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SGT. SHAFT: Veteran seeks information about Agent Orange

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I need help and advice, I am three months in remission and have had chemo with Rituxan five times since my diagnose of ischemic heart disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 2001. I was not in Vietnam but in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1973 and the U.S. Air Force from 1973 to 1979. I was stationed at U.S. Army Fort Dix in N.J., U.S. Air Force Base Mather in California and Keesler AFB Biloxi in Miss.

I have uncovered that these three military sites were exposed to Agent Orange as well as other chemicals. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

N.O.B.,
Via the Internet

Dear N.O.B.:

Many veterans claim to be affected by an Agent Orange-related disease, but if the sites where they were stationed or deployed to aren't recognized by the VA, they may have a rough road ahead of them. The VA will assist in identifying locations outside of Vietnam where AO was stored. You should contact the Environmental Health Coordinator for your state. Contact information is available from the VA here: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/coordinators.asp.

Shaft notes

• Kudos to the 19 Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities from across the nation that were recently recognized by The Joint Commission as top performers on key health care quality measures for 2011-2012.

"We at VA are very pleased with The Joint Commission recognition. We are proud of the medical facilities that made this list, proving VA's commitment to providing the high-quality care our veterans have earned through their service," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. "This achievement demonstrates the hard work that each and every VA medical staff member undertakes to serve veterans."

While all 152 VA medical facilities are accredited by The Joint Commission, the list recognizes facilities that are the top performers based on The Joint Commission's review of evidence-based care processes that are closely linked to positive patient outcomes. Three new accountability measure sets are included in the calculation for this year's Top Performers program: stroke, venous thromboembolism and inpatient psychiatric services. This year's program recognizes Joint Commission-accredited hospitals for a significant achievement in accountability measure performance. Eight VA facilities have received the Top Performer status for two consecutive years — a noteworthy distinction.

"VA health care has been a leader in performance measurement, electronic health records, research and clinical quality for more than a decade," said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel. "I am proud of the staff and I fully expect to see more VA medical facilities making this list next year."

The Top Performers on The Joint Commission Quality Measures for 2012 announced its "Improving America's Hospitals" annual report recognizing hospitals to national and trade media. Top Performers include the following Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities:

— Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center, Tuscaloosa, Ala.;
— VA Long Beach Health Care System, Long Beach, Calif.;
— Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Grand Junction, Colo.;
— * VA Medical Center, Wilmington, Del.;
— * Boise VA Medical Center, Boise, Idaho;
— *Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.;
— Robley Rex Medical Center, Louisville. Ky.;
— * Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center, Iron Mountain, Mich.;
— * Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center, Saginaw, Mich.;
— * VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, Biloxi, Miss.;
— Samuel S. Stratton VA Medical Center, Albany, N.Y.;
— VA Hudson Valley Health Care System, Montrose, N.Y.;
— Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Ore.;
— * Erie VA Medical Center, Erie, Pa.;
— * William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center, Columbia, S.C.;
— Memphis VA Medical Center, Memphis, Tenn.;
— VA Medical Center, White River Junction, Vt.;
— VA Medical Center, Spokane, Wash.;
— VA Medical Center, Huntington, W.Va.
[An asterisk denotes a Top Performer rating for a second year.]

In addition to being named in this report, Top Performers are highlighted at www.jointcommission.org and The Joint Commission's Quality Check website: www.qualitycheck.org.

• Also an attaboy to Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, a long-time VA researcher often called "the father of human transplantation," has received one of the world's top awards for science from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation.

"We join the Lasker Foundation in celebrating Dr. Starzl's lifetime of achievement in medical research," Mr. Shinseki said. "Dr. Starzl's work is a shining example of what our physician-researchers accomplish on behalf of Veterans and all Americans."

Dr. Starzl retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1998 after nearly 50 years with VA and its predecessor organization.

He shares the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for 2012 with Roy Y. Calne of the University of Cambridge in England. Both men were recognized for their development of liver transplantation, which has restored life to thousands of patients with end-stage liver disease.

A World War II naval veteran, Dr. Starzl began his VA career in the 1950s as a resident surgeon in the Chicago VA Research Hospital, now part of the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.

"Dr. Starzl's selection as a recipient of the Lasker-DeBakey award is a well-deserved tribute to an exceptional career of service to Veterans and to all mankind," said Dr. Robert Petzel, VA undersecretary for health. "Every successful transplant accomplished by VA surgeons, and by surgeons everywhere, is a tribute to his skill as a physician and a researcher. His work has changed the way in which medicine is practiced forever."

In 1962, after joining the University of Colorado and the Denver VA Medical Center, Dr. Starzl conducted the first long-term successful kidney transplant at VA's Denver facility.

A year later, in 1963, Dr. Starzl attempted the first human liver transplant. Several subsequent operations proved that transplanted livers could remain viable. Dr. Starzl worked to improve the procedure and began transplanting livers again in 1967. Today, the world's longest survivor has carried her transplanted liver for more than four decades.

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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