NCIRE – ThE VETERaNs hEalTh REsEaRCh INsTITuTE
Bridging research and Veterans health care
B RIdg E Volume 5 • spring 2011
The Countouriotis Family:
Generations of Service
hen he retired from the US Gregory – that he serve four years in the
Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in Marine Corps. Gregory embraced the idea.
2009, NCIRE Board of Directors
member and former California Q: Why is it important to care about
Highway Patrol officer Steve Countouriotis had Veterans health?
served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at posts all
Maria: I know how easily one of the
over the world. Steve’s sister Maria and brother
casualties of these wars could have been
George have been San Francisco police officers;
my son, or one of my nephews or my niece,
in turn, the children of all three siblings joined
or my niece’s husband, or my brother.
the military and saw combat tours in Iraq.
The Bridge interviewed Steve Countouriotis, Steve: Our Veterans served their country, and
his wife Debbie, and Steve’s sister Maria they did things that others did not want to do.
Countouriotis about service and sacrifice.
Debbie: They’ve volunteered their service,
Q: How did the family tradition and it’s the least that we can do to help them
of service get passed on? make that transition back into society. And
if they’re hurting, we need to help them.
Steve: My father served in the US Air Force
during the Korean War, and that had an Q: How did you deal with the anxiety of so
impact on me. Our children grew up on many children in combat at the same time?
military bases in the US and overseas.
Debbie: For me, the hardest part of the day
Debbie: Pretty much on their own, our was from about 10 at night to 7 in the morning,
children decided to go into the military, because if there’s a death notification to be
and we fully supported them. When made, the Army will not do it during those
9/11 happened, our daughter Alethea hours. So you go to bed at night and say
and our son Nicholas were in the Army to yourself, “I talked to him today, he’s OK,
ROTC. Demetrius, our oldest, had been let’s hope I talk to him in the morning.”
in the Marines for a couple of years.
Lt. Col. Steve Countouriotis and his wife There’s much more to the story of the
Maria: The greatest influence on my son Debbie visit Building One at the San Francisco Countouriotis family. To read the complete
VA Medical Center, one of the original
Gregory was his father Greg Sr., a Marine, interview, go to www.ncire.org/countouriotis
structures completed in 1934.
who had only one hope and expectation of
NCIRE - The Veterans Health Research Institute
NCIRE is the leading self-funded nonprofit research institute in the United States devoted to advancing Veterans health research. We are
affiliated with the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco. Combined Federal Campaign No. 85275
Bridging Military and Civilian Cultures Heart Failure Research Letter from
the Director of
aptain Lance Friis is a Behavioral Health Outreach Liaison civilian cultures. “I grew up in Concord, California,” he recalls. “There A New Community of Support Emerges
Officer with the California National Guard in Sacramento, were military installations and personnel all around the Bay Area.
California. In his job, Captain Friis trains county mental My father, stepfather, uncles, and grandparents were all in the Army. n Saturday, March 26,
health workers in military culture, with the goal of But today, with less than one percent of the population serving in a hearty and spirited Welcome to the Spring 2011 issue of
“making them more sensitive to the cultural needs of military the military, there are many, many people who don’t know anyone crowd of almost 300 The Bridge. Our theme is Generations
personnel.” in uniform.” – bundled up against of Service. In that spirit, we introduce
wind and driving rain – stepped you to NCIRE Board of Directors member
Traveling the state, Captain Friis has learned a lot about what Actually supporting troops and their families “means more than
up to the starting line at the Lieutenant Colonel Steve Countouriotis,
civilians don’t know about slapping a yellow ribbon on your car,” says Captain Friis. He offers
inaugural Challenge Failure 5K/10K USAR (Ret.). You will also meet Captain
military culture – in several suggestions. “Get involved with a local chapter of the Blue
Race in Lodi, California. The race Lance Friis of the California National
particular, the military Star Mothers” – an organization of parents with children in the
was founded by Robin Boriack of Guard. Their stories are important for
emphasis on service. As military. “Volunteer at your local VA or Vet Center. Connect with
Lodi, whose late husband Marc, many reasons, but two in particular bear
an example of service, your local National Guard unit’s Family Readiness Group.” Service
a US Army Veteran, suffered from Photograph provided courtesy of the Lodi News Sentinel
mentioning: the need to honor our service
Captain Friis points to organizations such as “the Rotary or Lions or a church or a temple
heart failure for many years, and members and put a human face on military
“the firefighters who ran can hold a barbecue for a National Guard or Army Reserve unit on And they’re off — walkers and
passed away in 2010 at the age runners are fast on their feet. service today. Defense Secretary Robert
into the Twin Towers on a drill weekend. It means a lot.”
of 52. Gates recently noted that “no major war in
September 11, 2001, when
everybody else was running What does a Veteran or service member just back from being our history has been fought with a smaller
Ms. Boriack and her family conceived the Challenge Failure event as a way of
out – because that was deployed want to hear from a civilian friend? “It may sound trite, percentage of this country’s citizens in
honoring the memory of their loved one while raising awareness and funds to
their job. People in the but ‘thank you for your service’ will be truly appreciated,” advises uniform” – roughly 2.4 million service
support heart failure research at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. To ensure
Captain Friis presents at the third military make those kinds Captain Friis. “Just hang back and give them space to talk if they members out of 300 million people, or less
that 100 percent of race registration fees, sponsorship donations, and pledges
annual The Brain at War conference of sacrifices all the time.” want – or not, if they don’t. Do not express pity – that’s extremely than one percent. This disparity reflects
at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel would benefit heart failure research, the Boriack family absorbed all costs
important. Don’t minimize their service; they chose to serve.” Above the fact that many Americans do not know
in San Francisco, California on associated with the event, which raised close to $20,000.
