Saturday, June 25, 2016

Alzheimer’s and Veterans

When Jim joined the army and went to Vietnam, my biggest worry was that he wouldn’t come home. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when he got off the plane in Kansas City, never expecting that part of his mind would always remain in the jungle. He had PTSD before it had a name, but even though we didn’t know what to call it, we knew its insidious nature.

Jim went through years of depression. He spent time in a stress unit, trying to deal with the dark feelings that brought him down to lower and lower levels. Jim would sometimes tell me, “You would be better off without me” trying to prepare me when suicide seemed the way out of the living nightmare brought on by PTSD.

The final insult to Jim’s quality of life was when dementia played more havoc with his brain. The odd thing about dementia is that as it robs a person of short-term memory, long-term memory seems more recent. One day in a restaurant, Jim began to sob uncontrollably as he vividly recalled an incident from Vietnam.

I always believed that Jim’s tour of duty had much more to do with his dementia than the VA would ever admit. Researchers agree that a definite link exists between PTSD and dementia.  A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that veterans with PTSD are 77% more likely to develop dementia than veterans who do not have it.

I’ve been an advocate for Alzheimer’s research for several years. Currently, I am the Alzheimer’s Ambassador for Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler. When I visit the Congresswoman or her staff, I always know they are listening. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised when she goes beyond my expectations.

Today, I read Congresswoman Hartzler’s newsletter and saw an article, “Expanding Alzheimer’s Research.” She proposed an amendment to the FY2017 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research. When proposing the amendment, Hartzler said, “Alzheimer’s is a heartbreaking disease devastating lives, crushing families, and potentially bankrupting our nation.”

In her newsletter, she said, “Studies show our soldiers are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s due to the nature of their service. Focusing research on their conditions can not only help prevent this disease from ravishing our veterans, it can also provide hope for millions of Americans at risk or suffering from the disease.”

The amendment supplements the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program of the Department of Defense Health Program by an additional $5 million, bringing the total to $20 million. The amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill passed on the House floor (282-138) earlier this week.

I am deeply grateful to Vicky Hartzler for looking out for our veterans and the more than five million Americans who currently have Alzheimer’s disease.      
Copyright © June 2016 by L.S. Fisher

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