Credit Newswise — The University of Alabama at Birmingham is launching a research project that will provide therapy to wounded veterans and active-duty personnel at no cost through a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The Brave Initiative will enable 80 veterans and active-duty personnel with traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, to receive free, intensive therapy to improve arm function and physical fitness through the study. “We are eager to make the services provided by this grant available to as many of Alabama’s brave veterans and active-duty personnel with TBI as possible,” said Edward Taub, Ph.D., UAB psychology professor and director of this project. “We believe that our treatments can have a major impact on the quality of their lives, and we are grateful to be able to do something for veterans after all they have done for our country.” The Lakeshore Foundation, along with Veterans Affairs hospitals from across the country, will be partnering with UAB to help make the study possible.TBI is a highly prevalent condition that often results in the loss of independence and quality of life for many individuals; it is seen frequently in military personnel who have sustained a blast injury. The traditional view in the rehabilitation field was that there was a limited period of time after this type of damage to the central nervous system during which the rehabilitation of motor deficits could take place. However, research conducted in Taub’s laboratory has shown that stroke and also TBI survivors can regain use of their limbs even years after the brain injury occurred through the use of a novel family of therapies. The study funded through the DOD grant consists of two different types of treatments, which will be randomly assigned to participants. One treatment is called Constraint-induced Movement Therapy, or CI Therapy. Taub developed CI Therapy and has treated hundreds of patients with this treatment, showing its effectiveness in improving the rehabilitation of movement after stroke and other neurological injuries. The therapy centers around teaching the brain to “rewire” itself following a major injury using motor-training techniques. It enhances the brain’s ability to heal itself by retraining regions of the brain that still function well after the brain injury, a process called brain reorganization or neuroplasticity. The CI Therapy participants will practice exercises and skilled movements that increase the use of their weaker, injured limb in daily life. The stronger limb is constrained to encourage use of the weaker limb. A second group of participants will benefit from an alternative therapy developed in collaboration with the laboratory of James Rimmer, Ph.D., UAB professor of occupational therapy, and will focus on physical and mental fitness training. The physical and mental fitness therapy combines gentle to moderate holistic exercise, breathing techniques, muscle and mind relaxation, and massage therapy. An MRI will be given before and after each treatment to assess the effects of both therapies on the brain. “With more than 400,000 veterans living in Alabama and more than 30,000 active military and active reservists who are Alabama residents, this therapy has the long-term potential to make a positive impact on our state, our veterans and beyond,” said Gitendra Uswatte, Ph.D., UAB professor of psychology and another leader of this project. “We have seen our therapies work for veterans and for others who have suffered from TBI, so we’re excited about the promise of a very successful outcome.” Participants in the treatment, along with a companion, will have all travel and living expenses covered by the grant. The treatment will take place during a three-week period, with participants living at the Lakeshore Foundation and receiving treatment at UAB and at Lakeshore. Potential participants should meet the following criteria: • Be active-duty or veteran military personnel• Be at least 19 years old• Be at least three months post-TBI• Have movement problems or weakness in one or both arms If you or someone you know meets the criteria for this treatment, please call the TBI rehabilitation research team at (205) 934-9768 or visit www.tbirehabtherapy.net.