June 17, 2010.
He notes that there was all, “show respect and understanding. Respect is a military value. anyone in the military, or from a military
not always such a gap Those in the higher ranks have to show respect for the troops they Mr. Boriack’s physician was John Teerlink, MD, director of the SFVAMC Heart family. In return, this causes enormous
between military and lead. It’s a two-way street.” Failure Program. As Dr. Teerlink explained, “Heart failure, also known as cultural rifts that must be bridged if we
congestive heart failure, is a progressive condition where the heart cannot are to help service members effectively
pump blood adequately to supply the body’s organs.” According to the American transition back to civilian life – rifts that
NCIRE Board Chair Visits Navy Carrier College of Cardiology, heart failure affects about five million Americans and is
the leading cause of hospitalization in people over 65.
are often deepened by the presence of
devastating physical and psychological
“NCIRE is extremely honored to support the vital work of Dr. Teerlink and his wounds. As you read this issue, I hope
Reported by Paul Volberding, MD, Chair of the NCIRE Board of Directors quest to improve the lives of Veterans and the millions in our communities who you will bear in mind NCIRE’s mission:
advancing Veterans health through
suffer from heart disease,” said NCIRE Executive Director Robert E. Obana. “The
n December, 2010, I had the recover them after landing in a precise Challenge Failure Race is very much in the spirit of the research we support at research. With your help, we can marshal
honor of visiting the USS Carl choreography. Sleeping that night was NCIRE – relentlessly searching the resources to span the military/civilian
Vinson, a Navy aircraft carrier a challenge. From our staterooms below for new ways to combat this gap and improve the lives and health of
that was sailing off the coast the flight deck, we could hear planes and other serious diseases.” those who have sacrificed so much on
of San Diego, days before departing taking off and landing all night long, our behalf.
for the Middle East in support of our right above our heads.
forces in Afghanistan. Celebrating post-race in Lodi
Like other carriers, the Carl Vinson is a (L to R): Susan Ammon, MS,
A group of us crammed aboard a Navy floating city, with 5,600 people on board NP-C, Family / Adult Nurse
Practitioner, SFVAMC; Robin
C2A prop jet, took off, landed on the when cruising. I couldn’t help but be
Boriack, event organizer; Robin
carrier at about 160 miles an hour, and impressed at the level of professional- Morjikian, Director of Development,
came to a dead stop in two seconds – ism I encountered everywhere. NCIRE NCIRE, and John Teerlink, MD, Director of Development
a procedure known as landing “on the and the rest of us involved in Veterans Director, Heart Failure Program, NCIRE
hook.” Three cables stretched across health care, can learn a lot from the SFVAMC. The Veterans Health Research Institute
the flight deck are designed to snag a Paul Volberding, MD Navy’s tremendous espirit de corps. Just
hook protruding from the belly of an as significant is the pride that people
aircraft. The moment the aircraft makes contact with the deck, the feel holding such important roles in our nation’s defense – pride
pilot slams the throttle to full thrust. If the hook catches a cable,
then the plane is stopped in spite of being at full power. But if the
they maintain as Veterans, long after their service is over. My visit
reinforced what we already know: that those who have served in Support Veterans health research with a donation
pilot somehow misses the cables altogether, the plane has enough uniform deserve the highest respect.
You can make a gift online at www.ncire.org/donate
thrust to take off safely and try again.
The next day, when it was time to go, we climbed back in the C2A
One of the most thrilling sights was standing on the bridge at and were launched. In two seconds, we went from zero to 150 miles
night above the flight deck, which is kept dark so that the pilots an hour. Landing back in San Diego on a regular runway was an To make a gift of cash or securities, please contact Robin Morjikian at 415/750-6643 or firstname.lastname@example.org
can preserve their night vision. Flames shoot out of jet engines as anticlimax. My visit was an amazing experience, and one I will Checks should be payable to NCIRE. The tax I.D. number is 94-3084159.
teams in different colored coveralls ready planes for launch and never forget. NCIRE is a California non-profit 501(c)3 corporation and your donation is tax deductible.
The Brain at War
“Preparing for the Future of Veterans Health” theme for the fourth annual
conference at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco
On Thursday, June 23, 2011, NCIRE will present the fourth
annual meeting of The Brain at War.
SAVE The Brain at War 2011 is about connections – connections
between modern science and wounded warriors, between
military culture and civilian society, and between the
current impacts of today’s warfare and the dangers they
pose to the long term well-being of our Veterans.
A growing body of evidence confirms that post-traumatic stress is associated with long-term
increased risk of dementia, heart disease, immune dysfunction, and other diseases of aging.
The neurological, psychological, and physical damage that is done to young warriors today might
not manifest for years or even decades. The Brain at War has become an annual opportunity to
discuss, prepare, collaborate, and coordinate efforts to appress the effects of combat on the brain
June 22 & and to preserve the health and lives of a new generation of Veterans.
In association with The Brain at War, NCIRE will host the second annual celebration of Friends of
June 23, 2011 Veterans Health Research the evening of Wednesday, June 22, also at the Marines’ Memorial. The
featured speaker will be the Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy, former member of the US House
of Representatives and a long-time advocate for greater access to mental healthcare services.
The Veterans Health Research Institute
4150 Clement Street (151NC) San Francisco, CA 94121-1545
Th E B R I d gE www.ncire.org
An NCIRE Publication, 4150 Clement Street (151NC), San Francisco, CA 94121 The Bridge is published twice yearly. We welcome your input.
Editor-in-Chief: Robin Morjikian, Director of Development Please send comments to email@example.com.
Staff Contributors: Linda Acton, Stephen Morange, Robert Obana, Steve Tokar
Design: Susan Dugdale