Analysis Says That Aging Veterans at Greater Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Published in Wonsocket Call on October 2, 2017

On Monday, October 2, at a press conference USAgainstAlzheimer’s, (UsA2), along with veterans groups, plan to release an issue brief, “Veterans and Alzheimer’s Meeting the Crisis Head on,” with data indicating that many older veterans will face a unique risk factor for Alzheimer’s as a direct result of their military service.

Following the release of this issue brief, on TuesdPbulisheday evening at a reception in room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, UsA2, a Washington, DC-based Alzheimer’s advocacy group whose mission is to stop Alzheimer’s disease by 2020, will launch VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s (VA2), a national network of veterans and their families, military leaders, veterans groups, researchers, and clinicians, to focus on raising awareness of the impact of Alzheimer’s and other dementias on active and retired military service members.

Dramatic Increase in Veterans with Alzheimer’s

Forty nine percent of those aging veterans age 65 ((WW2, Korea, Vietnam and even younger veterans, from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in the coming decades), are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s compared to 15 percent of nonveterans over age 65, note the authors of the issue brief. “There is a clear and compelling obligation for greater support to meet the needs of veterans with Alzheimer, they say.

The issue brief pulls together research study findings released by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). On study estimates that more than 750,000 older veterans have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, another noting that the number of enrollee with Alzheimer’s grew 166 percent from roughly 145,000 in 2004 to 385,000 in 2014.

The “Minority communities are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and minority veterans are predicted to increase from 23.2 percent of the total veteran population in 2017 to 32.8 percent in 2037, says a VA study.

The issue brief also cites study findings that indicate that older veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are 60 percent are more likely to develop dementia, Twenty-two percent of all combat wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq were brain injuries, nearly double the rate seen during Vietnam – increasing these younger veterans’ lifetime Alzheimer’s risk.

Veterans also face a multitude of barriers to effective Alzheimer’s diagnosis and care, including a complex Veteran’s Administration health system, a lack of understanding about available benefits, and a stigma related to brain and mental health, say issue brief authors.

George Vradenburg, UsA2’s Chairman and Co-Founder, sums up the message to Congress and federal and state policy makers in the released issue brief: “We need to understand so much more about why brain injuries sustained in battle put veterans at greater risk for Alzheimer’s. We must encourage veterans to participate in clinical studies to learn about the long-term effects of brain injuries, so we can do everything in our power to mitigate the impact on those who have given so much to this country.”

A Call for Funding…

When former Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts released Rhode’s Alzheimer’s plan in 2013, to guide and coordinate the state’s efforts to care for those with debilitating Alzheimer’s and those who care for them, she called the report a ”living document, ” to be continuing updated as needed. With the 5-year update of the State’s plan being due June 2019, to be submitted to the Rhode Island General Assembly, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee and the Executive Board of the Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders working group, roll up their sleeves to meet that legislative deadline.

McKee and his Alzheimer’s plan working group are now turning to philanthropic organizations, like the Rhode Island Foundation, to fund their efforts to update the State’s Alzheimer’s plan. Yes, it costs money to do this and with the incidence of Alzheimer’s increasing in the Ocean State, lawmakers and state policy makers need an updated plan to provided them with a road map to effectively utilize state resources and dollars to provide care for those afflicted with debilitating cognitive disorder.

In 2013, 24,000 Rhode Islanders were afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders and this number will continue to grow each year. With the state being so small, every Rhode Islander is personally touched, either caring for a family member with the cognitive disorder or knowing someone who is a caregiver or patient.

Funding from the Rhode Island General Assembly and philanthropic organizations are needed to get the ball rolling on the state Alzheimer’s plan. When updating, don’t forget the needs of Rhode Island’s aging veterans.

Founded in 2010, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s has worked to secure the national goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025 and to assist in securing nearly $500 million in additional public funding for Alzheimer’s research over the past few years. The nonprofit’s global efforts has influenced the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, the G7, to embrace a similar 2025 goal and to call for greater levels of research investment and collaboration to combat Alzheimer’s . Finally, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s works to forge pharmaceutical industry commitments to improve efficiencies for an expedited drug discovery and approval process. For more information click here.

For details on the updating of Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s Plan, call the office of Lt. Gov. Dan McKee at (401) 222-2371.

Honoring the Fallen: Author salutes Pawtucket residents who died in Vietnam War

Published in Senior Digest, May 2016

For over 30 years, Terry Nau served as sports editor of the Pawtucket Times. When Nau retired in 2012, the seasoned newspaperman did not miss the daily grind of working full-time but soon learned that he missed writing. With free time on his hands, Nau began to write about a part of his life that he had buried for 40 years – his stint in Vietnam as an artilleryman in 1967-68. In his first four years of retirement, the former sports writer would self-publish three books about the Vietnam War.