Credit Newswise — Military families face unique challenges – frequent moves, long separations and parents returning from active duty injured or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It can be an anxiety-filled lifestyle for both the deployed parent and the one who remains to manage the household alone – and even more difficult if the family includes children with special needs. To help ease the mental health burden of New Jersey families affected by military service, the National Call Center at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) has launched Military Mom2Mom (844-645-6261), a 24/7 confidential peer support helpline staffed by military parents and behavioral specialists. It joins three similar helplines operated by the call center: http://www.njveteranshelpline.org/ and Vets4Warriors, which serve veterans and active duty, National Guard and Reserve military personnel, and Mom2Mom, which provides support for caregivers of children with special needs. UBHC recognized a need for Military Mom2Mom to offer support for the families as they navigate many challenges, to suggest professional counseling if the indicators present themselves, and offer guidance on resources available. The helpline is sponsored by a grant from the Health Care Foundation of New Jersey, which launched its Veterans Mental Health Initiative last spring after almost a year of networking with providers within the VA system and the healthcare community. “We discovered that unattended mental health needs rose to the top of identified gaps in service due to the scarcity of appropriate services available, the wait list for services that do exist and the stigma that often prevents veterans from seeking the help they need,” says Marsha Atkind, CEO of the foundation. Although the number of military families with special needs children is not quantified, more than 15 percent of children in the United States have disabilities. “We were seeing a lot of military families calling the Mom2Mom line, and callers on the military lines requesting resources for their special needs children,” says Dawn Dreyer Valovcin, a supervising mental health specialist at the UBHC National Call Center. “There was a demand to have a dedicated helpline to address these families’ unique issues.” Military Mom2Mom peer support counselor Melissa Tippett, an Army combat veteran who also answers calls to Vets4Warriors, understands the importance of speaking to someone who has been there. When Tippett was medically discharged in 2006, she faced more than recuperation from an injury that caused permanent nerve damage in her right arm: She had to learn how to reconnect with her two young special needs sons after deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Mothers are the traditional primary caregivers, and it was challenging to reintroduce myself to these small children who didn’t know me,” says the Dunellen mother. “There are no words I can use to describe how tough that time was.” Her son, Nasir, 11, suffered from meconium aspiration syndrome, a condition that places him at risk for serious breathing problems. Rahim, 9, is on the autism spectrum. “It’s complicated when you’re in the military and have a child with health issues,” she says. “I had to take extra leave when Nasir went into cardiac arrest and had to have a blood transfusion. I thought we would lose him.” Although Tippett had supportive family and friends, they couldn’t relate to her situation – none had ever been deployed parents or injured in service. She recalls the support she received from a Vietnam veteran who befriended her while she was undergoing treatment at a VA hospital. “I was as miserable as I could be, and he helped me so much just by listening,” she says. “We had an instant bond; I didn’t need to explain anything since he had walked in my boots.” Tippett says callers to the helpline receive the same support. “They don’t have to explain to me what it’s like to move four times in three years or how you deal with your child when you are in the field for two weeks,” she says. “I get it.” Military Mom2Mom answers calls from anyone – parents, spouses, children – who is affected by military service. The callers range from parents concerned about their children in the service and military families grappling with reuniting with a parent, to spouses seeking resources for special needs children or helping a loved one who is struggling with a service-related disability. Peer counselors provide ongoing, personalized support, resource referrals and call families back to check their progress. “We stay in contact with them until their issue is resolved,” Tippett says. “We want them to know that they are not alone.”
MILITARY BLOOD TRANSFUSION PROTOCOL FOR SEVERE HEMORRHAGING MAY ASSIST IN SAVING BOTH COMBAT AND CIVILIAN PATIENTS
Credit Newswise — Improvements in military trauma care procedures related to hemorrhage and resuscitation on the combat zone front lines may lead to improvements in civilian trauma care as well, according to an article in the latest issue of the AANA Journal. Titled, “Far Forward Anesthesia and Massive Blood Transfusion: Two Cases Revealing the Challenge of Damage Control Resuscitation in an Austere Environment,” the article states that although “hemorrhage is a less common cause of death than a central nervous system injury, it is the most common cause of preventable death in both civilian and military casualties.” The article, by David Gaskin, CRNA, MHS; Nicholas A. Kroll, CRNA; Alyson A. Ochs, RN; Martin A. Schreiber, MD; and Prakash K. Pandalai, MD; examines two unique cases involving military casualties. In the military, while providing care in a forward combat zone, the transfusion of packed red blood cells (PRBC) and fresh frozen plasma (FFP) is performed in a 1:1 ratio. While some facilities in the civilian sector follow this example, the approach is not universally accepted. In the forward combat zone, due to packaging and thawing techniques of the plasma, delays can happen in being able to administer enough blood in time to a trauma patient. The severe loss of blood and the inability to replenish it in a timely manner can create new problems for the patient that may be life threatening. In a far forward military environment, the situation is even more dire. Thawing the thinly packaged FFP, which is stored at -20C, can cause ruptures in the plastic, creating delays in thawing other blood component units in the warmer. “Approximately 25 percent will experience a break in the bag as thawing occurs, rending them unavailable for use,” according to the article. A second issue in a military environment is the challenge of effectively communicating with live donors on site, which also can cause delays in obtaining fresh blood supplies. Following the surgery performed in one of the cases, protocols were identified and implemented to keep four FFP units thawed and ready for immediate use at all times. Also, “additional donors were identified and prescreened, and a phone roster and base-wide overhead system were implemented to aid in rapid notification of these critical human resources.” The results “suggest that efforts to incorporate this resuscitation strategy into civilian practice may improve outcomes, and warrant continued study,” assert the authors. Since World War I, CRNAs have predominately been the only anesthesia providers deployed in Forward Operating Bases in combat areas. The article states that in these challenging settings CRNAs are responsible for the entire anesthetic process, critically analyzing information and rapidly developing a plan of care, often with little or no medical history of the patient, and safely delivering lifesaving anesthetic care to wounded soldiers and civilians. CRNAs do this with limited resources in the most austere environments.
PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT AND V.A. MEDICAL CENTER TEAM UP TO HELP HOMELESS VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES
Newswise — You don't have to watch the latest news to see the devastating impact that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are having on American soldiers. You can just look on the streets of many American cities. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are already homeless, and each year their numbers grow larger. That's why Project Homeless Connect has teamed up with the City of San Francisco, the VA Medical Center, Swords to Plowshares and a coalition of businesses and non-profit organizations to help homeless veterans. "The idea of Veterans Connect is to bring the VA, Project Homeless Connect, City of San Francisco and local non-profit organizations together to give America's homeless veterans the help and hope that they need and deserve," says Judith Klain, Director of Project Homeless Connect. "About one-third of the adult homeless population has served their country" says Roberta Rosenthal, Network Homeless Coordinator for the Department of Veterans Affairs. "Veterans Connect is an excellent opportunity for us to partner with the City of San Francisco and other organizations to ensure homeless veterans have access to health care and other services." These current conflicts seem to be different than earlier ones. After Vietnam veterans usually took between five and 10 years trying to readjust to civilian life before ending up on the streets. Veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are often winding up homeless after just 18 months. It is estimated that there are up to 2,000 military veterans who are currently homeless in San Francisco. Aids groups and the Veterans Affairs Department have already said they expect to see an even bigger surge in homeless vets in the years ahead. "We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to everyone who has served in uniform," says Paul Markovich, Senior Vice President & Chief Executive, Large Group Business Units with Blue Shield of California, which is sponsoring Veterans Connect. "As an organization dedicated to improving the health of Californians, we feel privileged to help those who have served their country with honor, and to thank them for their sacrifice." Clients are able to access a wide range of services from mental health to dental health, immunizations and mammograms. Other services include things as simple as haircuts to employment information, legal assistance and housing resources. Services are geared towards all ages, from children and youth to adults and seniors. There is even a veterinary service to take care of people's pets. PHC has proven so effective a model for addressing the issue of homelessness that it is now being copied in more than 170 cities and counties in 26 states around the U.S. It is also being replicated internationally in Canada and Australia. About Project Homeless ConnectProject Homeless Connect makes a real difference in the lives of the City's homeless by bringing together almost 250 non-profit agencies, private businesses and volunteers to assist San Franciscans in need. Since the program's inception in October 2004 as a joint effort of San Francisco's health care, housing and human service systems, Project Homeless Connect has been supported by tens of thousands of volunteers, individuals and companies giving their time, cash, clothing, food and essential services. To date, this program has provided services to thousands of the City's most economically disadvantaged men, women and children with basic human needs and housing. Project Homeless Connect is a key component of Mayor Newsom's 10-year plan to abolish homelessness in San Francisco. This unprecedented approach to helping the homeless has been adopted as a national model in more than 170 jurisdictions in the U.S and has also been implemented in Canada and Australia. About Blue Shield of CaliforniaBlue Shield of California, an independent member of the Blue Shield Association, is a not-for-profit health plan dedicated to providing Californians with access to high quality care at a reasonable price. Founded in 1939, it now has 3.4 million members, 4,500 employees, one of the largest provider networks and more than 20 office locations, providing a wide range of commercial and government products throughout the state. The company has contributed more than $100 million during the past three years to the Blue Shield of California Foundation to fund nonprofit organizations that improve access to quality health care in California. Contact your local agent or broker for more information about Blue Shield products and services, or visit the Blue Shield web site at http://www.blueshieldca.com. About SFVAMCThe San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) is renowned for its state-of-the-art acute medical, neurological, surgical and psychiatric care. The Medical Center has 124 operating beds and a 120-bed Nursing Home Care Unit. Primary and mental health care is provided at