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In This Issue: July 19, 2012 Latest News

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VVA Press Release

Karl Marlantes to Receive Arts Award
at VVA National Leadership Conference

(Washington, D.C.) – Karl Marlantes, a former Marine and the author of the best-selling Vietnam War novel Matterhorn, will receive the Excellence in the Arts Award at Vietnam Veterans of America's National Leadership Conference at the Omni Hotel in Irving, Texas. Marlantes, a former Rhodes Scholar, served for a year as a Marine Lieutenant in Vietnam, where he was severely wounded and was awarded the Navy Cross. He will receive the honor at the Awards Banquet on Saturday evening, August 11. 
"Karl Marlantes is richly deserving of this award," said Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan. "It took him more than thirty years to write Matterhorn, but it was well worth the wait. This is an extremely powerful literary novel that shows war as it truly was."

[ read complete press release ]

PTSD Mobile Site

National Center for PTSD Launches New Mobile Site

PTSD Mobile Web

On your mobile device, you will be automatically redirected to the new site if you go to www.ptsd.va.gov, or you can check the site out on your desktop at www.ptsd.va.gov/m

Institute of Medicine Report Released

IOM Study Calls for Better Assessment of VA and DOD PTSD Programs

On July 13, the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) released a comprehensive review of the VA and DoD programs for assessing and treating PTSD.  The report concluded that the two departments need to improve their assessment of how well their many treatment programs work, as well as find better ways of coordinating care. The nearly 400-page report represents the first half of a multiyear review of the broad range of PTSD screening and care services provided by the two departments. A second report, to be released in 2014, will assess emerging treatments. The Pentagon is financing the studies by the IOM, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Click here to read the report 

VVA Responds to IOM Report

Also on July 13, Vietnam Veterans of America issued a statement in response to the IOM report. Click here to view VVA’s statement.

CalVet and CRB Reports

CA Women Veterans Survey Report Released

On July 2, the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) and the California State Library’s California Research Bureau (CRB) released their full report of "California’s Women Veterans: Responses to the 2011 Survey". This is the second iteration of this survey, the first of which was conducted in 2009 at the request of the California Commission on the Status of Women (Commission) and Assembly member (now Senator) Lois Wolk.  Last year, CalVet and the Commission asked CRB to conduct a second survey to measure the current needs of women veterans and establish a baseline for service utilization. Nearly 900 women veterans participated in the 2011 survey; a considerably larger sample than the first. The survey sample included all branches of the military and eras of service from World War II to Operation New Dawn. Both former officer and enlisted women were represented.

The 43-question survey asked about needs at the time of separation from the military and about current needs in both healthcare and non-healthcare topics. It also included questions to determine knowledge of services available to women veterans and utilization of those services. Key findings from the report include the following:  many women veterans are unaware of state and federal services and benefits; women veterans need help finding employment when they separate from the service; and women veterans want services geared toward their unique needs, including women-specific healthcare and help with military sexual trauma (MST).  CalVet and CRB will distribute the report to lawmakers, veteran service organizations, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help inform policymakers about California’s women veterans. The report is available online at  the CRB web site at www.library.ca.gov/crb/12/12-004.pdf and online at the CalVet web site at http://www.calvet.ca.gov/WomenMinority/WomenSurvey.aspx

HELP Committee Decision

Predatory-for-Profit School Loses Accreditation

On July 9, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), released the following statement after a decision by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) to deny initial accreditation to Ashford University, a for-profit college owned by Bridgepoint Education:  “Given what we’ve uncovered in the HELP Committee’s investigation of the for-profit higher education industry, I continue to have serious concerns about whether Bridgepoint Education and their school Ashford University – along with other for-profit schools – are providing a quality education to their student population, the majority of which are enrolled online.  In reaching today’s decision, I am pleased that WASC has conducted a careful and thoughtful review of the company, and hope they will continue to remain vigilant to ensure that the schools they accredit are truly preparing students for success.”

As Chairman of the HELP Committee, Harkin has conducted an in-depth investigation into for-profit higher education companies over the past two years, uncovering deceptive marketing practices, huge profits, poor student outcomes, and questionable investment of taxpayer-funded education benefits.  Last year, Harkin convened a hearing that examined for-profit industry practices using Bridgepoint Education as a case study.

