Credit Newswise — Military veterans who report having common financial problems, such as bouncing a check or going over their credit limit, are four times more likely to become homeless in the next year than veterans without such problems. Furthermore, money mismanagement by itself made a significant contribution to predicting higher odds of subsequent homelessness in veteran populations above and beyond other variables, according the study by the American Journal of Public Health. “On the one hand, it's data showing what seems intuitive — that if you don't manage your money well, you can become homeless. On the other hand, this link has not been demonstrated before in research to our knowledge — for veterans or non-veterans,” said Eric Elbogen, PhD, corresponding author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry in the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and psychologist at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Elbogen and researchers from UNC, the Durham Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and Duke University came to those conclusions after analyzing data from a random sample of more than 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan War era veterans who responded to two waves of the National Post-Deployment Adjustment Survey between 2009-2011. Thirty percent of veterans in the survey reported that in the past year, they had gone over their credit limit, bounced or forged a check, had been reported to a collection agency, or had fallen victim to a money scam. A statistical analysis of the survey data showed that money mismanagement, along with arrest history, mental health diagnosis, and income, were associated with homelessness in the next year. Such findings have implications for reducing homelessness. “Case managers in VA homelessness programs often provide money management assistance to clients,” Elbogen said, “This study suggests that veterans in these programs can benefit not only from obtaining housing, but also from learning financial literacy skills to maintain housing and avoid future homelessness.”
Credit Newswise — According to preliminary research results from the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 15 percent of recently returned female veterans utilizing the VA health care system report experiencing sexual trauma during military service. The cross-sectional study, presented at the American Public Health Association's 136th Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, examined health care screening data of over 100,000 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) who utilized medical care at any Veterans Health Administration facility during a six-year period. Along with the more than one in seven women, 0.7 percent of males also reported having experienced military sexual trauma (MST). Both males and females reporting MST were more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health condition than patients who did not report MST. "These data highlight the importance of the VA's universal screening policy," said Joanne Pavao, MPH, a Department of Veterans Affairs researcher on the study, "as well as early intervention among veterans who have experienced sexual trauma, to prevent long-term consequences." VHA policy requires that all male and female veterans are screened for experiences of military sexual trauma and that free treatment for MST-related conditions is provided at all VA health care facilities. Session 4365.0 - Burden of mental illness associated with military sexual trauma among veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan
Credit Newswise — Veterans of all ages are involved in the troupe. Nate Stevenson Veterans work with theater professionals to produce Shakespeare's plays, giving them a chance to work through their own concerns as they rehearse and put on the production. Carissa DiPietro puts Shakespeare’s thoughts into her own words, but the meaning is similar: “I felt like I was surrounded by people who understood me and some of the things I’ve been through.” DiPietro is one of a group of military veterans who are using Shakespeare to work through their own challenges, under the guidance of two University of Wisconsin (UWM) theater professors. Their troupe, Feast of Crispian will be performing “Julius Caesar,” the weekend of Oct. 30-Nov. 1 in Milwaukee. Bill Watson, associate professor of theater, Nancy Smith-Watson, an actor and somatic body therapist, and Jim Tasse, senior lecturer in theater, founded the group as a way of helping veterans deal with depression, post-traumatic stress, addiction and reintegration into society. The name comes from the speech in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” in which the king reminds his soldiers of their lasting bonds. Watson and Tasse, a veteran himself, volunteered their services to the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA), using rehearsal techniques developed and tested three decades ago by Shakespeare and