community based outpatient clinics in: Santa Rosa, Eureka, Ukiah, and San Bruno. There is a specialized homeless veterans clinic in downtown San Francisco. SFVAMC has the largest funded research programs in the Veterans Health Administration with $78 million annual research budget. It is one of the few medical centers in the world equipped for studies using both whole-body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy, and is the site of VA's National Center for the Imaging of Neurological Diseases. The Medical Center has been affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), School of Medicine for nearly 40 years. All physicians are jointly recruited by SFVAMC and UCSF School of Medicine. SFVAMC has 153 residency and fellow positions and 40 allied health professionals. More than 700 UCSF trainees from 34 programs rotate through the Medical Center. About Swords to PlowsharesWar causes wounds and suffering that last beyond the battlefield. Swords to Plowshares' mission is to heal the wounds, to restore dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency to all veterans in need, and to significantly reduce homelessness and poverty among veterans. Founded in 1974, Swords to Plowshares is a community-based, not-for-profit organization that provides counseling and case management, employment and training, housing, and legal assistance to more than 1500 homeless and low-income veterans annually in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. We promote and protect the rights of veterans through advocacy, public education, and partnerships with local, state, and national entities.
Credit Newswise — African-American veterans of the armed forces often struggle to get the health care they need, says a new report from Northeastern University's Institute on Urban Health Research (IUHR). The report, titled "Health Care Experiences and Health Status of African-American Veterans" was partially funded by the Boston Public Health Commission (BHPC) and the IUHR and was prepared in response to a request from the Tri Ad Veterans League, Inc., a Boston-based grassroots group of African-American veterans. Among the findings, Northeastern researchers reported that 78% of the respondents recalled having an experience of discrimination where they received health care services. Although on average, study participants were moderately satisfied with their health care, they indicated lack of confidence in the diagnosis given to them by their doctors. They also expressed dissatisfaction with access to medical specialists; the time their doctors spent with them; and getting medical care in a timely manner. "Our study uncovered significant relationships between perceived discrimination from health care providers and the satisfaction with care in general," says Nathaniel M. Rickles, Pharm.D., Ph.D., BCPP, assistant professor of pharmacy at Northeastern and lead author of the report. "We also found that there is a strong connection between perceived discrimination and the level of physical functioning of our respondents, which may be due to a delay in getting the services they need." Additional findings include:"¢ About two-thirds of the sample did not use VA as their sole provider, although only about 10% indicated a lack of willingness to use the VA in the future. The authors note that this indicates that the decision not to use VA services may have less to do with dissatisfaction with the VA system and more with their access to other sources of health care."¢ Many respondents expressed concern about their health care providers not asking them about their spiritual needs. The authors recommend future research to explore ways for VA providers to integrate chaplain services with medical care so African-American patients feel their spiritual needs are being met holistically by the medical team. The report concludes that further research needs to be done to assess discrimination in health care of veterans. Recommendations of Joseph D. Warren, Ph.D. of Northeastern University's Office of Public Affairs and one of the authors of the report, include: "¢ Health care systems serving veterans, especially the VA, should solicit the assistance of veteran's advocacy groups, like the Tri Ad Veterans, to monitor and assist the VA to address identifiable disparities with access, patient satisfaction and quality of care."¢ A comprehensive review and ongoing performance-based monitoring of policies and provider behavior is needed, as well as further education of administrators and service providers about health disparities, unconscious clinician bias and cultural competency."¢ Policy changes and provider-level interventions are needed to reduce discrimination in health care. "The effectiveness of our mission largely depends upon academic institutions, like Northeastern University, providing the intellectual and scientific background to our work," says Haywood Fennell, founder of the Tri Ad Veterans League, Inc. "We are committed to providing the leadership to mobilize the necessary resources to implement the recommendations for future study."
