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A 76-year-old disabled veteran is appealing the life sentence he was handed for growing pot. Lee Carroll Brooker, from Alabama, was found guilty of drug trafficking back in 2004.  He was arrested after cops raided his son, Darren Lee Brooker’s house in 2011, and seized 42 marijuana plants, which they claim had a street value of $92,000. Darren Brooker was also charged with trafficking—but, he was sentenced to five years’ probation, with a suspended five-year jail sentence that will be dismissed if he doesn’t violate any of the terms of his probation. His father received a life sentence, without the chance of parole, because he had four previous, decades-old, felony convictions, including one for armed robbery in Florida, which he had served jail time for. According to court documents, the defense asserted that Brooker was growing the pot for personal use. Brooker’s attorney argued that his client needed it to self-medicate in light of numerous physical illnesses. However, Alabama law mandates that any felon found possessing more than two pounds of marijuana must automatically receive a life sentence, without the chance of parole. Even the rabidly conservative Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, has slammed the sentence for being “excessive and unjustified.” In a 2015 memo Moore said Brooker’s case showed a “grave flaw” in Alabama’s legal system, and urged for reform of the statutory sentencing scheme: I believe Brooker’s sentence is excessive and unjustified. A trial court should have the discretion to impose a less severe sentence than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. I urge the legislature to revisit that statutory sentencing scheme to determine whether it serves an appropriate purpose. Brooker is appealing his life sentence, claiming it violates his Eighth Amendment rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. Meanwhile, the ACLU notes that more than 3,000 people are currently serving life sentences, without the chance of parole, for non-violent crimes.   by Maxine Page      
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment Thursday that would allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana as a treatment option in states where it is legal, the Military Times reported. It would essentially allow VA doctors to operate under the same rules as civilian physicians in medical marijuana tates. The bipartisan amendment, adopted 20-10, is an addition to the fiscal 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill and was sponsored by Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley. The Military Times reported it marks the second time senators have moved to give veterans further access to medical marijuana at VA facilities. A provision was approved by the full Senate toward the end of last year in the fiscal 2016 VA appropriations bill but was later removed from the final law.  Marijuana Legality by State | InsideGov   Under the Senate's amendment the VA would be barred from using funds to “interfere with the ability of veterans to participate in medicinal marijuana programs approved by states or deny services to such veterans,” according to the Military Times.  As it stands now, veterans' doctors can't even talk to them about the possibility of their being prescribed medical marijuana, even in a state where it has been legalized. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, while 17 states have passed laws allowing doctors to prescribe oils derived from marijuana plants. The VA has recommended that its physicians use practices that have been scientifically proved to be effective to treat issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and pain. And while many veterans are already using medical marijuana to treat PTSD or anxiety, there isn't research proving cannabis is an effective treatment for relieving symptoms. Marijuana Support Over Time | InsideGov BY TIM MARCIN
WHAT:   Meet and Greet devoted to helping Chicagoland vets with healthcare experience learn how to become civilian healthcare professionals  WHO:   Healthcare Employers, Representatives of local colleges and universities, Lots of your fellow Vets!  WHY:   Lots of promising careers are available in the healthcare field and many veterans already possess the experience necessary to get a jumpstart toward the credentials necessary.  WHEN:      Thursday, April 21, 2016,  5-7 pm  WHERE:       Vice District Brewing,  1454 S Michigan Ave, Suite 1,  Chicago, IL 60605    Registration required! To register, visit VHCP.eventbrite.com For more information, about the program and opportunities, visit http://vethealthcarejobs.org/about/   For more information about The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, visit www.cael.org   Established in 1975, The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) serves adults who want to return to school, and helps a variety of clients—employers, colleges and universities, and workforce developers—to connect learning and work, so they can build efficient systems that help adult learners succeed.  
