Posts Tagged ‘Department of Veterans Affairs’

Michelle Obama “Joining Forces” With Med Schools to Treat Wounded Warriors

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Two medical education groups and 130 medical schools signed on to First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to “train the nation’s physicians to meet the unique healthcare needs of the military and veterans’ communities,” the White House announced recently.  The schools pledged to do in-depth research into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and to teach medical students and physicians to “better diagnose and treat our veterans and military families,” according to the announcement.  “By directing some of our brightest minds, our most cutting-edge research, and our finest teaching institutions toward our military families, they’re ensuring that those who have served our country receive the first-rate care that they have earned,” Obama said.

Speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Obama said that the American Association of Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine have pledged to devote research, education and clinical care to address military service members’ crucial healthcare needs.

The initiative is part of the Joining Forces campaign, an effort by the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden that focuses on issues that affect veterans and their families.  Obama cited some examples already are underway at universities, including VCU, which has undertaken a project to provide resources and training to healthcare providers, volunteers and community members across Virginia to help veterans.  Similarly, University of Pittsburgh researchers are developing a new imaging tool that lets physicians see high-definition views of the brain’s wiring. This can help diagnose a TBI. And the University of South Florida is working with the VA and the Department of Defense to create a Center for Veterans Reintegration – a research, treatment and education center for veterans and their families.

“Today the nation’s medical colleges are committing to create a new generation of doctors, medical schools and research facilities to make sure our heroes receive the care worthy of their military service,” Obama said. The idea behind Joining Forces is extremely simple, Obama said. “In a time of war, when our troops and their families are sacrificing so much, we all should be doing everything we can to serve them as well as they are serving this country,” she added. “It’s an obligation that extends to every single American. And, it’s an obligation that does not end when a war ends and troops return home. In many ways, that’s when it begins.”

Mrs. Obama said she became aware of this when she and President Barack Obama welcomed the final troops home from Iraq last month. “I couldn’t shake the feeling that even though we were marking the end of the war, this was not an ending for them.  For our troops, the end of war marks the beginning of a very long period of transition,” she said. Frequently, the transitions from war to home “bring the hardest moments our troops and their families will ever face,” she added.

It is estimated that one in six of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans come home with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and at least 4,000 have had at least a moderate-grade brain injury, Mrs. Obama said, noting that many avoid seeking help because of what they perceive as a stigma.  “I want to be very clear today: these mental health challenges are not a sign of weakness,” she said. “They should never again be a source of shame. They are a natural reaction to the challenges of war, and it has been that way throughout the ages.”

Obama thanked the troops and their families for their service, and noted that anyone experiencing mental health difficulties should not be ashamed.  “Seek help, don’t bury it,” she said. “Asking for help is a sign of strength.”  The Pentagon estimates that nearly 213,000 military personnel have suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2000.

A previous report by the Rand Corp. think tank estimated that 300,000 veterans of both conflicts suffered PTSD or major depression.  Less than 50 percent had sought treatment for PTSD over the previous year and approximately 60 percent of those reporting a probable brain injury had not been evaluated by a physician for one.  “This is a long-term issue for the nation,” said Brad Cooper, the executive director of Joining Forces.

“Those of us who have never experienced war will never be able to fully understand the true emotional costs,” Mrs. Obama said. “PTSD, TBI, depression and any other combat-related mental health issue should never again be a source of shame.”

Although the military has strong support systems and personnel trained in combat-related mental health issues, more than half of veterans seek treatment in their hometowns, outside the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mrs. Obama said. The new initiative aims at assuring that all civilian physicians have access to information on those issues.

“Everyone is stepping up,” Mrs. Obama said while praising the ongoing work of researchers at the colleges involved in the initiative.  She said the will to help veterans is strong and goes beyond Veterans Day parades and rallies on Fort Bragg.  Obama said the “hidden wounds” faced by many veterans are the “most difficult struggle they will face.”  She said it was imperative for the nation’s physicians to understand the mental health challenges involved.  “Mere words and anecdotes don’t do any of this justice,” she said.

The Doctor and His iPad Will See You Now

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

The Department of Veterans Affairs has started connecting as many as 100,000 of its staff members at VA medical centers with tablet computers running on three operating platforms in a move toward electronic health records (EHRs).  According to Federal Business Opportunities, the VA plans to acquire 60 tablet devices every year, which will be shared by doctors, nurses and technicians.

The government’s wish list includes iPads running Apple’s iOS system, tablets running Google’s Android OS and devices using Microsoft Windows.  They’re asking for 20 tablets of each operating system annually.  Additionally they want the vendor to develop an applications store geared specifically to the VA.  The documents detail a multitude of security concerns which they want the vendor to address.  Although Apple’s and Google’s operating systems don’t comply with federal wireless standards, VA officials concluded that security for those systems was sufficient.

Roger Baker, the VA’s chief information officer, previously had announced that the department was working to make iPhones and iPads available to staffers so they could connect to VA networks.  Baker also began testing out an iPad himself.  The tablets are primarily meant for the VA’s medical clinicians, although some might go to staff and managers at its headquarters.  “The solution allows VA to gain visibility to the devices as well as apply enforcement of VA security, management and other applicable policies to the devices from an enterprise perspective.” Baker said.

The VA’s program is virtually identical to a similar pilot test started earlier by the FAA, which experimented with replacing paper copies of electronic flight manuals with an electronic version stored on an iPad.  Federal regulations require encryption and credentialing programs, as well as concerns about lost devices.  Nevertheless, some agencies are under growing pressure to find ways to accommodate mobile technologies to make federal employees more productive.

Baker tried to downplay the impact of the program.  “At this introduction point, it’s not going to have dramatic effect,” Baker said.  “For what you can do with it right now, it’s only somewhat more useable than the other mobile devices we’ve had in our infrastructure.  It will have the same level of encryption, but you will be able to access our information gateway that is more viewable.”

Baker also envisions using the tablets for clinical applications that take advantage of the devices’ display properties, including heart rate monitors and blood chemistry charts, which will allow clinicians to do on-the-spot analysis.  Ultimately, the VA could supply patients in remote areas with tablet computers equipped with full-motion video capabilities to support home tele-health programs.  Baker believes tech-savvy Veterans Affairs physicians will develop future medical applications for tablets that could be provided through an internal VA app store.  By focusing on evidence-based medicine, Baker said VA will have the opportunity to create its own “brand”.