Credit Newswise — Did you know that symptoms of hepatitis C could take 20 to 30 years to appear? Hepatitis C is a disease that affects the liver and is spread through contact with infected blood or contaminated needles, tattoo tools, and other means. An estimated four million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with hepatitis C. In some cases, veterans seem to have higher rates of infection than others. While symptoms are often very mild or non-existent, hepatitis C can be a very serious illness and, over time, cause permanent liver problems including cirrhosis and liver cancer. The liver is one of the largest and most important organs in your body. During National Hepatitis Awareness Month, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) encourages those with one or more risk factors to consider getting tested. Talk with your doctor about being tested for hepatitis C if you: "¢ have ever used a needle to inject drugs, even if it was many years ago;"¢ had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992;"¢ have been on long-term kidney dialysis;"¢ are a Vietnam veteran;"¢ have had exposure to blood on your skin;"¢ have had multiple sex partners;"¢ have tattoos or body piercings;"¢ have liver disease;"¢ have a history of drinking a lot of alcohol; or"¢ have had an abnormal liver function test"¢ wish to be tested The test for hepatitis C is simple and only requires a blood sample. VA is the largest single provider of medical care to people with hepatitis C infection in the U.S., and is the nation's leader in hepatitis C screening, testing and treatment. VA has a system-wide policy for screening all enrolled veterans for hepatitis C risk factors and has identified approximately 250,000 veterans in the past 10 years who have a diagnosis of or positive blood test for hepatitis C. VA spent more than $2.4 million on 16 research projects relating to hepatitis C. In addition, VA investigators received $4.1 million from non-VA sources for another 104 studies. VA funds four Hepatitis C Resource Centers to foster innovation and disseminate best practices in prevention, care and education. They are located in Minneapolis, Minn.; San Francisco, Calif.; West Haven, Conn.; and Seattle, Wash., in collaboration with Portland, Ore. VA research on hepatitis C includes clinical trials of treatments, epidemiological studies, investigations into the biological mechanisms of infection, and studies on improving quality of life for hepatitis C patients.
Credit Newswise A study of 33,481 diabetic veterans suggests that many of these individuals carry an "extremely heavy burden" of other diseases, which may account for their frequent hospital and outpatient visits within the Veterans Affairs medical system. Seventy-three percent of the veterans had high blood pressure and 35 percent had a type of heart disease, according to Carol M. Ashton, M.D., MPH, of Baylor College of Medicine and colleagues. "We also documented a high prevalence of alcohol or drug abuse disorders [29.5 percent] and psychosis [23.3 percent] conditions that make it more difficult for patients to sustain diabetes self-management behaviors," Ashton says. Over the course of a year, the average patient in the study spent eight days in a hospital and 23 days in outpatient services, which could include medical tests, specialist consultations and general check-ups. Of the nearly 40 percent of those hospitalized one or more times during the year, three-fourths had multiple hospital stays. The patients also faced a significant possibility of dying within a given year, according to Ashton and colleagues. They calculated that approximately 6 percent, or one in 20, of the patients were at risk of dying. These numbers may paint a more serious picture of hospitalization and health care visits than would be typical among the entire diabetic population, since almost half of the patients were 65 or older and eligible for the study only if they were initially hospitalized for an acute diabetes-related condition. But the findings are comparable to two other similar studies, according to the researchers. "Payers are concerned with the monetary costs of heavy utilization, but the indirect costs and opportunity costs associated with so many contacts must be an enormous burden on the patient and family," Ashton says. Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States, and diabetes-related death rates have increased among women and men of all racial and ethnic groups since 1980.
