New VA Medical Center in Redding, CA Plans Underway

New VA Medical Center in Redding, CA Plans Underway

Just a few months after the existing VA medical center in Redding, CA was threatened by nearby wildfires, the VA has awarded a lease for a new medical facility. The new complex will rehome the two existing VA treatment facilities in Redding as well as increase the amount of space available for medical professionals. This new facility will serve more than 60,000 Veterans. In addition to all of the services currently provided, the new facility in Redding will have room for 17 new mental health providers, a mammography center and a second x-ray center.

 

The lease award in Redding is just one of thirteen major leases that have been awarded across the country.

 

“These awards are the next step in increasing access for our Veterans across the country,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA stands firm in ensuring our Veterans are treated in state-of-the-art facilities and continue to access the high quality of care VA is able to provide.”

 

Charleston, SC

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Houston, TX

Lincoln, Nebraska

Lubbock, Texas

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

New Port Richey, Florida

Phoenix, Arizona

Ponce, Puerto Rico

San Antonio, Texas

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Bakersfield, California

 

While timelines have not been provided for these projects, the VA is hopeful to have construction underway as quickly as possible.

 

TRICARE Open Season

TRICARE Open Season

 

Important information for all military: TRICARE Open Season, their annual open enrollment period, start today, November 12th. Between now and December 10th, there are a few things about your TRICARE coverage that you need to know.

 

  • Selections for 2019 health care coverage must be completed between now (November 12) and December 10.
  • You may use this time to select a new TRICARE Select or TRICARE Prime plan
  • Open season is when you can change your existing plan or enrollment to something different
  • If no changes are made, your 2018 TRICARE selections will carry over to 2019
  • This is the ONLY time to make changes throughout the year unless you have a QLE or Qualifying Life Event

 

Qualifying Life Events are major events that fall into two categories: Military changes or Family changes. Military changes include activation, deactivation, injured while active duty, moving, separating from active duty and retirement. Family changes includes marriage, divorce, birth of a child, adoption of a child, college aged children attending school, children becoming adults, becoming Medicare eligible, moving, experiencing a death in the family, loss or gain of alternate health insurance.

The Healing Power of Art

The Healing Power of Art

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing

Art as therapy. If you’ve seen it in action, you know the life-changing effects it can have on our Brothers & Sisters that struggle. For years, art has been shown to improve interpersonal skills, increase self-awareness, and boost self-esteem. Clinically speaking, this helps reduce tension and anxiety, which can relieve pain and set a strong foundation for the process of healing or coping with lifelong disabilities. It can also mean relief for PTS and other issues stemming from military service.

For at least one Veteran, the visual arts have long been a format for creative expression, often providing emotional healing, strength, and a sense of purpose. Scott Beaty, a 20-year Navy Submarine Veteran and the founder of Visions for Vets, a small non-profit in St. Louis, Missouri, discovered a way to provide Veteran assistance through teaching and creating art and building strong Veteran camaraderie. As his organization grew, he witnessed his Veteran art students find release from their burdens, express themselves emotionally through creativity, and realize freedom from society’s label of being “disabled.”

“We’ve found that once Veterans have gained confidence in their newly-found, rekindled, or enhanced art skills, they’re ready to serve all over again. Service is at the heart of Visions for Vets and we seek to help Veterans continue the mission through art, building important relationships in their communities and engaging in outreach to bring the power of the healing arts to those in need of peace and joy,” Beaty said.

There’s an emphasis on the power of the visual arts at the national level, as well. As part of the current Presidential Administration, Second Lady Karen Pence uses her national and international platform to shine the light on art therapy. The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) have their own platforms in the Creative Forces Network and the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

The Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network serves the special needs of military patients and veterans who have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and psychological health conditions, as well as their families and caregivers, placing creative arts therapies at the core of patient-centered care at 11 military medical facilities across the country.

Made possible by a unique collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, DoD, the VA, and state arts agencies, Creative Forces is a network of caring people who believe in the transformative and restorative powers of art. The network is made up of creative arts therapists, artists, doctors, military service members, veterans, community leaders and policymakers, helping make a difference on military bases, in hospitals, and at community art centers.