Newswise -  What and Why: Vision and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A view toward therapeuticsMore than 75% of all TBI patients experience visual disorders, including double vision, light sensitivity, difficulty reading print and even vision loss. This interactive session will bring together some of the best minds studying TBI to discuss two important topics: what happens inside the head and eyes of a patient with TBI that leads to symptoms, and the scientific exploration that gives hope for treatments for the debilitating condition.• Master Sergeant Eric Marts (Retired Army) will share the challenges he has faced — from both TBI and the Department of Veterans Affairs — following his deployment to Iraq in 2005 – 2007. • Ann McKee of Boston University will discuss her findings about CTE in athletes and veterans.• Jim Zorn, former quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, will talk about the need for more research to support veterans, athletes and others whose lives have been devastated by TBI. Scientists will outline developments in diagnosing TBI earlier and more accurately, new ideas on how to minimize or slow the effects of TBI and possibilities for therapy. Who: Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Where: Washington State Convention Center, Seattle, Washington, Skagit 4/5 (The Conference Center Annex) When: Saturday, April 30, 2015, 10am – 1pm Pacific time Additional speakers/interview opportunities:• Randy H. Kardon, MD, PhD, University of Iowa: Do Visual Manifestations of TBI Progress? • Lee E. Goldstein, MD, PhD, Boston University: Experimental Approach to Neurotrauma and the Eye • Wing Commander Robert AH Scott, MBBS, FRCS(Ed), FRCOphth, DMi, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom: Potential Therapies Based on Disturbance in Vision• Elaine R. Peskind, MD, University of Washington: Blast Concussion and Mild TBI in Veterans: Implications for Vision• Andrew T. Hartwick, OD, PhD, The Ohio State University: The Link between Photophobia and Head Injury For more information, see arvo.org/TBI. About ARVOThe Association for Research and Vision in Ophthalmology (ARVO) is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world. Members include nearly 12,000 eye and vision researchers from over 75 countries. ARVO advances research worldwide into understanding the visual system and preventing, treating and curing its disorders. Learn more at arvo.org.
Newswise — It was Ray Taylor’s last patrol in Vietnam, just before midnight on July 3, 1967. The 21-year-old Marine sergeant should have been sleeping, but he was going home in a couple of weeks and felt a little wired. About a mile and a half away on top of the Nong Son Mountain – the site of the only active coal mine in Vietnam – Marine Corporal John Kuchar was asleep in his bunker when he became involved in the bloodiest battle of his 13-month tour. Kuchar credits Taylor, a Rutgers University-Newark alumnus, for saving his life. Taylor is among the thousands of Rutgers graduates who have served – and sometimes died – in American military conflicts throughout the university’s nearly 250-year history. He has recorded his experiences as part of the Rutgers Oral History Archives, home to one of the nation’s largest collections of personal accounts. “If it wasn’t for Ray, I wouldn’t be here,” said Kuchar, a Marine in the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Division, and a buddy for almost 50 years, who met Taylor in 1968 after the two had left Vietnam and enrolled in Union County College. “I’ll always consider him to be my guardian angel.” Taylor, who graduated from Rutgers University-Newark in 1971 with a degree in economics, arrived in Vietnam on June 14, 1966 after serving one tour in Guantanamo Bay. His jobs ranged from a machine-gunner, scout and sniper, to commander of the recon platoon and liaison at the division headquarters. On the night of the attack at the mine, Taylor and another Marine in his reconnaissance platoon were sitting on top of an observation hill located on the other side of the Song Thu Bon River. Recon’s job is to be the eyes and ears of larger units, to find the bad guys before sending in the infantry, and going on to their next patrol. While the two Marines noticed a firefight on the Nong Son Mountain, they didn’t think much about it until it intensified. Looking through binoculars from a spot that offered 360-degree views on a clear day, all they could see that night was darkness. It was 11:30 p.m. and pitch black. Taylor remembers thinking that if the enemy made it up the hill, which stretched a thousand feet above the river, it could be catastrophic. He didn’t learn until later that 400 Vietcong and North Vietnamese were overrunning the 59 Marines and three soldiers atop Nong Son. The attackers, led by a Chinese officer, used mortars, satchel charges, grenades, small arms, and even a flamethrower. With the assistance of another Marine, Taylor used his radio to contact the 2nd Battalion - 5th Marine base eight-and-a-half miles away at An Hoa for artillery support. “They wanted me to give them a grid so they could fire to the top of the hill. But it’s risky because you don’t want to kill your own.” Taylor calculated the firing data. Four rounds were fired, each miraculously landing atop the hill 25 yards from Kuchar, driving the North Vietnamese and Vietcong away and helping to save Kuchar’s life and dozens of his fellow Marines. “I found out many years later that if we hadn’t fired the artillery when we did nobody would have survived the attack,” said Taylor, who was with Bravo Company 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division. Of the 62 troops atop Nong Son, 43 were wounded, 13 were killed and only 12 – including Kuchar – could walk. Taylor participated in about 45 reconnaissance operations during his 13-month tour and received a Purple Heart after being wounded when he was hit