Credit Newswise - An innovative Veteran's Affair's home health care model provides patients and their caregivers with higher health-related quality of life and satisfaction with care than does private-sector home care, according to a study jointly conducted by researchers from the UIC, the VA and Northwestern University. The Journal of the American Medical Association will report the findings as the lead story. Susan Hughes, UIC School of Public Health professor and codirector of the Center for Research on Health and Aging in UIC's Health Research and Policy Centers, is the lead author. An early single-site study of the VA primary-care home care model, conducted by Hughes and colleagues at the Hines VA Hospital, found significant benefits and led the VA to fund this 16-site randomized trial of nearly 2,000 patients and 2,000 caregivers, most of whom were patients' spouses. The VA home-based primary care model is unique in that it enables physicians to designate a portion of their time as salaried staff to the home care program. In this model, there is close cooperation among nurses, social workers and other team members, and the physician is free to work with the patient directly or with the team on behalf of the patient. Medicare home care physicians, in contrast, are constrained by significant paperwork requirements and limited reimbursement for the management of home care patients, Hughes said. The study targeted hospitalized patients with severe disabilities or terminal illnesses and patients who were homebound with a primary diagnosis of congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It examined the impact of the VA home care model on functional status, patient and caregiver health-related quality of life and satisfaction with care, caregiver burden, hospital readmissions and health care costs. Testing was conducted at the first, sixth and 12th months. The control group received customary VA and private sector care, with about half opting for Medicare home care services. As expected, the researchers found no difference in patient functional status. Terminally ill treatment patients scored significantly higher than control group patients on six of eight health-related quality of life measures, including emotional role function, social function, bodily pain, mental health, vitality and general health. The researchers found no health-related quality of life differences among non-terminally ill patients other than a significant decrease in bodily pain in the control group. There was no difference in satisfaction with care among terminal patients over 12 months, but nonterminal patients reported significant increases in satisfaction while the control group's satisfaction scores remained the same or declined slightly. "When the physician and home care team jointly manage patient care, you can get much better, consistent quality-of-life and satisfaction. I think it would be great if the VA model were replicated in a managed-care setting," Hughes said. Treatment group caregivers of both terminally ill and non-terminally ill patients also scored significantly higher than the control group in all but two of eight quality of life measures and showed consistent and significant gains in satisfaction with patient care. Treatment group caregivers of nonterminal patients reported a significant decline in burden compared to the control group. This finding is particularly relevant in light of a recent JAMA article showing that spousal caregivers who experience stress are at 60 percent higher risk of mortality over a four-year period than caregivers who do not experience stress, Hughes said. The VA home care study is among the first of its kind to consider the burden on family members and their emotional well-being. Researchers found decreases in hospital readmissions among the treatment group at six months, but not at 12 months. The cost of care was 12.1 percent higher in the treatment group at 12 months. Though half of the sites experienced higher costs, the remaining half either saved money or broke even, Hughes said. "We still need to do more to examine the impact on costs. A secondary analysis of the use and cost data is needed to determine how and why some sites improved outcomes at lower costs."
WASHINGTON — Flanked by veterans and their obedient dogs, two Republican lawmakers made the case that for those who have served their country, “a man’s best friend can also be a man’s best counselor.” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) on Wednesday introduced the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act — a new veteran legislation that creates a five-year pilot program which pairs veterans with the most severe levels of post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury with a service dog. According to the bill’s text, veterans would have to complete an evidence-based treatment and “remain significantly symptomatic by clinical standards” in order to qualify for the program. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) introduced on Wednesday the PAWS Act, legislation which creates a pilot program to give veterans with PTSD service dogs. (Image via Twitter @RepDeSantis) “I think we have a chance to save lives,” DeSantis, a Naval Reserve Officer, told TheBlaze Wednesday. “When you look at some of these veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress, the counseling, the drugs, it doesn’t work for everybody.” “We must make sure that all of our returning servicemembers are honored and taken care of, no matter the wounds they bear,” he said. The lawmaker pointed to a group of veterans who still lingered after a morning press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol Building, service dogs by their side, and said the service dogs have helped them lead productive lives and alleviate their PTSD symptoms. “A lot of them question if they would even be here if it weren’t