In 2013, the retiree produced his first book, which dealt with being drafted out of college in 1966 and finding himself in Vietnam by September 1967 for a one-year tour with A Battery, 2/32 Field Artillery. This book, “Reluctant Soldier … Proud Veteran,” focused on his personal journey towards understanding the role Vietnam played in his life.

A Vietnam Veteran Remembers

For his second book, Nau, a Pennsylvania native, decided to write about the 15 students from his high school who died in Vietnam.

“In 2014, my high school’s 50th reunion committee asked me to try and calculate the number of Vietnam veterans in my Class of 1965,” he said, “and from that project came my second book, ‘We Walked Right Into It: Pennsbury High and the Vietnam War.’ ”

A Pawtucket resident since 1982, Nau said, “It was only natural that I would follow up with a book on Pawtucket and its 21 Vietnam War casualties.” His latest book evolved into an oral history, told mostly through the words of surviving family members, friends and fellow soldiers.

“The courage these families showed became the underlying theme of ‘They Heard the Bugle’s Call: Pawtucket and the Vietnam War,’ Nau stated. “It was hard for them to talk about their fallen soldier but after a while, it seemed like they warmed to the idea of remembering these soldiers nearly 50 years after they died,” he said.

Celebrating the 50th

Nau’s latest book has triggered a movement to honor Pawtucket’s “21 Heroes.”

“Pawtucket must remember these courageous soldiers, beginning with its first casualty, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Antonio Maciminio, Jr., who died on May 21, 1966, Nau said, noting that the 20-year-old infantry soldier left a pregnant wife who gave birth to their daughter Vicky in October 1966. Two other soldiers from Pawtucket – Jack Hulme and Michael Dalton – would also die before they ever saw their sons,” Nau noted.

On Saturday, May 21, from noon-2p.m. at the Pavilion in Slater Memorial Park, the City of Pawtucket will honor its 21 Vietnam War casualties. Antonio J. Pires, Director of Administration for Mayor Donald Grebien, will speak on behalf of the city. A reading of the City Council resolution that declares May 21 as “21 Heroes Day” in Pawtucket will follow.

According to Nau, at least 13 of the 21 families will participate in a Roll Call ceremony that will highlight this event. Each soldier’s name will be called out, in the order they fell, beginning with Lance Corporal Maciminio and continuing through Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Dalton, who was the last city resident to die in the war, on June 9, 1971.

The city also plans to honor its surviving Vietnam War veterans with a “Welcome Home” salute from the audience. That will be the final note in an emotional ceremony.

“Vietnam veterans often came home by themselves from the war zone,” Nau said. “The welcome they received came from their parents, families and friends. And that was all they wanted. Over the years, our military leaders realized what a mistake it had been to send soldiers home alone, instead of in units. To have the City of Pawtucket honor our Vietnam veterans in the 50th anniversary of the war means a lot of these graying veterans.”

The May 21 ceremony will begin at noon with 30 minutes of socializing. The ceremony will begin at 12:30 p.m. and should conclude by 1:30 p.m., followed by another 30 minutes of socializing.

“Three of the soldiers’ widows will attend, arriving from Florida, California and New Jersey,” Nau said. “Cathy (Maciminio) Dumont is bringing her daughter Vicky, who turns 50 in October. Vicky will speak her father’s name in our Roll Call of heroes. Debbie Dalton and Ellen Hulme will also participate in the Roll Call.”

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For more information on this May 21 Slater Memorial event, email Nau at tnau3@cox.net or check out the Facebook page, “Pawtucket’s Vietnam War Heroes.”

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Military Recognition Long Over Due for Shemin and Johnson

Published in Woonsocket Call on June 7, 2015

             Almost a century ago when they fought in the bloody battlefields on Europe’s Western Front, and over four years after the passing of Frank Buckles, America’s last doughboy in 2011, America’s Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama presented the nation’s highest military honor to two long-deceased World War I veterans.  .

At White House ceremony, held on June 2, President Barack Obama recognized the acts of valor of Army Private Henry Johnson, an African-American, and Sgt. William Shemin, who was Jewish.  “It’s never too late to say thank you,” the President told the attendees, including 66 surviving Shemin family members.

“It has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve,” the President said, at the formal ceremony to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to the two World War I infantry soldiers for their gallantry and “personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.”

Johnson and Shemin fought in France and risked their lives to save others, Obama said, stressing that America “is the country we are today” because they “rose to meet their responsibilities and then went beyond.”

The President said, “The least we can do is to say: We know who you are. We know what you did for us. We are forever grateful.”

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Johnson, an Albany, New York, resident enlisted in the Army and was assigned to one of the few units that accepted African-Americans, Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment – an all-black National Guard unit known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” that later became the 369th Infantry Regiment.  Ultimately, the regiment was deployed in 1918, and Johnson’s unit brigaded with a French army colonial unit ending up at the western edge of the Argonne Forest in France’s Champagne region.