by shrapnel. His mission at the coal mine less than two weeks before he left Vietnam and his first, two days after he arrived, following the June 15, 1966 Battle of Hill 488 or Howard’s Hill, were two he will never forget. “They thought the enemy was going to attack the Special Forces Camp about six miles away so they sent us in,” said Taylor. “I was a machine-gunner so as soon as I got there they put me in a pit and told me to keep my eye out.” The camp was never hit, but two U.S. aircraft did come under enemy fire and Taylor spent hours helping to tend to the wounded and dead. One incident of the war that will always be seared in Taylor’s memory: A lieutenant ordering the troops to fire on a low hill at the enemy. The round came in short, hit directly behind Taylor, killed his assistant machine-gunner and wounded four others. A few months later, the same officer ordered Taylor to fire artillery through what he considered to be friendly villages. Taylor refused. “It was all about morality,” said Taylor who faced being court-martialed for disregarding the order of an officer and cancelling the mission. “It was something I knew I shouldn’t do and that’s all there was to it.” Military brass agreed and a month after the February 1967 incident, Taylor was promoted from corporal to sergeant. When Taylor returned home to New Jersey in July of 1967, he considered signing up for another tour but meeting Kuchar and other Vietnam veterans at Union County College before transferring to Rutgers-Newark made the transition back to civilian life easier. The 70-year-old retiree, who spent his career in supermarket logistics, is still amazed when he looks back at his transformation – from a kid who graduated from Barringer High School in Newark not sure what he wanted to do – to a Marine running a platoon and working in a war room. “I was 21 years old and I’m wondering what happened to my life,” said Taylor, of Flemington, who has been involved in veteran organizations including the commander of the New Jersey chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. “I never dreamed I would be leading men in combat, let alone a recon team.”
Newswise —  Racial disparities are not present among military members and their dependents, a testament to the equality that exists in the armed services, according to a recent longitudinal analysis published by researchers at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) online in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. The first of its kind to find such data, the analysis was a collaborative effort between USU and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. The researchers found racial disparities within the U.S. health system are estimated to account for more than 83,000 deaths and an average of more than $57 billion per year, and that disparities in outcomes persist in minority populations, even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act and an increase in insurance coverage and access to care. Researchers analyzed five years (2006-2010) of TRICARE data, which provides health care insurance to the military, retirees, and their beneficiaries. In particular, they looked at Emergency General Surgery (EGS) conditions. These include a wide spectrum of procedures for the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract, pancreatic disease, soft tissue infections, and hernias, primarily because of their emergent nature, which are thought to lessen subjective external factors. They looked at mortality, major morbidity, and readmission rates for more than 101,000 EGS patients representing four racial groups (White, Black, Asian, or Other), a population which is broadly representative of the insured American public. They found no differences in mortality and readmission rates at 30, 90 or 180 days for patients across racial groups, and only minimal differences in major morbidity between black and white patients. These findings are a stark contrast to the gaping disparities which have been demonstrated among those in the general (civilian) population. “This is the first in a series of disparities studies using data from the Military Health System. We and our partners from Brigham and Women’s Hospital are seeing that this equity in care within the MHS is potentially a model for the nation,” said USU’s Tracey Perez Koehlmoos, PhD, associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics at the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine. Koehlmoos is the principal investigator of the Comparative Effectiveness and Provider Induced Demand Collaboration (EPIC Project), which is funded by the Defense Health Agency. “We hope that these findings will inform policy decisions both inside and outside the Department of Defense,” added Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Peter Learn, assistant professor of Surgery at USU. “In the meantime, we look forward to continuing this collaboration, and working to better understand the impact that universal insurance has for racially diverse patients.” # # #
