VA n g u a rd outlook
Glasses for Homeless Vets
Women Employees in Harm’s Way
VA’s Newest Shrine
The Search for Our World War I Vets
July/August 2006 1
VA n g u a rd
Serving in Harm’s Way 6
Part 2 of women employees deployed in the war on terror
Preparing for the Next One 12
14 Facilities in hurricane-prone areas are ready for the 2006 season
VA’s Newest Shrine 14
Georgia National Cemetery is dedicated in a June ceremony
Seeing a Way Out of Homelessness 16
A pilot program is helping to restore the vision of homeless veterans
Wrapping Up the Diamond Jubilee 18
VA’s yearlong celebration of its 75th anniversary concludes
The Search for Our World War I Veterans 21
Time is running out to find and recognize the last of a vanishing breed
16 Privacy & Security Awareness Week 23
A look at how facilities around the country observed the event
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games 32
Ever wonder what it takes to put on this major event?
18 4 From the Secretary
24 Around Headquarters
VAnguard 28 Medical Advances
VA’s Employee Magazine
Vol. LII, No. 4
30 Have You Heard
Printed on 50% recycled paper
Editor: Lisa Respess
Assistant Editor/Senior Writer: Renee McElveen
Photo Editor: Robert Turtil
Published by the Office of Public Affairs (80D)
On the cover
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Formerly homeless veteran Gary Bracey
810 Vermont Ave., N.W. gets an eye exam at the Baltimore VA Medi-
Washington, D.C. 20420 cal Center. He is one of the beneficiaries of
(202) 273-5746 a pilot program at the Baltimore VAMC and
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org four other VA medical centers that is pro-
www.va.gov/opa/feature/vanguard viding glasses for homeless veterans who
would not normally qualify for VA eyewear.
photo by Robert Turtil
2 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd letters
Warning Labels on 64 percent of Americans are in 2005. Retired and Still Serving
Fast Foods? overweight or obese, and 7 These increases are noth- During my more than 27
When I have an appointment percent (or 20.8 million) have ing new. People who are years of service with the U.S.
at the VA hospital, I like to diabetes. Among veterans, it health conscious have known Army, I have had many occa-
get there early in order to read said, these figures are higher, this for years. What is new is sions to use VA medical ser-
the veterans magazines. This and the reason for this was the that this is the first time a gov- vices. I can say for myself, the
time I picked up the March/ emergence of the factory ernment official has publicly service was always of the best
April issue of VAnguard and farm/fast food industry as well stated this message. It seems quality and I was treated with
read an article by the Secretary as “processed” foods, which that since the beef industry respect.
of Veterans Affairs, Mr. contain large doses of salt, fat sued Oprah Winfrey, people I retired as of January
Nicholson, about the prob- and sugar. of influence have been reluc- 2006 and am now a disabled
lems of obesity and diabetes In a separate study of In- tant to publicly state the vet. I now have the honor of
among veterans, as well as the diana residents, the obesity health hazards of the factory being part of the VA team as a
general population. The article rate has gone from 25.5 per- farm/fast food industry. program support specialist at
went on to say that nationally, cent in 2004 to 27.3 percent Documentaries such as the Vocational Rehabilitation
“Super Size Me” and books and Employment office in
such as Fast Food Nation, al- Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
though critically acclaimed, go I am pleased each day
largely ignored by the public. that I can now help my fellow
Why? Some people have tried disabled vets by helping the
to claim that their obesity is a very professional staff with the
disease due to their addiction daily office administrative
to fast foods. Why do people functions, thus allowing the
who know something is harm- counselors to have more time
ful to them do it anyway? to devote to my fellow dis-
Maybe there is something in abled vets.
fast foods that is just as addic- Jerry Abney
tive as cigarettes and alcohol. Program Support Specialist
Nutritionists say that we VR&E Office
should frequent fast-food res- Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
taurants no more than once a
month. The FDA is now pro-
posing that all restaurants (I
believe they are doing this be- Corrections
cause they can’t single out fast-
food restaurants) provide nu- Credits for two photographs
trition labels on what they sell. we ran in the May/June issue
Maybe what we need are were incorrect. The photo on
warning labels on fast foods, page 18 was taken by JR
the same as cigarettes. Garza; the photo on page 21
Ray Wilson was taken by Amanda
New Middletown, Ind. Stanislaw.
We Want to Hear from You
Have a comment on something you’ve seen in
VAnguard? We invite reader feedback. Send your com-
ments to email@example.com. You can also write to us at:
VAnguard, Office of Public Affairs (80D), Department
Dance of Honor of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., N.W., Wash-
Robert Nez of the Navajo Nation dances with others in the American
ington, D.C., 20420, or fax your letter to (202) 273-
Indian Veterans Gourd Dance performed June 29 at the New Mexico 6702. Include your name, title and VA facility. We
VA Health Care System in Albuquerque. Known as a “warriors’ won’t be able to publish every letter, but we’ll use rep-
dance,” the gourd dance honors all veterans. Nez has been a gourd
dancer for 11 years. He dances in honor of two uncles who died in
resentative ones. We may need to edit your letter for
World War II. The dance was sponsored by the New Mexico VA’s Na- length or clarity.
tive American Special Emphasis Committee.
July/August 2006 3
from the secretary VA n g u a rd
The Yearlong Observance of VA’s 75th Anniversary
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
The Diamond Jubilee of the geles Times, came to VA for that we will continue making into the next era of VA ser-
Department of Veterans Af- comment. As one reporter put a difference in the lives of re- vice, not the least of which is
fairs was a smashing success it, VA was included in their turning veterans and those of addressing our handling of
and I could not have been news coverage as “an example the future by helping them sensitive veteran data. The
more proud of the participa- of somebody who does it and their families have a home theft of VA data earlier this
tion and effort of VA staff right.” of their own. year was a wake-up call for
from Maine to Manila. The headline of a six- VA’s disability compensa- our entire agency, and we have
From the opening mo- page Business Week article on tion and pension programs already taken a number of
ments of our kick-off cer- VA health care called it “The also play a large part in ensur- steps to remedy the situation
emony at Constitution Hall in Best Medical Care in the ing the security of veterans and improve on it. Our goal is
Washington, D.C., last July to U.S.,” and U.S. News & World and their families. Last year, simple: for VA to become the
the finale in the Capitol Ro- Report published an article VA provided $30.8 billion in gold standard for information
tunda this July, the yearlong that called VA hospitals “mod- disability compensation, death and data security, and to be-
observance of VA’s 75th anni- els of top-notch care.” Clearly, compensation and pensions to come as widely respected for
versary highlighted the many our anniversary year was one some three-and-a-half million this as we are for our elec-
achievements of VA and our in which our fine reputation veterans, and the spouses, chil- tronic medical records.
dedicated employees, and grew and received the recogni- dren and parents of deceased There always is and al-
showcased the proud legacy of tion it deserved. veterans. The fulfillment of ways will be more to do, and I
our service to veterans. During our 75th anniver- this commitment does more have every confidence that VA
Now, we begin this next
period of VA history on solid
footing. The safety and effi- The Diamond Jubilee was a smashing success and I could
ciency of our electronic health not have been more proud of the participation and
records was recognized in July
by Harvard University, which effort of VA staff from Maine to Manila.
awarded VA the very presti-
gious Innovations in Govern- sary year, VA reached an im- than provide money to veter- will rise to this challenge. Be it
ment Award. More than 1,000 portant milestone in another ans and their survivors; it increased vigilance with sensi-
entries competed for this way. The agency guaranteed helps give them the peace of tive information, compassion-
honor but at the end of the its 18 millionth home loan as mind that comes from eco- ate health care, providing ben-
day, it was VA and our health part of a program that has nomic stability. efits to injured veterans or
care technology that were rec- loomed large in making the VA’s Diamond Jubilee conducting a fitting burial for
ognized for excellence. United States a nation of year also saw major progress a homeless veteran, VA has
Awards are a fine testa- homeowners. This 18 mil- on our commitment to ex- been there for more than 75
ment to things done well, but lionth home loan guarantee pand the national cemetery years and we will continue to
the practical aspects of our went to a young family in system. America is saying its be there for the next 75.
electronic health records and Texas and it exemplifies not final farewell to the generation It is an honor for us to
prescription drug programs— only our service to veterans that fought and won World serve together those who
which save lives every day— but VA’s positive impact on War II, with more than 1,000 served us in uniform. We are
are also being increasingly rec- the nation and its economy. veterans from that war dying the agents of a grateful nation,
ognized by the media and the Homeownership is a cor- every day. To meet those who take great pride in fulfill-
American public. nerstone of the American needs, the number of national ing our noble mission.
Just days after VA re- Dream and VA has been in cemeteries, each of which is
ceived the Harvard award, the the forefront of making this maintained as a shrine to
Institute of Medicine issued a dream a reality ever since those who served, has grown Read more about the con-
report on prescription drug er- Franklin Roosevelt signed the to 123 over the past year, and
clusion of VA’s Diamond
rors in American health care GI Bill into law in 1944. We we remain on track to con-
and a number of news agen- will guarantee millions more tinue this expansion. Jubilee year on page 18 of
cies, including ABC World home loans over the next 75 There are also challenges this issue.
News Tonight and the Los An- years, and you can rest assured that lie before us as we move
4 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd outlook
Looking Back With Pride in Our Accomplishments
Jonathan Perlin, M.D.
Under Secretary for Health
On Aug. 11, I will resign my more than 6,000 lives just Today, VHA is solidifying laborative practice.
position as Under Secretary among veterans with emphy- our critical partnership with I am proud to know that
for Health. I am honored to sema. our academic affiliates on a I will leave VHA better than it
have had the opportunity to Veterans today are more basis of trust, equity and syn- was and with veterans receiv-
serve VA, veterans, and my satisfied with their health care ergy; our research program is ing far better care than ever
fellow VHA employees since than patients anywhere else. squarely focused on its core before. My goal for VHA has
1999. In that time, we have VHA is the benchmark for in- mission of improving the always been that we be the
made VHA the gold standard patient and outpatient care health and well-being of veter- leaders in providing safe, effec-
in health care, and have made and pharmacy services in the ans; and VHA leads America tive, efficient and compassion-
great strides toward providing externally administered in adopting the principles of ate health care. We will know
veterans with care that is safe, American Customer Satisfac- the President’s New Freedom that we have reached this goal
effective, efficient and com- tion Index. And Americans are Commission on Mental when every veteran receives
passionate. It has been my more satisfied with the value Health. We’ve also improved such care without the need for
great privilege to be a part of of the care we provide—The the percentage of community- an advocate. There is much
this renaissance. New York Times, The Washing- based outpatient clinics offer- work still to do, but I leave
Our accomplishments ton Post, Washington Monthly, ing specialty mental health VHA in the capable hands of
over the past few years have Business Week and U.S. News care services from 71 percent Dr. Mike Kussman, who has
been widely recognized—by & World Report all have lauded two years ago to more than 90 been chosen as acting Under
the news media, by the health VHA as a model health care percent today. Secretary for Health, and my
care community, and, most system, efficiently providing In the future, genomic other colleagues—men and
importantly, by veterans them- the best care anywhere. medicine offers the promise of women who have already
selves. Just last month, for ex- And even as VHA’s bud- allowing us to treat each brought about one revolution
ample, we received the presti- get has doubled proportionate patient’s disease uniquely, not in health care, and are fully
gious Innovations in Govern- to patient growth, and as our just similarly to the way that capable of bringing about an-
ment Award from Harvard quality has improved to disease is treated in other pa- other.