In the pitch black, pre-dawn hours, in “No Man’s Land,” Johnson, who had worked before the war as a chauffeur, soda mixer, laborer in a coal yard and redcap porter at Albany’s Union Station, was credited with helping fight off at least 12 soldiers of a German raiding party despite being wounded and protecting Sentry Needham Roberts, from capture, May 15, 1918.

.            According to Obama, “Johnson fired until his rifle was empty; he and Roberts threw grenades and both of them were hit, with Roberts losing consciousness, As the enemy tried to carry away Roberts, Johnson fought back. After his gun jammed, he used it and a Bolo knife to take down the enemy and protect Roberts from capture.”  Johnson’s bravery ultimately would bring a cache of weapons and supplies to the allies and keep the Germans from gaining valuable intelligence information.

While Johnson was one of the first Americans to receive France’s highest award for valor [the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm] for his bravery in battle] “his own nation didn’t award him anything – not even the Purple Heart, though he had been wounded 21 times,” Obama said.

At the ceremony, Obama also awarded the Medal of Honor to Shemin, a rifleman to Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in France.

Shemin, a former semi-pro baseball player and ranger who worked as a forester in Bayonne, New Jersey, repeatedly exposed himself in combat to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue wounded troops during the Aisne-Marne offensive in France, between Aug. 7 and Aug. 9, 1918.

“After platoon leaders had become casualties, Shemin took command and displayed initiative under fire, until he was wounded by shrapnel and a machine gun bullet that was lodged behind his left ear,” said Obama.

Following three months of hospitalization for his injuries, he was transferred to light duty and served in the Army occupation in Germany and Belgium.  Shemin received the Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for battlefield valor, Dec. 29, 1919.

An Act of Congress

It took over five years to get Shemin’s Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to a Medial of Honor,  says Col. Erwin A. Burtnick, (Ret.), who chairs the Awards for Valor Committee, of the Washington, D.C.-based Jewish War Veterans of the United States (JWV). Elsie Shemin-Roth, had approached JWV with her father’s records, asking the organization for a review.

Burtnick says, Shemin-Ross, a Missouri resident, grew up hearing stories from her father and those who served with him about how anti-Semitism played a role in preventing his recommendation for receiving the Medal of Honor.  From the documents submitted and a review of other Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor citations from World War I, the retired colonel felt strongly that if the Jewish soldier had been recommended for the Medal of Honor he would most likely had received it.  .

With a federal law required to allow Jewish World War I veterans to receive the Medal of Honor (current law mandates that it must be awarded within five years of when the heroic act being recognized took place), Burtnick asked Shemin-Roth, to help get the ball rolling by contacting Rep. Blaine Luekemeyer (R-MO). whose office ultimately drafted the initial legislation, the William Shemin World War I Veterans Act.

Burtnick provided advice in drafting the proposed legislation. Initially introduced in 2010 it was not enacted.  However, the legislation along with a companion measure in the Senate introduced by Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) passed and became part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012.  However, due to a technical requirement additional legislation was placed in the NDAA of  2015, which allowed the President to award the Medal of Honor to Shemin without regard to the five-year limitation.

.           Meanwhile, Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) spearheaded Congressional efforts to get Johnson his Medal of Honor. He knew that the nation’s highest military award had long been denied due to racism, but he knew that the African-American deserved recognition for his “bravery and heroism” during World War I.

The New York Senator submitted a nearly-1,300 page request to the military in support of Johnson’s receiving the Medal of Honor and launched an online petition to build public support. The Senator also made a personal call with U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, met with Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright – who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor – and wrote a letter to Secretary Hagel, all in an effort to secure the Medal of Honor for Private Johnson.

Senator Schumer, the author of the legislation with the assistance of RR and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), successfully pushed for an amendment to be also included in the NDAA of 2015 (NDAA), which also waived the timing restrictions on the Medal of Honor and enabled the President to consider the Medal of Honor request.  With Obama’s pen stroke, Johnson got his Medal of Honor, too.

At the ceremony, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson, New York National Guard senior enlisted advisor, accepted the medal on Johnson’s behalf. Soldiers from the 369th were among the attendees.  There are no family members left to accept the prestigious military award.

“It’s a blessing; it’s an honor; it’s a good thing that Henry Johnson is finally being recognized as a hero,” Wilson said.

Burtnick, came to the White House to see Shemin receive his Medal of Honor and attended a Pentagon enshrinement for the World War I soldier in the Hall of Heroes.  “I was elated that our efforts came to fruition, It took over five years to complete,” he says, acknowledging that he had fulfilled a pledge to Shemin-Ross when he first contacted her, to meet someday at the White House.  “I was happy to see her and she was happy to see me,” he says.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.