U.S. Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli (ret.), UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Ann Brown, medical center director of VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Operation Mend staff and patients look on as U.S. Army CPL (ret.) Pablo Mena cuts the ribbon at a ceremony to officially open the doors the new UCLA Operation intensive mental health program.   UCLA Operation Mend Launches New Program for Wounded Veterans Newswise — Veterans suffering from mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder — as well as their families — now have access to highly individualized, intensive treatment that draws on UCLA’s nationally recognized expertise in neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry and integrative medicine. A new mental health program provided by UCLA Operation Mend is designed to heal the hidden, yet lingering, wounds of war. UCLA Operation Mend launched the program today with a ribbon-cutting at the UCLA Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. The larger program has provided advanced surgical and medical treatment, as well as comprehensive psychological support, for post-9/11 veterans and their families since 2007. The expanded offerings are part of a new national network called Warrior Care Network, which is funded in part by Wounded Warrior Project. Among the hidden wounds of war are PTSD and traumatic brain injury. PTSD can develop in people who have seen or lived through a shocking or dangerous event, causing them to feel stressed or frightened long after the event itself. Traumatic brain injury can be caused by an object striking the head, a shock wave from the blast of an explosive device or an object piercing the skull and entering the brain tissue. "The percentage of those returning home from post-9/11 conflicts with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress is staggering," said retired Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, an executive advisor to the Ronald A. Katz Center for Collaborative Military Medicine at UCLA and the former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. "The addition of this program to the Operation Mend portfolio makes UCLA the civilian leader in providing needed care to post-9/11 veterans. If every institution were doing the same, we could satisfy the unmet needs of veterans and their families for this critical care. "The six-week program is designed for patients who require more than regular outpatient care. It takes a holistic approach and includes four main components: evidence-based treatment for psychological health, healing arts, wellness and community engagement" Our goal is to help our wounded veterans regain a sense of normalcy in their lives," said Dr. Jo Sornborger, director of psychological health programs for Operation Mend. "A major component is to include family members so they can learn how to understand their loved ones’ challenges. We also believe that it is important to help the veterans learn how to access and engage with their community resources. This foundation of family and community support is essential to building a healthy environment that will help the veteran succeed. "Prior to enrolling in Operation Mend, potential participants spend two to five days at UCLA consulting with specialists from various disciplines to ensure that the program will address their needs. Once the program begins, the veteran and family spend three weeks at UCLA receiving cognitive training for challenges related to symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury. The patient also undergoes one-on-one cognitive processing therapy sessions for post-traumatic stress that address war-related psychological trauma and symptoms related to challenges with memory and concentration. In addition, the patient and family take wellness programs including psychotherapy in which people interact with horses, qi gong (an ancient Chinese practice focused on breathing and movement), acupuncture, acupressure and meditation. They also participate in healing arts therapy, life tools sessions, social activities and more. After three weeks, the patients and family members return home and continue their care by phone and over the internet for three more weeks. All care, travel and accommodations are arranged for and provided at no cost to the patients and family members. Four patients and their families participated in a test of the new program in January and had overwhelmingly positive reactions. The program will welcome its next group of six to 10 patients and family members in May. "Through highly personalized care focused on the needs of each individual veteran, the Operation Mend expansion will advance the care of wounded veterans and, in doing so, potentially create new standards for the treatment of brain injuries," said Dr. Thomas Strouse, professor of clinical psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and medical director of the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. The expansion of Operation Mend’s services is part of a first-of-its-kind initiative called Warrior Care Network that connects wounded veterans and their families with world-class, individualized mental health care. The Warrior Care Network includes three other programs based at academic medical centers — the Veterans Program at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program in Boston and the Road Home Program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Treating and serving our wounded veterans today requires a team effort," said John Roberts, warrior relations executive vice president of Wounded Warrior Project. "WWP is proud to partner with UCLA and other leading medical centers to help ensure no veteran or family member is turned away from care and support. "Wounded Warrior Project and Warrior Care Network partners are committing a total of $100 million over three years to fund the initiative, including $7.5 million each that the medical centers will contribute through their own fundraising efforts. "As a veteran who served in Afghanistan, I have seen firsthand many of my military buddies and their families who are suffering as a result of these invisible wounds," said retired Army Spc. Joey Paulk, an Operation Mend patient who underwent reconstructive surgeries for his physical injuries after surviving a blast from an improvised explosive device in 2007. "Operation Mend has been there for me and my family in so many ways over the years. I’m hopeful that this expansion of the program with Warrior Care Network will bring that same hope to my brothers and sisters still trying to heal from the wounds on the inside that you cannot see. "The new mental health program operates under UCLA’s Semel Institute. Service members or their family members