From Stars and Stripes: EUSTIS, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Veteran Michael Puccini gets a gleam in his eye when he thinks about his Army buddy Derek Gibson. “What I always remember about Derek is he always had that sarcastic smile,” Puccini said. “He was a jokester. Derek was always doing something to get a rise out of somebody.” He snickered while recalling the mischievous Eustis native bringing a stray dog to their barracks — which he knew couldn’t stay there — or teasing Puccini for being from Kentucky and not chewing tobacco like he did. Gibson died in Iraq on April 4, 2007, when the armored vehicle he was riding in was blasted by an improvised explosive device. Puccini was the truck commander in the Humvee right in front of Gibson’s. Saying it was something he’s wanted to do — had to do — for a long time, Puccini, 34, traveled to the Lake County city recently from Germantown, Ky., to meet Gibson’s family and pay tribute to the infantryman who was killed at 20 along with another soldier during combat operations. His wife, Kaitlin, 31, and their 8-year-old twin boys came, too. But there was no consideration of a Disney side trip. This was about sharing memories of Derek Gibson and getting to know the fallen serviceman’s family better since connecting with them several years ago on Facebook. “It’s been tough, as I’m sure it is for everybody, getting over the things that happened,” said Puccini, who was medically retired as a sergeant with two Purple Hearts after seven years in the Army. “I’ve regretted what happened with Derek, and have for years. “I thought it was important for me to come down here to hopefully move on, work on some things, spend time with (Gibson’s parents) Jerry and Janet and the rest of the family. I think it’s gonna help everybody.” Family members were grateful, just as they were the previous week when Lake County commissioners voted to bestow recognition on Derek Gibson by designating a 2-mile portion of County Road 44 the “PFC Derek Arthur Gibson Memorial Highway.” Janet Gibson, 61, said three others who served with their son have stopped by to see them and their four-legged family members — a wire fox-haired terrier named Eddie and a Chihuahua-corgi mix named Princess. She also received a Christmas card from another former soldier who has a young son named Gibson, after her son. The get-togethers, she said, “bring back stories that we hadn’t heard, and it just brings him back to life. “It’s really neat to hear them tell how he was funny and how he was always doing pranks and stuff, because that was how he was here,” she said, raising her eyebrows, “so he didn’t change a whole lot.”   The visit with the Puccinis included laughter over photos of Derek Gibson flipping the bird in photos, memories of his imitation of Chris Farley on “Saturday Night Live” and tales of him fishing on the Euphrates River, which regularly had bodies floating in it. He was a superb fisherman, said his sister Shannon Race, 27, who cherishes a photo of Gibson hoisting an 8-pound bass. Though she’s not big into fishing, she was proud that she pulled in an equally large bass a year after her brother’s death. The two photos are in a frame together. Race said he would say, “You want to catch a fish, you gotta think like a fish.” He liked fishing more than school. He dropped out of Eustis High School at 16 to go to work for his dad’s construction company, later earning a high school-equivalency diploma. He joined the Army in 2006 — the first in his family to serve in the military. “He didn’t want to follow a traditional route,” his sister said. Stories told by his family gave Puccini insight into the good-natured smart aleck he knew in the Army. He said Race has the same half-cocked smile as her late brother. But Puccini, now a deputy jailer, didn’t just reminisce about funny moments. He also provided the Gibsons, Race and Derek’s brother Dustin Gibson, 37, with a firsthand account of what life was like for their unit at combat outpost Gator outside the Green Zone — the safest area of Baghdad — where Gibson relished the unit’s perilous duty of sweeping suspected hideouts of enemy fighters. They didn’t have running water initially. “We finally got one shower stall per 100 people,” Puccini said, shaking his head at the recollection. They ate food purchased from local vendors, drank iodine-treated water and slept on old-style Army cots in an environment where temperatures can soar into the 100s. “We eventually got some Iraqi air-conditioners, and that was wonderful.” But the soldiers faced immense danger. Puccini said his unit lost six men in 15 months “and 70 percent of us had Purple Hearts.” Seated on the couch in the Gibsons’ living room, he quietly recounted the spring day that changed the lives of his hosts. Puccini said he was in the lead vehicle and Derek Gibson was in the second one, seated behind the driver. They came to a T-intersection and proceeded cautiously. “Something about that area didn’t seem right. Something didn’t feel right,” he said. “Everything was real still. There was nobody out moving — no cars, no nothing.” Then it happened. “I heard a big thud,” he said. “I looked in the rear-view (mirror) and could see the truck on its top.” Other soldiers wanted to rush to help, but Puccini said he had to warn them to wait to make sure everything was OK, so that others wouldn’t be needlessly hurt. When they got to the damaged Humvee, Gibson and Pfc. Walter Freeman Jr., 20, of Lancaster, Calif., who was pinned against the steering wheel, had fatal injuries. “I was enraged,” said Puccini, who along with others searched nearby houses for the person responsible for the explosion. They caught a man with residue