Nationally, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities use the creative arts as an effective rehabilitative therapy to help veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities by encouraging expression in a non-threatening way. Across the country each year, Veterans enrolled at VA health care facilities compete in local creative arts competitions, culminating in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

The competition includes 51 categories in the visual arts division this year that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits. In addition, there are 100 categories in the performing arts pertaining to all aspects of music, dance, drama and creative writing. Through a national judging process, first, second and third place entries in each category are determined. The Festival is co-sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. In addition to raising funds for the event, Auxiliary departments provide volunteers who assist with everything from punching meal tickets to stuffing programs to ironing costumes for the stage show.

 

Agent Orange: The Settlement Details you need to know

Agent Orange: The Settlement Details you need to know

There have been a variety of settlements made to Agent Orange victims since the chemical warfare in Vietnam ceased over 40 years ago. While some settlements had immediate payouts, there may be funds still available, depending on your condition and infliction. The VA is providing assistance, benefits and care for Veterans who have health implications as a result of Agent Orange exposure.

Initially, the Agent Orange Settlement Fund was a result of a class action lawsuit brought against the manufacturers of the chemical agents used in the Vietnam War by the Veterans of the war and their families. This fund and lawsuit did not involve the VA or the government in any way.

Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange may be eligible for a wide variety of VA benefits. These benefits may include disability benefits for diseases that have been linked to Agent Orange exposure. These diseases include:

 

AL Amyloidosis

Chronic B-cell Leukemias

Chloracne

Diabetes Mellitus Type 2

Hodgkin’s Disease

Ischemic Heart Disease

Multiple Myeloma

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Parkinson’s Disease

Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-onset

Porphyria Cutanea Tarda

Prostate Cancer

Respiratory Cancers

Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Additionally, survivors of exposed Veterans and depends may also be eligible for benefits. Fortunately for Veterans, there is no need to prove Agent Orange exposure. Agent Orange exposure is presumed if a Veteran was in Vietnam from January 9, 1962 until May 7, 1975. This includes both time on land and time aboard a ship that operated in the Vietnam waterways. Also covered by this presumption are veterans who were in or near the Korean demilitarized zone from April 1, 1968 to August 31, 1971.

Veterans can apply in person at their local office or online: https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits/homepage. If you need any additional information about your possible disability benefits, please visit the VA’s site: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-postservice-agent_orange.asp.

Agent Orange: The Fallout

Agent Orange: The Fallout

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

The chemical warfare efforts of Operation Ranch Hand were active for just 10 years of this country’s military history. Those 10 years of active efforts have had nearly 50 years of fallout, and the impact on future generations still remains unknown.

When the military began the chemical warfare airstrikes, the focus was on reducing ground cover utilized by the Viet Cong and Northern Vietnamese troops and destroying crops that would be used for sustenance. US Military, manufacturers and scientists were aware of the dangers that the dioxins posed to the humans and animals exposed, but there wasn’t a pressing concern as the toxins were being used on the enemy. Science overlooked the impact on US military personnel and long term impact on the environment. Air Force researcher Dr. James Clary has been quoted on the subject. “When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to the dioxin contamination in the herbicide. However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide.”

As Veterans returned home, they began to report a variety of health issues. Initial reports were primarily skin issues, but the list grew to include type 2 diabetes, miscarriages, birth defects and more.

The VA continually updates its list of afflictions, conditions and diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure. This is the most up-to-date list of recognized conditions:

AL Amyloidosis

Chronic B-cell Leukemias

Chloracne

Diabetes Mellitus Type 2

Hodgkin’s Disease

Ischemic Heart Disease

Multiple Myeloma

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Parkinson’s Disease

Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-onset

Porphyria Cutanea Tarda

Prostate Cancer

Respiratory Cancers

Soft Tissue Sarcomas

In addition to the number of illnesses reported by American Veterans and their families, the list of afflictions that have impacted the Vietnamese continues to grow. Most notable and heartbreaking are the images of children born with severe birth defects. While many assume the impacts ended after the war, in truth, children are still coming into this world with physical and mental handicaps as a result of their grandparents’ exposure to Agent Orange in the 60s.

Globally, we need to be aware of the impact that Agent Orange had on our ecosystem. If genetic abnormalities in humans were caused by exposure and still continue to be prevalent, there is a high likelihood that the dioxin would be found in our food that originated in that area.