interested in learning more about the program or any of the health care services offered through UCLA Operation Mend can visit www.operationmend.ucla.edu or call 310-267-2251. Operation Mend was established in 2007 as a groundbreaking partnership among UCLA Health, the U.S. military and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The program provides advanced surgical and medical treatment, as well as comprehensive psychological health support for post-9/11–era service members, veterans and their families. In 2010, Operation Mend began offering advanced diagnostics and treatment planning for patients with symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury and PTSD. Warrior Care Network is a groundbreaking collaboration between Wounded Warrior Project and its academic medical center partners, Emory Healthcare, Massachusetts General Hospital, Rush University Medical Center and UCLA Health, to create a nationwide, comprehensive care network that will enhance access and provide clinical and family centered treatment to warriors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other related conditions. WCN will offer specialized clinical services through either a regionalized outpatient program and/or an innovative intensive outpatient program. Through this cutting-edge initiative, WWP and its partners plan to serve thousands of wounded veterans and family members over the next three years. The mission of Wounded Warrior Project is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. WWP’s purpose is to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida.
Newswise — The transition to the battlefield and back home again is a long and, at times, bumpy road for our war veterans. "Voices of Student Veterans" chronicles those sometimes long journeys home in a documentary drama about the transitions of student veterans returning to the Commonwealth and a college campus. Kentuckians around the state were able to hear these personal stories of service as a tour of this production travels to five of the state's public universities. "Voices of Student Veterans" was developed in 2010 as part of an interdisciplinary arts and creativity project at the University of Kentucky through a unique collaboration between the university's Department of Theatre, Veterans Resource Center and Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. The tour of this production and scholarships for the student actors are being made possible with funding from UK Women and Philanthropy. In January 2010 at UK, Doug Boyd, director of the Nunn Center for Oral History, working with veteran and doctoral student Tyler Gayheart and Tony Dotson, director of the Veterans Resource Center, launched the oral history project "From Combat to Kentucky" to chronicle the stories of student veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Subsequently, Herman Farrell, associate professor of theatre at UK, and students in his "Staging History" Department of Theatre course, devised a verbatim theatre piece drawn from the oral history transcripts. Boyd is happy to see the Nunn Center's work shared not only on the center's website, but on a stage as well. "So many different ground level descriptions are coming out of the interviews of shortcomings and triumphs in these experiences. I think the more those can be expressed and articulated to the general public, the better, because that is how we grow and learn as a society."Through the interdisciplinary collaboration, the three programs hoped to provide some insight into a veteran's experience. "Our stated purpose in creating this piece was to bridge the gap between student veterans and the greater UK community," said Farrell.The stories UK Theatre brings to the stage in "Voices of Student Veterans" were edited down directly from 10 hours of recorded interviews collected by the Nunn Center with UK student veterans. Through a cast of eight actors, the audience will follow local veterans' stories through such periods as boot camp and deployment to their transition back into society on a university campus and all the emotions stirred up during those points in time."Following the innovative and experimental theatrical form of Anna Deavere Smith and Moises Kaufman, we have crafted a documentary drama based on interviews of UK student veterans that were conducted by the Nunn Center for Oral History. Audiences will bear witness to a piece of 'verbatim theatre' – a play that is created completely from the words, the voices of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Farrell said.'Voices of Student Veterans" aims to directly engage its audience in this collection of personal life stories. In addition to the production, the play will be followed with a question and answer session with Dotson, Boyd, Farrell and mental health professionals and representatives of the respective universities in order to foster a conversation about replicating this unique oral history and theatre project on campuses across Kentucky and perhaps, the United States. "Voices of Student Veterans" will be presented at Morehead State University, Northern Kentucky University, University of Louisville, UK Eastern Kentucky University. "The members of the UK Women and Philanthropy Network were moved by the powerful message told in 'Voices of Student Veterans,' and we felt the proposal to take the play around the state and share it on other college campuses was important and merited funding by W and P. We are proud to showcase the talent of our UK students and the Department of Theatre in this very special production," said Paula Pope, director of special projects, UK Office of Development. Dotson agreed, "I am excited to be a part of something so powerful. This is a unique opportunity for the average American to get a look at war from the perspective of the warrior and not CNN. If this doesn’t make you want to thank a veteran for their service, nothing will."