on his hands believed to have detonated the bomb and turned him over to the Iraqi army, he said. He said he’s not sure what happened to the suspect. “They let us say goodbye to Derek and Walter,” he said. Then the bodies were loaded onto a C-130 plane for an “angel flight” and their eventual return to the U.S. “I’d have much rather died than any of my guys,” Puccini said. “I spend a lot of time thinking what I could have done different.” About 700 people turned out for Derek Gibson’s funeral at Eustis’ Greenwood Cemetery, which is only about a half-mile from the Gibsons’ home. Jerry Gibson, 66, visits the grave regularly and is sure there was a purpose for what happened. “Coming from a not real religious person,” he said, fighting back tears, “I know there’s a higher power.” For her part, Janet Gibson likes to remember how the son she lost to war could lift her spirits if she was having a bad day. He would say, “Oh, mom, turn the frown upside down.” That also describes her attitude toward Puccini and other military buddies of her son who stay in touch. “People that loved our kid,” she said, “of course, we’re gonna love them.”©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.comDistributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will release new capabilities this summer providing Veterans who receive care at VA with the ability to access their personal medical data using the Health Records on iPhone feature from Apple.  Veterans will see an aggregated view of their allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals in the Health app on their iPhone. Health Records on iPhone also brings together hospitals and clinics outside VA with the existing Apple Health app. Veterans can see their available medical data from multiple providers, including VA, whenever they choose.  This new capability has been made possible through the recently announced Veterans Health Application Programming Interface (Veterans Health API). This Veterans Health API allows Veterans to access their health records within innovative applications on their mobile devices or in their web browser.  “Our Health API represents the next stage in the evolution of VA’s patient data access capability,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “By building upon the Veterans Health API, we’re raising the bar in collaborating with private sector organizations to create and deploy innovative digital products for Veterans. Veterans should be able to access their health data at any time, and I’m proud of how far we’ve come to accomplishing this.”  Launched in 2010, VA Blue Button, a feature of My HealtheVet, opened the door for Veterans to download a copy of their VA health records online. The new capability using VA’s Health API and Apple’s Health app furthers VA’s commitment to make it easy for Veterans to securely access their own health data.  Veterans with Apple iPhones will be able to access the app on their device. After a visit to a VA health care facility, the participating Veteran’s Apple device will automatically receive updated health record information within 24 hours from the visit using the built-in Health app from Apple on their iPhone.  Beyond the effort on the Apple iPhone, VA looks forward to partnering with others to bring similar capabilities to other mobile platforms.  Lighthouse, considered the “front door” to VA’s vast data stores, is the department’s API management platform. Since launching Lighthouse in March 2018, VA has delivered a developer portal, a Benefits Intake API, a Facilities API and a Veterans Health API. VA’s Veterans Health API is part of VA’s commitment to health IT modernization, and will contribute to VA’s expansive electronic health record modernization program.  For more information about the Veterans Health API, visit 
The ALL HANDS ON DECK! Show was born out of gratitude and patriotism. Jody Madaras has been described as a home town Ohio farm boy who went to New York and ‘made good’. In a family of great Americans lives patriotism, reverence, gratitude, honor, and integrity. In 2007, Madaras decided to feature these values by writing a show that would not only say “Thank You” to the greatest generation; the men and women who served our country during WWII and the Korean Conflict; but also, would remind Americans of a time when our country was truly united. Madaras has masterfully crafted together those values into a production that takes us all on a sentimental, and truly inspirational, journey—The ALL HANDS ON DECK! Show. In a recent interview, Madaras explained, “Our 1942 Roadshow & Radio Broadcast is very special to me; I spent nearly four years writing it. Saying something important with these songs was my intention. We are reminded every day that our country has challenges. Our songs and deportment all focus on patriotic unity, our “Can Do!” spirit, and what’s right about our country. For younger generations, this show offers a glimpse of what was and what can be. For the senior generations, it offers a trip down memory lane to the ‘best of times’. Ultimately, I simply want everyone to leave the theatre feeling a little bit better and happier about our country.” Madaras’ strong patriotism is credited in large part to his family. His grandmother June was extremely active in the American Legion Auxiliary. “Growing up with Grandma, we always listened to these songs.She was very proud of the United States and believed we are at our best when we are united. Her handwriting is in this show.” His grandfather, Adolph “Duff” immigrated through Ellis Island from Hungary in 1911, and proudly served as an officer in the US Navy in WWII. Madaras continued, “I chose the Hollywood Victory Caravan, a group of famous Hollywood film stars who toured America by train in early 1942 selling war bonds, as the setting for the show. My research uncovered that no one had ever written a show based on the Caravan. Their road shows raised millions of dollars for the war effort, and no one had ever fully honored them. 1942 was one of the most pivotal years in world history; paving the way for much of the prosperity we enjoy in our great country today. That’s our theme: feeling united, then and now.” The ALL HANDS ON DECK! Show tours the U.S.A. annually, and is also featured in Branson, Missouri in the fall. For schedule and information, please visit:
