Technology Assisting Physically Impaired Veterans

Rick Archer with the assisted technology team at Haley VA explains how reflections of infrared light off a veterans pupils can control a typical computer like a mouse or keyboard.

Rick Archer with the assisted technology team at Haley VA explains how reflections of infrared light off a veterans pupils can control a typical computer like a mouse or keyboard.

Have you ever taken a photograph and the camera flash turned the person’s eyes into red or white dots? That bane of amateur photographers is becoming a useful tool for physically impaired veterans.

Rick Archer, an assisted technology therapist at the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center, has  a typical laptop computer in front of him. Attached to it is a black device, the size of a toothbrush case, called Eyegaze.

“You’re getting infrared  light coming out and it’s turning the pupil white because that’s what it reads. And once I get myself in place, it says go ahead and type,” Archer said. “You really don’t have to be able to move anything other than your eyes to run it.”

That’s because your reflective pupil acts like a mouse cursor or fingers on a keyboard. A camera captures the reflection and turns it into computer commands.

“I can do Facebook, email, Skype, calendars, music. Anything I want to do with the computer, I can basically do just by looking at it,” Archer said.

He estimates the Eyegaze device costs about $1,900. Paired with a laptop the total cost is about $3,000 to help a physically limited veteran regain quality of life, he said.

The Eyegaze is just one of several devices being used in the Haley VA Assistive Technology department. In the last six months, 134 veterans have been helped by the high-tech devices supplied by the VA when they’re deemed medically needed.

Electrical impulses are all that’s needed to operate another computer-controlled device, said Ursula Draper, an occupational therapist on the Haley VA assisted technology team.

“What I’m demonstrating here is an EMG controlled computer which means the electrical impulses from your nerves. So, on my hand I have an electrode. This is all wireless,” Draper said.

Motion is not needed to operate the computer, making the device ideal for patients who have ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, she said.

“All we need is a little muscle twitch for them to be able to communicate. And they can do anything on this computer that anyone can do they can get to the mail. They can go to the internet,” Draper said. “So, this gives them a way they can reach out to others.”

And there’s technology for veterans who are less impaired, but may have memory trouble, such as a smart-pen and digital notebook that writes, records and backs up notes at the same time.

“It is going to record as you’re writing your notes. So whatever you’re writing, it’s recording at the same time,” speech pathologist Tilena Caudill said.

http://youtu.be/WzTCEpgmTGQ

And if you have a lot of notes, you can use the smart-pen to point to a specific place in your notes on an iPad, and it will replay the recording without having to fast-forward or rewind, she said.

While a lot of this technology is available to the general public, it’s an important symbol to injured veterans and service members, said Steven Scott, director of the new $52-million Tampa VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

“This is sort of a promise that we’ve given those who have served our country. If you ever get injured, you’re going to be able to come to a place that America offers or the VA and we’re going to give you the best  rehabilitation care you can ever get,” Scott said.

 

New VA Polytrauma Center Holds an Open House

The main therapy pool that is heated by solar panels on the roof the the Polytrauma Center and the wall of doors open the pool to the outside courtyard.

The main therapy pool that is heated by solar panels on the roof the the Polytrauma Center and the wall of doors open the pool to the outside courtyard.

It’s not your father’s VA anymore as evidenced by just one look inside the Department of Veterans’ Affairs new Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center at James A. Haley VA Hospital at 13000 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa.

There’s a putting green, a two-story climbing wall, and an aquatic center for recreational therapy. Each of the 56 new private rooms has large windows for natural light, lush wood paneling, wheelchair accessible bathrooms, a desk and a large-screen TV so veterans and active duty personnel have direct access to education programs and entertainment.

“It doesn’t seem so sterile. I can see green grass. I can see Busch Gardens from here,” David VanMeter, an associate director at Haley who is in charge of facilities, said as he gazed out a second-story window. “There are different things to look at instead of just four cold walls.”

A two-story, therapy climbing wall is part of the common area in the Polytrauma Center second floor area known as Main Street.

A two-story, therapy climbing wall is part of the common area in the Polytrauma Center second floor area known as Main Street.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony, which is open to the public, is scheduled Saturday, April 12, 2014, at 1 p.m. followed by an open house.

Bringing the outside indoors is the theme of the new Polytrauma Center. The home-like environment is filled with technology and conveniences to make life easier for patients like a track system in the ceiling so immobile patients can be moved easily from their bed to the bathroom.

And private rooms are carved into neighborhoods with military inspired names such as Duty, Patriot and Valor. The idea is to create a healing environment where patients and their families feel at home.