Newswise — Equine-assisted psychotherapy is known to help people address mental and behavioral health issues, but there remains little evidence-based research to prove it. New Mexico State University School of Social Work Associate Professor Wanda Whittlesey-Jerome is dedicating her academic career to establishing and promoting scientific standards for gathering such information. “Horses are prey animals, so they are constantly scanning their environments,” Whittlesey-Jerome said. “When we enter the arena, they sense if we are calm and balanced – or troubled and on-edge – and react accordingly. “When they meet us on their own terms, horses become mirrors,” she added. “They react to our inner feelings that we may not show outwardly. They teach us so much about ourselves and can give us insight into what it means to be human.” Whittlesey-Jerome has conducted several studies with at-risk charter high school students and adult female survivors of interpersonal violence. The findings indicate the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association’s equine-assisted psychotherapy model has had positive impacts on resilience, general self-efficacy, depression, anxiety and global functioning among human participants. These pilot studies of the model focused on using EAP as an add-on to existing conventional treatments. The first study was with at-risk charter high school students attending Los Puentes Charter School in Albuquerque in 2009. “There were positive results among the students receiving EAP compared to the students just receiving the psycho-educational component of the study,” she said. A second study was done with women receiving services from the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Albuquerque in 2013. “These were women already in the process of trying to manage their abusive relationships,” she said. “While the women received individual counseling and group therapy from the center’s staff, we added EAP to approximately one-half of the overall women studied.” The results of this study have been published in The Practitioner Scholar: Journal of Counseling and Professional Psychology. “The data showed an improvement in the women in the equine group; their self-esteem increased as depression and anxiety decreased,” she said. “But what really intrigued the reviewers of the manuscript was the richness and depth of the qualitative data from the women’s journals. After the groups were over, several of the women were willing to take the next step to walk away from their abusive relationships and move on with their lives because of the self-realizations they gained by participating in the eight EAP sessions.” A third study is currently being planned for future implementation. The Behavioral Health Services Division of the New Mexico Department of Health and Human Services is in the process of providing funds to two non-profit equine therapy organizations to provide free EAGALA-informed equine groups to military families, including warriors and veterans. In addition to funds to pay for the groups, funds are available for gas cards, healthy food and snacks, and healthy beverages, as well as recruitment supplies. “The Family Fun with Horses Program is an add-on to conventional treatments already available to these families,” she said. “We’re hopeful that overall family well-being and communication will improve for our military families served through this program.” Recently during a Quarterly Commander’s Call, Whittlesey-Jerome spoke to more than 400 airmen at Kirtland Air Force Base about the availability of this program. “This program has the support of Lt. Col. Bérnabé F. Whitfield, commander of the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, who is concerned with the increased numbers of suicides and divorces among his airmen,” she said. Southwest Horsepower in Albuquerque’s South Valley and Equine Therapeutic Connections in Albuquerque’s North Valley will be conducting the free military family equine groups. Whittlesey-Jerome will provide program evaluation services pro-bono to help the agencies evaluate the effectiveness of the military family equine groups, and she will submit reports to the state on program outcomes. EAGALA’s mission is to become the global standard for equine-assisted psychotherapy and personal development. “Part of EAGALA’s work is to promote the use and scientific measurement of the effectiveness of its EAP model,” said Whittlesey-Jerome, who is a member of the association’s board. Prior to being chosen for the board, she served on the organization’s research committee. One of her contributions to the organization is the creation of a graphic model that presents a complete picture containing all of the various components of EAGALA’s EAP. This model is currently under review by the leadership of the