University’s Kennedy School
of Government and the Ash
Institute for Democratic Gov- I am proud to know that I will leave VHA better than
ernance and Innovation for it was and with veterans receiving far better care than
our leadership in combining
performance measurement ever before.
and electronic health records
to improve care for veterans. benchmark status, our cost- tients, and I hope that we will Thank you all for your
Last year, the RAND per-patient remains un- become the vanguard for col- help and support—and for the
Corporation, an esteemed changed from 1995; adjusted laborative and interdiscipli- honor and privilege of serving
health services research organi- for inflation, VHA’s care is 32 nary training among physi- with you, and serving the
zation, found that VA system- percent less expensive than it cians, just as VA, in the past, nation’s veterans. I wish you
atically outperformed all other was a decade ago. has been the vanguard for col- all the best in the future.
health care providers across a
spectrum of 294 directly com-
parable measures of quality in Kussman Named Acting Under Secretary for Health
disease prevention and treat- Dr. Michael J. Kussman will serve as VA’s acting Under Secretary for Health while the De-
ment. This translates into the
partment conducts a search to replace outgoing Under Secretary for Health Dr. Jonathan
best rates of immunization,
gender-specific health services Perlin. Kussman, who becomes acting Under Secretary on Aug. 12, has served as VA’s
(such as breast and cervical Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health since August 2005. Before coming to VA,
cancer screening) and diabetes Kussman had a military medical career spanning three decades. His service included stints
care available anywhere. Im- as commander of the Walter Reed Health Care System in Washington, D.C., and com-
proved pneumonia vaccina- mander of the Europe Regional Medical Command.
tion rates alone have saved
July/August 2006 5
feature VA n g u a rd
Second of two parts
Women employees have been deploying in support of the war on terror
in record numbers. Here are some of their stories, in their own words.
omen are serving on the front lines in the war tack. I thought, “Well, I guess this is for real, I’m in the
on terror in record numbers. Fifty-one women war.”
have been killed in Iraq and more than 370 The hardest part of my deployment was treating the
wounded as of April 2006, according to the Department soldiers who had body parts missing due to IED explo-
of Defense. sions. These kids are younger than my children and their
They are our mothers, daughters and friends. And in- lives changed drastically in a flash. The most memorable
creasingly, they are our colleagues as well. More than 700 experience was the young soldier who had a gut wound
female VA employees have been called to active military that we were dressing. He handed me his digital camera
service since 2001. Through an informal survey conducted and asked me to take a picture of his wound as we took off
via e-mail to VA nurses, social workers and women vet- the bandages … what a souvenir for him.
eran health managers, VAnguard uncovered the stories of There is little in my normal military experience or ci-
about 50 women employees, most of whom deployed to vilian job that could compare to my deployment to Iraq.
combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I left Iraq and rotated to Ramstein from August
Their stories are raw and emotional. Many shared 2005 to January 2006, my role as the chief nurse was
similar fears, such as anxiety over the constant threat of much like my job at the VA (management), except we
attack. Others struggled with the grim realities of treating had to move and care for the wounded troops. I don’t
combat casualties. All shared the hardships of separation “hump” litters in my civilian job.
from family and friends, and the lack of privacy or crea-
ture comforts. In the May/June issue, we shared some of
their stories with you. Here are more, in their own words.
Cookie S. Avvampato, R.N., nurse manager, Southern
Arizona VA Health Care System, Tucson
I deployed on June 1, 2004, with the Air Force
Reserve’s 944th ASTS (Air Staging and Transportation
Squadron). We began in Camp Wolverine, Kuwait, and
later moved to Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, and then
forward to Balad, Iraq. My job involved keeping track of
all injured troops in the Contingency Aeromedical Stag-
ing Facility and providing reports to the medical crew that
flew the patients to Ramstein, Germany, for advanced
care. COURTESY COOKIE AVVAMPATO
There were no real surprises about my deployment, “There is little in my normal military experience or civilian job that
except when we went forward and were on the C-130 and could compare to my deployment to Iraq,” says Cookie Avvampato,
were told we had to circle because the base was under at- left, a nurse manager in Tucson.
6 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd feature
COURTESY MICHELLE LAFFERTY
Michelle Lafferty meets country singer Mark Wills during a visit orga-
nized by the USO.
Kathleen Michelle Lafferty, administrative support assis-
tant, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston
I am a Yeoman Third Class (E-4) who has been in the
reserves for eight years. I have been serving in the Navy
Cargo Handling Battalion 6 since 2001. We deployed to
Kuwait to support the port operations and move equip-
ment and supplies both in and out of theater and stayed
from August 2004 to March 2005. My duties were to sup-
port the headquarters with security clearance processing,
transportation support, emergency leave paperwork and
I shared a tent with about six other females that I
COURTESY BARBARA BAKER
didn’t know until I got there. Spent the Christmas holi-
Barbara Baker with her husband Bill, who has also served in Iraq days away from my family but was well supported by the
and is there now. They were in theater at the same time for about VA staff back home; I received two large boxes of goodies
three weeks. This photo was taken two days before she left for home.
from my co-workers. I even made some wonderful lifelong
Barbara J. Baker, registered nurse, Charles Wilson friendships with fellow reservists from other parts of the
Outpatient Clinic, Lufkin, Texas United States, as we were merged with other Cargo Han-
I served as a registered nurse with the 228th Com- dling battalions from Ohio,
bat Support Hospital in Tikrit, Iraq, from Dec. 26, 2004, Illinois and California.
to Dec. 1, 2005. I joined the service in 1983 right out of I have to say that I feel
high school for several reasons: I come from a military like I am a different person
family, to help pay for college, and I was pretty gung-ho now that I have been to a
back then and wanted to serve my country. combat zone and defended
There are several memories from my deployment that our country’s freedoms.
I will never forget. The first is the faces of the soldiers and Karen Mack, nurse practi-
their buddies for every trauma I was involved with. Next tioner, VA Connecticut
are the people I served with. In the military, and especially Healthcare System, West
on deployments, they become your family. You become so Haven
close so quickly and experience things that no one else I belonged to the 11th
will be able to understand or share. Then there were the Battalion Institutional
sandstorms. They were unbelievable; the sand just gets ev- Training Unit and deployed
erywhere. to Baghdad in October
What I missed the most about my life back home was 2004. I worked in the COURTESY KAREN MACK
being away from my three boys, the freedom to do what I Green Zone with transla- Karen Mack worked in Iraq’s
want when I want, and my bathtub. tors, Iraqi medical doctors Green Zone.
July/August 2006 7
feature VA n g u a rd
and the surgeon general. We developed a medical training way home.
program for the new Iraqi soldiers and life-saving skills for One of my most memorable experiences was when I
new Iraqi police officers. We worked 12-hour days seven flew all over Kuwait and southern Iraq with the Medevac
days a week, except for four hours off on Friday mornings. pilots in a Black Hawk. Other memorable experiences
I guess the biggest surprise about my deployment was were just being able to take care of young wounded and
living in the Green Zone. This area houses all Iraqi gov- detainees and hoping to make a difference. Their faces
ernment buildings, American civilian contractors, security looking up at you and trusting you with their care were
and the American Embassy, so I thought I was going to be my most moving times.
safe. I was gone about one-and-a-half years without being
Well, the mortars started on the second night. They able to come home on leave, so I missed grandchildren be-
were shot randomly and continually. We would have quiet ing born, green grass, my family and friends, and privacy
times, no mortars for a few days, but then it would start (the only place you can be alone is in a port-a-john).
again with multiple rounds. They knew the best times to Mary Gary-Stephens, psychiatric nurse specialist, Louis
hit us were on American holidays and Election Day in Stokes VA Medical Center, Cleveland
November. I’ll never forget when our dining facility was I was assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center
hit on the night before the first Iraqi election and military (WRAMC) in Washington, D.C., from March 2003 to
and civilians were killed. March 2005. I was the clinical nurse specialist for Ward
Cheryl B. Proper, combat veteran coordinator, 53 Psychiatric Continuity Services. On my departure, we
Indianapolis VA Medical Center had provided clinical care coordination to around 400 ser-
“I have been in the Army (active and reserve) for 25 vicemen and women evacuated for psychiatric reasons.
years. I am currently in the 801st Combat Support Hospi- One of the support duties for nursing service was to
tal (Army Reserve) and was deployed from March 2003 to provide triage on the arrival of air evacuation planes com-
October 2004. I ing from Andrews Air Force Base to WRAMC from Ger-
joined the service many. As an officer, I was assigned on a rotating basis as
because I wanted to the officer in charge. We could expect anywhere from a
be an Army nurse few injured soldiers up to 28, which was the most on one
and I come from a night.
military family. This by far was one of the most difficult duties of my
The biggest sur- tour … welcoming injured troops back home, and assist-
prise of my deploy- ing families waiting for their arrival. I was always im-
ment was being ex- pressed with these young soldiers’ courage and good hu-
tended for six mor under difficult circumstances.
months after our My most memorable experiences included seeing
year was up. We some patients with severe post-traumatic stress disorder
were actually in and depression work hard on their traumas and make
front of customs in progress on the road to recovery. In my many years of ex-
Kuwait with a plane perience with WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans, I’ve
planned in less than found that they often wonder how things might have been
24 hours to trans- if they had sought treatment 50 or 30 years ago. This was
port us home when a great opportunity to put that to the test.
we were asked to Leaving my daughter, Taylor, who was 7 years old at
stay to help take the time, was the most difficult part of my entire experi-
care of a large group ence. Since I was stateside I tried to keep in frequent con-
of wounded that tact, and she was able to visit. I think once she saw what I
COURTESY CHERYL PROPER
were expected. was doing she was able to turn her fear into being proud of
Flying out of Iraq on her way home, Cheryl One of the her mom.
Proper “wanted to be joyous, but I had a toughest experi- This has been hard to attempt to separate my
flag-draped soldier at my feet in the back
of the transport plane.” ences was actually thoughts and feelings and keep this short. As with my first
the day we did get deployment I always ask myself, “How have my experi-
to fly out of Iraq to go home. I wanted to be joyous, but I ences helped me to provide better services to the veterans
had a flag-draped soldier at my feet in the back of the I care for?” I think I am still integrating all of this, but I
transport plane. I was happy that I was going home and I know I am grateful for life, family, friends and purposeful
just wished he were going home in a different way. Actu- work. I strive to always treat our veterans with a caring
ally I felt very honored to be able to escort him part of the professionalism, and most of all to listen.
8 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd feature
Lia A. Locasto, program support assistant, Santa Rosa, tive duty, well, it was a “no-brainer,” so here I am.
Calif., Outpatient Clinic
I entered the Marine Corps in January 1981. Went to Editor’s Note: Gunnery Sgt. Locasto was recalled to active duty on
Okinawa, Japan, for a couple of years, then on to Marine April 11, 2006, and expects to remain at Camp Pendleton serving
Corps Air Station El Toro until 1988. I then got out for as a casualty assistance officer until July 2007.
about a year, just long enough to realize I was a better Ma- Anniemarie Harrison Gray, registered nurse, Hunter
rine than civilian, so I came back in. Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, Richmond, Va.
By November 2002, I was in Kuwait. I remained there I served as a flight nurse with the Air Force Reserve’s
until the war started in March 2003. We then pushed 459th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron based at
through “The Line of Departure” and headed into Iraq, Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. My ini-
where I remained for the next couple of months. As our tial deployment was for eight months at Seeb Interna-
tional Airport in Oman.