for their service dogs,” he said, adding that the way PTSD is handled for post-9/11 veterans is different than how “these invisible wounds” were treated with combat veterans in past wars. DeSantis’ explanation of the gravity of just what the legislation calls for echoed what Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.) told reporters during a press conference just moments before. “Sometimes man’s best friend can be man’s best counselor,” Rothfus said. And for Cole Lyle, that sentiment is true. The PAWS Act is the project that Lyle, who served overseas in the Marine Corps for six years, has dedicated much of his life to over the past several months as the Texas resident has traveled to Washington, D.C. numerous times and met with countless elected officials. With Kaya, his own service dog, by his side, Lyle applauded the legislation and told reporters that without her, who he obtained with the help of his family through a third-party source, he would not have been standing there Wednesday — just mere steps from the U.S. Capitol. “I do believe that this [program] will help reduce the number of veteran suicides which is still a horrible, horrible thing that veterans deal with every day — the loss of their own brothers,” Lyle said. “It’s something I continue to struggle with, but with Kaya, she really helps me in transitional periods of my life, difficult moments in my life, and without her I don’t think I would be where I am today, so I have a personal interest in this policy solution and making it happen.” Image via Instagram @kayalyle In an interview with TheBlaze in November, before the legislation had even been created, Lyle had said, “One thing that a dog does that a pill doesn’t do is give you a sense of purpose again.” And it’s no question that Lyle’s purpose, his dedication to the creation of the PAWS Act, is prodigious, especially for veterans like himself. “You’ve got a guy like Cole Lyle; he’s out here beating the streets here and the halls of Congress lobbying people,” DeSantis said. “When he goes in there and tells people his story, it’s very difficult for members to say they don’t support it because it is a common sense reform.” That reform was also praised by Rory Diamond Wednesday, the executive director of the veterans organization K9s For Warriors which is the largest provider of service dogs to veterans with PTSD. “We work with veterans every single day,” Diamond said. “Almost all veterans that we serve on our campus have an incredibly high chance of committing suicide.” “This is absolutely critical to stopping [suicide],” Diamond said of the PAWS Act. The legislation also calls for the Government Accountability Office to track the program as well as render a study on its effectiveness. DeSantis noted that studies have already been commissioned that track the effectiveness of service dogs with veterans with PTSD, and he said that he believes the results will be “relatively positive.” In order to fund the program and all that accompanies it, the legislation calls for $10 million to be appropriated from 2017 to 2022, an amount that would be otherwise be appropriated for the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Human Resources and Administration. “It makes sense; we’re not spending any more money; we’re just redirecting money out of the bureaucracy to the veterans,” DeSantis explained, adding that he hopes to see the bill pushed through Congress “quickly.” And as DeSantis said Wednesday, just before he was to file the legislation, “the concept is simple” — it will save lives. Credit Kaitlyn Schallhorn at the Blaze
GWEN IFILL: Now: offering higher education to those who have served. Many Americans join the military right out of high school. And once they return, some colleges are now giving them a chance to learn at the country’s top-tier schools. Special correspondent Jackie Judd reports for our weekly education series, Making the Grade. JACKIE JUDD: This was the classroom that taught Nicole Leadenham the lessons of war during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. NICOLE LEADENHAM, Army Veteran: I left for basic training 10 hours after I graduated high school. So that was going to be what I was going to do. JACKIE JUDD: Today, this is the 34-year old’s classroom, Vassar College in New York’s Hudson Valley. NICOLE LEADENHAM: I think that this is the time that I was meant to be here, at this stage in my life. I can really take advantage of the academics and, you know, learning. JACKIE JUDD: Leadenham, a junior and one of 30 post-9/11 vets at Vassar, is here because president Catharine Hill wanted to somehow close the education gap between young people who go off to elite campuses like this one and those who enlist and go off to fight the wars. CATHARINE BOND HILL, President, Vassar College: More of the young men and women who are enlisting are coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. And it just seems to me that part of the reward or the return for doing that is that they get access to education when they come back. JACKIE JUDD: Did you feel that this grateful nation notion, was it words and not action? CATHARINE BOND HILL: I think the evidence absolutely suggested that it was words and not action. JACKIE JUDD: The Veterans Administration says more than one million vets are using G.I. benefits. Most attend public or for-profit schools. The number at top-tier colleges and universities is so small, it is not even known. A few years back, Vassar invested in a campaign to attract veterans to apply. None did, even though their education would have been fully paid for. So, the college turned to the Posse Foundation, which is expert at reaching nontraditional students. For 25 years, it’s been sending groups, or posses, of students to elite colleges, students with academic and leadership potential who don’t fit the mold. Founder Debbie Bial thought the same model would