So beyond the individual rooms along an angled extra-wide corridor, there are day rooms where families can socialize.

Freeze-dried palm trees line the Main Street common area at the Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center where patients can relax at the internet cafe. There are cooking facilities and a children's play area as well as access to an outdoor deck.

Freeze-dried palm trees line the Main Street common area at the Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center where patients can relax at the internet cafe. There are cooking facilities and a children’s play area as well as access to an outdoor deck.

There’s a two-story atrium called “Main Street” that is lined with freeze-dried, 20-foot palm trees. The concept is bringing the outdoors inside.

Main Street is filled with natural light. It’s a place where veterans can relax at the internet café or take a turn at the two-story climbing wall.

“You have to think of the veterans on active duty we’re seeing. One day they are in the field. They are serving in combat. They are active. They are young. They have expectations a different generation of veterans may not have had,” VanMeter said. “And now, we’re trying to tool what we provide here to them.”

The hallways are angled so the design doesn't feel institutional and the 56 private rooms are broken up into neighborhoods with military inspired names like Valor.

The hallways are angled so the design doesn’t feel institutional and the 56 private rooms are broken up into neighborhoods with military inspired names like Valor.

Interior glass walls continue the open feeling allowing a view inside the rehabilitation center and the kitchen of the transitional apartment. And it’s overlooked by a balcony. The third floor is where the general rehabilitation and chronic pain patients call home.

One of the hidden gems on the second floor is an outdoor deck. It’s surrounded on all four sides by buildings. But there is direct access to open sky above complimented by wood planking below and planters filled with greenery to frame the space.

A putting green, basketball court and horseshoe pit are all part of the new, outdoor recreational therapeutic activity courtyard.

A putting green, basketball court and horseshoe pit are all part of the new, outdoor recreational therapeutic activity courtyard.

The aquatic center is a prime example of bringing the outside indoors. The main therapy pool is enclosed on one side with glass doors that can be opened up to the recreational courtyard.

The smaller pool is like a high-tech treadmill that can be raised and lowered for easier patient access.

The recreational space outdoors has a multi-surface area where wheelchair patients can practice traversing stone, brick and gravel surfaces. There’s a putting green, basketball court and a horseshoe pit plus plenty of benches – some of them shaded – for those who want to feel the breeze and sun on their face.

Associate director David VanMeter points to the flat-screen TV that connects patients to everything from education to entertainment.

Associate director David VanMeter points to the flat-screen TV that connects patients to everything from education to entertainment.

You can listen to an audio tour of the new James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center on WUSF 89.7 FM.

Lush wood cabinets and flooring help the private rooms to feel warmer and more like home.

Lush wood cabinets and flooring help the private rooms to feel warmer and more like home.

The exterior of the Aquatic Center.

The exterior of the Aquatic Center.

The circular drive entrance to the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

The circular drive entrance to the James A. Haley VA Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Center.

 

VA Patient Records at Center of Tug-of-War in Florida

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

A view of James A. Haley VA Hospital from the entrance at the new Polytrauma Unit.

State health care regulators showed up unannounced for a third time at a federal Veterans Administration Hospital in Florida and asked to view patient records.

That visit to James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa Wednesday appears to be part of a tug-of-war between Gov. Rick Scott and federal VA hospitals.

The governor ordered state inspectors to review VA hospital records and conditions after a national VA investigation indicated that delayed treatment may have led to the deaths of three patients and injury of several others in the VA network that includes Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

None of those deaths occurred at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg or James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa.

And state health regulators were advised that federal law prohibits sharing VA patient records when they showed up at the West Palm Beach VA Hospital last week.

Yet, inspectors from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) showed up at Bay Pines Tuesday and at Haley Wednesday according a Haley VA public information officer.

“They asked to inspect our records and we’re working with them taking their concerns,” Karen Collins, James A. Haley PIO, said. “Basically, (the) VA is dealing with it on a regional and national level and to work with the governor’s office.”

Collins said the VA has responded and offered to meet with the governor and state regulators.

However, ACHA did not acknowledge the VA’s invitation. Instead, the agency sent out a press release within hours detailing how two surveyors arrived at Haley Veterans Hospital at 9:41 am and left at 10:02 am “after being declined the opportunity to review any processes.”

Later in the day, the governor’s press office sent out a release:

Governor Scott said, “For the third time, AHCA inspectors were turned away from a VA hospital. I will continue to call for the VA to allow state surveyors to review their processes until the unanswered questions are addressed. I expected the VA to be open to an independent analysis, but they remain close-minded to my calls for accountability and transparency.