IOM Report

IOM Report on Medicare Payment Adjustments, Part 2

Although Medicare is a national program, it adjusts payments to hospitals and health care practitioners according to the geographic location in which they provide service, acknowledging that the cost of doing business varies around the country. Under the adjustment systems, payments in high-cost areas are increased relative to the national average, and payments in low-cost areas are reduced. Health and Human Services asked the IOM to conduct a two-part study to recommend corrections of inaccuracies and inequities in geographic adjustments to Medicare payments. In this report, the committee applies the first report's recommendations in order to determine their potential effect on Medicare payments to hospitals and clinical practitioners. 

[ Read the Report ]

Hypertension Survey Findings

Study Finds Hypertension Rates Steady From 2007 to 2010

About 30 percent of Americans have hypertension, a rate that has remained stable since 2007, according to research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  Blood pressure awareness, management, and control increased overall from 1999 to 2010 but not between 2007 and 2010. The prevention, detection, and management of the condition are important public-health goals, researchers said.

View the original article: TheHeart.org (Montreal)

Joining Forces

Railway Industry Announces Job Opportunities For Vets

As reported in a July 10 release from the American Forces Press Service, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines considering separating from the active-duty military this year may seek employment options in the railways industry. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the 5,000-job pledge in a conference call with reporters, making rail the latest industry to offer jobs as part of the Joining Forces campaign. He was joined by Ed Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, and Navy Capt. Brad Cooper, director of Joining Forces, which First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, created to help service members, veterans, and their families.

What is unique about the announcement, Cooper said, is that the 5,000 rail jobs are open now or will be in the very near future. They are listed on the association's website, http://www.aar.org.The jobs, offered by approximately 500 companies, range from operating locomotives to working in signaling and telecommunications. "It's the whole spectrum of work," Cooper said, noting that most of the jobs are in freight rail, but some are also with Amtrak, commuter rails, and rail supply companies. “The industry is hiring because it is growing,” Hamberger said. “With some $23 billion in investments at the same time that nearly a quarter of the freight rail workforce will be eligible to retire by 2015, we want to reach out and let veterans know that we're hiring. We've learned that the skills service members learn in the armed forces translate very well to our industry. We, first and foremost, are focused on safety. You learn in the armed services that if you don't follow the rules, bad things happen,” Hamberger noted.

News from NIH

Skin Cells Yield Clues to Parkinson's Disease

Scientists are able to gain new insights into Parkinson's disease by reprogramming skin cells from patients into neurons. The technology can help researchers understand how the disease develops and which drug treatments might be effective for which patients. Parkinson's disease is a neurologic disorder that destroys neurons in the brain. Loss of these neurons leads to involuntary shaking, slowed movements, muscle stiffness, and other symptoms. Medications can help manage the symptoms, but there's no treatment to slow or stop the disease. Most cases of Parkinson's disease are sporadic, meaning that the cause is unknown. However, many genetic regions have been found to harbor variations that affect the risk of developing the disease. Researchers have also identified mutations in 9 genes that can cause Parkinson's disease.

A research team led by Dr. Ole Isacson of McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School set out to use stem cell technology to gain new insights. They collected skin cells from five patients with genetically inherited forms of Parkinson's. Three of the patients had mutations in a gene called LRRK2. Two others were siblings who had mutations in the gene PINK1. The scientists also collected cells from two of the siblings' family members who didn't have Parkinson's or any known mutations linked to it. The study was funded primarily by NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). It appeared on July 4, 2012, in Science Translational Medicine. The scientists first reprogrammed the skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells called induced pluripotent stem cells. These have the ability to turn into almost any type of cell in the body. Next, they coaxed the cells into becoming neurons, including the type that die in Parkinson's disease.

Studies have suggested that problems in mitochondria, organelles that use oxygen to extract energy from glucose, may underlie Parkinson's disease. The researchers thus looked for signs of impaired mitochondria in the neurons. They found that oxygen consumption rates were lower in cells with LRRK2 mutations and higher in cells with the PINK1 mutation. PINK1mutant cells were also more vulnerable to oxidative stress, a damaging process that could potentially be counteracted with antioxidants. The researchers exposed the cells to mitochondrial toxins and found that, compared to neurons from healthy people, the patient-derived neurons were more likely to become damaged or die. The team next used the cells to test drug treatments that have shown promise in animal models of Parkinson's. All the neurons were partly protected from toxin damage by the antioxidant coenzyme Q10. The immunosuppressant rapamycin helped prevent damage to neurons with LRRK2 mutations but didn't protect those with PINK1 mutations. "These findings suggest new opportunities for clinical trials of Parkinson's disease, in which cell reprogramming technology could be used to identify the patients most likely to respond to a particular intervention," says Dr. Margaret Sutherland, a NINDS program director. The technology might also help identify the most promising treatments for people with sporadic Parkinson's disease.