work for veterans. DEBBIE BIAL, The Posse Foundation: Posse is about helping the top colleges and universities think about how to build a diverse student body, how to get as rich a dialogue going on campus as they possibly can, how to create community and build bridges across the various communities on campus. It made sense to us to include a piece of our population that served the country. MICHAEL SMITH, Posse Student, Wesleyan University: I think it’s going to allow for the trajectory of my life to be more vertical, by virtue of being here. JACKIE JUDD: Posse veteran Michael Smith, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, is a sophomore at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. That school joined the program two years ago. MICHAEL SMITH: By virtue of the educational experience I’m getting, by virtue of the skills I’m developing, and by virtue of the resources that are — that I just wouldn’t have had access to. JACKIE JUDD: Before arriving on campus, the veterans go through a kind of boot camp in New York City. It is four weeks of preparing for rigorous academics, learning how to craft a college term paper, and team-building, so the veterans know that, once they get here, they have a circle of support if they need it. But there are still hurdles. Leadenham needed to brush up on some old, forgotten skills. NICOLE LEADENHAM: I had problems with knowing how to study. It’s a very tangible skill that I didn’t have anymore, and I couldn’t even remember how I had done it before. So, I had gone to my professors’ office hours, stuff like that, being like, how can I better absorb the material? JACKIE JUDD: Another Vassar vet, Eduardo De La Torre, lives off campus with his young family. As the leader of a first-responder medical unit in Iraq, he frequently faced life-and-death situations. With that past experience and his current family obligations, he admits that mixing with other younger students can be awkward. EDUARDO DE LA TORRE, Posse Student, Vassar College: They’re like, yes, we’re going to do a study group today. I will text you later. And the next thing you know, you’re getting a text at midnight: “Hey, we’re going to go meet up at the retreat to go study for like an hour over this.” So, it’s been difficult building relationships with the students. JACKIE JUDD: Wesleyan sophomore Bryan Stascavage found himself in the middle of a full-throated culture clash on the very liberal campus. Stascavage, an Iraq War veteran and a conservative, was vilified after writing a column for the college newspaper critical of Black Lives Matter. BRYAN STASCAVAGE, Posse Student, Wesleyan University: The veterans that live here at the house with me looked at me wide-eyed like, what did you do, what did you write? And I knew that the articles that I were writing were not the prevailing opinion on campus. And I knew that it was only a matter of time when, I like to say that I connect with a beehive. MICHAEL ROTH, President, Wesleyan University: Unlike a fighting unit, where you really need cohesion and you all have to point in the same direction, at a university, you can afford dissent and controversy, as long as you learn to listen while that’s going on. JACKIE JUDD: Though difficult in the moment, Wesleyan president Michael Roth says the episode ultimately was good for the community. MICHAEL ROTH: That’s what you want, because, if you’re learning to listen, you’re learning to learn. JACKIE JUDD: It became a teachable moment. MICHAEL ROTH: It became a very teachable moment. BRYAN STASCAVAGE: I don’t want to be in an environment where everybody thinks the same as me, because you just don’t learn that way. EDUARDO DE LA TORRE: I think the military is stereotypically seen as something very conservative, and being in a very liberal campus, you can feel shut off, and you can feel like my voice isn’t going to be accepted here, and it’s not going to be heard. JACKIE JUDD: Still, many of the younger, more traditional students clearly appreciate being exposed to the experience and world view of their ex-military classmates. MAGGIE KENNEDY, Studen, Vassar College: I think it’s great because it gives a lot of different perspectives, especially at a liberal school, where a lot of people maybe not pro-military, per se. YANIV YAFFE, Student, Vassar College: It’s easy to in a class criticize American foreign policy, for example. You know, we’re so distant from things like Iraq and Afghanistan, but when you have a soldier who has been there, it really changes the conversation. EDUARDO DE LA TORRE: A student came up to me and they said, “I really appreciate you talking about that, because your service reminded me of my grandfather, and he was a World War II vet, and it was really hard for him to talk about anything. And it just made me really appreciate your service and what you did for me.” That’s a meaningful gesture. JACKIE JUDD: A thousand veterans applied to Posse for the 30 slots in the next freshman class, which, along with Wesleyan and Vassar, will include Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Posse’s Debbie Bial expects that, in five years, about a dozen private liberal arts colleges will be a part of the program, giving other vets opportunities they never would have imagined, while also bringing their hard-won perspective to campuses previously shut off to military culture. The veterans also say the program has something to teach the entire country. NICOLE LEADENHAM: We’re capable of more than what we have been pigeonholed into. So, I think it’s important to know that we’re not just these broken people coming back, incapable of succeeding within society. JACKIE JUDD: A Vassar education has given Leadenham the confidence to plan for a future that includes helping other veterans find their own way back from the war. Credit > For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is Jackie Judd in Poughkeepsie, New York.