Agent Orange: Facts to know

Agent Orange: Facts to know

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

Operation Ranch Hand was the codename for the US program that ordered over 20 million gallons of herbicide to be spread over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during a ten-year span of the Vietnam War. Agent Orange was the most commonly used herbicide. Intended to be the primary agent in the destruction of the forest cover in these countries, it was an extremely powerful herbicide that not only caused the desired deforestation but also has since been known to cause a multitude of devastating conditions for the local people and returning US Soldiers.

Operation Ranch Hand was aggressive chemical warfare designed to reduce food supplies for strategic cover being used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. The over 20 million gallons were spread across nearly 4.5 million acres. While seemingly a strategic win at the time, the fallout would prove to be a blemish on the face of American warfare history.

Operation Ranch Hand utilized six different herbicides. Produced by well-known American manufacturing companies, such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical, the herbicides were marked by colors on their packaging drums and subsequently referred to as those colors – Agent Orange, Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent Blue, Agent White and Agent Purple. Agent Orange was the most used, most potent and most altered – with four different variations, including Super Orange. Agent Orange and its variations account for almost two-thirds of the herbicide use during the Vietnam War.

Agent Orange’s active ingredients caused plants to lose their leaves. TCDD, a type of dioxin, was not an intentional ingredient but instead a byproduct of the manufacturing process. The TCDD found in Agent Orange is the most dangerous and deadly of all dioxins.

It has been nearly 50 years since the US Government stopped using Agent Orange and other herbicides in chemical warfare. Despite the time that has passed, many of those exposed – both Vietnamese and American – still face the physical repercussions and fallout.

 

Flu Facts: What you need to know this season

Flu Facts: What you need to know this season

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

We are rapidly approaching the holiday season, and carving pumpkins turns into carving turkeys and decking the halls, we all need to be reminded and aware of the uninvited guest: Influenza. There are a few important things you need to remember about the flu:

  1. The “flu” or influenza is caused by the Human Influenza A, B and C Viruses
  2. Symptoms typically appear 1-4 days after exposure
  3. Symptoms include fevers of over 100 degrees, cough, nasal stuffiness, weakness, congestion, muscle aches, general fatigue, sore throat, chills and sweats
  4. Symptoms often last for at least a week or two, sometimes longer
  5. You are contagious for about a day before you have symptoms and for about a week after your symptoms start
  6. You get the flu by breathing. Tiny droplets are inhaled and spread the virus.

If you bring yourself to the doctor within 24-48 hours of the onset of symptoms, antivirals can be prescribed and may significantly decrease the duration of your illness. It is critical that you pay attention to your symptoms and react quickly to minimize the impact of your illness.

The best way to attempt to prevent the flu is by receiving a flu vaccination. That, combined with consistent hand washing and limiting contact with individuals known to have the flu, will limit the spread of the virus.  

Flu vaccinations are completely covered by insurance and many major chains are incentivizing customers to stop in and receive the vaccine while they shop.

It is critical to get the Flu vaccine before the flu is spreading throughout your area. The earlier in the season that vaccination occurs, the more likely you are to receive maximum protection. The CDC recommendation is that vaccinations be received in October. This year, many communities are reporting cases of the flu already, and some have even reported deaths attributed to the flu.

It takes two weeks from the time of vaccination for the antibodies to develop against the flu. While many are skeptical of vaccination, the flu vaccine does not “cause” the flu. It does, however, give the body the best protection against a virus that does, in fact, kill.

 

Hedge Fund Billionaire Spends Millions on Mental Health Clinics for Veterans

Hedge Fund Billionaire Spends Millions on Mental Health Clinics for Veterans

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics treat veterans and their families for a variety of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, adjustment issues, anger and other concerns. The founder, hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen, now plans to expand the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) from 10 mental health clinics to 25 by 2020 for veterans and their family members.

“We’ve got a two-path approach — take care of today’s problems now and look for better answers in the future,” he said in brief remarks at the opening of the 3rd annual Cohen Veterans Care Summit at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center near the White House.

His clinics have treated 8,000 veterans and family members thus far, and “they tell us we’re making their lives better,” he said.

“Sadly, we’re now facing an epidemic of veterans suicides. We have to stop it in its tracks,” he added. “I want to do something about this.”