Later, I was sent to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois
where I coordinated aircraft for wounded troops. Finally, I
returned to Andrews and worked on flights going to
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to pick
up wounded soldiers and take them to hospitals in the
United States. I ended up serving on active duty for 26
months, from December 2002 to February 2005.
My most memorable experiences came as I was caring
for the wounded patients. I didn’t expect to see the things
I saw … I mean guys who got blown up, missing limbs …
that was my biggest wake-up call. Flight nurses are the
Behind the Scenes of VET IT
only ones who bring the boys home when they’re hurt.
And our job never ended.
COURTESY LIA LOCASTO
Lisa J. Cole, physician assistant, Michael E. DeBakey VA
Lia Locasto in a watch tower in Iraq in 2003. Recalled to active duty Medical Center, Houston
in April, she’s serving as a casualty assistance officer at Camp
Capt. Cole served seven years in the Air Force and
currently serves with the Army Reserve. From August
unit received casualties, we needed a casualties assistance 2003 to May 2004, she was activated and sent to the
calls officer back in the rear to tell the families of lost Middle East. She was first stationed at Camp Wolverine
loved ones. After long, arduous meetings with the powers in Kuwait, where she performed post-deployment health
that be, I was picked to fulfill this billet. assessments for
From May 2003 through November 2004, I ran the military person-
Casualties Assistance Calls Office for the 1st Marine Ex- nel to document
peditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif. On Nov. 24, health issues
2004, I retired from the Marine Corps after 22 years of and possible
faithful service. biological and
My time deployed doesn’t compare to any other expe- chemical expo-
rience in my military or civilian career. Marines are a sures.
tight-knit family as it is, but get us in a war zone and the She was
camaraderie is off the charts. We’re closer than brothers, then deployed
closer than best friends. We will die for one another and to Camp Ana-
all the trust within us is put in another Marine’s hands conda in Balad,
and his trust in yours. Iraq, where she
Once I left the Marines, I was like a fish out of water also volunteered
and alone in the world. I’m from a small town, so going with the civil
back to the regular, mundane lifestyle was difficult. For affairs unit to
others, I became the talk of town. They’d listen to me perform health
speak or pay attention to my story, but then it was also as outreach mis-
though they were intimidated. What have they done that sions to the lo-
compares? Would I be too hard to handle or too tough cal villages. She COURTESY LISA COLE
and set in my ways? When I was called by my old com- is currently re- While serving in Iraq, Lisa Cole volunteered for
mand and asked if I would be willing to come back on ac- deployed to Iraq. health outreach missions to local villages.
July/August 2006 9
feature VA n g u a rd
Margaret Rains, clinical coordinator, VA Pacific Islands
Health Care System, Honolulu
I served with Company B, 193rd Aviation, Hawaii
Army National Guard, as a commander and Black Hawk
helicopter pilot in Kandahar, Afghanistan. … Our soldiers
completed over 50,000 man hours in maintenance support
to the 10th Mountain Division during nine months de-
We blended right in with the active-duty 10th Moun-
tain and became a total task force team. It truly exempli-
fies the Army of One concept, with the same mission: to
fight terrorism. We went as a team, worked as a team, and
ensured success for the follow-on units.
COURTESY MARGARET RAINS
Editor’s Note: Our sincere thanks to all of the women who shared
Margaret Rains was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot with the Hawaii their compelling stories of service for this feature. The stories and
Army National Guard in Afghanistan. photos were gathered and compiled by Matt Bristol.
Citizen Soldiers Called to Duty
More than 700 women employees have been called to ac-
tive military service since 2001. Many served on the front
lines in Iraq and Afghanistan; others performed vital support
functions here at home. Their commitment to service re-
flects the true character of the citizen soldier—duty, honor,
country. These are just a few of those who served:
s Cheryl Adams, women’s health coordinator at the Bronx
VAMC, who deployed to Iraq.
s Marie Apelian, a nurse practitioner at the Cincinnati
VAMC, who served with the 452nd Combat Support Hospital
in Kuwait and Iraq.
s Rene A. Bloomer, R.N., a nurse supervisor at the Albany,
N.Y., VAMC, served as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force
Reserve at Ali Al Salem, Kuwait, from September 2004 to
s Pamela J. Breedlove, from the Topeka, Kansas, VAMC,
who served with a Combat Stress Control Unit.
s Shirley L. Caldwell, the associate director of Patient Care/
Nurse Executive at the Las Vegas VAMC, who served 14
months on active duty.
s Johnnie M. Carter, a nurse specialist at the Detroit VAMC,
who serves as a lieutenant colonel with the Army Reserve
and was activated and served at Fort Stewart, Ga., in 2003.
s Daphne T. Cuyler, a human resources specialist at the
Fresno VAMC, who served as a sergeant first class with the
California Army National Guard in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait,
from September 2004 to December 2005. COURTESY MARIE APELIAN
s Jacqueline Deeds-Buford, a nurse practitioner at the
Marie Apelian, a nurse practitioner at the Cincinnati VA Medical
Fayetteville, Ark., VAMC, who deployed for two tours as a Center, is one of the more than 700 women employees called to
flight nurse with the 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squad- active military service since 2001.
10 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd feature
Virginia Army National Guard and deployed to Afghanistan in
s Jaime Perez, a social worker at the Springfield, Ill., Vet
Center, who deployed to Iraq in 2003.
s Marsha Shivley, nurse practitioner at the Poplar Bluff, Mo.,
s Paula Smith, social worker at the Brockton, Mass., Vet
Center, who deployed to Iraq in 2003.
s Frances Snell, a registered nurse at the Cleveland VAMC,
who served in Iraq.
s Susan K. Sonnheim, a nurse at the Milwaukee VAMC, who
served with the Wisconsin Army National Guard and was
wounded in Iraq.
s Melissa D. Strickland, a research pharmacy technician at
the Gainesville, Fla., VAMC, who deployed to Iraq from Feb-
ruary 2003 to October 2004.
COURTESY DAPHNE CUYLER s Bridgette Stump, a member of the nursing staff at the
Lebanon, Pa., VAMC and daughter of Hedy B. Stump (also at
Daphne Cuyler served in Kuwait with the National Guard.
the Lebanon VAMC), who served with the Army Reserve in
ron and served in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Kuwait and Iraq.
Middle East. s Carole S. Wagner, from the St. Louis VAMC, who served at
s Carolyn Doherty, R.N., an operating room nurse at the Tallil Airbase in southern Iraq.
Togus, Maine, VAMC, who served at Camp Doha, Kuwait, s Alicia J. Waters, R.N., VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System,
from June 2002 to June 2003. who served with the 339th Combat Support Hospital in Op-
s Lynn Fisher, R.N., Cleveland VAMC, who served in Iraq. eration Enduring Freedom in 2002.
s Darcie Greuel, a registered nurse at the Milwaukee s Sharon Webb, R.N., Martinsburg, W.Va., VAMC, served
VAMC, who deployed to Afghanistan during Operation En- with the 167th Air National Guard and is currently on her
during Freedom. second deployment.
s Louise M. Guszick, a nurse practitioner at the Wilkes- s Kathleen White, R.N., VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System,
Barre, Pa., VAMC, deployed to Camp Shelby, Miss., on Feb. deployed from September 2004 to March 2006.
17, 2006, to medically clear soldiers for deployment over- s Laura J. Williams, a program support assistant at the
seas. Montrose, N.Y., VAMC, who served in Iraq from February
s Sherryl Kempton, a nurse practitioner at the Togus VAMC, 2004 to February 2005.
who was activated in June 2006 and expected to deploy to
s Elizabeth Lingenfelter, a registered nurse at the Togus,
Maine, VAMC, who is currently in Iraq doing mental health
s Roseanne C. McDermott, VA Pittsburgh Healthcare Sys-
tem, who deployed in 2003 and again in 2005.
s Bonnie McIntosh, social worker at the Providence, R.I.,
VAMC, who deployed to Iraq in 2003.
s Lorri A. McLaughlin, a social worker at the Cincinnati
VAMC, who served in Baghdad with an Army behavioral
s Kristina E. Miller, an informatics administrator at the
Phoenix VAMC, who served in Iraq.
s Courtney Monterusso, a registered nurse at the St. Louis
VAMC, who served with the 320th Air Expeditionary Wing in
Seeb Air Base, Sultanate of Oman.
s Mary Ann Noland, a licensed practical nurse at the COURTESY LOUISE GUSZICK
Martinsburg, W.Va., VAMC, who is serving with the West Louise Guszick helped medically clear soldiers for deployment.
July/August 2006 11
feature VA n g u a rd
With memories of Katrina still
fresh in everyone’s minds,
facilities in hurricane-prone areas
are ready for the 2006 season.
A NOAA image of Hurricane Wilma, which
struck southern Florida in 2005.
n June, world-famous meteorologist biggest problems” following Hurricane Few can relate to that sentiment
William M. Gray predicted, “We Katrina, according to Christopher better than Dr. Gustave Sison, chief
continue to foresee another very Alexander, Biloxi’s public affairs of- of psychology service and the Em-
active Atlantic basin tropical cyclone ficer. ployee Assistance Program coordina-
season in 2006. Landfall probabilities “It was important for us to com- tor at the Biloxi VA Medical Center.
for the 2006 hurricane season are well municate with our veterans,” he said, “We talk with our people and
above their long-period averages.” “but it was equally important that our help prepare them emotionally by
Now, nearly two months into the staff was taken care of, because they providing them with coping tech-
hurricane season, VA emergency are our greatest asset, and they are the niques, relaxation techniques and in-
management preparedness planners ones who communicate with our pa- dividual counseling,” said Sison. They
have kicked their efforts into high tients.” provide lots of information about how
gear, as the department gets ready for Having plenty of supplies—water, to prepare for a hurricane, too,
another hurricane season. medications and food—is critical for through Web postings, brochures, and
It’s a monumental task. facilities in hurricane-prone areas like as part of making rounds.
From the pre-positioning of food, Biloxi. Identifying key players, in ad- With memories of Katrina still
supplies and medicines to preparing vance, for each service team is a ne- fresh, Sison notes there are “increased
employees for the mental stresses of cessity. But preparing employees emo- anxieties [among the staff], but there’s
disaster, VA employees are gearing up tionally for disasters is becoming just a certain resilience, too.” When the
in a variety of ways. as essential, according to Paul next storm hits the Gulf Coast,
Callers to the Biloxi, Miss., VA Brannigan, an area emergency man- Katrina survivors will likely see a
Medical Center get voice messaging ager for the VA Southeast Network spike in their anxiety level, he said.
about hurricane preparations. At the (VISN 7) in Atlanta. But that increased anxiety is tem-
Miami VA Healthcare System, “on- “I fully believe that the mental pered by the knowledge that they are
hold” messaging advises patients, health component of any disaster is unlikely to experience another storm
families and staff members how to critical and something we can plan of the same magnitude.
prepare for emergencies. for, by preparing our employees,” he “Our vulnerability is also our
“Communicating was one of our said. strength,” he said.