association. “An important component of the EAGALA EAP model is that an EAGALA-certified team of professionals – a mental health specialist and an equine specialist – co-facilitate the sessions,” she said. “The sessions consist of solving problems in groups within the context of being 100 percent on the ground with horses. Participants learn to negotiate and develop a mutual relationship with the horses built on trust and respect,” she continued. “At the same time, they learn to work together with other participants in new and creative ways that often lead to insight through metaphors that naturally develop in the arena with horses.” In one example, participants are asked to create an obstacle course with props such as traffic cones, plastic pipes, swim noodles, hoola hoops and buckets. The task is to get the horses, without halters or lead ropes, to move through the obstacle. After completion of the task, the group members discuss their experiences and write or draw in journals or sketchpads about what they experienced in the session. “Eventually, I hope to be able to gather additional research data that continues to build an evidence base to further support the use of the EAGALA EAP model,” she said. “EAGALA has 4,500 members worldwide; however, there are many variations of equine therapy currently being used,” she said. “If we want to build an evidence base that supports the use of EAGALA’s EAP model, practitioners need be doing the same things in the same ways, and researchers need to measure outcomes using similar tools and procedures. In addition, we need larger studies with more participants. I see this as a possibility as we increase our outreach efforts and develop more university-community partnerships.”
Newswise — Just as the Zika virus is causing concern worldwide, a University of Florida insect specialist with 36 years of experience at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory has been named the lab’s new director. Professor Jorge Rey started at FMEL, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, in 1979, the year the Vero Beach, Florida, lab came under UF’s umbrella. He moved up the faculty ranks from research scientist to professor in 1994 and was named interim director last year. Now, he’s the lab director, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “With his many years of top-quality research and his time as interim director of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Dr. Rey has earned the respect of the lab’s faculty members. Thus, he’s an ideal fit as director,” Payne said. “Dr. Rey is well-positioned to lead the FMEL scientists to new heights in research and Extension as we continue to look for solutions to mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.” As director, Rey is in charge of a facility with 11 UF/IFAS faculty members and 50 other employees. One of the top issues on the agenda of faculty at FMEL is the Zika outbreak that started last year in Brazil. Zika is most likely transmitted by Aedes aegypti – the yellow fever mosquito – and Aedes albopictus – the Asian tiger mosquito. Some people are bringing the virus back to the U.S. and giving it to others. As of March 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 273 travel-associated cases of Zika in the U.S., but none was locally transmitted. Several FMEL scientists are working on potential solutions to the Zika outbreak. “We continue to work on all aspects of the biology of the more likely vector species, Aedes aegypti, and Aedes albopictus,” Rey said. “These species are also involved in transmission of other important arboviruses such as dengue and chikungunya, so we have been conducting research on them, from populations to individual genes, for some time now. Currently we’re developing grant proposals to work on Zika, including a collaborative grant involving several faculty.” That project will include modeling, vector competence and insecticide resistance. As Zika-specific data become available, associate professor Cynthia Lord will use transmission models to investigate potential consequences of Zika introductions into Florida and how this may differ from chikungunya or dengue introductions, Rey said. Associate professor Chelsea Smartt is returning to Brazil to look at virus detection, and assistant professor Barry Alto is working on how well Florida mosquitoes transmit Zika to humans. As for his own research, Rey will continue to work on the field ecology of container mosquitoes such as yellow fever and Asian tiger, and on the biological control of mosquitoes, in other words, when bugs eat other bugs. He’ll also collaborate with other faculty as opportunities arise. Rey completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Miami, then moved on to earn his master’s and doctorate at Florida State University.