Cpl. Anton Anderson drags a simulated casualty during a beach ambush scenario as part of a leadership evaluation at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Zachary Orr) In honor of Black History Month, the below statstics bring to life the breadth and depth of African-American military service since World War I. Sources for the statistics include the 2016 American Community Survey, Statista, the Congressional Research Service, the National WWII Museum and the U.S. Army. 2.1 million: Black military veterans nationwide 30.2: Percent of active-duty enlisted women in 2016 who were African-American 17.1: Percent of active-duty enlisted men in 2016 who were African-American 20,000+: Black Marine Corps recruits who received training at Montford Point camp in North Carolina during World War II 21: African-Americans who received the Medal of Honor for actions during the Vietnam War 7,243: Deaths of active-duty black servicemembers in Vietnam 3,075: Deaths of active-duty black servicemembers in the Korean War 901,896: African-Americans who served during World War II 24: Percent of the 500,000 U.S. military personnel deployed to the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War who were African-American 350,000+: Blacks who served in American Expeditionary Forces units on the Western Front in World War I
VFW member Mike Buckley takes a break from the Arizona Trail Hike to rest at Manning Camp in Saguaro National Park. Buckley’s two-month-long trek covered 800 miles over six mountain ranges. Photo courtesy of Mike Buckley. After a 32-year Army career, this retiree hiked 800 miles across Arizona last year, helping him transition to the civilian world. February 07, 2019 Mike Buckley served 32 years in the Army, complete with six deployments and three combat tours. He watched men die in Afghanistan and Iraq. Four of his friends committed suicide.  Through it all, Buckley refused to take medication to manage what he had witnessed. Instead, he turned to nature. “Sometimes it seems like things are kind of a swirl… [In the desert], there’s no swirl out there,” said Buckley, who hiked from March 28 to May 22 last year on the Arizona Trail — traversing 800 miles across the state — in a venture organized by the veteran-owned nonprofit Warrior Expeditions. VFW Life member Sean Gobin founded Warrior Expeditions in 2013 after he spent four-and-a-half months hiking the Appalachian Trail immediately following his 2012 departure from the Marine Corps. “I realized the significant therapeutic effect of spending all that time hiking in nature,” said Gobin, who served in Iraq (2003, 2005) and Afghanistan (2011) as an armor officer with the 2nd Tank Battalion. It wasn’t until after his first-hand experience that Gobin began looking into research and background on the benefits of immersing oneself in nature. A 2015 study conducted by Shauna Joye and Zachary Dietrich of Georgia Southern University investigated how “long-distance hiking and paddling” affected the mental health of 31 veterans. “Our wilderness therapy program showed promise as a way for veterans to address issues related to experiencing traumatic events while deployed,” Joye and Dietrich concluded. “We found significant decreases in general anxiety, anxiety related to fear or uneasiness when in new places and around crowds and feelings of wariness or self-consciousness around others.” University of Michigan professors Jason Duvall and Rachel Kaplan studied in 2013 the benefits of such experiences among veterans and also found it beneficial. They found that participants “were much more likely to report significant improvements” in psychological well-being, social functioning and life outlook one week after the program.” “In many cases, these improvements were substantial, with the magnitude of change often 1.5 times that of participants’ reporting less serious health issues,” Duvall and Kaplan stated. The professors did note that a small sample size — 73 veterans participated in events during the study, but only 31 provided follow-up responses — does not clearly indicate if the improvements are sustainable. “However, the findings with respect to the reduction in perceived stress and negative affect, as well as the increases in feelings of tranquility and social functioning, suggest such benefits might persist and even continue to increase for several weeks after the intervention,” Duvall and Kaplan stated.Confronting a StigmaAs of Aug. 1, Buckley had been retired for one year, and he said it had been a difficult “year.” “It was harder than I thought it’d be… [You’re] transitioning to a culture you, frankly, don’t fit into,” he said. Buckley said he started having panic attacks in 2010, after leaving Iraq. But Afghanistan, he said, was worse.  “It was the culmination of the whole year,” said Buckley, an at-large member with VFW’s Department of New York. Buckley said there is a “huge stigma” in asking for help, and people in his situation “don’t want to be weak.” “You don’t want to become that angry vet that everybody whispers about,” Buckley said. “I was starting to become that guy.” The Army veteran became aware of Warrior Expeditions through Facebook and sent his information in for consideration. Though he initially wasn’t selected, an opportunity later arose to hike the 800-mile trail across Arizona. Buckley said he wanted to participate on the hike because he knew it was an “alternative” treatment. “I don’t want to be addicted to the pharmaceutical industry,” Buckley said. “[They] treat a symptom, they don’t provide treatment to the underlying cause.” The biggest challenge during the hike, according to Buckley, wasn’t the solitude, but, rather, swollen ankles and the Arizona heat. The trail provides two choices, he said — “move forward or quit.” “The solitude, truthfully, once I locked into it, was wonderful,” Buckley said. Buckley’s experience also supports other research from Joye, Dietrich and Joseph Amos Garcia, which specifically looks at Warrior Expeditions participants and was published in 2015 in the Journal of Experiential Education. “The isolation of the trail gave time for respondents to contemplate what they wanted and needed for their future well-being,” Joye, et al. wrote. “Although their goals were vastly different, all respondents made decisions to improve their lives and were confident that they would follow through with their decisions.”Becoming One with NatureBut for Buckley, his most vivid memory was the “absolute primitive” austerity and beauty of the trail itself. The first 500 miles, according to Buckley, consisted of six different mountain ranges. “It is truly astounding,” Buckley said. What brought Buckley peace from the hike was the calmness and breathtaking moments he experienced — like when he walked up on a desert fox that just looked at him, then went back to its own business. Gobin said there are three elements related to the programs Warrior Expeditions offers — a chance to separate themselves from their service, camaraderie of other veterans and community support. “First is just having eight hours a day of hiking, biking or paddling for months on end in nature,” Gobin said. “It gives our vets time and space to decompress from their wartime experiences.” Being surrounded by fellow veterans who can relate to what each other has gone through — or is going through — is “really beneficial,” according to Gobin. Group sizes range anywhere from two to 10, depending on the type of trail. “Since you’re spending so much time on the trails, it’s like a deployment,” Gobin said. “[The people you’re with] become as close as family.” Community support throughout the journey also “re-establishes the basic faith in humanity that veterans tend to lose” after experiencing a combat deployment, Gobin said. “[Veterans] tend to have a really cynical view of people and society and humanity,” Gobin said. “[The expedition] breaks that cycle of isolation and helps reconnect veterans to communities.” Social interaction was a key component of the experience, Joye and Dietrich found. “Not only did respondents mention their relationship with their fellow warrior hike hikers, but they also mentioned the friendship and bonding they experienced with strangers along the trail,” Joye, Garcia and Dietrich wrote. A friend told Buckley the trail does not give people what they want, but what they need.  And for him, that rang true. “The emotion thing kind of rolls on you,” Buckley said. “It happened to me multiple times. It becomes very raw.” For more information, visit  This article is featured in the February 2019 issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Kari Williams, associate editor for VFW magazine.
WASHINGTON — The national commander of America’s largest and oldest major combat veterans’ organization heads overseas this weekend to embed with members of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team from Fort Riley, Kan., who recently deployed to Eastern Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.   (Left) An Army M109 Palidin self-propelled howitzer firing a 155mm shell on the range; (Right) VFW National commander B.J. Lawrence at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The visit by B.J. Lawrence, national commander of the 1.6 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and its Auxiliary, is the final chapter in a three-part story that began with a meeting with senior Army leadership in the Pentagon last fall. A discussion evolved around having the VFW national commander observe a unit undergoing pre-deployment training at the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., then marrying up with that unit overseas. Fort Riley’s 1st ABCT, part of the 1st Infantry Division, was selected, but since it had already completed NTC, Lawrence viewed similar training by armor and infantry units from Fort Carson, Colo. He then traveled to Fort Riley in December to meet with the brigade commander and command sergeant major and others prior to their months long deployment.    The purpose of Atlantic Resolve is to build readiness, increase interoperability, and enhance the bond between ally and partner militaries through multinational training events in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Some 3,500 1st ABCT and 1,900 1st Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers, also from Fort Riley, are participating.  “My top priorities are training, readiness and morale, so listening to the troops where they train, and especially where they deploy, makes us better advocates for them and their families on Capitol Hill,” said Lawrence. “Visits such as these are essential to maintaining the close relationship the VFW has nurtured with America’s military for now 120 years, and we are grateful for this opportunity to learn even more.”
