Congress Passes Hirono, Hatch Bill to Expand Long Term Health Care Coverage for Veterans

Congress Passes Hirono, Hatch Bill to Expand Long Term Health Care Coverage for Veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed Senators Mazie K. Hirono and Orrin G. Hatch’s (R-Utah) State Veterans Home Adult Day Health Care Improvement Act (S. 324). This bill ensures that severely disabled veterans are able to receive adult day health care services at no cost to them by defining the program as a reimbursable treatment option through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Senate passed the bill in November 2017 and now goes to the President for signature into law.

“VA coverage of adult day health care allows Hawaii veterans and their families to afford comprehensive services to maintain their quality of life and care for their service-connected conditions,” said Senator Hirono. “By passing the State Veterans Home Adult Day Health Care Improvement Act, Congress affirmed the importance of expanding access to this care for veterans in Hawaii and across the country.”

The Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo is one of a few state veterans homes across the country that offers adult day health care services, which allow veterans in need of nursing home care to live in their own homes while receiving comprehensive medical, nursing, and personal care services.

The VA currently covers about one third of the cost of adult day health care for eligible veterans at state veterans homes. The remaining expense of the program is paid for the facility or directly by veterans and their families, which significantly limits the number of veterans who can enroll.

The State Veterans Home Adult Day Health Care Improvement Act is supported by the National Association of State Veterans Homes (NASVH), the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and AMVETS.

Navy investigates surfing as a way to counteract PTSD

Navy investigates surfing as a way to counteract PTSD

By Washington Post on Mar 12, 2018 at 12:23 p.m.

In song and prose, surfing has long been celebrated as a way to soothe the mind and invigorate the body. But scientific evidence has been limited.

Now the Navy has embarked on a $1 million research project to determine whether surfing has therapeutic value, especially for military personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or sleep problems.

Researchers say surfing offers great promise as therapy. It is a challenging exercise in an outdoor environment; people surf individually or in groups; military surfers who are reluctant to attend traditional group therapy open up about their common experiences when talking to other surfers on the beach.

“Lots of times it becomes therapy under the guise of recreation,” said Helen Metzger, head of the health and wellness department at Naval Medical Center San Diego. “They talk about surfing and then it gets into things that are deeper than that, common experiences, common traumas.”

“For many of our patients, exercise is the best medicine, and exercise in the natural environment is even better,” said James LaMar II, a physician at the Naval Medical Center San Diego and a volunteer in the hospital’s surfing program. “Surfing is a way back to a healthy life, the kind of life they had before they were traumatized.”

The military saw a 65 percent increase in mental-health diagnoses among active-duty personnel between 2001 and 2011, according to a 2013 study done by the Congressional Research Service. Cases of PTSD increased by 650 percent, according to the study, and more than 900,000 individuals were diagnosed with at least one mental disorder during that decade.

The Navy study, led by clinical psychologist Kristen Walter, analyzes questionnaires answered by service members before, during and after a program of surfing one day a week for six weeks.

The first group of 14 active-duty Marines and sailors in the six-week surfing program all had shown signs of major depressive disorder, some with signs of PTSD, researchers said.

To the researchers, the initial results suggest that surfing can lead to a decrease in insomnia and feelings of anxiety, and a decline in an overall negative view of life and other symptoms of depression.

The study, which began last year, will follow up with participants to check on their sleeping patterns and whether improvements in their mental outlook have been long-lasting.

The study also plans to test the hypothesis that while hiking is beneficial, surfing is even more so. While some patients will go surfing, others will be taken on hikes.

When the three-year study is complete, there will have been 118 participants in surfing groups and 43 in hiking groups.

For physicians who have treated service members, the initial upbeat results are not surprising.

“I’m a believer,” said Cmdr. Natalie Wells, preventive medicine physician and director of military population health at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego.

“It’s huge that Navy medicine is thinking outside the box,” said Betty Michalewicz-Kragh, an exercise physiologist at the hospital and director of the surfing program.

Physicians in the military medical system and the Department of Veterans Affairs are hoping the study will prove that surfing is therapy, not just recreation.

“We all know it’s good; we can see it,” said Capt. Eric Stedje-Larsen, a pain management specialist who worked in the San Diego surfing program before being assigned to the Navy hospital in Portsmouth, Va. “For some folks, there is nothing like it. But we need science to get the administrators onboard.”

The surfing program at the Naval Medical Center San Diego began in 2008 when therapists were helping an Army staff sergeant from Hawaii whose right leg and right hand were blown off in Iraq. He asked whether he would ever surf again. Therapists took him surfing and, over time, were impressed as he regained strength and self-confidence. A second patient, a Coast Guard seaman whose leg was amputated in a motorcycle accident, joined the soldier. Soon a surfing program was created for other amputees and then for patients with mental-health problems.

The idea that surfing can relieve the trauma of war is not new. An expansive exhibit at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, close to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, is titled “China Beach: Surfing During the Vietnam War and the Healing Power of Wave-riding.”

“It’s peaceful, but it’s also an adrenaline rush,” said retired Lt. Gen. John Toolan, who led combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Surfing is great therapy for young guys and for old guys like me, too.”

A surfing program by the Los Angeles-based Jimmy Miller Foundation brings instructors and psychologist Kevin Sousa to Camp Pendleton twice a month. Sousa follows service members with physical and mental injuries into the waves to offer surfing instruction and look for signs of emotional problems or distress. When the surfing session is over, he helps lead an informal group discussion on the beach.

“We believe we can heal each other one wave at a time,” said Kris Primacio, manager for ocean therapy at the foundation.