Company in Massachusetts. The Watsons and Tasse, though, added their own unique approach to the use of Shakespeare’s texts -- a therapeutic intervention. They held their first workshop nearly three years ago, and have worked with more than 250 veterans since then, doing weekend theater boot camps and small presentations for family and friends. The current production of “Julius Ceasar” is the group’s first performance for the general public. “We wanted to try out the idea…to see if performing Shakespeare had any benefits, and we found that indeed it was having great benefit,” Tasse said. The statistics on challenges veterans face are eye opening: Each day, 22 veterans commit suicide and one-quarter of veterans end up homeless, said Watson. The Shakespeare approach works on a number of different levels. The veterans, who come from all branches of the service and range in age from early 20s to seniors, build a community of trust. “In acting, as in the military, everybody is important to the production,” Tasse said. “Everybody has to do their job. They are a brotherhood and sisterhood.” On another level, acting gives the veterans a chance to explore their own feelings through another character. “It’s an opportunity to tell our stories, safeguarded by the script,” said Johny Sherwood, a senior UWM theater major and veteran of Afghanistan. He volunteered to take part in the program after hearing about it while he was at the VA for non-combat related surgery. “You can go to the dark places within, but your own secrets are secure.” The very words of Shakespeare give the veterans a chance to contemplate their own issues. Many of the plays and scenes used in workshops look at conflict and violence. Jan Masalewicz, a Vietnam veteran who found Shakespeare boring in high school, has developed a new appreciation of the plays. “Things he wrote about in his plays are still true today… war and betrayal and love … all that stuff.”The veterans and the professionals who work with them spend time exploring the themes of the plays, talking about how they relate to their lives, sharing their own emotions when they feel comfortable doing that, and learning to express some of their feelings through acting. The professionals work with the veterans, explaining the Shakespearean language and going on stage with them to give them the lines so they can focus on conveying the characters’ emotions. While not everyone in the group suffers from trauma and stress, all find a level of comfort in working together with a group of fellow veterans on a challenging project. Chris Nickrant, who served in the Air Force from 1970-74, has been with the group through almost every workshop. “It’s definitely expanding my horizons. I’m learning to reach out to other people.” The current play has also inspired him to read more about Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Brutus and the assassination, he added. “You can go through counseling for years and years and not really reach into the emotional aspect until you do something like this,” said DiPietro. “I’m not really a crier, but I’ve cried in this group. That’s how safe I feel. It’s absolutely incredible.” “With this play, I have a purpose. Something I look forward to. Something to be excited about… I haven’t felt that way in a long time.”
Credit Newswise — One in four Gulf War veterans suffers from Gulf War Illness (GWI). The condition is characterized by unexplainable chronic fatigue, muscle pain and cognitive dysfunction and may be associated with exposure to chemicals, many identified as genotoxins, during deployment. Previous studies suggest that the symptoms of GWI are due to dysfunction of the mitochondria, the site in cells where molecules that power the body’s processes are produced. Not producing enough energy slows down the body and leaves the individual feeling tired. New preliminary research to be presented at Physiological Bionergetics: From Bench to Bedside shows for the first time direct evidence of greater mitochondrial damage in Gulf War veterans. The mitochondrion has its own DNA, separate from the cell’s, that encodes the proteins needed to produce the molecules that power the body’s processes. Damage to the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) directly affects the mitochondria’s ability to function and produce energy. Increases in the amount of mtDNA have been associated with disease. In this study, researchers measured the mtDNA amount and degree of mtDNA damage in blood cells from blood samples from veterans with GWI. Compared with healthy non-deployed controls, Gulf War veterans had more mtDNA content and greater mtDNA damage. According to the researchers, these findings further support that mitochondrial dysfunction may be involved in GWI. “Future studies are necessary to confirm these findings and determine their association with mitochondrial function. Work in this area may guide new diagnostic testing and treatments for veterans suffering from GWI,” the researchers wrote.