12 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd feature
Are veterans of the 2005 Gulf Ward, a veteran of 1992’s Hurricane line that is activated around-the-
Coast hurricanes any more vulnerable Andrew, has prepared information for clock in emergencies. Veterans, staff
this year? According to Alexander employees and veterans to help them members, families and media repre-
and Sison, yes and no. prior to hurricane season, and before, sentatives can call the number for
“We have folks still in trailers or during and after a hurricane. current information on facility clos-
temporary housing, so we need to “We’ve developed brochures on ings or alternate reporting sites. If the
have adequate shelter for them,” disaster preparedness, generator safety, Lake City, Fla., campus of the North
Alexander said. At the same time, safeguarding your valuables, even how Florida/South Georgia Veterans
the entire VA South Central Health employees can properly insure their Health System, where the system is
Care Network (VISN 16) is more homes,” Ward said. But as the facility based, is incapacitated, the “Tel-Care”
prepared, and more likely to err on public affairs officer, she also works phone line rolls over to VISN 3 staff
the side of caution if another storm with each service at the hospital to in Bronx, N.Y.
should hit the Gulf Coast. get important operational status infor- There’s one catch, though. In
“‘Communication’ is always the
number one thing people say we
didn’t do well enough,” said “Awareness is half the game. Once people are
Brannigan, “and really, it’s one of the aware, we start to build a ‘culture of prepared-
most critical roles we play. We have
to know what the on-scene condi- ness,’ which in turn helps others prepare.”
tions are and we must have the abil-
ity to communicate to our people in mation to local and state emergency major hurricanes like Andrew or
the field.” managers. Katrina, phone service is, for the most
He notes that every facility has “Through the relationships we’ve part, knocked out.
an emergency response plan and it is developed with the federal, state and To remedy that, satellite phones
constantly being updated, tested and local governments, and our commu- are being purchased for each facility
improved. These plans “are truly ‘liv- nity partner hospitals, we are able to in Florida and Puerto Rico. Satellite
ing documents,’” he said. use their emergency broadcast capa- phones are “almost a sure thing,” said
But plans only go so far. Training bilities to communicate to our veter- Miami-based area emergency manager
people, through table-top exercises or ans and staff,” Ward said. Frank Maldonado.
full-scale mock disaster drills, is criti- The VA Sunshine Healthcare “The mobile van (a mobile
cal. Doing—not just reading about— Network (VISN 8) in Bay Pines, Fla., health clinic owned by Veterans of
how to prepare for an emergency is has prepared employee and family America of Florida and staffed by VA
what helps most. preparedness handbooks that are health care professionals) has satellite
“Awareness is half the game,” posted on the network’s Intranet site. phone capabilities and it was dis-
Brannigan said. “Once people are There are links to policies, plans, and patched to Biloxi after Katrina,”
aware, we start to build a ‘culture of telephone hotlines; to FEMA and the Maldonado said. “The beauty of satel-
preparedness,’ which in turn helps Red Cross; even to radar and satellite lite is that it provided not only voice
others prepare.” imagery. and data capability, but also con-
At the Miami VA Healthcare In addition, VISN 8 has insti- nected us to VistA and CPRS (the
System, public affairs officer Susan tuted a toll-free “Tel-Care” phone computerized patient records sys-
After Katrina, VA was recognized
Some Hurricane-related Web Resources for its ability to access patient records
s Ready.gov (maintained by Department of Homeland Security): www.ready.gov electronically—records that might
s National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Prediction Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov/ otherwise have been destroyed.
index.shtml “VA is so rich in resources, with
s VA’s Emergency Management Strategic Healthcare Group: www1.va.gov/ our doctors, nurses, lab techs, phar-
emshg macists,” Maldonado said, “and we
s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): www.fema.gov/hazard/hur- are so prevalent in so many places
ricane/index.shtm that we reach into virtually every
s American Red Cross: www.redcross.org community. We are a potent force to
s Salvation Army: www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/www_usn.nsf provide assistance.”
s VISN 8 Emergency Preparedness (Intranet only): vaww.v08.med.va.gov
By Tom Thomas
July/August 2006 13
feature VA n g u a rd
VA’s Newest Shrine
Georgia National Cemetery is dedicated in a June ceremony.
ith a thunderous roar, within 75 miles of the national cem- tribute to the sons and daughters of
more than 300 veterans etery and, if eligible, could request to every generation who have answered
on motorcycles—many be buried on the hilltop overlooking the call of service.”
with the American flag flying—rolled the Etowah River. The new cemetery’s director,
through the hills of northern Georgia William F. Tuerk, Under Secre- Sandy Beckley, has been serving vet-
and onto the grounds of the Georgia tary for Memorial Affairs, on hand for erans since 1972. She firmly believes
National Cemetery in Canton on the dedication, talked about VA’s his- she works for the greatest Ameri-
June 4. Once there, they joined 400 toric mission. cans—veterans and their families.
other veterans, dignitaries, citizens “The opportunity to provide and “It is a privilege for me to take
and invited guests to witness the maintain memorials to the service of part in building this national shrine,”
dedication of VA’s 123rd national veterans is a sacred trust,” Tuerk said. Beckley said. “This cemetery is a
cemetery. “VA continues a proud legacy of es- beautiful final resting place for
“We are gathered in a shrine to tablishing national cemeteries—some Georgia’s veterans.”
the measure of bravery in this field of dating back to 1862—which stand in Burials began in April within an
immortality,” said VA Sec-
retary Jim Nicholson, key-
note speaker for the cer-
emony. “We who are here
should feel humbled to
dedicate to the memories of
the men and women who
stood for freedom in war
and those who stood in
peace with that uniform on
willing to be engaged in war
and all to whom we owe an
eternal debt of gratitude.”
The 775-acre site was
donated to VA by the late
Scott Hudgens, an Atlanta
World War II veteran, land
developer and philanthro-
pist who had envisioned a
tribute to veterans similar
to the American cemetery
in Normandy, France. The
new cemetery is located in
Cherokee County, about 40
miles north of Atlanta, and PETER GRATTAN
is administered by VA.
Left to right: Pete Wheeler, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Affairs; Cole Hudgens, son of land do-
Nearly 400,000 veterans nor Scott Hudgens; Jackie Hudgens, widow of Scott Hudgens; and VA Secretary Jim Nicholson were on hand to cel-
and their families live ebrate the dedication of the new cemetery.
14 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd feature
Finding the graves of more than 3
million veterans and dependents
buried in national cemeteries is
now even easier thanks to a new
map feature added to the gravesite
locator available online since April
Someone looking for a
gravesite can now go to
gravelocator.cem.va.gov, enter the
veteran’s name to search, click on
the burial location link, and a map
of the national cemetery is dis-
played, showing the section where
the grave is lo-
maps of burial
sections can be
ers and at na-
In a re-
ment, the cem-
which 1.9 mil-
Top: More than 300 veterans on motorcycles roared onto the grounds of the Georgia National have been buried with VA grave
Cemetery for the dedication of VA’s 123rd national cemetery; above: Color guard at the cer- markers have been added to the
emony, which drew some 700 people.
database. These are mostly private
initial phase of approximately 50 must be met. To meet these needs, cemeteries. This addition brings the
acres, which includes one committal VA is in the midst of the largest cem- number of graves recorded in the
shelter and four burial sections. The etery expansion since the Civil War. locator to approximately 5 million.
burial sections have capacity for 8,119 With the opening of the Georgia Na- Those with maps are in VA national
full-casket gravesites, consisting of tional Cemetery, VA now operates cemeteries, state veterans cem-
5,923 pre-placed crypts and 2,196 123 national cemeteries in 39 states eteries, and Arlington National
standard gravesites, and 3,129 in- and Puerto Rico and 33 soldiers’ lots Cemetery for burials since 1999.
ground cremation gravesites. and monument sites. More than 3 Beyond the 5 million records
The National Cemetery Admin- million Americans, including veter- now available, approximately 1,000
istration continues to meet the needs ans of every war and conflict—from new records are being added to the
of veterans and their families by de- the Revolutionary War to the global online database each day. The ex-
veloping new cemeteries or expand- war on terror—are buried in VA’s na- act locations of veterans’
ing existing ones if space permits. tional cemeteries on more than gravesites in the remaining state
With the loss of more than 1,800 16,000 acres of land. veterans cemeteries will also be
veterans a day, 1,100 of which are added.
from WWII, the need for burial space By Jurita Barber
July/August 2006 15
cover story VA n g u a rd
Kelliann Dignam, optometrist with the Balti-
more VA Medical Center, examines formerly
homeless veteran Gary Bracey.
Seeing a Way RICHARD MILANICH
Out of Homelessness
Vision problems are a frequent but little-known impediment for homeless
veterans trying to get off the streets. A pilot program at five VA
facilities is working to change that.
hen Pat Lane first met the country for a project called Re- tions provide funds or vouchers to
Bill Taylor, a Vietnam stored Vision for Homeless Veterans. cover the cost of eyewear and eye ex-
veteran living on the The project was created by VA’s ams. The majority of the sites main-
streets, he had one pair of clothing to Community Homelessness Assess- tain a partnership with local fran-
his name, and had not been able to ment, Local Education and Network- chises of LensCrafters, a national op-
read small print for more than a de- ing Groups (CHALENG) through tometry company that offers free or
cade. the VA Center for Faith-Based and reduced-price glasses through its “Gift
“I knew I needed glasses, but I Community Initiatives to provide of Sight” charity program, supported
didn’t have the money,” said Taylor. glasses for homeless veterans who by community organizations such as
“Thanks to Pat I got my glasses.” would not normally qualify for VA Lions Club International.
Lane is a social worker in the eyewear. VA homeless program coordina-
Health Care for Homeless Veterans The Restored Vision program en- tors say that obtaining eyeglasses is a
Program at the Baltimore VA Medical gages faith-based and community or- problem for homeless veterans that
Center, one of five pilot sites across ganizations so that outside organiza- can keep them on the streets. Ac-
16 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd cover story
cording to Allison Haberfield, home- tiple, multiple outside organizations” with outside as well as internal re-
less program coordinator at the to fund the program. The Restored sources, I was hesitant,” she said. “Af-
Asheville, N.C., VA Medical Center, Vision fund in Montana has provided ter reaching out to the community, I
98 percent of those registering with glasses to 10 veterans. Mann’s only was pleasantly surprised with the will-
VA’s homeless programs report vision complaint? That she can’t travel more ingness of everyone to come together
problems. And eyeglasses aren’t to raise funds. “I’m a one-person of- and work as a team.”
cheap; a pair can run up to $600 for fice and out here everything is hours The Baltimore Restored Vision
those with serious eye problems. and hours away,” she said. program is dynamic and growing.
Lane’s program in Baltimore fits Paul Maten, of the Jackson VA Lane hopes to expand the program to
glasses for homeless veterans with Medical Center, raved about his VA non-homeless veterans who do not
sight problems ranging from far- optometry department’s ability to fit qualify for eyeglasses under VA’s op-
sightedness to glaucoma. Formerly in unscheduled eye exams for home- tometry policy. Ellen Mathes of the
homeless veteran Gary Bracey suffers less veterans. Because homeless vets Central Iowa Health Care System
from vision problems related to high often maintain transient schedules, it hopes to increase her faith-based con-
blood pressure. He knew he needed is important that exams, fittings and tacts through her VA medical center’s
glasses for the past eight years, but follow-up move as quickly as possible. chaplain. Haberfield is working to ex-
just recently received them thanks to Charles Sherwood, ophthalmolo- pand her funding from outside faith-
the Restored Vision program. His new gist at the Jackson VAMC, receives based and community organizations.
glasses allow him to use the comput- pages from Maten while he’s in sur- Nationally, McGuire hopes the
ers he needs for school and work. gery or another appointment and of- success of the pilot sites will offer
“Glasses are essential to getting ten schedules eye exams directly after- models for other VA medical centers
off the streets,” said Jim McGuire, wards. Sherwood praises this direct to follow. He says that the enthusiasm
Ph.D., the VA program manager for communication. “Instead of going of individual homeless program coor-
homelessness prevention based in Los dinators will remain the most impor-
Angeles. CHALENG pilot site home- “Glasses are essential tant component of the project. “One
less coordinators agree: homeless vet- thing I’ve learned is that these folks
erans with vision problems need to getting off the are very dedicated to their homeless
glasses to read newspapers, street streets.” population,” said McGuire.
signs, and fill out forms or write re- Formerly homeless veterans Tay-
sumes. They need glasses to work on through computers, [Maten] picks up lor, Bracey and Clarence Christion in
computers at school or on the job. the phone and pages me. … You get a Baltimore had high praise for the pro-
They need glasses to socialize and rec- fuller picture of what the patient gram and for Lane herself. “This
ognize the faces of people they meet. needs when you communicate di- homeless program Pat’s got helped us
McGuire and Craig Burnett, rectly.” out a great deal,” said Christion. “It
Ed.D., Project CHALENG coordina- Lane’s version of the program in helped us get established back into
tor, started planning the Restored Vi- Baltimore runs a little differently. society. … We got a couple of angels
sion program in May 2005 when the When approached with the pilot pro- here in VA.”
