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A hug is duct tape for the soul.

 
The Buffalo News, by Lou Michel, Wednesday, December 19, 2007 --

You can see the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in their empty shirt sleeves, the scars on their heads, in their eyes so weary from sleepless nights.

They return to their homes, trying to fit in again. Most will. Too many will not.

At least 25 local soldiers, four Marines and one sailor have been killed overseas since the war on terror began. Less known are the local veterans returning home with broken bodies or troubled souls.

Some 30,434 men and women in uniform have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Pentagon does not say where they are from, so it’s unclear exactly how many of the wounded hail from Western New York.

Almost 1,700 of those veterans have sought medical treatment at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Buffalo since 2003, with a majority seeking help for war-related injuries.

There are probably many more local veterans seeking medical treatment who are not counted in VA enrollment figures because of their status as citizen soldiers. Reservists and National Guard members often have access to private health insurance provided by from their civilian employers, according to VA officials in Washington, D.C.

But for the veterans who are trying to adjust while under the care of the local VA, the navigation of a sometimes unresponsive bureaucracy adds to the pain of life beyond the combat zone.

More than 600 of the 1,659 veterans treated here sought assistance for posttraumatic stress and other psychological readjustment troubles, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It is a full-time job working on getting whole, getting medical treatment and benefits,” said Bill Biondolillo, who served two combat tours in Iraq for a total of 14 months.

“We go and do the dirty work and we have to carry that, while the rest of the country goes on with life,” said Biondolillo, a major in the Reserves.

The list of injuries local veterans seek treatment for is frightening:

• Exposure to Russian-made bullets with depleted uranium in the shell casings. This can cause tumors, skin ailments and respiratory problems.

• Traumatic brain injuries and concussions from blasts, as well as shrapnel from explosive devices.

• Damage to the neck, back and hips from carrying as much as 100 extra pounds of body armor, ammo and other equipment.

• Irritable bowel syndrome and gastric illnesses caused by stress and living in unsanitary conditions.

Continue reading the article.

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Nurse.com, by Kurt Butzbach,RN, Monday December 17, 2007 -- I am a nurse on the brain injury unit at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). This job means a lot to me because at one time I was the patient.

More than 22 years ago, I had an accident while working in a steel fabrication shop. I fell more than 15 feet from a ladder to the floor. While one coworker called 911, another coworker held my unresponsive body. I started to turn blue, so while he waited for help, he put me in a bear hug and squeezed me, "the way they do on TV," he said. I started breathing again, but to his surprise blood started gushing out through my left ear. He didn't know if he had saved me or helped kill me.

He had ruptured my ear drum, which allowed the blood and cerebral fluid that was building pressure in my head to escape, quite possibly saving my life. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury, caused by a basal skull fracture, in addition to a separated shoulder.

My short-term memory and speech were affected, and I suffered some left-sided paralysis. So, following my hospital stay, I started rehabilitation through outpatient therapy. I participated in cognitive therapy and physical and occupational therapies and admired the therapists and nurses who helped me find my way back.

After I was released from the hospital and went through ongoing rehabilitation, I was able to fine-tune some of the more creative skills I hadn't been using for a while, such as carving, woodworking, and music.

I started a small wood shop in my garage, and I started playing my guitar more, which was an escape from the daily challenges of recovering from a brain injury.

Continue reading the article.

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- "The American Veteran," a monthly half-hour news magazine from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), spends a full third of it's January edition on two of the most talked about health problems of combat veterans -- traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"We are committed to informing veterans and military personnel about the VA programs and staff dedicated to helping these warriors recover from their physical and mental injuries," said Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon H. Mansfield. "These stories put a spotlight on the determination, commitment, and discipline of these combat veterans and the support provided by earlier generations."

One feature looks at the state-of-the-art technologies used to assess and treat even the unseen damage done to the brain by the weapons and tactics of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. A second feature looks at the services available to any combat veteran suffering from the often debilitating effects of PTSD, as well as the benefits of having veterans of previous wars available as a support network for veterans recently returned from combat. A third story examines the benefits of alternative therapies, including the use of horses in helping veterans to re-engage in managing their lives successfully.

The series is designed to inform active duty members, veterans, their families and their communities about the services and benefits they have earned and to recognize and honor them. VA's Office of Public Affairs and the VA Learning University/Employee Education System (VALU/EES) produce the program and broadcast it to VA facilities on the department's own internal network, around the world on The Pentagon Channel and to community cable outlets.

The VA Office of Public Affairs offers the program to local broadcasters and cable outlets and makes it available for viewing on the VA Web site, www.va.gov. Just click on "Public Affairs" and then "Featured Items."

Continue reading the article.

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Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report Capitol Hill Watch --
Lawmakers Pass Measures To Improve Veterans' Health Care Services

Dec 12, 2007 -- House and Senate lawmakers recently passed measures addressing veterans' health. Summaries of news about the legislation appear below:

* Traumatic brain injury: The Senate on Tuesday by voice vote passed a bill (S 793) sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) intended to improve treatment of traumatic brain injuries in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, CQ Today reports. The bill would require CDC and NIH to conduct research to improve treatment techniques for traumatic brain injuries and also would mandate that CDC monitor brain injury cases. In addition, the legislation would reauthorize and expand programs established by a 1996 law that permits CDC to grant states funds for brain injury patients to enter treatment and rehabilitation programs (Hunter, CQ Today, 12/11).