* Despite having access to health care, male veterans report poorer health than men in active duty, men in the National Guard and Reserves, and civilian men.* Men in the National Guard and Reserves were less likely to have health insurance than civilians, veterans or active duty servicemen.* Veterans and active duty servicemen report higher rates of smoking, tobacco use and drinking to excess than civilian men. Credit Newswise — Even with access to health care, male military veterans are in poorer health than men in active military duty, men in the National Guard and Reserves, and civilian men, finds a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study concluded that organizations that serve veterans should increase efforts at preventing poor health behaviors and linking them to health care services. The findings are from a 2010 survey of 53,000 veterans, 3,700 Guard and Reserve members, 2,000 active duty servicemen and 110,000 civilians. The survey included questions about their health and health behaviors, and their access to health care. A similar study of women veterans, National Guard/Reserve members, active servicewomen and civilians was published earlier this year by the same research team. "We think our research substantiates claims that veterans bear a disproportionate disease burden," said Katherine D. Hoerster, Ph.D., MPH, a research psychologist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle. Survey results found that veterans were more likely than active duty men to report diabetes. Veterans were more likely to report current smoking and heavy alcohol consumption than men in the National Guard and Reserves and civilian men and a lack of exercise compared to active duty and National Guard and Reserve. National Guard and Reserve men had higher obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (versus active duty and veteran men, active duty men, and civilian men, respectively). Active duty men were more likely to report current smoking and heavy alcohol consumption than civilians and National Guard and Reserves, and reported more smokeless tobacco use than civilians. While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) addresses these common health concerns, Hoerster noted that only 37 percent of eligible veterans receive care through the VA system of hospitals. In addition, National Guard and Reserve servicemen were found to be the least likely of the groups to have access to health care. The researchers advised that other health care providers need to be aware of the prevalence of these health issues facing Guard and Reserve servicemen and veterans. The finding that National Guard and Reserve members have poorer access to care should be addressed, Hoerster added. "This is an important military sub-population to target." One factor may be that members of the National Guard and Reserves are not linked up to services provided by the VA as effectively as active duty service members are when they leave the military, she noted. The greater prevalence of heart problems and diabetes reported by these servicemen makes poor access to care even more problematic, she said. Increased rates of tobacco and alcohol use reported by active duty servicemen can lead to greater health problems for this group in the future, Hoerster said. "Addressing tobacco and alcohol use should also be a top priority." Other research has suggested that veterans have a higher disease burden because of their military service, said Joy Ilem, deputy national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, an organization that serves veterans and provides assistance in learning about and applying for benefits. However, it is surprising that this study found that veterans have poorer health outcomes and poorer health behavior than other groups given the emphasis that the VA puts on prevention of disease and promotion of a healthy lifestyle, Ilem observed. "Not all vets have a connection to the VA system, but they may need one in the future," she added. Veterans who have health issues directly related to their service are more likely to use VA facilities and are more likely to be sicker than the overall population of veterans, Ilem added.
Credit Newswise — An estimated 15-20 percent of U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from some form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained during their deployment, with most injuries caused by blast waves from exploded military ordnance. The obvious cognitive symptoms of minor TBI -- including learning and memory problems -- can dissipate within just a few days. But blast-exposed veterans may continue to have problems performing simple auditory tasks that require them to focus attention on one sound source and ignore others, an ability known as "selective auditory attention." According to a new study by a team of Boston University (BU) neuroscientists, such apparent "hearing" problems actually may be caused by diffuse injury to the brain's prefrontal lobe. "This kind of injury can make it impossible to converse in everyday social settings, and thus is a truly devastating problem that can contribute to social isolation and depression," explains computational neuroscientist Scott Bressler, a graduate student in BU's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, led by biomedical engineering professor Barbara Shinn-Cunningham. For the study, Bressler, Shinn-Cunningham and their colleagues -- in collaboration with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder expert Yelena Bogdanova of VA Healthcare Boston -- presented a selective auditory attention task to 10 vets with mild TBI and to 17 control subjects without brain injuries. Notably, on average, veterans had hearing within a normal range. In the task, three different melody streams, each comprised of two notes, were simultaneously presented to the subjects from three different perceived directions (this variation in directionality was achieved by differing the timing of the signals that reached the left and right ears). The subjects were then asked to identify the "shape" of the melodies (i.e., "going up," "going down," or "zig-zagging") while their brain activity was measured by electrodes on the scalp. "Whenever a new sound begins, the auditory cortex responds, encoding the sound onset," Bressler explains. "Attentional focus, however, changes the strength of this response: when a listener is attending to a particular sound source, the neural activity in response to that sound is greater." This change of the neural response occurs because the brain's "executive control" regions, located in the brain's prefrontal cortex, send signals to the auditory sensory regions of the brain, modulating their response. The researchers found that blast-exposed veterans with TBI performed worse on the task -- that is, they had difficulty controlling auditory attention -- "and in all of the TBI veterans who performed well enough for us to measure their neural activity, 6 out of our 10 initial subjects, the brain response showed weak or no attention-related modulation of auditory responses," Bressler says. "Our hope is that some of our findings can be used to develop methods to assess and quantify TBI, identifying specific factors that contribute to difficulties communicating in everyday settings," he says. "By identifying these factors on an individual basis, we may be able to define rehabilitation approaches and coping strategies tailored to the individual." Some TBI patients also go on to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) -- a debilitating progressive degenerative disease with symptoms that include dementia, memory loss and depression -- which can now only be definitively diagnosed after death. "With any luck," Bressler adds, "neurobehavioral research like ours may help identify patients at risk of developing CTE long before their symptoms manifest."