VA Center for Faith-Based and Com- gram, Lane contacted the Maryland That’s what Darin Selnick, direc-
munity Initiatives asked homeless Society for Sight, which agreed to do- tor of VA’s Center for Faith-Based
programs to think of new ways to en- nate 10 pairs of glasses per month. and Community Initiatives, is looking
gage outside faith-based and commu- Sherry Rose, the adult services coor- for every day—a few angels in VA
nity organizations to help VA serve dinator for the society, visits the VA and in the community willing to work
veterans. Over the course of a year medical center to fit veterans for together in innovative ways to meet
five programs began at VA medical glasses on the last Thursday of every veterans’ needs.
centers in Baltimore, Asheville, Ft. month. On average, the Baltimore “These Restored Vision pilot pro-
Harrison, Mont., Jackson, Miss., and VAMC has provided eight homeless grams are just the beginning,” he said.
the Central Iowa Health Care System veterans with glasses each month “The program will grow because
in Des Moines. since the program started in February. there’s a real need and there are dedi-
Each pilot program is tailored by The Baltimore program’s success cated people within VA and in our
the five homeless program coordina- rests on Lane’s careful coordination communities who can make great
tors to work within the unique envi- with all parties involved—VA, veter- things happen. They just need en-
ronments of their communities. ans and the community. “When I was couragement and a little support.”
Pam Mann, of the Ft. Harrison approached about the project and
VA Medical Center, contacted “mul- looked at the need to collaborate By Rachel Scheer
July/August 2006 17
feature VA n g u a rd
Wrapping Up the
VA’s yearlong celebration of its 75th anniversary concludes with
a pair of events held in Washington, D.C.
he conclusion of VA’s yearlong Veterans and their family mem- Va., sat quietly in his wheelchair
celebration of its 75th anni- bers, members of Congress, represen- looking through the program, waiting
versary was marked with two tatives of veterans service organiza- for the ceremony to begin.
back-to-back ceremonies in Washing- tions, and VA employees assembled “I don’t know of any other coun-
ton, D.C., on July 18 and 19. in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol try that serves its veterans as America
VA employees gathered in the July 19 for special services marking does,” Lawton said. “I’m honored to
G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Veterans the close of the anniversary obser- be here.”
Conference Center in VA Central vance. He served in the Air Force from
Office July 18 to enjoy cake, lemon- Surrounded by statues of Ameri- 1971 to 1993, retiring with the rank
ade and fellowship during an em- can heroes and artwork recounting of captain. Lawton is 100 percent dis-
ployee appreciation celebration. Sec- the discovery and founding of this na- abled and now serves in a voluntary
retary Jim Nicholson praised VA em- tion, Edward F. Lawton of Fairfax, capacity as the national liaison for the
ployees who come to work
each day committed to
“making a difference in the
lives of veterans who have
made a difference for us,”
noting that the quality of its
workforce is what defines
VA as an organization.
two members of that
workforce: one of VA’s long-
est-serving employees and
one of its newest employees.
Marilyn Twombly, a pro-
gram specialist in the Office
of Management, has been
with VA for more than 39
years. Yvonne Stone, a
management analyst with
the Office of Asset Enter-
prise Management, has a lot
of catching up to do—she
joined VA six days before.
“VA has been good to
me,” Twombly said. “I find EMERSON SANDERS
the work challenging and it Left to right: Marilyn Twombly, one of VA’s longest-serving employees, Secretary Jim Nicholson, Under Secretary for Me-
is so great to help veterans, morial Affairs William Tuerk, and Yvonne Stone, one of the department’s newest employees, prepare to cut the cake at
at least in some capacity.” the VA Central Office ceremony.
18 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd feature
Her husband served polytrauma and blast-related injuries.
in the Marine Corps Senate Veterans’ Affairs Com-
from 1950 to 1980, mittee Chairman Larry Craig (R-
retiring with the Idaho), congratulated VA on winning
rank of lieutenant the prestigious Innovations in Ameri-
colonel. Today can Government Award from
Smith monitors a Harvard University in recognition of
chat room for wid- VA’s electronic health records system.
ows of service- (See story on page 24 of this issue.)
members killed in He related a personal experience he
Iraq and Afghani- had about a month ago receiving a
stan. She answers demonstration of a unique prosthetic
their questions about device developed by VA. Craig said
legislation and survi- he slipped the device over his arm,
vor benefits. When thought about what he wanted to do,
Smith can’t answer and the hand began to react, allowing
their questions she him to pick up a glass of water with
turns to VA em- the device.
ployee Diane Fuller, “That’s Veterans Affairs research
assistant director for at its best,” he said.
veterans services in Nicholson said that while he is
the Veterans Ben- proud that Harvard honored VA with
efits Administration, the award from more than 1,000 en-
for advice. tries, and Business Week magazine re-
House Veter- cently named VA the best health care
ans’ Affairs Com- provider in America, he takes the
mittee Chairman most pride in the fact that “we are
Steve Buyer (R- taking good care of our veterans.”
Ind.), offered the Nicholson said that over the por-
welcome and intro- tal of many VA hospitals is inscribed
ductory remarks. He the phrase: “Enter here to witness the
said today’s VA pro- price of freedom.” In his travels to
vides “what some say visit veterans wounded in Iraq and
is the best medical Afghanistan, Nicholson said he al-
care in the United ways asks how he can help them.
MICHAEL L. MOORE States.” Time and time again, the injured sol-
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig (R-Idaho) addresses Buyer noted that diers ask him, “Sir, can you help me
the crowd gathered in the Capitol Rotunda. servicemembers get back to my unit?” He said this un-
fighting the global selfish fighting spirit speaks volumes
American Military Retirees Associa- war on terror are “our newest veter- about the character and commitment
tion. ans” and some are leaving the theater of the nation’s warriors.
Wearing the distinctive gold uni- of operations with “horrific” injuries. “The VA’s noble mission is to
form and garrison cap of the Gold He said these veterans are receiving honor our veterans’ sacrifices and to
Star Wives of America, Edith G. “state of the art” medical care dignify the cause they served, by serv-
Smith of Springfield, Va., mingled through VA and thanked the mem- ing them,” Nicholson said.
with other VSO representatives as bers of the Senate and House for their House Minority Leader Nancy
the U.S. Army Band began to play leadership in funding VA’s four Pelosi (D-Calif.), said that America
the prelude music. Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers. must honor its promise to veterans
Smith said she joined the organi- These centers were designed to meet that they have taken care of its citi-
zation after her husband’s death from the complex rehabilitation needs of zens and the nation will take care of
heart disease in 1998 because she saw severely injured servicemembers re- its veterans.
the need to help other widows turning from Iraq and Afghanistan. During a recent visit to troops
“through the maze of legislative is- They provide specialized treatment stationed in the Persian Gulf, Pelosi
sues” concerning survivor benefits. and expanded clinical expertise in said every question she fielded from
July/August 2006 19
feature VA n g u a rd
The ceremony in the Capitol Ro-
tunda drew veterans and their
family members, members of
Congress, veterans service orga-
nization representatives and VA
employees. Right: “I don’t know
of any other country that serves
its veterans as America does.
I’m honored to be here,” said
Edward Lawton (in wheelchair),
national liaison for the Ameri-
can Military Retirees Associa-
tion. Below: Edith Smith (far
left), a member of Gold Star
Wives of America, helps widows
of servicemembers killed in Iraq
partment has ensured that our veter-
ans have gotten the square deal that
they deserve,” Stevens said.
Speaker of the House Dennis
Hastert (R-Ill.) wrapped up the cer-
emony by recognizing the most senior
veteran in the audience. Navy vet-
eran Lloyd Brown, age 104, served in
World War I. Today he lives alone in
his own home in Charlotte Hall, Md.
Following the ceremony, a num-
ber of veterans stood in line waiting
to speak to Nicholson and shake his
hand. One of them was Army Sgt.
Steven Allen of Thawville, Ill.
Allen has been undergoing sur-
geries and physical therapy at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center in Wash-
ington, D.C., for the past 14 months
after losing his right arm in an Impro-
vised Explosive Device explosion.
the troops seemed to be along the Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) The 23-year-old had been stationed at
same vein: how would they be treated noted that it has been nearly 60 Al Asad Air Base in Iraq providing
when they came home? years since he returned from the gun truck escorts for convoys.
In times of war, Pelosi said sol- fighting in World War II and praised Allen said he attended the cer-
diers pledge that they will leave no VA for continuing to honor its emony to support veterans, adding,
one behind on the battlefield. “As a promise to today’s veterans stationed “There are plenty of us around.”
nation, it must be our pledge to leave in some of the most dangerous places
no veteran behind.” in the world. “For 75 years, your de- By Renee McElveen
20 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd feature
The Search for Our
World War I Veterans
They are a vanishing breed. Time is running out to find and recognize
the last remaining veterans of ‘The Great War.’
n a voice as strong as men 30 nado, is producing for National Public Everett said. It’s his mission to “tell
years younger, Frank Buckles, a Radio a two-hour special on World the story through their experiences,
spry 105-year-old, describes his War I veterans that will air this Veter- but honor them in the process.” But
personal experiences with a sense of ans Day. Hosted by Walter Cronkite, with only 17 known veterans, it is dif-
pride and, at the same time, wonder- the “WWI Living History Project” ficult to capture their experiences.
ment. His story isn’t wonder, will feature interviews with Buckles His task is to conduct interviews
though—it’s fact. and other veterans of “The Great with as many veterans—and their
He sailed on the ship that res- War.” family members—as possible. “It’s like
cued survivors of the Titanic. He met “World War I is such an under- a jigsaw puzzle scattered around the
the famous World War I General appreciated American conflict,” country, but there are only 17 pieces
John “Black Jack” Pershing. He was
an ambulance driver and a motorcy-
clist. At age 16, he became a veteran
of World War I, the “War to End All
In the war after that, he was a
“I’ve always been independent,”
Buckles said. “And as a boy of 16, I
was anxious to get to France.” The
lad from Harrison County, Mo., made
it to France. And he made it home.
Now, he’s one of 17 known American
veterans of World War I who are still
The rolls of World War I veterans
have declined so rapidly that the day
is fast approaching when there will be
one remaining, then none. VA, with
assistance from historians, state agen-
cies and others, is keeping a roster of
One key player helping keep
track of them is William Everett, an
independent radio producer in South Lloyd Brown, a 104-year-old Navy veteran of World War I, is greeted by members of the new-
est generation of veterans at a recent ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.,
Padre Island, Texas. marking the end of VA’s yearlong observance of its 75th anniversary. Brown still lives on his
Everett, a World War I aficio- own in his Charlotte Hall, Md., home.