“Mr. Procopio is entitled to a presumption of service connection for his prostate cancer and diabetes mellitus. Accordingly, we reverse.” - U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Court And with that statement, Blue Water Navy veterans won a major victory in their fight for VA benefits to treat illnesses linked to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled Tuesday in favor of Alfred Procopio Jr., who served aboard the USS Intrepid during the war. Procopio, 73, suffers from diabetes and prostate cancer, both of which are linked to Agent Orange exposure. American Legion National Commander Brett P. Reistad applauded the court’s decision that found no reason to deny VA disability benefits for Procopio, who did not meet the “boots on the ground” criteria for Agent Orange-related VA disability benefits. “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit echoes what The American Legion, multiple other veterans service organizations and Vietnam War veterans have been arguing since an administrative decision in 2002 cut off benefits to those who were exposed at sea,” Reistad said. “It doesn’t matter where you were exposed to Agent Orange when you served. It only matters that you were exposed when you served. To deny VA disability benefits for victims who were exposed at sea, and to provide benefits only to those veterans who were exposed on the ground, is a distinction based much more on budget than justice.” The decision comes on the heels of a failed effort to pass H.R. 299, The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, during the final days of the 115th Congress. The legislation would have extended VA disability benefits to tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam. The legislation sailed through the House of Representatives, but came to a crashing halt when a vote for unanimous consent was called in the Senate. Though Tuesday’s court ruling may be challenged with an appeal from VA within the next 90 days, legislation to lock in a presumption of VA benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange was again introduced during the first days of the new Congress. Reistad said that the ruling in favor Procopio Jr., “is a step in the right direction” for some 90,000 veterans who served offshore and may be suffering from conditions related to exposure to Agent Orange. VA recognizes 14 adverse conditions as presumptively linked to exposure to the chemical herbicide used to defoliate jungle vegetation that provided the enemy cover during the war. The American Legion allied with Columbia University during the 1980s and 1990s to provide undeniable evidence that Agent Orange exposure had led to numerous adverse health-care conditions among Vietnam War veterans who came into contact with it. “This ruling is an important step in a long journey toward justice for all who were exposed, were sickened and disabled by Agent Orange,” Reistad said. “But it is not the final step, and The American Legion will continue to fight in Congress, VA and the courts, if necessary, to definitively return fairness and justice to these affected veterans.”  
Racial disparities in electroconvulsive therapy Illustration: National Institute of Mental Health (01/14/2019) Racial disparities exist in the use of electroconvulsive therapy to treat depression in older adults, found a study including a Houston VA health Care System researcher. ECT involves applying electrical current to the brain to treat mood disorders. It has proven effective in treating major depressive disorder when medication does not work. The researchers looked at nearly 700,000 patients older than 65 in a national health care database. They found that black and Hispanic patients were nearly half as likely to receive ECT, compared with white patients. While the research team acknowledges that patient preference may have played some role, they assert that efforts are needed in any case to ensure that minority groups have equal access to care. (American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Nov. 29, 2018) Barriers to medication treatment for opioid use disorder (01/14/2019) VA Palo Alto Health Care System researchers explored the barriers to using medication to treat opioid use disorder within VA. Evidence shows that medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone care be effective at treating opioid use disorder. However, only 21 percent of patients with the disorder in VA residential treatment are on these medications. According to patient and staff surveys, barriers to this type of treatment include program philosophy against medication use, lack of coordination with other treatment settings, and perceived low patient interest. Having prescribers on staff, education and support for patients and staff, and support from leadership would help facilitate medication treatment, according to survey responses. (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, November 2018) Survey: Most Vets OK with curbing gun access during times of high suicide risk (01/14/2019) Veterans receiving mental health care were in favor of voluntary programs to reduce firearm access during high-risk periods for suicide, in a VA Ann Arbor Health Care System survey. Veterans in mental health care have high rates of firearm-related suicide. Of Veterans surveyed receiving mental health care at one VA facility, 93 percent were in favor of health system interventions to limit firearm access. Of those, 75 percent were in favor of substantially limiting firearm access during times of crisis. While Veterans with household firearms were less likely to be in favor of interventions, 50 percent of the group that owns firearms still said they would participate in an intervention to limit firearm access during high-risk periods. The results suggest that VA and other health systems should consider more intensive efforts to voluntarily limit firearm access during high-risk periods, say the researchers. (General Hospital Psychiatry, Nov.