Credit Newswise — When members of the U.S. military leave the service, they tend to settle in neighborhoods with greater overall diversity than their civilian counterparts of the same race, according to a new study that was presented at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). “It’s encouraging that having served in the military appears to have a long-term impact on how people choose their neighborhoods,” said study co-author Mary J. Fischer, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. “According to the social contact hypothesis, racial attitudes are improved and stereotypes are broken when diverse groups come together under circumstances that promote meaningful cross-group interaction, such as in the military.” Using data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act on 13 million home mortgage loans from 2008 to 2013 across 98 metropolitan areas, the study represented the first and largest examination of residential integration among white, black, and Latino homeowners. The researchers compared conventional mortgages with Veterans Affairs mortgages to determine differences in residential patterns between veterans and civilians, and controlled for a number of variables that could explain where people lived, including partnership status, income, and metropolitan characteristics. U.S. cities remain highly segregated by race despite several decades of laws against discrimination in housing and lending, according to Fischer. “One of the reasons racial segregation may self-perpetuate is that many whites have grown up in homogeneous communities and thus are more prone to rely on stereotypes to understand out-groups,” Fischer said. Fischer and her co-author Jacob S. Rugh, an assistant professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, note that making decisions on where to live after serving in the military is a strong test of the premise that prolonged interracial contact will have a positive effect on long-term intergroup relationships. Fischer said this study along with related research she is working on with colleagues contribute to society’s understanding of the potential longer-term effects of military service on race relations.
Credit Newswise — To the nearly 2 million people in the U.S. living with the loss of a limb, including U.S. military veterans, prosthetic devices provide restored mobility yet lack sensory feedback. A team of engineers and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis is working to change that so those with upper limb prosthetics can feel hot and cold and the sense of touch through their prosthetic hands. Daniel Moran, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and of neurobiology, of physical therapy and of neurological surgery at the School of Medicine, has received a three-year, nearly $1.9 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to test a novel device his lab developed that would stimulate the nerves in the upper arm and forearm. If it works, upper-limb amputees who use motorized prosthetic devices would be able to feel various sensations through the prosthetic, which would send sensory signals to the brain. DARPA is already funding the “Luke Arm,” a high-tech bionic limb created by DEKA Research. The prosthetic, named for “Star Wars” character Luke Skywalker, who received a prosthetic after losing his right hand in an epic battle with Darth Vader, is designed to help servicemen and women and veterans who had upper limb amputations. While the advanced prosthetic arm allows users to perform six different grips, such as picking up small objects, it does not provide users with the senses of touch and orientation of a natural hand. Moran, whose expertise is in motor neurophysiology and brain-computer interfaces, and his team have developed an electrode designed to stimulate sensory nerve cells in the ulnar and median nerves in the arms. The ulnar nerve, one of three main nerves in the forearm, is the largest nerve in the body unprotected by muscle or bone and is connected to the ring finger and pinkie finger on the hand. It’s the nerve that is stimulated when you hit your elbow on something and trigger your “funny bone.” The median nerve in the upper arm and shoulder is connected to the other fingers on the hand, so together, the two nerves control movement and sensations including touch, pressure, vibration, heat, cold and pain in all of the fingers. People using arm prosthetics have to rely on their vision to use them properly, Moran says. To pick up a cup of coffee, they have to be able to see the cup, place the fingers of the prosthesis around it and lift it. They are unable to feel whether the cup is in their hand, if the cup is hot or cold or if they are about to drop it. By enabling the ability to feel, users will have more control over the prosthesis. Moran and his team, which