Because of their potential, the cell lines developed for this study are being made available to researchers through an NIH-funded cell line repository. Similar reprogrammed cells have also recently shown promise for exploring other disorders, such as Huntington's disease.

Military Failure

Military Failure:  the Lackland Rape Scandal

On Monday, July 16, Air Force Sergeant Luis Walker was supposed to face a court-martial in Texas—the first case in the military's biggest sexual assault scandal in 16 years, and one that is shining a harsh spotlight on the military's supposed "zero-tolerance" policy toward sex offenders. The court-martial has been delayed. In the year since Walker was first accused of rape, an internal investigation has discovered 31 more victims, at least five other instructors have been charged with rape or inappropriate relations with female trainees, and 35 more have been removed from their positions pending investigations. Walker has been charged with multiple counts of rape and aggravated sexual assault.

On June 28, California Congresswoman Jackie Speier addressed the Lackland case on the floor of the House of Representatives. "Nothing has changed," she said, calling for a hearing into the alleged abuse. "We need to know once and for all why instructors have been permitted to abuse power so freely and we need to know from the top that the phrase 'zero tolerance for sexual assault in the military' is a fact, not a talking point."  The military first pledged to crack down on sexual assault and harassment within its ranks in 1992, in the wake of a massive scandal that erupted at the Navy fliers' annual Tailhook Association convention in Las Vegas, where some 90 victims were allegedly assaulted by as many as 175 drunken officers. A year and a half later, a Pentagon report found that Tailhook was not an isolated incident, but the culmination of a "long-term failure of leadership."  The Navy's chief of operations, Admiral Frank Kelso, pledged that the event would transform the institution. Tailhook "brought to light the fact that we had an institutional problem in how we treated women," he said. "In that regard, it was a watershed event that has brought about institutional change."  But just four years later, another scandal erupted—this time, at Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where assault charges were brought against a dozen male officers for sexual assault on female trainees. Then, in 2003, the U.S. Air Force Academy was also accused of systemically ignoring an ongoing sexual assault problem on its premises.

In a phone interview with a reporter from The Daily Beast, Speier called the similarities between the Lackland case and Aberdeen "chilling," and expressed her frustration with repeated but seemingly empty calls for "zero-tolerance." She estimated that half a million people have been sexually assaulted while serving in the U.S. military. "You have sexual predators that are on the prowl," she said. "I'm sick of the excuses."  A 2012 Pentagon report found that, last year, 3,192 incidents of sexual assault were reported within the U.S. military—up 1 percent from 2010. According to the Defense Department's own estimate, just 15 percent of actual incidents are reported, putting the real number at some 19,000 assaults each year. Under current policy, reports of sexual assault are handled directly within the military's chain of command. There's little incentive to investigate accusations, and as a result, cases are rarely prosecuted. According to the report, nearly 70 percent of substantiated, "actionable" cases did not go to trial because of lower-level command discretion.

That experience is not an uncommon one.  As survivors of military sexual harassment and their advocates say, when it comes to rape within the ranks, the attacks themselves are just the tip of the iceberg. More damaging still is the way the assault cases are handled. "Congress has done a number of hearings, and in each of them, the victims and their heartbreaking stories of their experiences with the military are equally as disturbing as their stories of sexual assaults," says Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio. "Many times, they say they were re-victimized."  Congressman Turner and Representative Niki Tsongas, who formed a Congressional caucus on military sexual assault this year, wrote a letter last week requesting that the Air Force brief their caucus on its response to the Lackland scandal. "[Secretary of Defense Leon] Panetta has said that the military has a 'zero-tolerance' policy," Tsongas said. "Well, we've heard those words before."  The military's emphasis on hierarchy and authority means that many officers are more inclined to protect the institution than the victim, says Elizabeth Hillman, president of the National Institute for Military Justice. "Look at Penn State," she says. "What happened there is just what happened in the Catholic Church and the U.S. military."

History Facts

45 Years Ago Today: July 19, 1967

Lt. Dennis W. Peterson, U.S. Navy, was lost when the SH-3A Sea King helicopter that he was piloting was shot down in Ha Nam Province, Vietnam. He was accounted for on March 30, 2012.

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