Skype therapy? It’s working for veterans

Skype therapy? It’s working for veterans

By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times

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Published: July 5, 2013
video705
Erik K. Shinseki, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, speaks to physicians in Philadelphia, April 13, 2012, from the Community Based Outpatient Clinic on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., via the clinic’s new Telehealth system during a tour of the facility.
Scott Snell/U.S. Air Force file photo

EL CENTRO, Calif. — Ruben Moreno Garcia, who served three combat tours in Iraq, now lives with his family in this Imperial Valley community and works as a mechanic in Yuma, Ariz.

Kathryn Williams, a clinical psychologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs, has an office in the San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla, more than a hundred miles away.

Williams and Moreno Garcia meet once a week for an hour or so to discuss his progress in coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, the condition common to U.S. military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Their sessions are over the Internet, using a firewall-protected connection and a different password for each session.

“Being in your own living room for sessions, that’s comfortable,” said Moreno Garcia, 31, who studied computers before enlisting in the Army.

Williams concedes she was somewhat suspect of the therapy-by-Internet method.

“I’ve been doing therapy face-to-face for 10 years, so I was skeptical,” Williams said. “But after one or two sessions, you forget about the camera.” Read Full Article Here

Doc returns Vietnamese vet’s arm

Doc returns Vietnamese vet’s arm

By MIKE IVES
The Associated Press

Published: July 1, 2013
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Dr. Sam Axelrad, left, displays the bones of an arm belonging to former North Vietnamese soldier Nguyen Quang Hung, right, at Hung’s house in the town of An Khe, Gia Lai province, Vietnam on Monday July 1, 2013. In October 1966 Axelrad amputated Hung’s arm after the soldier was shot in an ambush by American troops in the coastal province of Binh Dinh in the former South Vietnam.
Thanh Nien Newspaper, Kha Hoa/AP

HANOI, Vietnam — An American doctor arrived in Vietnam carrying an unlikely piece of luggage: the bones of an arm he amputated in 1966.

Dr. Sam Axelrad brought the skeletal keepsake home to Texas as a reminder that when a badly injured North Vietnamese soldier was brought to him, he did the right thing and fixed him up. The bones sat in a closet for decades, and when the Houston urologist finally pulled them out two years ago, he wondered about their true owner, Nguyen Quang Hung.

The men were reunited Monday at Hung’s home in central Vietnam. They met each other’s children, and grandchildren, and joked about which of them had been better looking back when war had made them enemies. Hung was stunned that someone had kept his bones for so long, but happy that when the time comes, they will be buried with him.

“I’m very glad to see him again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century,” Hung said by telephone Monday after meeting Axelrad. “I’m proud to have shed my blood for my country’s reunification, and I consider myself very lucky compared with many of my comrades who were killed or remain unaccounted for.”

Hung, 73, said American troops shot him in the arm in October 1966 during an ambush about 75 kilometers (46 miles) from An Khe, the town where he now lives. After floating down a stream to escape a firefight and then sheltering in a rice warehouse for three days, he was evacuated by a U.S. helicopter to a no-frills military hospital in Phu Cat, in central Binh Dinh province.

“When I was captured by the American forces, I was like a fish on a chopping-board,” Hung said last week. “They could have either killed or spared me.”

When Hung got to Axelrad, then a 27-year-old military doctor, his right forearm was the color of an eggplant. To keep the infection from killing his patient, Axelrad amputated the arm above the elbow.

After the surgery, Hung spent eight months recovering and another six assisting American military doctors, Hung said. He spent the rest of the war offering private medical services in the town, and later served in local government for a decade before retiring on his rice farm.

“He probably thought we were going to put him in some prisoner-of-war camp,” Axelrad said. “Surely he was totally surprised when we just took care of him.”

As for the arm, Axelrad said his medic colleagues boiled off the flesh, reconstructed the arm bones and gave them to him. It was hardly common practice, but he said it was a reminder of a good deed performed.

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Soldiers in Hawaii join in outreach to help homeless veterans

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By Allison Schaefers
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Published: June 12, 2013

HONOLULU — Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Smith, an Army journalist stationed at Fort Shafter, was on a rescue mission Tuesday to save his fallen comrades — the many homeless veterans who call Hawaii streets their home.

“It’s tough being on the street,” said Smith, who spent two years of his youth homeless in Philadelphia with his single mother and two siblings. “But I remember some people that we encountered were very genuine and sincere in their efforts to help us. Now I’m building it forward.”

Smith was one of about 250 active-duty military personnel from U.S. Army Pacific who teamed up with military and homeless service providers to comb Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kakaako Park, Chinatown and Iwilei for homeless vets.

During the one-day mobile outreach, staff from the Waikiki Health Center, US Vets, the West Oahu Vet Center, the Institute for Human Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided services such as medical and mental screenings, information on veteran benefits, enrollment services and assistance with claims.

While the number of homeless veterans has been declining nationally, it has risen on Oahu in each of the past three years, according to “point-in-time” counts of homeless people on Oahu.

The latest count, conducted Jan. 22, tallied 398 homeless veterans on Oahu. That is 8.4 percent more than in 2012 and 34.5 percent more than in 2010. Homeless veterans accounted for nearly 9 percent of the 4,556 homeless people who were counted across Oahu this year.

“We were surprised to see a little increase,” said Darryl Vincent, chief operating officer of US Vets and chairman of Partners in Care — Oahu’s Continuum of Care, which oversaw the count, a requirement for getting funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “But it’s probably the result of the war winding down and more service members getting out of the military or coming back from duty with issues and falling into homelessness.”

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Veterans Affairs Faces Surge of Disability Claims

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By JAMES DAO
Published: July 12, 2009

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He jumped at loud noises, had unpredictable flashes of anger and was constantly replaying battle scenes in his head. When Damian J. Todd, who served two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps, described those symptoms to a psychiatrist in January 2008, the diagnosis was quick: he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Damian J. Todd, who served two Iraq tours, waited nearly 18 months before his claim was granted.

Less swift was the government’s response when Mr. Todd submitted, a month later, a disability claim that would entitle him to a monthly benefit check. Nearly 18 months went by before the Department of Veterans Affairs granted his claim late last month, Mr. Todd said.

Mr. Todd, 33, is part of a flood of veterans, young and old, seeking disability compensation from the department for psychological and physical injuries connected to their military service. The backlog of unprocessed claims for those disabilities is now over 400,000, up from 253,000 six years ago, the agency said.

The department says its average time for processing those claims, 162 days, is better than it has been in at least eight years. But it does not deny that it has a major problem, with some claims languishing for many months in the department’s overtaxed bureaucracy.

“There are some positive signs in terms of what we’re doing,” said Michael Walcoff, deputy under secretary for benefits in the Veterans Benefits Administration. “But we know that veterans deserve better.”

Mr. Walcoff said the department recently finished hiring 4,200 claims processors, but many will not be fully trained for months. The Government Accountability Office reported last year that the Veterans Affairs Department had about 13,000 people processing disability claims.

The larger significance of the backlog, veterans groups and officials said, is that resources for veterans are being stretched perilously thin by a confluence of factors beyond the influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Aging Vietnam veterans with new or worsening ailments are requesting care. Layoffs are driving unemployed veterans into the department’s sprawling health system for the first time. Congress has expanded certain benefits. And improved outreach efforts by the department have encouraged more veterans to seek compensation or care.