includes Harold Burton, PhD, professor of neurobiology; Wilson (Zach) Ray, MD, assistant professor of neurological surgery, both at the School of Medicine; and Matthew MacEwen, who will graduate with an MD/PhD in May 2015 and worked on this project for his dissertation, have developed a macro-sieve peripheral nerve interface designed to stimulate regeneration of the ulnar and median nerves to transmit information back into the central nervous system. Ray will implant the device — which is made of an ultrathin, flexible material similar to a soft contact lens and is about 1/8th the size of a dime — into the forearms of anesthetized nonhuman primates. The research team will then determine the amount of sensory information that is encoded by providing low levels of stimulation to small groups of nerves. The device, which looks like a wagon wheel with open spaces between the “spokes,” allows the nerve to grow. Ray also will implant a small cuff electrode, the current standard of care, to compare the performance. Once implanted, Moran and the team will train the nonhuman primates to play a joystick-controlled video game in which the team will give them cues as to where to move the joystick by stimulating specific sectors in the ulnar and median nerves so it feels as if someone is touching them, Moran said. Their reward for advancing through the various stages of the game successfully is fruit-flavored juice. “We want to determine what they can perceive through artificial stimulation of the nerves,” Moran says. “If we stimulate a particular sector of the nerve, that tells them to reach to a specific target. Using very low levels of stimulation (i.e. sensation), we want to figure out how many different nerve sectors we can independently encode with a unique target location.” In particular, Moran and the team will analyze how many different independent channels they can stimulate on the nerve to determine how many sensors will work on the prosthetic hand. Using a method called current steering, they can move different amounts of current around the nerve to activate different sectors to connect the touch sensors on the hand to a different sector on the nerve. His team has already had success with this method in motor neurons in a rat model. “If this works to stimulate motor neurons in muscles, we can certainly stimulate sensory neurons, and that’s never been done in a behavioral model in nonhuman primates,” Moran says. Burton, an expert in sensory neurophysiology, will analyze how the brain processes the feedback from the nerve stimulation. “The more real estate the brain uses, the more processing power and the more important something is,” Moran says. “The hand area in the somatosensory cortex is a big piece of brain, so there should be a lot of bandwidth. We think we’ll be able to send a lot of information to it.” Moran and his team will work with DARPA to determine how many sensors to put on the prosthetic hands. “If the nervous system can’t handle more than eight or 10 channels, there is no sense in putting more on there,” he says. “We want to find the bandwidth and what the nervous system can interpret with artificial sensation.” The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 91 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.
Credit Newswise — Wounded Warrior Project, a national nonprofit veterans service organization based in Jacksonville, Florida, initiated a $100 million commitment to launch a first-of-its-kind national medical care network to connect wounded veterans and their families with world-class, individualized health care. Rush University Medical Center is one of four academic medical centers in the U.S. and the only center in the Midwest to be part of this new, national network, which will provide mental health care for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and traumatic brain injury, also known as TBI. According to Wounded Warrior Project’s annual survey of the current generation of injured veterans, 75.2 percent of respondents (an estimated 41,000) experience PTSD, and 43.2 percent (an estimated 23,000) have incurred a TBI. “The invisible wounds that our injured warriors struggle with every day have devastating long-term consequences on their health, yet too often they have difficulty seeking and getting the care they need for these conditions,” said Jeremy Chwat, chief program officer at Wounded Warrior Project. “We envision and seek to create a world where warriors who live with PTSD and TBI have improved, timely access to the quality care they need to recover, heal and move forward with their lives.” Wounded Warrior Project has committed to expand regional outpatient programs and develop innovative two- to three-week inpatient programs over three years to help veterans and their families at the Road Home Program: The Center for