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www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/body/bra.html
San Francisco Chronicle, Heidi Benson, Chronicle Staff Writer,
Thursday, December 13, 2007 -- Marathon-happy Baby Boomers, those 78 million Americans born from 1946 to '64, were the first generation to make a religion of physical fitness. Now, they are investing time and money to maintain what's above their six-pack abs and rippling biceps: their brains.

"People are living longer, and they want their brains to keep up with their bodies," said Lisa Schoonerman, who is on top of the trend.

She and her life partner, Jan Zivic, have opened a "brain gym," called vibrantBrains, on Sacramento Street in San Francisco.

"Studies show that regular mental workouts are WD-40 for the brain," Schoonerman said. "It's preventative maintenance."

This is music to the rock 'n' roll-addled ears of Boomers, who are hearing that Alzheimer's disease is on the rise, largely due to increased longevity. According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, instances of the disease will afflict 1 in 85 people worldwide by 2050.

As they "rage against the dying of the light," Boomers are clamoring for goods and services designed to defy aging and sharpen mental skills. Top among them are brain-training computer software programs and video games, including Nintendo's "Brain Age," which has sold 10 million copies since it went on the market two years ago.

All the latest programs and more are on the menu at vibrantBrains, which Schoonerman and Zivic have created as a neighborhood resource center, with classes, lectures and author appearances, plus drop-in computer brain-training sessions.

"You can come on your own or be part of a group," Zivic said. While health insurers and retirement communities are beginning to invest in such software, the founders of vibrantBrains believe theirs is the first storefront brain gym in a commercial setting.

They offer memberships, just like a gym ($60 per month), and cite studies that show people learn best in group settings. The space is convivial, with a dozen computer stations, a retail area stocked with books and software and a sunny sitting room where tea and "smart" snacks like walnuts - rich in Omega-3 fatty acids - are in reach.

Continue reading.


ONLINE RESOURCES

-- vibrantBrains
email: info@vibrantbrains.com

-- Alzheimer's Research Forum

-- Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center, National Institute on Aging, United States National Institutes of Health

-- Posit Science Corporation

-- Dr. Gary Small, UCLA Center on Aging

-- Brain Fitness for Life

-- Reclaim Your Brain

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Reuters, By Anne Harding, NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The effects of a methamphetamine overdose are very similar to those seen after a traumatic brain injury, according to researchers who examined the effects of "club drugs" in rats.

"We showed that a single overdose of meth can be as damaging as a head-on motor vehicle collision in the brain," co-author Matthew Warren, of the University of Florida in Gainesville, told Reuters Health.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that is chemically related to amphetamine, but is more potent and more harmful to the central nervous system.

Warren and his associates analyzed changes in the proteins in rodents' brains after traumatic injury and decided to investigate whether methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, might cause similar changes.

MDMA is a psychoactive drug that is chemically similar to methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. The results of animal studies have also shown it has toxic effects on the nervous system.

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The effects of a methamphetamine overdose are very similar to those seen after a traumatic brain injury, according to researchers who examined the effects of "club drugs" in rats.

"We showed that a single overdose of meth can be as damaging as a head-on motor vehicle collision in the brain," co-author Matthew Warren, of the University of Florida in Gainesville, told Reuters Health.

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that is chemically related to amphetamine, but is more potent and more harmful to the central nervous system.

Warren and his associates analyzed changes in the proteins in rodents' brains after traumatic injury and decided to investigate whether methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, might cause similar changes.

MDMA is a psychoactive drug that is chemically similar to methamphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. The results of animal studies have also shown it has toxic effects on the nervous system.

Continue reading.

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Savannah Morning News, Sunday, December 2, 2007 -- Laboran Pickens sits inside the busy Savannah coffeehouse.

He flinches every time the grinders whine so strangers can walk away with frothy, caffeinated beverages.

He looks nervous. He assures his company he's fine.

He's on medication from Georgia Regional Medical Center.

It helps, but not always.

The Iraq nightmares still come, medicine or not.

Sometimes the spell is prompted by a loud noise or errant thought. It makes him space out. He moves like he's in a dream. He often disappears from his Hinesville home, sometimes for hours.

His wife spends those hours frantic, wondering where he is. She worries each time will be his last. That he won't come back to her and their three children.

He returns, but remembers nothing.

At 30, he is a shell of the man he once was.

'Signature wounds'

It is estimated that up to 20 percent of the 1.5 million men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq since America's War on Terror began may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, according to the Defense and Veteran Brain Injury Center, which is part of the Walter Reed Medical Center.

And a 22-month study by Veterans for America of all soldiers returning to Fort Carson, Colo., found more than 17 percent of all servicemen and women who had deployed from the installation had some form of traumatic brain injury.

Veterans organizations fear that thousands of soldiers are living undiagnosed.

Many have left the military. Or, like Pickens, were asked to leave.

They carry invisible scars.

These wounds take the form of honorable discharges, public disturbances, police reports, missing memories, sleepless nights.

And their numbers are only increasing.

Continue reading the article.

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