp Lejeune contamination. In response to a Review-Journal query, a Veterans Benefits Administration official wrote Friday, “We are looking into Mr. Furrow’s claims.” “VA is working on regulations that would establish presumptive service-connection for certain illnesses related to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, making it easier for affected veterans to receive VA disability compensation for these conditions,” said Russell S. Archey, records management officer at the VA Regional Office in Reno. “While VA cannot grant any benefit claims based on the proposed presumption of service connection … until it issues its final regulations, it encourages veterans who have a record of service at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987,” to file a disability compensation claim. The Furrows have been there and done that. Since 2009, they have been denied four times, “and we’re working on the fifth (claim),” Linda Furrow said. “Every time we filed one it was sent back to us for more information. They want more documentation to prove the headaches, the migraines, the miscarriages that I had, the problems he’s having with his memory loss. His concentration. His passing out. His heart attack. This list goes on and on and on,” she said. Stanley Furrow said he feels “like they lied to us, all the way up ‘til now. From Ronald Reagan on up. We received no apologies for what they did. We received nothing from the government. “I suffered all these years believing that it was my fault.” Their daughter, Jolie Furrow, 32, who was born after the family moved away from Camp Lejeune, said she also has had to deal with the effects of her parents’ exposure to the tainted water, including abnormal growths on her skull, including one that was removed from behind her ear. “I have a cyst on my head, cysts on my ovaries, I have hearing loss on both sides.” Stanley Furrow said the pattern of maladies that afflict his family make it clear that the water was to blame, and he wonders why the government he served isn’t stepping up to make things as right as they can be. “Whose fault is it then? It wasn’t mine that we were poisoned,” he said. “It’s the government’s and the Marines at Camp Lejeune that knew about it. But yet they did nothing either. The EPA did nothing. Somebody has to pay for what was done to us.” Said Jolie Furrow: “I just think it’s crazy. Why would you treat someone who served their country this way?”
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Have we misunderstood post-traumatic stress disorder? (MedicalXpress)
In understanding war-related post-traumatic stress disorder, a person’s cultural and professional context is just as important as how they cope with witnessing wartime events, which could change the way mental health experts analyse, prevent and manage psychological injury from warfare. It’s long been assumed that war-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stems from how well a person copes psychologically with exposure to violence or the threat of violence. A new study, published in the Academy of Management Journal, finds that this is only half the story, however. The researchers behind the study say that the context through which war is experienced – based on a person’s cultural, professional and organisational background – may be equally important in determining how warfare can be traumatic for some and not for others. The research focused on military doctors in Afghanistan, and found that the “dissonance” between what the medics experienced on the ground and their values as dedicated professionals resulted in “senselessness, futility and surreality” – factors that can lead to PTSD and other mental health problems. “This understanding of the connection between PTSD and the context of those who suffer from it could change the way mental health experts analyse, prevent and manage psychological injury from warfare,” said Mark de Rond of University of Cambridge Judge Business School, who co-authored the study with Jaco Lok of the University of New South Wales Business School in Australia. “The study highlights the urgent and serious nature of dealing with PTSD – beyond the very real impact on many veterans, to others who work in the theatre of war, such as medical personnel,” says Lok. Between 20 and 30 per cent of the 2.7 million US troops sent to Iraq or Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011 returned with some form of psychological injury, says the US Department of Veterans Affairs, while the British charity Combat Stress reported a four-fold increase in former service personnel seeking help for mental disorders in the past 20 years. In 2013, a former commander of Australian forces in the Middle East warned of a “large wave of sadness coming our way.” The new study is based on fieldwork by de Rond, Reader in Strategy & Organisation at Cambridge Judge Business School, who was “embedded” with a team of military surgeons at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan for six weeks in 2011 – and includes tales both harrowing and tragi-comic. “The doctors I was embedded with were known as Rear Located Medics, who don’t have a combat role, so they have less reason to fear for their lives than frontline personnel,” says de Rond. “Studying this group was an excellent way to look