Veterans and Their Families at Rush in Chicago; Emory’s Veterans Program at Emory University in Atlanta; The Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program in Boston; and Operation Mend Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Counting the Wounded Warrior Project grant, as well as the matching funds that each institution will secure, a total of $100 million will be invested in the four programs to serve veterans. Rush’s Road Home Program will receive $15 million through a three-year challenge grant from Wounded Warrior Project, which will make matching contributions of $2 for every dollar Rush secures for the Road Home Program, up to $2.5 million a year raised by Rush. Each of the other network partners also will raise an additional $7.5 million for the initiative. A $15 Million JumpstartThe Road Home Program will use these grant funds and the philanthropic gifts and in-kind resources they match to expand its existing center and develop an intensive outpatient evaluation and treatment program. “In establishing this national network, Wounded Warrior Project will catalyze a profound expansion of our collective efforts,” noted Dr. Mark Pollack, Grainger professor and chairman of the Rush Department of Psychiatry. “In partnership with our colleagues, we will better serve veterans and families in the Midwest and across the country.” The treatment program will integrate behavioral health care, rehabilitative medicine, wellness, nutrition, mindfulness training and family support. Through this cutting-edge initiative, Wounded Warrior Project and its partners plan to serve thousands of wounded veterans and family members over the next three years. “The program will pinpoint veterans’ and families’ needs and identify tools to help with specific problems and jumpstart the healing,” explained Ellen McElligott, outreach coordinator at Road Home Program and a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander. “Veterans and family members will be able to stay at Rush’s campus while taking part in the program.” Offering the Road HomeRush launched the Road Home Program in 2014 and to date has treated nearly 200 veterans and family members for a range of issues related to military service. These conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, child and family counseling, and other specific psychological and emotional needs. Road Home also offers public awareness programming and training for primary care physicians and others to more effectively interact with and treat military personnel. “Last year, Rush opened the doors of the Road Home Program, dedicating a unique combination of resources to address the emotional and physical repercussions of combat injury for veterans as well as their family members,” said Dr. Larry Goodman, chief executive officer, Rush University Medical Center. “In keeping with our long-standing commitment to the Chicago area community, Rush recognized an opportunity to contribute its clinical expertise to assuring veterans and their families timely access to evidence-based care for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and related conditions. The Road Home Program functions as a regional health care hub, reinforcing the continuum of care in collaboration with VA and other providers as well as social service and educational organizations.” Several aspects set Road Home apart from many other veterans’ service providers. “We recognize family from an open and expansive perspective. A girlfriend, neighbor or friend could be part of a veteran’s family, as well as parents, spouses and children,” says Will Beiersdorf, the program’s executive director. In addition, veterans can receive services at Road Home regardless of their discharge status or ability to pay. “If a man or woman has put on the uniform, we will try to help him or her,” said Beiersdorf. The program comprises staff, including veterans, with expertise in physical and psychological conditions, as well as wellness practices. Road Home is flexible and willing to craft services specific to the needs. The Road Home ConnectsRoad Home has built strong relationships with Chicago-area Veterans Affairs institutions. VA offices refer veterans to Road Home, and likewise Road Home connects people to resources at the VA. Many referrals have come from veterans themselves. A major reason why the program saw close to double the expected number of patients in its first year is the trust built by veterans working at Road Home — those who deeply understand the struggles fellow military personnel face. “The fact that vets coming in are really benefiting from the care, and they believe in Road Home so much to stand behind us to bring in other vets, is a special thing,” McElligott says. “This is the first time since I left the military that I feel as if I’m actually making a difference.”