“The safety of our veterans is of paramount importance and they deserve answers. My office stands ready to dialogue with the VA about their lack of transparency, and with every VA hospital that turns away state inspectors, my concerns are more heightened, not diminished.”

In Washington, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs held a hearing Wednesday on the “Continued Assessment of Delays VA Medical Care and Preventable Veteran Deaths.”

The prepared statement for John D. Daigh, Jr., M.D. from the Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, is available here.

Slain Fort Hood Sergeant Coming Home to Bay Area Friday

Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson of Mulberry, FL. Photo courtesy of the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office via Reuters.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson of Mulberry, FL. Photo courtesy of the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office via Reuters.

The body of Mulberry High School graduate, Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ferguson, 39, one of three killed in the recent Fort Hood shooting rampage, is expected to arrive home to the bay area Friday according to a member of the Florida Patriot Guard Riders.

Thomas “T-Man” Brown, Florida Patriot Guard Riders assistant state captain, told Tampa Tribune reporter Howard Altman that “the riders will escort Ferguson’s remains from Tampa International Airport, where there will be a private service at 6:50 p.m., to the Lakeland Funeral Home & Memorial Gardens.

There will be a private funeral Saturday morning at the Resurrection Catholic Church in Lakeland, said Brown.

The riders will then escort Ferguson to his final resting place at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell later that day, Brown said.

“All bikers are welcome to ride in the procession to show our support for this hero,” Brown said in an email to riders.

A second shooting victim, Army Sgt. Carlos A. Lazaney Rodriguez, 38, reportedly has relatives in Tampa but Lazaney was originally from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. He was close to completing 20 years of service and reportedly was preparing to retire and start a second career.

Ferguson enlisted in July 1993 as a transportation management coordinator. He was assigned to the 49th Transportation Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, as a transportation supervisor. He had deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lazaney Rodriguez enlisted in February 1995 as a unit supply specialist. He was assigned to the 21st Combat Support Hospital, 1st Medical Brigade, as a unit supply sergeant. He had deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

The third shooting victim killed was Army Sgt. Timothy Wayne Owens, 37, from Effingham, Ill., enlisted in July 2004 as a motor transport operator, He was assigned to the 49th Transportation Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, as a heavy vehicle driver. He had deployed to Iraq and Kuwait.

Fort Hood is planning a memorial service Wednesday, April 9, 2014 in memory of all the victims.

Marine Lima 3/25 Company Memorial Exhibit Tours Florida

The artist's depiction of LCpl Timothy Bell, Jr, Sgt Justin Hoffman, and LCpl Nicholas Bloem from the Lima Company Memorial traveling exhibit.

The artist’s depiction of LCpl Timothy Bell, Jr, Sgt Justin Hoffman, and LCpl Nicholas Bloem from the Lima Company Memorial traveling exhibit.

Opening today, April 7, 2014, and staying for only three days in Tampa, Florida is an art exhibit that has become an iconic symbol for the men and women who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The Lima Company Memorial: The Eyes of Freedom exhibit features life-size paintings depicting 23 Marines from the small Ohio Reserves unit L 3/25 who were killed in action in 2005 in Iraq.

Mike Strahle served with Lima Company and now shepherds the exhibit around the U.S. He said the exhibit has a broader reach than just his generation.

“It is a great example of a traveling exhibit for this modern war on terror. I don’t even want to limit it to just this war,” Strahle said. “We have so many men and women that come in and see our exhibit from WWII, Korea, Vietnam (wars), and it’s just as moving for them as it is for the 25 to 35-year-olds that have fought in the current war on terror.”

The Lima Company Memorial was open for three days in Clearwater before moving to the Tampa USF Campus.

The USF Student Veterans Association is hosting the traveling exhibit which is set up at the Marshall Center. Marine Reservist Patrick Sweickart hopes the exhibit will bring closure to his fellow student veterans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There’s a ton of student veterans whether they were active duty going to school or Reservist or National Guard for Florida that while they were going to classes got called to order, called to serve, they had to leave in the middle of the semester and do a tour,” Sweickart said.

The Lima Company Memorial – Eyes of Freedom is free and open to the public.

The hours at USF’s Marshall Center – Ballroom C – are: Monday noon-8 pm, Tuesday 8 am-8 pm, and Wednesday 8am-4 pm.

The exhibit will then move on to Melbourne for a three-day stop before returning to Ohio.