beyond psychological reaction to the horrors of warfare in order to also analyse contextual elements that lead to PTSD.” For example, the Camp Bastion army medics were particularly disturbed by rules of the camp’s small 50-bed field hospital that required the quick transfer of badly mutilated children (often double amputees due to Improvised Explosive Devices encountered while playing) and other Afghan civilians to inferior local hospitals, often within 48 hours, to make way for new battlefield casualties. This was a specific, local organisational requirement. “(It was) difficult for them to come terms with rules, practices and experiences on the ground that appeared contradictory to their purpose and values, thus amplifying feelings of senselessness,” the study says. As an example of the surreal hopelessness faced by the medics, the study relates a conversation between two medics: “They talked about the frustration of bringing a stable, anesthetised patient over to some hospital only to be met by an empty van, having to hand over a wired-up patient to someone with no equipment at all.” This practice tore at the fabric of their professional purpose and responsibility and highlighted the contrast between the medics’ actual experience in a warfare setting with their professional expectations as doctors – a life of “the meaningful, the good and the normal.” The doctors’ real names are not used, but the study instead substitutes the names of characters such as “Trapper,” “Hawkeye” and “Potter” from the hit TV show “M*A*S*H”. Among de Rond’s field notes chronicled in the study, some incidents seem like they could have come out of the “M*A*S*H” gallows-humour playbook: “One of the theatre nurses told me of an experience over Easter weekend, when a double amputee had come in… One of his legs had come off, and (the nurse) was asked to please take it to the mortuary (and from there to the incinerator). As he crossed the ambulance bay carrying a yellow (container) with a leg, he ran into the Commanding Officer and a TNC (Travel Nurse Corps) nurse walking the other way, dressed in bunny ears and carrying Easter eggs.” Such a contrast “between the human gravity of the situation on the one hand, and the casual nature of everyday rituals and routines on the other” can have a very disorienting effect, the study says. When such disorientation is sustained over time, it can also permanently damage the ability of everyday rituals and routines to provide a sense of meaning and predictability to life back home. This may be one important reason why many war veterans find it so difficult to adjust back to home life. Camp Bastion, which was constructed in 2005 and handed over to Afghan forces in 2014, was the largest British overseas military camp since World War II, accommodating 32,000 people. The field hospital was staffed by mostly British and American doctors, with some Danes and Estonians, many of them “battle-hardened” by previous deployments to other war zones such as Bosnia and Sierra Leone.
House chairman says VA making excuses instead of fixing problems for vets (Washington Times)
A top House Republican said Monday that the Department of Veterans Affairs is hiding behind a “litany of excuses” instead of improving health care for veterans. House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, said VA officials “haven’t learned much from the wait-time scandal that shook VA to its foundations and forced the resignation of former Secretary Eric Shinseki” in 2014. “Unfortunately, it seems the same sort of attitude that created the VA scandal is still alive and well within the department,” Mr. Miller wrote in an op-ed for InsideSources.com. “VA leaders have adopted the puzzling strategy of downplaying and making excuses for instances of employee misconduct that every objective observer knows are abhorrent.” He pointed to recent comments by VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, who criticized some media coverage for creating a false impression that veterans seeking care would encounter “some lazy, corrupt bureaucrat who doesn’t care a whit.” Mr. Miller said those comments “are a remarkable rhetorical about-face” for Mr. Gibson after earlier complaining about the agency’s culture that led to problems with delayed care. The VA’s inspector general has founded that 293 veterans died awaiting care at VA facilities in Phoenix, with scores of other such cases nationwide. But Mr. Miller said the VA has fired fewer than 10 employees for issues related to wait times. “Let that sink in. VA bureaucrats at 40 locations were manipulating data to hide long waits for care, 316 veterans died and yet VA has only successfully fired fewer than 10 people for these issues,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s obvious that until those who caused the VA scandal are removed from the department’s payroll, efforts to reform the department will never succeed.” The lawmaker said the Obama administration can’t fix the problem because the VA too often is “content to simply make excuses — often excruciatingly bad ones — for their misbehavior.” “Veterans are depending on VA for solutions to the department’s most pressing problems,” Mr. Miller said. “There is simply no excuse for VA’s litany of excuses regarding employees who can’t or won’t do their jobs.”