Cedit Newswise — ‘They were my age.’Milwaukee journalism students research lives, unearth photos of Vietnam dead A team of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee journalism students took on an unusual research project this spring – helping find the missing photos and stories of Wisconsin soldiers killed in Vietnam. With help from other volunteers, they succeeded in finding the final 64 missing photos of Wisconsin soldiers by Memorial Day Weekend. Their efforts were part of the Faces Never Forgotten project, a national effort to find approximately 17,300 missing photos for a digital Wall of Faces planned for the new Vietnam veterans Education Center at The Wall in Washington, D.C. Organizers hope that photos will be found to accompany all 58,300 names listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. (The photos found so far are online at http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces) The Wisconsin project was completed just befoCrre Memorial Day when relatives confirmed that an old Milwaukee North Division High School yearbook photo showed Willie Bedford, the final image missing of the 1,161 Wisconsin service members who died in Vietnam.(Read student Rachel Maidl’s account of her search for the last image here: http://go.uwm.edu/1Ew04Il)With that confirmation, Wisconsin became the sixth state, and largest so far, to collect photos of all its service members killed in Vietnam. “The Wisconsin effort has been by far the most efficient and the most successful,” said George DeCastro, coordinator of the Faces Never Forgotten Program. “The high level of coordination and cooperation between all parties involved was astounding. And, of course, your students and all of the other volunteers are the ones who actually got it done.”Andrew Johnson, publisher of the Dodge County Pionier in Mayville, Wisconsin, spearheaded Faces Never Forgotten in Wisconsin. Jessica McBride, senior journalism lecturer at UWM, got her JAMS 320: Integrated Reporting classes involved after meeting Johnson in February 2015. ‘Stories that matter’“I thought it was an excellent way to teach basic research and storytelling skills, as well as the role the media can play in communities,” said McBride. “I want students to work on stories that matter. It’s moving how they embraced this cause.” UWM, which enrolls more veterans than any other university in the state, was also a natural fit for the project. When the journalism class got involved in February 2015, 64 Wisconsin soldiers’ photos were missing. Even after the semester ended in mid-May, McBride and several students continued their search for the remaining photos with the help of other volunteer researchers. North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico and Wyoming also have located all the missing photos, and Iowa is down to one missing, according to DeCastro. Johnson had two very personal reasons for getting involved. The Education Center at The Wall also will project photos of the nearly 8,000 service members killed in action since Sept. 11. One of those soldiers is Johnson’s son, U.S. Army 1st Lt. David Johnson, who was killed in Afghanistan in January 2012. Andrew Johnson says Vietnam veterans, like those in the Patriot Guard, have been supportive of his family as they mourned David’s death. Patriot Guard members helped lead his son’s funeral procession and accompanied Lt. Johnson’s casket up until his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. “Photos are so important in making a person ‘real,’” Johnson explains, adding that there are few photos of many of the soldiers who fought in the unpopular Vietnam War. Further compounding the problem is the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records center that destroyed approximately 16-18 million official military personnel files. When Johnson first got involved in the project, 400 photos from Wisconsin were missing. Journalism students at UWM pored over cemetery records, checked phone directories and yearbooks, looked through veteran memorial sites and tracked down surviving family and friends any way they could – email, telephone, the U.S. Postal Service and in-person. Along the way, they got help from other volunteers: a veteran, a retired newspaper editor, a writer, a historical researcher, teachers and school officials who searched records and yearbooks, and a leader of the Wisconsin Association of Black Genealogists, who was also a UWM student. Mourning sons, remembering friendsThe research trail was often long and difficult. Senior Justin Skubal’s soldier, Thomas Shaw, had left a widow, but she and Shaw’s mother had both remarried and tracking stepsiblings was challenging. Fellow senior Jonathan Powell agreed: “It’s difficult to dig up information when people remarry, and sometimes families seem to fall apart after a death.” The project gave the students new insights into the sacrifices these and other soldiers had made. Skubal said he understands better why his stepfather, a Vietnam veteran, awoke some mornings startled and shaking Students heard stories from families about the devastating impact of their losses; fellow soldiers told them details of the battles and seeing their buddies die.“This was way more than a class assignment,” says Powell. Echoing Johnson, he adds, “A soldier never dies unless he’s forgotten.” “When we started this project, I thought about these Vietnam soldiers as old men, but they were my age, or my brother’s age,” says UWM junior Amanda Porter, who tracked down Sgt. Nathaniel Merriweather’s story and photo through cemetery records, help from the mayor of the small Tennessee town where Merriweather is buried, and an army buddy who remembered him. Touching an obituary photo of Merriweather on her computer screen, she said: “It gave me a warm feeling, but really sad. I’m grateful that they are going to be remembered and I was part of that.” McBride, Johnson and the students were impressed by all those who have helped. “This is a community effort. That’s what stands out to me,” McBride wrote in a May 20 story for “OnMilwaukee.com.” “Younger generations and old have come together to find these. Students and veterans. Black, Latino, American Indian and white. Republican and Democrat. This is a community effort. And, to me, that means this exemplifies Wisconsin at its finest.”