Lung disease of soldier linked to burn pits

By Kelly Kennedy – Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jun 30, 2009 17:09:31 EDT

Even as military health officials continue to say there are “no known long-term health effects” caused by open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, a team of Army doctors says a soldier’s cystic lung disease is “related to the burn pits in Iraq.”  A second set of doctors, trying to determine why 56 soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division came back from Iraq short of breath, found each had bronchiolitis that could be diagnosed only with a biopsy.  That disease normally comes with organ transplantation, infection, rheumatoid arthritis or toxic fume inhalation. Because there was no scarring on the soldiers’ lungs, doctors decided it must have been toxic inhalation and added a fifth cause of bronchiolitis to their list: “Iraq.”  Since Military Times began reporting in October about burn pits in the war zones, 400 troops have contacted Disabled American Veterans to say they have breathing problems or cancers they believe came after exposure to the burn pits.  Many say they have been diagnosed with “asthma-like” or “allergy-like” symptoms when they’ve complained of shortness of breath, but their doctors can’t come up with an exact diagnosis.  Meanwhile, annual cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among service members have risen 82 percent since 2001, to 24,555 last year, while cases of all other respiratory illnesses have risen 37 percent, to 28,276, Defense Department data show.


Group Plans ‘National Day of Awakening’ on Mental Health

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2009 – A Maryland-based troop-support group is planning a “National Day of Awakening” to highlight the mental health needs of military families and the services available to them.   “We are very excited about this opportunity to raise awareness and awaken the general public to the issues facing our military families,” said Barbara Van Dahlen Romberg, founder and president of Give an Hour, which provides free mental health services to redeployed troops. “In addition to a large day-long event in New York City, our goal is to have numerous community events going on simultaneously across the country.”   Give an Hour is planning the National Day of Awakening for October, and the New York event will include a gathering of mental health groups that provide services to military families at an outdoor venue. The event will be open to the public, and speakers and musicians will be invited to “entertain, inform and inspire,” Romberg said.   Gatherings across the country will include local and national military and veterans groups, corporations, local governments and community groups, she said.   Organizers hope The National Day of Awakening will fulfill several purposes, Romberg said.   “It will continue the critical process of educating all citizens on issues affecting our returning warriors,” she explained. “The event will serve to signal a new era of collaboration and coordination among organizations and individuals who have answered the call to serve this population. The event will also awaken all citizens to the huge resources available to servicemembers.”   Romberg added the events will provide an immediate focus for the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act for people interested in serving and helping troops and their families. President Barack Obama signed the act into law April 21. Among other provisions, it created the Veterans Corps as a new national service organization.   Army Spc. Jennifer Crane, a combat veteran who uses Give an Hour services, said she is pleased about the October event.

DoD and National Institutes of Health Take on Substance Abuse in the Military

By Ian Graham : June 29, 2009

WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service) – Improved recognition, treatment and prevention of substance abuse among servicemembers is the focus of a recent collaboration between the Defense Department and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a senior defense official said.  “Readiness for the military mission is always our primary reason for existence,” said Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, the Military Health System’s director of strategic communications. “The health of our men and women in uniform is really critical to sustain that readiness.”  Kilpatrick spoke about department programs to prevent substance abuse, provide counseling and study the causes for substance abuse in the military during a June 24 audio webcast, “Armed With Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military.”  Dr. Timothy Condon, deputy director of NIDA, joined the show to discuss a NIDA initiative to study substance use and abuse in U.S. military personnel, veterans and their families.  NIDA hosted a public, multi-agency meeting in January to assess understanding and knowledge of substance abuse in the military environment. The agencies identified knowledge gaps, opportunities and possible complications regarding behavioral research and study in the military, Condon said.  “I think this was a very enlightening experience for both those who were part of the armed forces as well as those who were part of the academic community,” he said. “There really was a meeting of the minds.”

Pa. doc at center of VA cancer probe admits errors

Associated Press Writer

Jun 29, 5:39 PM EDT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A doctor accused of botching dozens of prostate cancer surgeries at a Veterans Administration hospital admitted Monday that he sometimes missed his target when implanting radioactive seeds, leaving patients with incorrect dosages.  But Dr. Gary D. Kao called the mistakes commonplace in aiming seeds at the walnut-sized prostate, which sits near the bladder and rectum, and he steadfastly refused to become a scapegoat for the scandal at the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia.  But Dr. Gary D. Kao called the mistakes commonplace in aiming seeds at the walnut-sized prostate, which sits near the bladder and rectum, and he steadfastly refused to become a scapegoat for the scandal at the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia.  “Contrary to the allegations that I was a ‘rogue’ physician, … I always acted in the best interest of the patients in delivering this important treatment,” Kao, a radiation oncologist, testified at a Senate field hearing at the hospital, where he worked from 2002 to 2008.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has found that 92 of 116 men treated in the hospital’s brachytherapy program received incorrect doses of the radiation seeds, often because they landed in nearby organs or surrounding tissue rather than the prostate. Kao performed the majority of the procedures under a VA contract with the University of Pennsylvania, where he was on staff.

Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics (ANAM)

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC)

There is a major focus on cognitive assessment for Service Members. The concern comes from injuries seen during conflicts in which Service Members may be injured by explosions, resulting in concussions, also known as mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).  A brain injury that may result from such blasts can range from mild to severe.  An mTBI/concussion may cause changes which include a slower reaction time, headaches, irritability, memory impairments, and sleep difficulty. These symptoms may result in decreased performance. Performance is critical to mission effectiveness.  One reason that an mTBI/concussion can go unnoticed is that symptoms may not be obvious. Therefore the Service Member may not have visible external injuries.

Purpose of the ANAM:

ANAM is a proven computer-based tool designed to detect speed and accuracy of attention, memory, and thinking ability. It records a Service Member’s performance through responses provided on a computer.  It is being conducted prior to deployment and can be used to identify and monitor changes in function. It does not diagnose any medical condition.  The results may help healthcare staff compare a Service Member’s speed and accuracy of attention, memory, and thinking ability before and after an injury.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Research

STAND-TO! Edition: Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What is it?

According to the Joint Theater Trauma System, 66 percent of the warfighters wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom are from blast injury. Forty-one percent of the warfighters exposed to a blast show evidence of a traumatic brain injury.   Mild TBI is currently defined by the event and through self-report of symptoms. The working definition is any post-event exposure alteration of mental state at the time of injury, any loss of consciousness lasting 30 minutes or less, or post-traumatic amnesia lasting less than 24 hours. There is agreement that this definition does not meet the needs for clinical assessment of brain injury.

Army lab works to improve Soldier health, performance

By Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service ; Jun 26, 2009

NATICK, Mass. (June 25, 2009) — Nestled in the shadows of the Boston skyline, scientists and Soldiers in a one-of-a-kind Army laboratory work quietly behind the scenes to improve the health and performance of today’s troops.  Though it’s known to relatively few outside of scientific and academic circles, the lab’s work leaves its fingerprint on nearly everything Soldiers eat, wear and use.   The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine is housed on a leafy, waterside post at the Soldier Systems Center here, alongside a handful of other military research and development agencies. But while those agencies are busy readying the force with rations, clothes and gear, the environmental medicine lab focuses on the physiological effects those items have on the Soldier.  About 200 people work on staff at the lab, and the scientists say their work concentrates on the “skin in” while the other development labs on post focus on Soldier equipment, or the “skin out.”   “We’re not designing the equipment. We’re not designing the backpacks. But we essentially try to evaluate and make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do to optimize the Soldiers’ performance,” said Edward Zambraski, chief of the military performance division at the institute, who holds a doctorate in exercise physiology.   Shortly after World War II, Army officials realized Soldiers would continue to be deployed worldwide and wanted a research facility that could study the environmental and operational impacts on the health and performance of troops in a variety of climates and conditions. The institute as it stands today eventually was formed in 1961 from a composite of other federal and academic laboratories.  It is the Defense Department’s lead research lab for operational medicine, and spends about $28 million annually on its efforts. Using high-tech, multi-million-dollar facilities, scientists and technicians can simulate the searing summer heat of Iraq and measure its effects on Soldiers’ performance. They can reproduce the effects of the high altitudes and freezing temperatures of the mountains in Afghanistan, gathering data that can help commanders predict how many Soldiers will succumb to mountain sickness on an infantry patrol there.  “We basically can duplicate the environmental conditions here [of those] almost anywhere in the world where our warfighters are going to be deployed,” said Christopher Joyce, the lab’s head of technology transfer and marketing.  The lab’s two climatic research chambers – each 60 feet long, 11 feet high and 15 feet wide — are among the largest and most sophisticated environmental test chambers in the world. They can simulate environmental conditions ranging from the arctic to the tropics. The tunnels can blast wind up to 40 mph and rain up to four inches an hour. Temperatures can drop to minus 70 degrees and soar to 165 degrees.   The lab’s two altitude chambers can simulate altitudes of up to nearly 30,000 feet and temperatures to minus 25 degrees. A water-immersion lab simulates cold and hot environments in a 10,000-gallon concrete pool.  But the lab does not test only the effects of heat and cold or high altitude. It tests nearly everything that affects the Soldier.