At one veterans clinic in Tennessee, an extra doctor solved a wait time crisis (Nashville Public Radio)
In the two years since the veterans affairs wait time scandal, the health care system in Middle Tennessee hasn’t improved on the whole, at least according to the wait time metrics set out by the national VA administration. But some individual VA clinics in the region have managed to cut the wait time to see a doctor considerably. In one case, all it took was a single hire. At the VA health care clinic in Tullahoma, located on the Arnold Air Force Base, the problem started when one of its doctors left unexpectedly in 2014. Patients went from waiting two days for a primary care appointment in December 2014, to waiting two months in July 2015. “That’s one of the struggles when you have a very small site with a very small staff,” said Ronnie Smith, the associate director of the Tennessee Valley VA health care system. “Any loss of staff has a tremendous impact.” The VA hurried to hire someone else — but that proved difficult. Robert Lim, who oversees outpatient clinics in the region, told WPLN last May that they had hired one candidate who later decided not to take the job. “All of a sudden, we get a note from him yesterday saying he has decided not to come, so we’re back to square one,” Lim said at the time. There were no other applicants. VA officials say it’s hard to compete with pay in the private sector. Indeed, the median salary for a primary care doctor in the private sector is more than $250,000, according to the Medical Group Management Association. A primary care staff doctor at the VA makes at most $215,000. But when the Tennessee Valley VA finally found a replacement in Tullahoma last October — a nurse practitioner who was already working at the Arnold Air Force Base — sure enough, wait times at the clinic dropped almost immediately. Last month, the wait times were the lowest in the region. They were so low, in fact, that no patients had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment. But other clinics in the area have different pressure points that can make or break its productivity. The clinic in Clarksville, for example, has such little physical space that it had to stop taking new patients to avoid skyrocketing wait times. Meanwhile, that triggered an influx of veterans going to nearby Dover and Hopkinsville, where wait times are now the highest in the region. VA officials say both clinics are considering hiring a new doctor or nurse practitioner to ease the burden until a new building in Clarksville is finished in 2017.
HUD, VA helping homeless veterans find permanent housing (Fox 43)
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced a second round of funding to help provide permanent homes to an estimated 108 veterans experiencing homelessness in seven states. The rental assistance announced today is provided through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program which combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA (see attached list of HUD’s voucher awards). Recently, HUD, VA and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) announced the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States has been cut nearly in half since 2010. The data revealed a 17 percent decrease in veteran homelessness between January 2015 and January 2016—quadruple the previous year’s annual decline—and a 47 percent decrease since 2010. Additionally, while answering the Obama administration’s Mayor’s Challenge to end Veteran’s Homelessness, several mayors have declared their cities have officially ended it. “There is momentum across the nation as community after community effectively ends veteran homelessness,” said Secretary Julián Castro. “Today’s funding will help more cities reach this important goal and ensure that we serve the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for us. HUD and its local partners are determined to give every veteran the opportunity to secure a safe, stable place to call home.” “The dramatic reduction in Veteran homelessness in recent years would not have been possible without the pairing of housing choice vouchers with case management and supportive services under the HUD-VASH program to help the most vulnerable Veterans become and remain stably housed,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “The HUD-VASH awards announced today will support the ongoing and important work underway to ensure that homelessness among Veterans is rare and non-recurring.” In June, HUD awarded nearly $38 million to help more than 5,200 homeless veterans find homes. That funding ensured that communities could provide the critically needed housing assistance and case management services to those veterans and their families experiencing homelessness. In 2010, President Obama and 19 federal agencies and offices that form the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) launched the nation’s first comprehensive strategy to prevent and end homelessness. Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness serves as a roadmap for how the federal government will work with state and local communities to confront the root causes of homelessness, especially among former servicemen and women. To support communities as they progress towards the goal of ending veteran homelessness, USICH has identified strategies that increase collaboration and coordination among programs serving veterans experiencing homelessness. Since 2008, more than 79,000 vouchers have been awarded and approximately 111,000 homeless veterans have been served through the HUD-VASH program. Rental assistance and supportive services provided through HUD-VASH are a critical resource for local communities in ending homelessness among our nation’s Veterans. In the HUD-VASH program, VA Medical Centers (VAMCs) assess veterans experiencing homelessness before referring them to local housing agencies for these vouchers. Decisions are based on a variety of factors, most importantly the duration of homelessness and the need for longer term, more intensive support in obtaining and maintaining permanent housing. The HUD-VASH program includes both the rental assistance the voucher provides and the comprehensive case management that VAMC staff offers. Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. VA offers eligible homeless veterans clinical and supportive services through its medical centers across the U.S., Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Meet veteran Joe Worley, whose life changed when he met this dog (Today)
When military veteran Joe Worley needed help as he learned to walk again after being injured in Iraq, he knew he could always lean on his service dog Benjamin – literally. “The physical things that Benjamin’s done have taken a lot of the pressure off my wife and kids and myself and that’s just a part of it,” Worley told TODAY. “He’s such an integral part of my family.” Worley, a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman third class who served as a field medic, lost his left leg and suffered damage to his right leg when he stepped on an IED in Iraq in September 2004. Worley was rushing to assist soldiers in another vehicle that had been hit by an IED when he was injured. “I assumed that I was gonna die,” Worley said. Worley underwent numerous surgeries for an entire year before an experience with a facility dog named Duce from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center introduced him to the capabilities of service dogs. “(Duce) was serious and he was loving, and it was just incredible,” Worley said. “You see things like that in movies all the time, but to actually see that change in an animal where it’s doing something incredible like what they had the dog doing – it was climbing under chairs, and it was picking things up off the floor for veterans who would drop things.” The experience led Worley to apply for a dog with the organization America’s VetDogs, which provides trained service dogs to veterans at no cost, thanks to donations. Worley has since become a volunteer for America’s VetDogs after seeing all the positive effects the animals can have on veterans with physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. On Monday, TODAY introduced its newest “puppy with a purpose” from America’s VetDogs, which will be trained to be a service dog while spending time with the TODAY family. The new dog will have some big pawprints to fill from TODAY’s first puppy, Wrangler, who moved on in March to continue his formal guide dog training. Worley knows all about the anticipation of getting a new service dog. America’s VetDogs paired him with Benjamin, a golden retriever, back in 2008. “I’ve talked in front of thousands of people, and I wasn’t as nervous as I was the first time I met Ben,” he said. “It was a friendship, and he became so much a part of my my family and support system so quickly.” Benjamin had been trained to help Worley with balance and mobility when he was walking on his prosthetic leg by giving him something to lean on or help lower himself to the ground. He helped make sure Worley didn’t accidentally fall on his wife or baby daughter and potentially injure them. “A lot of the times I’m tipping (over), so a lot of that is taken care of with him because I have him to hold on to,” Worley said. ” Worley is also always dropping papers or his phone from his lap when he is using his wheelchair. Benjamin is trained to pick them up for him. Benjamin has helped Worley mentally as well as physically. “He knows when you’re stressed out puts that cold nose on your elbow,” he said. “He has relieved a lot of the pressure that I feel in public because people see the big, shiny leg and it’s something to stare at because it’s different, and he takes a lot of that away from me.” Benjamin is now 10 years old after having been with Worley for almost his entire life. Since Worley is worried that his dog may not be strong enough any more to handle the physical demands and could get hurt, he has applied for another dog. “I think it’s gonna be harder for me than it will be for him because he’s been here for my whole injury just about,” Worley said. Benjamin will still live with the Worley family, while his owner looks to continue to spread the word about America’s VetDogs. “What they’re doing is is beautiful,” he said. “Their hearts are in the right place, and they’re training dogs that are mitigating disabilities and improving the lives of veterans and first responders.” Worley also wants to honor the memory of the U.S. marines who died during his tour in Iraq by ensuring other veterans get help through the service dogs. “All the time I think about the marines I lost on Labor Day (in 2004), and so for me that’s more of my motivation to try and be a component in making people lives better,” he said. “I think that’s one of the main reasons why I feel so driven to be a part of something like the America’s VetDogs.”