-Dec. 2018) Risk factors for transition from suicidal thoughts to attempts (01/03/2019) A team co-led by a VA San Diego Healthcare System researcher identified characteristics that differed between service members who contemplated suicide and those who went on to make a suicide attempt. As part of the Army STARRS study, researchers surveyed more than 10,000 soldiers. They found that, compared with soldiers without suicidal thoughts, those with suicidal thoughts had higher rates of interpersonal violence, relationship problems, major depressive disorder, PTSD, and substance use disorder. Soldiers with combat trauma in the past 12 months, intermittent explosive disorder, or any college education were less likely to have suicidal thoughts. Of those with suicidal thoughts in the past 30 days, those with PTSD had higher risk of suicide attempt. Those with intermittent explosive disorder or some college education were less likely to have attempted suicide. The results show that PTSD, intermittent explosive disorder, and education should be considered when studying what makes suicidal ideation transition into suicide attempts. (Depression and Anxiety, Dec. 14, 2018) Carpal tunnel syndrome treatment varies widely in VA (01/03/2019) Nonsurgical therapy use for carpal tunnel syndrome varies widely within the Veterans Health Administration, according to a study by VA Ann Arbor and Palo Alto researchers. Of nearly 80,000 patients diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, 8 percent had surgery. Across different facilities, between 0 and 93 percent of surgical patients received physical therapy, occupational therapy, or an orthotic. Between 1 and 67 percent of nonsurgical patients received these types of therapy. Between 0 and 100 percent of surgical patients had electrodiagnostic studies (such as X-rays or CT scans), while between 0 and 55 percent of nonsurgical patients had diagnostic scans. The results suggest that clinical practice guidelines are needed to improve the uniformity and efficiency of carpal tunnel care, say the researchers. (Journal of Hand Surgery, Dec. 19, 2018) Probing the evidence for probiotics (01/03/2019) Evidence suggests that several probiotics are effective to treat various conditions, found a study by an Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital researcher and colleagues. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that promote a healthy microorganism balance in the digestive tract. While many probiotics are on the market, evidence is lacking on their effectiveness. Researchers reviewed the current medical literature and consulted experts in the field about which probiotics have been shown to be effective. They found enough evidence to suggest that 22 different types of probiotics are effective at treating different conditions. Some probiotics had strong evidence for treatment of conditions such as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, pediatric acute diarrhea, and inflammatory bowel disease. The researchers stress that it is important to pick the correct strain, formulation, and dose of a probiotic to match a specific disease. (PLoS One, Dec. 26, 2018) Intimate relationships may buffer against suicide (12/26/2018) Strong intimate relationships could help protect service members from suicide, according to a VA Ann Arbor Health Care System study. Researchers surveyed 712 National Guard members after they returned home from deployment. The found that lower relationship satisfaction and more depressive symptoms at six months after deployment were linked to greater risk of suicide 12 months after deployment. Couple satisfaction was related to suicide risk for service members with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The results show that the strength of an intimate relationship could serve as a buffer against suicide for patients who have these conditions, say the researchers. (Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, Dec. 3, 2018)
American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad has designated the week leading up to the organization’s 100th birthday, March 10-16, as “Buddy Check National Week of Calling.” He’s asking departments, districts and posts to put together teams to call expired members and those who have yet to renew, and to check in with current members and let them know that “we are a better American Legion with their involvement,” Reistad said during The American Legion’s National Membership and Post Activities Committee meeting in Indianapolis, Jan. 11-12. “A phone script could be something I close meetings with … ‘Thank you for your service to our country and thank you for your continued service to our communities, our veterans and youth through your membership in the American Legion Family.’” A “Buddy Check National Week of Calling” toolkit was talked through during the meeting with committee members and members of the Legion’s 21st Century Ad Hoc Committee. The toolkit will be released soon and will contain several items such as introduction letters to departments, districts and posts detailing