July/August 2006 21
feature VA n g u a rd
Then there’s Samuel Goldberg,
106. “He’s a healthy, vigorous man,”
Everett recalled. A member of the
U.S. Horse Cavalry during WWI,
Goldberg lives in Rhode Island.
“I’m looking for everyday life ex-
periences—not war heroes—to help
make their experiences relatable to
today’s listener,” Everett said. But the
bad food, monotony and military dis-
cipline of a century gone by are prob-
ably just as meaningful to today’s
Rubin, who has interviewed 34
WWI veterans for his book, Last of
the Doughboys, talked about the im-
portance of honoring all veterans and
acknowledged that Americans have
tried hard to recognize Vietnam and
Korean War veterans in the last 20
years or so. But he notes there is still
time to honor those veterans; with
WWI veterans, “time is running out,”
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle
scattered around the
country, but there are
only 17 pieces left.”
ROBERT TURTIL Everett believes there may be
World War I veteran Lloyd Brown participated in this year’s National Memorial Day Parade in other WWI veterans out there, per-
Washington, D.C. haps in private nursing homes or in
left. And only three of those can talk searcher, author Richard Rubin, to the care of family members. If they
about their experiences in trench help generate a “final wave of aware- didn’t receive VA benefits or weren’t
warfare. There are no aviators left,” ness and interest in our quest to de- featured in local news coverage, that
no one who can describe firsthand velop a list of living World War I vet- possibility exists. Scheer wants VA
what the early days of aviation war- erans” and to attract the interest of employees to be aware that the search
fare were like. those in the veterans community who continues for information about any
Everett’s quest to track down will “work with us to identify those remaining WWI veterans and that in-
World War I veterans began about veterans.” formation can be relayed to him in
three years ago, when he learned And from there, it took off. VA headquarters.
there were only about 250 remaining. Everett’s detective work was “I’ll bet there’s more out there,”
His research eventually led him to ratcheted up significantly last No- Scheer said.
VA resources; namely, VA’s Office of vember, when the idea of the radio Indeed there may be. If you know
Public Affairs and its director of me- special gelled. Using the Internet and of any remaining WWI veterans, no-
dia products, Chris Scheer. contacting other WWI buffs and tify your facility’s public affairs officer
“I have attempted to develop a writers, he began connecting with or contact Chris Scheer at the Office
definitive list of living World War I veterans and their families. of Public Affairs in VA Central Of-
vets for VA purposes,” Scheer said. One of them is California’s last fice, at (202) 273-5730.
He exchanged names “within privacy WWI veteran—George Johnson, 112,
limits” with Everett and another re- who is one of Everett’s favorites. By Tom Thomas
22 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd feature
Privacy & Security TOM MORLEY
Clockwise from top left: Secretary Nicholson stopped by to check
out the booth in the lobby of VA Central Office;
The week’s activities at the Waco, Texas, VA Regional Office in-
cluded a special sequence check and folder reconciliation, here
performed by George “Gunny” Jimenez, files team coach at the re-
Maggie Laustrup, left, and Shirley Blair, registered nurses at the
Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, Mo.,
display materials they received when the Information Security
Awareness Team visited their patient care unit;
“Men in Black” took over the lobby of the Dayton, Ohio, VA Medi-
cal Center to spread the theme Keep Information Safe and Secure
(K.I.S.S.). Left to right: Willie Payton, administrative intern; Joe
Battle, associate director; and Cory Cookson, information security
Birmingham, Ala., VA Medical Center employees Alverna Hudson
(left), patient care services, and Devin Harris, cancer care coordi-
nator, view an exhibit during the facility’s IT Privacy and Security
Awareness Fair held June 28 and 29.
July/August 2006 23
around headquarters VA n g u a rd
VA Takes Home Prestigious Award for Government Innovations
ernment initiatives drawn
from a pool of 1,000 appli-
cants. Each winner takes a
unique approach to meeting
community needs and achiev-
ing real results. Because each
of these programs is a model
for government’s capacity to
do good, and do it well, the
$100,000 prize specifically
supports initiatives that dis-
seminate their models and
practices to other districts.
The Ash Institute distrib-
utes awards annually to pro-
grams or applications that
promote creativity and excel-
lence in government. The In-
stitute evaluates entries based
upon their novelty, effective-
ness, significance and transfer-
ability, and considers submis-
sions in six different catego-
Secretary Jim Nicholson accepts congratulations from Carl Fillichio, vice president, Council for Excellence ries: Management and Gover-
in Government, at a news conference announcing that VA had won the Innovations in American Govern- nance; Capital and Environ-
ment Award for its development and use of VistA. mental Services; Community
and Economic Development;
VA’s groundbreaking elec- Secretary for Health Dr. for Excellence in Government, Protective Services; Social Ser-
tronic health records system Jonathan Perlin, and Washing- founded the Innovations in vices; and Education and
received top honors July 10 ton, D.C., VA Medical Center American Government Award Health Care, the category
from Harvard University and Chief of Staff Dr. Ross program in 1986. where VA was honored this
the Council for Excellence in Fletcher spoke about the elec- The award program rec- year.
Government. The prestigious tronic health records system ognizes and promotes excel- Stephen Goldsmith, the
Innovations in American Gov- and how it has transformed lence and creativity in the former Indianapolis mayor
ernment Award specifically VA’s health care system. public sector. Through its an- who heads the award pro-
recognizes VA’s development VA was the only award nual award competition, the gram, had high praise for
and use of the Veterans Health winner in the Health and program demonstrates that VistA at the news conference.
Information Systems and Education category, and it is government can improve qual- “This program’s decentralized,
Technology Architecture the second time in five years ity of life for citizens and gen- flexible approach has made
(VistA). the department has received erate greater public trust. our veterans the recipients of
“This is a proud day for the prestigious Innovations Agencies and organiza- the highest quality, lowest cost
us,” VA Secretary Jim Award. In 2001, VA was rec- tions across jurisdictions and medical care in the country,”
Nicholson said at a news con- ognized by the Ash Institute in a variety of policy areas rep- he said.
ference announcing the award in the same category for its licate many of the award-win- VistA was first introduced
in VA Central Office. “This National Center for Patient ning programs while others in 1996. It provides all needed
award tells the American Safety, a program that radi- are inspired to become fore- information at the point-of-
people what millions of veter- cally reduced preventable runners for state and federal care and it can work with off-
ans and their families have medical errors by using “root legislation. The program the-shelf software and prod-
known for years—that VA cause analyses.” serves as a catalyst for contin- ucts so that the program can
provides world-class health The Ash Institute for ued progress in addressing the be tailored to the needs of dif-
care in a professional, compas- Democratic Governance and nation’s most pressing public ferent facilities.
sionate and high-tech environ- Innovation at Harvard concerns by highlighting ex- More information about
ment.” University’s John F. Kennedy emplary models of innovative VistA and the Innovations
During the news confer- School of Government, in performance. Award is available at www.
ence, Nicholson, VA Under partnership with the Council VistA is one of seven gov- va.gov/innovations.
24 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd around headquarters
VA Honored for Role in Online Service to Help Katrina Evacuees
Employees accepting the Pinnacle Award for VA included (left to
right): Dr. Jennifer Delozier, physician, Altoona, Pa., VA Medical Cen-
ter; Dr. Robert Lynch, director, VA South Central Health Care Network
(VISN 16); Linda Fischetti, management analyst, VHA Office of Infor-
mation; William Feeley, Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Opera-
tions and Management; Stephania Putt, VHA privacy officer; Dan
Bruneau, director, VHA Office of Communications Management; and
David McDaniel, privacy specialist, VHA Office of Information.
VA was among the organizations honored recently for their role
in creating an online service to ensure that evacuees of Hurri-
cane Katrina received life-saving medications. The American
Pharmacists Association Foundation presented their 2006 Pin-
nacle Award in the Government Agencies/Non-profit Organiza-
tions Category to the group on June 13 in Washington, D.C.
The online service, KatrinaHealth.org, provided authorized
health professionals access to evacuees’ medication information,
allowing them to renew prescriptions, prescribe new medica-
tions and coordinate care. The data and prescription informa- ROBERT TURTIL
tion for the service was made available from a variety of govern-
ment and commercial sources. Sources included electronic data- cluded the American Medical Association, Informed Decisions
bases from community pharmacies, government health insur- LLC, the Markle Foundation and SureScripts. The American
ance programs such as Medicaid, private insurers, and pharmacy Pharmacists Association Foundation established the Pinnacle
benefits managers in the states most affected by the storm. Awards in 1998 to celebrate significant contributions to the
Other organizations recognized in the group award in- medication use process.
Under Secretary for Health Perlin Returns to Private Sector
VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Jonathan Perlin, who led the Department’s health care transformation since 2004, resigned ef-
fective Aug. 11 to take a private sector position.
“Jon Perlin’s dedicated service to our nation’s veterans is evidenced by the fact that VA’s health care is now widely recognized as
a model for safety, efficiency, effectiveness and compassion,” VA
Secretary Jim Nicholson said. “He has been an invaluable part
of my senior leadership team. The skill, knowledge and leader-
ship he brought to VA will be sorely missed. I wish him the best
in this new endeavor.”
Perlin, who has held several positions with VA since 1999,
is accepting a position as chief medical officer and senior vice
president for quality at HCA, a Nashville-based health care pro-
“I thank the President and the Secretary for the tremen-
dous opportunity I’ve had to serve America’s veterans,” Perlin
said. “I am deeply humbled by our heroes’ sacrifices on behalf
of our nation, and I am forever grateful to the thousands of
men and women at VA who serve our privileged mission of car-
ing for veterans.
“I am also proud that I will leave VA better than it was and
ROBERT TURTIL with veterans receiving better care than ever before,” he added.
Dr. Jonathan Perlin has been Under Secretary for Health since April
Under Perlin’s leadership, VA’s health care has received nu-
2005. Prior to that, he served a year as Acting Under Secretary for merous accolades for innovation and continues to outperform
Health, and as Deputy Under Secretary for Health from 2002 to 2004. the private sector in quality, safety and customer satisfaction.
Coming Soon! New Personal Identification and Verification (PIV) Cards are coming soon. Look for more information about
this program in the next issue of VAnguard. In the meantime, check out the following sites: vaww.va.gov/PIVproject (Intranet)
and www.va.gov/PIVproject (Internet).
July/August 2006 25
around headquarters VA n g u a rd
VA, Nationals Team Up for a Major League Salute to Veterans
VA and the Washington Na-
tionals teamed up for a major
league salute to veterans on
Flag Day. June 14 was “Veter-
ans Appreciation Day” at RFK
Stadium, where the Nationals
hosted the Colorado Rockies.
The evening’s festivities
included a pre-game ceremony
featuring a military fly-over, a
performance by the United
States Marine Drum and
Bugle Corps, veterans service
organization color guards, cer-
emonial first pitches by VA
Secretary Jim Nicholson and
other veterans, and a display
of veterans’ photos on the
ballpark’s Jumbotron. Dis-
counted tickets were available
for veterans and VA employ-
In addition to honoring
veterans, the event was also an June 14 was “Veterans Appreciation Day” at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., as the Washington Nation-
opportunity to better inform als took on the Colorado Rockies. As part of the evening’s festivities, Secretary Jim Nicholson threw the
attendees about the depart- first pitch.
ment’s array of benefits for eli-
gible veterans, with VA offi- vide benefits information. said Nationals President Tony ored to be able to say thank
cials staffing information “We are excited to be able Tavares. “The Washington you to the heroes who have
booths at the stadium to pro- to salute American veterans,” Nationals baseball club is hon- served our country.”