Cohen, who reportedly has an estimated net worth of $14 billion, founded CVN in 2015, two years after his firm, SAC Capital Advisors, agreed to pay $1.8 billion in fines and civil penalties to resolve a criminal indictment for insider trading.

It was the largest fine in history for insider trading, according to Preet Bharara, who was then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Cohen, who pledged $275 million of his own funds to found CVN, has assembled an impressive board of directors, which includes retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

The Cohen Network and Cohen’s own spokesman insist they’re not trying to privatize the VA and their only goal is helping veterans. “No single private person in this country has ever donated more money to save veterans’ lives and treat their mental health needs than Steve Cohen has,” Cohen’s spokesman, Mark Herr, said.

Last year, Cohen set out to persuade Congress and the Trump administration to reimburse his clinics for veterans treated there.

From the beginning, the Cohen clinics were advertised as free to patients, but the plan was always to start seeking reimbursement for their treatment from insurance reimbursements, local philanthropy and government grants, according to information posted on the Cohen Network’s website.

Navy Researchers Making Progress on a Vaccine for Malaria

Navy Researchers Making Progress on a Vaccine for Malaria

Navy Researchers Making Progress on a Vaccine for Malaria

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Navy medical researchers are making progress on a vaccine for malaria, the number one disease that affects deployed troops.

In August, Capt. Judith Epstein, clinical director of the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) Malaria Department, presented findings on the malaria candidate vaccine, PfSPZ Vaccine, at the 2018 Military Health System Research Symposium.

During the breakout session called “What’s New in Infectious Disease Research in the Tropics,” Epstein gave an update on NMRC’s work with PfSPZ Vaccine, a whole organism vaccine comprised of aseptic, purified, radiation-attenuated, non-replicating, cryopreserved sporozoites. Sporozoites (SPZ) are one of the stages of the malaria parasite, which find their way to the liver after inoculation.

According to Epstein, the parasites induce a protective immune response without making copies of themselves. In other words, the weakened parasites do not replicate or get into the bloodstream, and thus do not lead to infection or disease.

Recent tests “bring us closer to having a malaria vaccine to prevent infection and disease in military personnel deployed to malaria-endemic regions, as well as vulnerable populations residing in malaria-endemic regions,” Epstein said.

Malaria can cause vomiting, fatigue, fever and headaches. In the most severe cases, Malaria can be fatal. Left untreated, there can also be recurrences months and years later.

No effective vaccine has ever been developed, but Epstein said that research on a vaccine using a purified form of one of the early stages of the malaria parasite has been encouraging.

“In all trials, the vaccine has been demonstrated to have a very good safety and tolerability profile and has also been easy to administer,” Epstein said. “Our focus now is to enhance the efficacy and practical use of the vaccine.”

In 2016, there were 216 million cases of malaria worldwide, resulting in an estimated 445,000 to 731,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

New Mission at the VA is Service

new mission at the va is service

New Mission at the VA is Service

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

There is a new plan in the works to make customer service at the Veterans Administration (VA) priority one.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said that he has the commitment of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to work together on developing a new electronic “patient-centered health care system.”

Wilkie referenced his late father, a severely wounded warrior, who had to hand-carry his 800 pages of medical records to ensure he received the proper care at the VA.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Leon Wilkie Sr. was severely wounded in the U.S. operation in Cambodia. The senior Wilkie had been a strapping 240 pounds before he was wounded in 1970. He returned home weighing 115 pounds.

“The VA is about serving veterans,” said Wilkie. “My prime directive is customer service.”

And customer service is what Wilkie is confident should improve under the VA Mission Act, which was recently signed into law. Increased funding as a result of the Mission Act, which is projected to cost more than $50 billion over five years, should alleviate many of the problems associated with the previous Choice Program.

Wilkie, a former assistant secretary of defense under President George W. Bush and former undersecretary for current Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, replaced David Shulkin, who was fired amid ethics charges and internal rebellion over the role of private care for veterans. Wilkie is tasked with delivering on President Trump’s campaign promises to fire ineffective VA employees and steer more patients to the private sector.

But Wilkie also realizes that veterans need care from providers who can speak “in the language of veterans” and who “know what you’ve been through,” an option that the private sector cannot provide.”

The private sector also “cannot replicate” what the VA does on spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, prosthetics, services for the blind, and suicide prevention, Wilkie said.