what the week of engagement is and their role; sample phone scripts; a buddy-check poster; ways to access expired lists through; specifics to share about what The American Legion does from the national, department and post level; and incentives for conducting the week of calling. “This is coming from our commander. When he says he wants a week of calling, we’re going to do that. This is very important,” said Membership & Post Activities Committee Chairman Rev. Daniel J. Seehafer of Wisconsin. “I really, truly believe that this will be the basis for our retention. It has to start somewhere.” Past National Commander David Rehbein stressed that “this is important enough that we need to stop everything else (during March 10-16) and concentrate on contacting our members.” When Paul Dillard of Texas, the national commander’s representative on the National Legislative Commission, called on former Legionnaires who had let their membership expire he had an 85 percent success rate. “Call on those expires, and they will rejoin,” he said. A message Seehafer said that can be shared with expired members is, “Thank you for your service. Help us celebrate The American Legion’s 100th birthday and lead us into our second century strong by becoming a part of our family.” In addition to the call for members to make personal contact in their communities, Reistad reiterated his new Team 100 recruitment and retention awards. A post that signs up a former Legionnaire whose membership expired in 2014, 2015 or 2016 can receive $5 each for every one of those members who rejoins in the 2019 membership year. American Legion departments worldwide can receive $2,500 in reward bonuses by hitting their 100 percent membership goals by May 8, 2019. Those departments who hit 105 percent by June 30, 2019, will receive an additional $5,000 each. Seehafer shared that a department who has been reaching out by phone to expired members said a response they are hearing is, “'Now you call?’ It says something doesn’t it? The intention is for this to be an annual thing. And so when we talk about a national week of calling, it’s not just those who are expired. We want to call every single member of the American Legion Family. Every single member … ‘How’s it going? Just want to thank you for being a member.’ “We want to take this message … the why. Why we belong and take that to the next level.”
In the aftermath of experiencing war, some VFW members have returned to their previous passion — art — to manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and bring hope to others. VFW Life member Pete Damon is one of them. He was in Iraq for only a few weeks when everything changed. On Oct. 21, 2003, Damon, who served with the Army’s 3rd Assault Bn., 158th Aviation Regt., was working on the wheel of a helicopter at Balad Air Base when the rim “exploded.” The blast severed Damon’s arms and killed Spc. Paul J. Beuche, 19, of Daphne, Ala. “I don’t remember much,” Damon said. “It was just flashes of horror of realizing my arms were gone.”   Dave Rogers, a Gulf War veteran and VFW member, displays his artwork at his studio in Artspace Patchogue Lofts. Rogers is the commander of VFW Post 2913 in Patchogue , N.Y. and, in addition to being an artist himself, has created an art program for his fellow veterans. Photo courtesy of Dave Rogers. Damon lost his right arm above the elbow and left arm below the elbow. He spent 15 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center — three as an inpatient and 12 as an outpatient. In the following weeks, he underwent “multiple surgeries.”   “I was pretty optimistic, I guess — as far as you can be in that situation,” said Damon, a member of VFW Post 697 in Middleboro, Mass. It was at Walter Reed, after transitioning to outpatient status, that Damon regained his appreciation for art — something he used “to ward off homesickness” while in Iraq and Kuwait (June 2003). He started re-learning how to write with his non-dominant hand and an idea emerged. “The thought just occurred to me sort of like a light bulb going off in your head — if I could draw simple shapes to make up letters, I could also draw pictures,” Damon said. “For some reason, this was a big spiritual boost to me.”‘BRUSH WITH DEATH’Damon said he started having panic attacks about one year after the incident, not knowing that he was experiencing PTSD symptoms. He was diagnosed in 2014. “I felt that saying I had, or being diagnosed with, PTSD would be something  that only someone going through something much more stressful like combat [would experience],” Damon said. “But I’ve come to realize that any trauma can cause PTSD. So painting helps me deal with that a lot.” Damon also opened True Grit Art Gallery in Middleborough, Mass., in 2015. “[Running the gallery helps] keep my mind pristine, occupied and healthy,” Damon said. Before being injured, Damon said, he viewed drawing as a “novelty.” But his outlook has changed. “I guess having a brush with death kind of wakes you up in a lot of ways [and] makes you focus on different things in life,” Damon said. “You get a different way of looking at life, and focusing on important things, and art helps me to do that.” He said he is inspired by “simple American scenes,” architectural subjects and how “light affects objects or the world around us.” “I paint by inspiration,” Damon said. “These are just little dramas in the universe that affect me in some way.” Because he cannot grip utensils as he did before his injury, Damon said it takes a “little finesse” to paint.  