DAV Names Deputy Secretary Disabled Veteran of the Year
Citing his quarter-century of advocacy for all veterans and dedication to improving the lives of
those injured during military service, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) named VA
Deputy Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield their Disabled Veteran of the Year.
Mansfield received DAV’s top honor Aug. 12 at the group’s national convention in Chi-
cago. DAV has 1.3 million members.
Mansfield was shot and suffered a spinal injury during the Tet Offensive of February 1968.
His decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
During his recovery, he earned a law degree from the University of Miami and began legal
practice in Ocala, Fla., where he helped found a DAV chapter in Marion County.
In 1981, he accepted the first of several positions with the Paralyzed Veterans of America
(PVA), eventually serving as the group’s executive director from 1993 to 2001. His time with
PVA was interrupted by a four-year tour as assistant secretary for fair housing and equal oppor-
tunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mansfield was instrumental in elevating VA to a cabinet-level department, creating the
U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals and passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Gordon Mansfield overcame his disability and turned it into strength,” said DAV Na-
tional Commander Paul W. Jackson. “He is a person of determination who has become a pow- Gordon Mansfield
erful advocate for his fellow veterans. Each day, his achievements mean better lives for disabled
veterans and their families.”
26 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd introducing
If a film were made about Jay
Fondren’s young life, the
opening scene might be a
public event where a hand-
some American hero—body
battered but spirit strength-
ened by faith, family, patrio-
tism and love for his fellow
soldier—brings a crowd to
tears, then to their feet, in-
spired by his courage and for-
Flashback to his nine
months in Baghdad where,
beginning in March 2004,
Army Sgt. Jay Fondren led a
front-line combat observation
lasing team, directing close air
support and conducting re-
connaissance and security op-
erations. When bad weather Jay Fondren, a veterans service representative at the Waco, Texas, VA Regional Office, provides benefits
grounded Medevac helicopter information and assistance to veterans at an outreach event held recently near Fort Worth, Texas.
flights, this unit of the 10th Fondren was wounded in Iraq in November 2004.
Cavalry’s Charlie Troop es- Fondren awoke at Walter Army after sustaining his inju- it would be something I’d en-
corted medical corps person- Reed Army Medical Center in ries, he felt that it was time to joy doing, helping these guys
nel out to wounded G.I.s, be- Washington, D.C. At his bed- get out. He considered going go through what I went
fore evacuating all of them side was his wife Anne. His back to school for his teaching through.”
back to the Green Zone. parents and a sister were also degree, but had yet to make It was a whirlwind time
In that time, Fondren there, all flown in by the any firm decisions. of change. Anne gave birth to
had lost two comrades to Army. His room was filled The rest of Fondren’s their second child, William,
sniper and roadside bomb at- with cards and flowers from Army unit returned from Iraq two days before Fondren took
tacks. “Over there, the men- friends in his boyhood home in March 2005. While attend- the job at the Waco VARO, in
tality wasn’t if you were going of Corsicana, Texas. Micah, ing a memorial service for his March 2006. The first few
to get hurt, but when and his 6-month-old son, was at fallen comrades, he was in- months involved on-the-job-
how bad,” he told the Waco home with relatives. vited by a VA representative to training, including claims pro-
Tribune-Herald. Then, on the Recuperation from the speak about his wartime and cessing, veterans correspon-
day before Thanksgiving devastating injuries was slow separation experiences at Vet- dence, and scheduling medical
2004, a roadside bomb shred- but steady. Along with the loss erans Appreciation Day cer- verification exams, all using
ded his patrol vehicle. of his legs, Fondren, 26, suf- emonies at the Waco VA Re- real cases from the office files.
What Fondren remem- fered wounds and nerve dam- gional Office. “We were im- Lowe reports that
bers of the attack and its after- age to his right arm and hand. mediately impressed with Jay’s Fondren is “sincerely commit-
math—the mad dash across After nine months of what he alertness, capability and posi- ted to serving veterans effec-
Baghdad, his legless body describes as “exceptional care” tive attitude,” said Waco tively” and that his training is
strapped to the hood of a at Walter Reed, he came home VARO director Carl Lowe. As progressing very well.
Humvee—is mercifully to Killeen, Texas. a result, Fondren was asked if “I like working at VA,”
cloudy. Still at the site were Prior to his deployment he’d be interested in applying Fondren says. “Everything is
two injured comrades, as well to Iraq, Fondren’s career was for a position as a veterans ser- new. Learning it all is the big-
as two Iraqi civilians killed in on a fast track to warrant of- vice representative there. gest challenge. Hopefully, I’ll
the blast. His last memories ficer. He’d been promoted to “The offer came at a time have an impact by helping to
before blacking out were of staff sergeant a month before when my wife was getting real identify problem areas and
doctors yelling, “Hang in he was wounded. Ultimately, tired of me,” Fondren recalled. streamline operations. I want
there!” as they cut off his two- he hoped to fly helicopters “She said, ‘You’ve got to figure to make sure these [returning
year-old wedding ring and the and make a career of the mili- out what you want to do. veterans] get what they need
rest of his tattered uniform. tary. Now, though he had Now hop to it.’ From their and are taken care of.”
Eighteen days later, been asked to stay in the description of the job, I knew By Robert Turtil
July/August 2006 27
medical advances VA n g u a rd
The Costs of Excessive White, an assistant research How frequently valley fe-
Teenage Drinking professor at Duke. ver actually causes a medi-
The costs of early heavy In 1995, researchers cally important illness has
drinking for teenagers appear placed delicate sensors inside long been a source of uncer-
to extend far beyond the time living brain slices from adoles- tainty based upon previously
drinking takes away from cent rats and discovered that available information, said
homework, dating, and the re- alcohol drastically suppressed Dr. John Galgiani, director of
lated tasks of growing up, ac- the activity of specific chemi- the Valley Fever Center for
cording to researchers at the cal receptors in the hippocam- Excellence.
Durham, N.C., VA Medical pus region.
Center and Duke University. Normally, these receptors Can Curry Reduce Risk
Mounting research sug- allow calcium to enter neu- of Alzheimer’s?
gests that alcohol causes more rons, setting off a cascade of Intriguing studies suggest
damage to the developing changes that help create re- older adults from India may
brains of teenagers than was peated connections between have a reduced risk for
previously thought, injuring cells, aiding in the efficient Alzheimer’s, and investigators
Dr. John Galgiani at VA’s Sepulveda, Calif., Ge-
them significantly more than formation of new memories.
it does adult brains. But at the equivalent of one or community-acquired pneumo- riatric Research Education and
two alcoholic drinks, the re- nia. Most of these patients are Clinical Center (GRECC)
ceptors’ activity slowed, and at treated with antibiotics, as if think they know why.
higher doses, they shut down they had a bacterial infection, Greg M. Cole, Ph.D.,
almost entirely. The research- even though valley fever is and Sally Frautschy, Ph.D., fo-
ers, led by Dr. Scott caused by a fungus and does cus on dietary factors that
Swartzwelder, a neuropsy- not respond to drugs directed fight inflammation in the
chologist at the Durham at bacteria. brain and reduce beta-amyloid
VAMC and Duke, found that The fungus lives in the accumulation. Curry, widely
the suppressive effect was sig- soil of certain areas in the used in Indian cuisine, is one
nificantly stronger in adoles- Southwest, Mexico and other such anti-inflammatory. Its ac-
cent rat brain cells than in the regions of the western hemi- tive ingredient, curcumin,
brain cells of adult rats. sphere. Most infections cause gives curry its yellow color,
respiratory symptoms such as and in a recent study, Cole,
Valley Fever at Record cough, chest pain and short- Frautschy and colleagues
Levels in Arizona ness of breath. Other frequent showed that the substance re-
Reported cases of valley fever symptoms include muscle and duced brain amyloid in mice
are at record levels in Arizona, joint pain, skin rashes, weight and improved other disease-re-
according to an article in the loss, and unusually intense fa- lated factors.
Dr. Scott Swartzwelder June edition of Emerging Infec- tigue. These symptoms can A pilot trial is now un-
The new findings may tious Diseases. As of the end of last from weeks to many derway to determine whether
help explain why people who April, 2,305 cases of the infec- months but usually go away curcumin can do the same in
begin drinking at an early age tion had been reported in Ari- whether or not drug therapy is Alzheimer’s.
face enormous risks of becom- zona, four times the five-year given. The Sepulveda GRECC
ing alcoholics. According to average for the January to A small proportion of in- team is also looking into the
the results of a national survey April time period and more fections leads to much more protective potential of omega-
of 43,093 adults, published in than 85 percent of the state’s serious complications, includ- 3 fatty acids—“good” fats es-
the July 3 edition of Archives five-year average of 2,732 ing progressively severe pneu- sential for the health of neu-
of Pediatrics & Adolescent cases per year. monia. The fungus also may rons and nerve synapses that
Medicine, 47 percent of those Dr. Lisa Valdivia and her travel through the blood- fall prey to Alzheimer’s. Epide-
who begin drinking alcohol colleagues at the Valley Fever stream from the lungs to other miological studies associate
before the age of 14 become Center for Excellence at the parts of the body such as the consumption of omega-3 fatty
alcohol dependent at some Southern Arizona VA Health skin, the bones or the brain. acids found in fatty fish like
time in their lives, compared Care System and the Univer- While the cases of valley salmon with reduced
with 9 percent of those who sity of Arizona College of fever reported in Arizona in Alzheimer’s risk. The work of
wait at least until age 21. Medicine report that valley fe- recent years have numbered Cole and Frautschy showed
“There is no doubt about ver, or coccidioidomycosis less than 4,000 infections an- that withholding omega-3 im-
it now: there are long-term (cocci), is the culprit in ap- nually, other epidemiologic es- paired memory in mice, while
cognitive consequences to ex- proximately one of every three timates have suggested that its supplementation preserved
cessive drinking of alcohol in patients who are treated for this is only one-tenth of the memory and reduced brain
adolescence,” said Aaron what their doctors think is a actual number. amyloid levels.