April 5, 2014: Today Is Gold Star Wives Day

An act of Congress established the Gold Star Lapel Pin (left), for issue to immediate family members of service members killed in combat. The Next of Kin Pin (right) signifies a service-related. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

An act of Congress established the Gold Star Lapel Pin (left), for issue to immediate family members of service members killed in combat. The Next of Kin Pin (right) signifies a service-related. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

By William Bradner – U.S. Army Installation Management Command

“It’s heartbreaking to think of someone asking ‘what a beautiful pin, where can I get one?’” said Gold Star Wife Donna Engeman.

“We need to ensure the nation — the world — recognizes what that pin really signifies,” she continued.

April 5, 2014, has been designated by Congress as “Gold Star Wives Day.” The intent is to publicly recognize the sacrifices made by our service members in support of our nation.

Though the official designation of the Gold Star Wives Day is relatively new, the gold star has officially been recognized as a symbol of loss since 1918.

Throughout the First World War, families would hang blue service stars in their windows to indicate that their loved ones were serving in the war effort. By 1918, it became common practice to pin a gold star over the blue star to indicate that their service member had died. President Wilson also authorized mothers to wear a gold star on the traditional black mourning band to signify their loss was war-related in 1918.

During the Second World War, service flags and what they represented were standardized and codified by Congress. In April of 1945, a non-profit group calling themselves “Gold Star Wives of America” filed incorporation paperwork signed by Eleanor Roosevelt. Less than two years later Congress approved the design, manufacture and distribution of the Gold Star Label Pin to be presented to surviving family members of those who died in that conflict.GoldStarWives_14-Digitalv2

Though service flags and Gold Star pins fell out of favor in the sixties, in 1973 the Army approved a lapel pin to be worn by those who lost their lives while serving on active duty but not in combat operations.

The rise of patriotism and pride in service after September 11 brought about a resurgence of the use of both the blue and gold stars in flags, bumper and window stickers and lapel pins.

But it’s not enough, said Engeman, who manages the Survivor Outreach Services program for the Army.

During World War II, more than 16 million people served in the war effort overseas, and most of the country supported the war effort through rationing, victory gardens, war bonds, and other public displays of support.

Only 2.5 million service members have deployed during the war on terror; less that 1 percent of the American population. While service flags can be readily found in windows in the residential areas on military installations, it’s rare to see them in mainstream America.

To help raise awareness, the Army has produced a series of public service announcements describing the significance of Gold Star pins. The PSAs will be released over the course of the year, to expand awareness efforts beyond a single day proclaimed by Congress.goldstar_poster

The Army, recognizing that families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice deserve our respect, gratitude and the very best we can provide, created Survivor Outreach Services to provide long-term support services and family case management for surviving families. A program in the G9, Family and MWR Services Directorate of the Installation Management Command, SOS is integral to the Army’s support system and casualty notification office.

“Our support service coordinators and financial counselors are dedicated to helping survivors from all eras understand–and apply for–the benefits they’re entitled to” said Hal Snyder, chief of IMCOM’s Wounded and Fallen Support Services Office. “We also help them stay connected to the Army family for as long as they desire.”

SOS currently supports more than 55,900 surviving military family members, and is spearheading the effort to raise awareness through the PSAs.

“We’re committed to our survivors,” said Lt. Gen. Mike Ferriter, IMCOM commander. “So educating the public on the meaning behind the gold star pins is simply another way to reaffirm that we honor and understand the sacrifices they’ve made for our country.”

This article is courtesy of the Gold Star Pins.org – a U.S. Army website.

 

Helping Military Kids Cope with Tough Times

LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon, a pediatrician in the military, who gives advice on what stress symptoms a child may display and what to do.

LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon, a pediatrician in the military, who gives advice on what stress symptoms a child may display and what to do.

The fatal shootings at the Fort Hood, Texas military post are tough enough for adults to grasp.

Now, imagine if you are the child in a military family and hearing news of the shooting for the first time.

Military kids are tough, but news like that can overwhelm a child already dealing with deployment, transitioning to a new post or living on a military base.

So, I’m posting a few links that most military families may know about, but it’s helpful to have online tips at hand.

First, LTC Dr. Keith Lemmon outlines symptoms of stress you may observe in a child from an infant having trouble bonding to an elementary school child acting out.

The Military Kids Connect website offers specific tips for dealing with four tough topics:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI)
  • Physical Injury
  • Grief and Loss

As part of a military family, children sometimes have to learn how to cope with and overcome very difficult situations. So, the Department of Defense has developed materials to help the children, parents and educators because the family’s involvement is key to a child’s success in dealing with tough situations.

There’s a sign circulating for April, Military Child Month, that goes:

Military children will say good-bye to more significant people by the age of 18 than the average person will in their lifetime.

Just think about it and whenever you thank a member of the military for their service you might add a thank you for their family and children.

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