But he developed his own style to accommodate his prosthetics. “[My style has] sort of evolved because of my limitations,” Damon said. “If you look at my paintings, there are a lot of broken lines because I don’t have a lot of force in my brush strokes. It’s sort of a light touch.”GROUND ZERO ‘WORSE THAN ANYTHING’Another veteran, Dave Rogers, commander of VFW Post 2913 in Patchogue, N.Y., initially planned to study forensic psychology and join the FBI. But a broken neck put him on a different path. Rogers, also a first responder with the 1st Bn., 69th Infantry (New York Army National Guard) at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, said he learned to “turn things off” while serving in the Army. But his experience at Ground Zero “opened all the flood gates.” “It was worse than anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Rogers, who served in the Army’s 224th Military Intelligence Bn., 24th Infantry Division, (Hunter Army Airfield) in Iraq (1990-91) and Headquarters Co., V Corps in Bosnia (1997) as an infantryman and utility supply specialist.‘STRUGGLE EVERY DAY’On Sept. 13, 2001, at Ground Zero, he was involved with search and rescue operations when the front of Building 7 started to fall. “I was helping people get out when I was knocked over and hit my neck and head,” Rogers said. “I then had to jump on a boat by the dock to get out of the area until all was clear. The jump was about 10 feet down, and I hit my back in the landing.” From there, Rogers said, “everything went to mush, basically.” With help from a therapist, he rediscovered his passion for art. Being an artist has helped him release frustrations and “get back into the world.” “When I got out, I was lost for a while,” said Rogers, who was medically discharged from the Army in 2005. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. Art basically brought me back.” He was working in China as an English and art professor with WuYi University in Jiangmen, where he had his first art show. Since then, Rogers’ work has been seen in 11 countries. “I still struggle every day,” said Rogers, who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2007, “but going to the shows — like when they’re my shows and I know I have to go — has basically forced me to come out of my shell. I would say my art is kind of like my service dog…It forces me to get out in the world.” Rogers said one of the “great” aspects of art is that it’s a vehicle for “releasing a story” — whether or not those viewing the final piece fully understand what it’s about. “If I paint the World Trade Center, obviously [people know I’m] talking about the World Trade Center,” Rogers said, “but I can do paintings that relate to me and my life, and people may not understand that I’m talking about my PTSD or my struggle. But to me I am.”VETERANS ‘OPEN UP’ THROUGH ARTIn rekindling his own passion, Rogers gained a desire to create an art program for veterans, which he did in 2012. Classes are held four to five times per year either at the Post itself, or Long Island University (LIU), where Rogers earned a master’s degree in fine arts. The workshops draw about a dozen veterans, according to Rogers, who range from the Vietnam and Korean wars to Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf wars. LIU professors and art therapy students volunteer to teach the workshops. Classes also are offered to veteran family members. “[One veteran has] really opened up a lot because he’s in a setting with other veterans,” Rogers said. “The art therapy students are so helpful. The professors are very understanding and helpful. He now feels comfortable.”‘PAINT WHAT I FEEL’And while that’s exactly what Rogers aimed for, his mission is two-fold — he also hopes to attract the next generation of veterans. “A lot of the younger veterans are really looking for new avenues and new things to do,” Rogers said. “The traditional fundraisers that we did many years ago, they’re still good, but they’re not everything. You’ve got to look for other ways to reach people.” Serving in the Army has allowed Rogers to view his art from a different perspective. “I used to paint what I saw,” Rogers said. “Now I more paint what I feel.” He allows the colors he puts on the canvas to represent his emotions. “I’ve learned that certain colors represent part of who I am,” Rogers said. “When I use a lot of red in a painting, I’m talking about my anger.” Additionally, the authors of “Art Therapy for Combat-Related PTSD: Recommendations for Research and Practice” state that art therapists have reported “remarkable results” in their work with combat veterans.  Kate Collie and David Spiegel, of Stanford University; Amy Backos, of the San Francisco VA Medical Center; and Cathy Malchiodi, of the American Art Therapy Association, note that previous research has found that art therapy “provided pleasurable distraction in conjunction with exposure to difficult content and thus allowed traumatic material to be processed without the negative short-term side effects of verbal introspective interventions.”  As a self-proclaimed “old-school artist,” Rogers said he makes his own paint. That, and his artwork in welding and sculpting, provides what he calls a “physical-ness,” that improves his mental health. “It’s kind of like veterans who go running because running will not just clear their head, but it kind of breaks you down a little bit,” Rogers said. “And you feel better after running because you’ve gotten that energy that was building up inside of you out. And the same thing with art.”