28 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd honors
ceived the Outstanding Junior cludes studies in diabetes, hy-
Magnet recognition for Portland Investigator of the Year Award pertension, and geriatric
in Los Angeles in April. The physical fitness—all of which
award recognizes Society of are of great interest to veterans
General Internal Medicine as well as the general health
members at the level of assis- care community. This award
tant professor whose career was created in 1973 as part of
achievements and body of the society’s efforts to formally
work have had significant im- recognize members of the or-
pact on research through sus- ganization who had carried
tained and consistent accom- out the mission of advancing
plishment. Volpp’s research medical research and the ex-
makes innovative connections change of knowledge, infor-
between economics and the mation and ideas.
traditional agenda of general Joan Antonaccio,
internal medicine investiga- Northport, N.Y., VA Medical
LARRY LEWTON tion, including smoking cessa- Center Guest Services coordi-
tion, hypertension control, nator, was one of only two
Stilt walkers perform as members of the March Fourth Marching
Band help Portland VAMC employees celebrate the news that the resident work hours, racial dis- volunteers in the nation to re-
medical center was awarded Magnet status. parities and health policy. ceive the 2006 Disabled
Arthur Bass, employment American Veterans (DAV)
The Portland, Ore., VA Medical Center has joined an elite coordinator for the New York George H. Seal Memorial
group of only 3 percent of the nation’s hospitals by being VA Regional Office, was Award, at DAV’s national con-
named a nursing Magnet facility. Magnet designation recog- named Vocational Rehabilita- vention in July. This presti-
nizes facilities that provide the very best nursing care and tion and Employment gious award honors remark-
encourage an environment where nurses perform quality (VR&E) Employee of the Year able volunteers who serve dis-
work. The Portland VAMC is the third VA medical center to in the employment coordina- abled veterans and their fami-
receive this recognition, joining Tampa and Houston. tor category during a May 17 lies through the VA Voluntary
ceremony in St. Louis. Bass Service (VAVS) program. The
was selected for his excep- award is given in memory of a
tional contribution to the de- World War II combat-disabled
Leo P. Morgan has re- Mayor Bill White. The livery of vocational rehabilita- paratrooper, former DAV di-
ceived the Silver Helmet Mayor’s Volunteer Houston tion and employment services rector of Membership and
Award from AMVETS. The Awards program is an annual to veterans. He was instru- Volunteer Services, and lead-
award, a replica of a World citywide volunteer recognition mental in developing the con- ing organizer and administra-
War II helmet, is the highest event held in partnership with cept of a pre-employment tor of the DAV VAVS pro-
honor given by AMVETS and Volunteer Houston and the work experience tryout, plac- gram from 1952 until his
was presented to Morgan in mayor’s office. Johnson was ing potential VR&E veterans death in 1977. As Northport’s
recognition of his volunteer- one of 13 chosen from more for a short trial at a worksite, Guest Services coordinator,
ism at the group’s national than 100 nominations for her allowing veterans the opportu- Antonaccio personally visits
convention on April 1. Mor- outstanding volunteer work. A nity to check out the job and each new admission and pre-
gan was honored for his “out- disabled Army veteran, managers the opportunity to sents the veteran with personal
standing leadership” at Johnson has been an active observe the work of these dis- care items, a newspaper, and
AMVETS Post 19, and for his volunteer at the DeBakey abled veterans. any other small item that will
volunteer work at the VAMC for the past 14 years, Dr. Kent Kirchner, chief make the inpatient stay more
Coatesville, Pa., VA Medical accumulating a total of 3,135 of staff at the G.V. (Sonny) pleasant.
Center, where he chairs the hours of service. She volun- Montgomery VA Medical Juan Maldonado, clinical
Voluntary Service executive teers as a Peer Partner in the Center in Jackson, Miss., has pharmacy specialist with the
committee. In 2004, he was Spinal Cord Injury Unit, shar- been named recipient of the VA Caribbean Healthcare
named the Pennsylvania ing her experiences as a C4-5 2006 Founder’s Medal from System in San Juan, has been
AMVET of the Year. quadriplegic with newly-in- the Southern Society for named president-elect of the
Rebecca Johnson, a vol- jured veterans. Clinical Investigation. Puerto Rico Society of Critical
unteer at the Michael E. Kevin Volpp, M.D., a Kirchner, a nephrologist and Intensive and Coronary Care
DeBakey VA Medical Center staff physician and researcher internal medicine specialist, Medicine. He will take office
in Houston, was recently rec- at the Philadelphia VA Medi- oversees the medical center’s in 2008. It is the first time
ognized for her outstanding cal Center and assistant pro- active research program that that a non-physician has been
volunteerism in the greater fessor of medicine at the Uni- includes about 70 studies. elected president of this orga-
Houston area by Houston versity of Pennsylvania, re- Kirchner’s own research in- nization.
July/August 2006 29
have you heard VA n g u a rd
lowed by a fireworks display over the amphitheater lake.
VA/DoD joint venture a model The annual event began in 2001 as part of a rededication
ceremony for the cemetery’s National Medal of Honor Memo-
rial, when more than two dozen names were added to the me-
morial. The event has since become a tradition in the commu-
nity. During this year’s concert, Cemetery Director Gill Gallo
welcomed two Medal of Honor recipients: retired Army Col.
Lewis Millett and Tibor Rubin, a survivor of Hitler’s concen-
tration camps and a prisoner of war during the Korean War.
Reaching out to returning troops in Arizona
More than 9,000 active duty, National Guard and reserve mili-
tary personnel have returned to Arizona after serving in Opera-
tion Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom. To assist
them with a seamless transition from military to civilian life, VA
facilities throughout the state—medical centers, regional office,
vet centers and national cemeteries—have formed the Arizona
Summit members Larry Johnson, of the Tucson Vet Cen-
ter, and Annette Lavelle, of the Phoenix Vet Center, are OEF/
Dr. Alchristian Villaruz examines 17-month-old Alexandar Todd,
the first pediatric patient seen at the North Chicago VA Medical
Center, as nursing assistant Deborah Davis and Alexander’s fa-
ther James look on. The boy’s mother, Jeannette, is in the Navy.
The second phase of a unique partnership between VA
and the Department of Defense in Illinois to offer health
care to veterans, active duty Navy personnel and their
family members in a single facility was marked with a
dedication ceremony at the North Chicago VA Medical
Center on July 10. VA funded a $13 million expansion and
renovation of the North Chicago VAMC’s emergency and
operating room departments to absorb the shifting of in-
patient medical, surgery and emergency services from
the Naval Hospital Great Lakes.
The renovated emergency department features spe- Civil War soldiers home at last
cialized areas for pediatrics, OB-GYN, trauma, proce- Six Union soldiers from the Civil War were returned home
dures, orthopedics, and a dedicated radiology suite. Pedi- to Massachusetts 145 years after dying on a battlefield in
atric care will be provided for Navy family members for northern Virginia. The soldiers were buried with full mili-
the first time in a VA facility as a result of this partnership. tary honors executed by Civil War re-enactors on June 10
The first phase of this project was completed in 2003, at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne
when Naval Hospital Great Lakes shifted its inpatient (above).
mental health to the North Chicago VAMC. The final The soldiers’ remains were discovered in 1997 at a
phase of the partnership will be a $130 million DoD con- construction site in Centreville, Va. Scientists from the
struction project to include a new federal ambulatory Smithsonian Institution identified the remains as soldiers
care center co-located with the North Chicago VAMC, of the 1st Massachusetts Infantry who were killed on July
and is scheduled for completion in 2010. The partnership 18, 1861, during a skirmish known as Blackburn’s Ford.
model these facilities are creating will be used for future Scientists were unable to establish the identities of the
VA/DoD joint ventures. soldiers.
The Massachusetts Sons of Union soldiers arranged
for the transfer of the soldiers’ remains to their home
Independence Day concert for heroes
state. Like other veterans of the armed forces, the Civil
Riverside National Cemetery in California hosted its annual
Fourth of July Concert for Heroes for an estimated crowd of War soldiers were eligible for burial in a VA-maintained
4,000. The concert featured a mix of classical and patriotic mu- national cemetery.
sic by the Inland Empire/Riverside County Philharmonic fol-
30 July/August 2006
VA n g u a rd have you heard
OIF veterans who are able to provide insight into the needs of
returning servicemembers. The goal of the Summit is to en- A ‘golden moment’ in Biloxi
hance communications, review shared services, and provide out-
reach to servicemembers and their families. The Summit created
a One VA package to distribute at outreach events and National
Guard and reserve briefings. The package includes information moment”
and contact information for all VA facilities and programs in was created
Arizona. for four pa-
Beetle Bailey’s ‘Sarge’ signing on for stroke their wives
prevention campaign by the staff
Cartoonist Mort Walker, a World War II veteran and creator of of the VA
the Beetle Bailey comic strip, donated custom cartoons for the
VA Stroke Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI)
Center to use as part of an education and prevention project Veterans
launched in May. The cartoons feature the Beetle Bailey charac- Health Care
ter “Sarge” demonstrating behaviors considered high-risk for System in
stroke, such as eating unhealthy foods and remaining sedentary, Biloxi, Miss.
as well as some positive behaviors, such as eating fruit and walk- Staff mem- GARY MODICK
ing. bers trans- Rev. Anthony Menz conducts a ceremony for
The colorful posters featuring Walker’s cartoons were dis- formed the (left to right) Joseph and Lena Barbera, renew-
played during National Stroke Awareness Month in May in Recreation ing their wedding vows after 67 years of mar-
waiting areas of selected VA sites in North/Central Florida and riage; and Albert and Ruby McKinney, renewing
Hall into a their vows after 56 years of marriage.
Indianapolis, Ind. wedding
chapel so that the four long-married couples could renew
their vows on June 28. Tissue paper wedding bells, silver
streamers and white balloons created the backdrop for
A flower girl sprinkled pale pink rose petals down the
wedding aisle before the brides walked down the aisle
carrying bouquets of white roses. The brides joined their
husbands, who were already seated in front of the Rev.
Anthony Menz, one of the chaplains at the facility, who
conducted the ceremony.
James and Dorothy Musgrove renewed their wed-
ding vows after 36 years of marriage; Fondren and Eva
Walsh after 53 years; Albert and Ruby McKinney after 56
CHRISTOPHER PACHECO years; and Joseph and Lena Barbera after 67 years.
Following the ceremony, photographs were taken of
On the road to better health each couple cutting their individual wedding cake. Family
members, friends, fellow residents of the Alzheimer’s/De-
The Healthier US/HealthierUS Veterans program with mentia Unit, and staff members toasted the couples with
King County Steps to Health was launched May 13 at the sparkling cider.
VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle. Veterans Mark Finch, a social worker in the Alzheimer’s/De-
and local citizens attending the event received free mentia Unit, coordinated the logistics for family members
health screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure and attending the event. He said it was “really touching to be
cholesterol. able to witness such a joyous event.”
Experts were on hand to dispense advice on nutri- Linda Mitchell, the nurse manager of the unit, said
tion and fitness. Participants could also elect to walk one she came up with the idea for the ceremony when the
mile to the Columbia City Walks and Merchant Fair, wife of a patient remarked to her that “there are so few
above, where they could get their “passports” stamped golden moments in our golden years, especially when one
at various venues. The event was designed to bring spouse has Alzheimer’s.” Mitchell said she decided to
awareness to the public about the growing rates of obe- plan the event with the staff because she thought it would
sity, diabetes and high blood pressure in America. be a good memory for the couples.
July/August 2006 31
heroes VA n g u a rd
What It Takes
Orlando Perez, an Army veteran from Or-
Ever wonder what it takes to lando, Fla., prepares to take a shot during a
put on the National Veterans basketball game at this year’s National Vet-
erans Wheelchair Games in Anchorage. A
Wheelchair Games, an event native of Puerto Rico, Perez won the Spirit
that draws more than 500 ath- of the Games Award as the most inspira-
letes, plus families, friends, of- tional athlete at last year’s Games in Minne-
apolis. “The National Veterans Wheelchair
ficials, staff and volunteers? Games are life to me,” he says.
To get an idea, take a look at
these stats from the 26th
Games, held July 3-8 in An-
s 18,000 bottles of water
s 2,000 towels
s 27 ramps for loading and un-
loading wheelchairs on buses
(a total of 7,800 feet of ramp)
s 35 buses for transporting
athletes and families
s Just under 2,000 Alaskan
volunteers (6,000 volunteer
shifts, totaling 2,400 hours in
shifts; 6,000 meals for volun-
s 800 hotel rooms for ath-
letes, families, friends, offi-
cials and staff
s 225,000-square-feet of tents
s 57 handcycles
s 30 quad rugby chairs
s 10 40-foot UPS trailers to
bring equipment to Alaska
s 20,000-square-feet of ware-
house space to store equip-
ment in Anchorage
32 July/August 2006