SGT. SHAFT: Blind veteran seeks help from VA

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Dear Sgt Shaft:

I am a disabled American vet, due to a botched eye operation done in Manila, Philippines (three operations). I have lost the sight in my right eye and have only 20 percent in my left eye. The VA had diagnosed me with blindness, a permanent medical condition, but I can’t get any help from them, because I did not go blind while in service or one year after service. I retired in 1989 from the Army. I am 100 percent service connected for other service medical problems. The VA eye doctor tried to get me help, but the VA won’t pay for it. I also put in for aid and attendance. Again, the VA denied me help, so I have to pay out of pocket for my own aid. I cannot go out by myself, can’t drive, watch TV or movies, can’t see money, can’t travel by myself, can’t ready anymore.

I am asking for help in any way, shape or form to help me through my days. This has put a big burden on my wife, who has to watch me constantly. She has to read my email to me, types my email letters, read my mail to me. I have been blind since 2008. Is there any help out there for me to make my life easier. I live in the Philippines with my wife and son.

Thank you for your time.

Patrick O.
Retired U.S. Army

Dear Patrick:

I referred your missive to the VA Blind Rehabilitation Service. They assured me that they would contact you soon concerning your entry into the Blind Rehab Program.

Shaft notes

• VA is implementing a telephone support program to help spouses of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans after a pilot telephone support program showed significant reduction in stress for the spouses.

“Returning to civilian life after living in constant combat readiness can be a shocking transition, and it is the immediate family, the spouses and children, who bear that brunt of that transition with those who served,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. “The more support we can provide to the family, the better the outcome will be for our veterans.”

The spouse telephone support program, which is part of VA’s Caregiver Support Program, builds spouses’ ability to cope with the challenges that reintegration to civilian society can bring, helps them serve as a pillar of support for returning veterans, and eases the transition for families after deployments.

Spouses in the pilot program reported decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, with an increase in social support. Local caregiver support coordinators are available to assist veterans and their caregivers in understanding and applying for VA’s many caregiver benefits. VA also has a Web page (www.caregiver.va.gov) with general information on spouse telephone support and other caregiver support programs available.

• Challenging long-held notions that osteoarthritis is a result mainly of wear and tear on the joints, researchers led by Dr. William H. Robinson of the Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and Stanford University have provided new insights into the immune-system changes that may trigger cartilage breakdown. Their report appears in the Nov. 6 online edition of Nature Medicine.

“This research can lead to a better quality of life for veterans and others with osteoarthritis,” Mr. Shinseki said. “This is an example of how VA’s research program can lead to many significant breakthroughs in health care.”

Working with samples from mice and humans with osteoarthritis, the research team found that the complement system, a group of proteins that move freely through the bloodstream, plays an important role in the development and spread of osteoarthritis. When functioning normally, the complement system is an important part of the body’s immune system, killing harmful bacteria and cells infected by viruses when it is called upon to do so.

The researchers discovered that one component of the complement system, called the membrane attack complex, or MAC, is formed and activated in the joints of both humans and mice affected by osteoarthritis. They believe that when the MAC is aberrantly activated in the joints (a phenomenon called “dysregulation”), it induces low-grade inflammation and the production of enzymes that break down cartilage and result in the development of osteoarthritis.

“It’s a paradigm change,” says Dr. Robinson, a physician-researcher with the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Palo Alto VA and an associate professor of immunology and rheumatology at Stanford. “People in the field predominantly view osteoarthritis as a matter of simple wear and tear, like tires gradually wearing out on a car.”

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis, affects millions of people around the world, usually those who are middle aged or older. The disease is most commonly found in hands, neck, lower back, knees and hips. Currently, there are no therapies available to slow the progress of the disease, and treatment is focused on pain control. Ultimately, some patients with osteoarthritis require joint replacement surgery.

Dr. Robinson says one-third of people aged 60 or over suffer from osteoarthritis. VA estimates that more than 6 million World War II and Korean War veterans are still living and could be affected. Finding a way to stop the disease from progressing in an aging population could potentially help millions of veterans.

Robinson said he is optimistic about the potential of the new findings to eventually translate into better therapies to treat osteoarthritis or prevent it altogether.

“Right now,” he says, “we don’t have anything to offer osteoarthritis patients to treat their underlying disease. It would be incredible to find a way to slow it down.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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