The foundation, along with VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, supported an early study of the therapeutic value of surfing. Led by occupational therapist Carly Rogers, the 2014 study found that surfing, coupled with individual counseling, group therapy, other exercise programs and medication, can help alleviate symptoms of psychological distress.

Jonathan Sherin, director of Los Angeles County’s mental health department, was a physician with VA during the Rogers study.

“Surfing exposes individuals to the awe of nature,” he said. “It’s good for a population that has turned inward from people and the outside world.”

On a recent sunny day, service members, many of them from the Wounded Warrior Battalion, assembled on the beach at Camp Pendleton to listen to instructors from the Jimmy Miller Foundation.

One of the surfers was Sgt. Maj. Brian Fogarty, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. While Fogarty surfed, his PTSD service dog Blade, a 2-year-old boxer, stayed on the beach and watched. Fogarty will retire soon and join the PTSD Foundation of America. He plans to sing the praises of surfing.

On most days, military members can be found on several beaches in the San Diego area.

Nick Horin, 36, an Army staff sergeant and Iraq combat veteran, lives in the Aspire Center, a VA residential rehabilitation treatment site. He has been diagnosed with PTSD.

“I had a lot of anger after Iraq; I wanted to hurt people,” Horin said at a beach in La Jolla. “Surfing is the only way to take the edge off my anger without drinking or taking drugs.”

A few days later, the latest participants in the San Diego hospital’s surfing program and the study met at the beach in Del Mar.

Marine Cpl. Angel Lopez, 21, was severely injured in a motorcycle accident. “I can’t ride anymore, but maybe I can surf,” he said. “This is another step to keep going.”

One of the volunteers at Del Mar was Nico Marcolongo, a retired Marine major. Surfing, he said, helped him overcome PTSD after Iraq. He is convinced it will help others.

“Overcoming a challenge gives them a sense of empowerment,” Marcolongo said. “They stop thinking of their injuries and start thinking about the waves.”

Story by Tony Perry



For Immediate Release

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Contact Teri Freitas Gorman



Retired Army Lieutenant General to Focus on Veterans Care

KAHULUI, HI— Maui Grown Therapies today announced that James B. Peake, M.D. Lieutenant General, USA (Retired) has joined its Science & Medical Advisory Board. Dr. Peake is the former US Secretary of Veterans Affairs, having served from December 2007 through January 2009 as the government’s principal advocate for veterans. In retirement, his interest in veterans’ wellbeing has widened to include the promise of medical cannabis therapy.

“I welcome the opportunity to serve on Maui Grown Therapies’ Science & Medical Advisory Board under the direction of chief science officer Andy Weil, the father of American integrative medicine,” said Dr. Peake. “I believe integrative medicine is exactly where all of medicine is going. Medicine is a team sport. You need all the modalities coming together to make sure the whole patient is taken care of. It enhances care for everyone, especially for our veterans.”

Dr. Peake began his Army medical career as a general surgery resident at Brooke Army Medical Center-Fort Sam, in Houston, Texas. He retired from a 38+-year United States Army career in 2004, during which he served as the 40th Surgeon General of the United States Army, commanding 50,000 medical personnel and 187 army medical facilities worldwide. Prior to that he served as Commanding General of the US Army Medical Department Center and School.

For his service in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division, he was awarded the Silver Star, a Bronze Star with “V” device and the Purple Heart. After retiring from the Army, Dr. Peake served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Project Hope, a non-profit international health foundation operating in more than 30 countries. While at Project HOPE he helped to orchestrate the use of civilian volunteers aboard the Navy Hospital Ship Mercy in response to multiple natural disasters.

Dr. Peake earned his Bachelor of Science degree from US Military Academy at West Point in 1966 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army Infantry. He received his MD from Cornell University Medical College and he is a graduate of the United States Army War College.

Dr. Peake joins an elite group of physicians and scientists who serve on Maui Grown Therapies Science & Medical Advisory Board (SMA) under the direction of Andrew Weil, MD, the nation’s most prominent teacher of integrative medicine.  They include the company’s chief medical officer Greg Yim, MD, a Honolulu pediatric neurologist;  Gregory Park, MD, beloved Maui internist and oncologist; Julie Holland, MD, prominent New York psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist;  Donald Abrams, MD, San Francisco oncologist and hematologist and botanical therapies pioneer; cannabis researcher, author and curriculum training advisor, Michael Backes; and Jeff McElroy, PhD, who serves as the company’s chief cultivation advisor.



Maui Grown Therapies is a patient-centered, physician-led company that provides equitable access to quality assured medical cannabis in full compliance with state regulations. We educate and serve medical professionals, patients, caregivers and families.  Maui Grown Therapies is “By Maui, Of Maui, For Maui.” Hawaiʻi’s first licensed medical cannabis dispensary, conveniently located at 44 Paʻa Street in the Maui Lani Village Center in Kahului, offers patient privacy in a professional setting with ADA friendly facilities and parking.

For more information, visit or phone (808) 866-7576.

Flu Season is here! Veterans protect yourselves and get a NO COST flu shot!

Flu Season is here! Veterans protect yourselves and get a NO COST flu shot!

The cold and flu season is upon us and the Department of Veterans Affairs has once again teamed up with Walgreens Pharmacies nationwide to allow all veterans who are currently enrolled in the VA healthcare system to be able walk into any of the over 8000 Walgreens nationally (and the Duane Reade pharmacies in the New York metropolitan area) to receive a vaccination at no cost.  Vaccinations will be available through March 31, 2018.

Veterans wishing to receive the no cost vaccination simply need to present a Veterans Identification Card and a photo ID, at any participating Walgreens to receive the vaccination. The Group ID is: VAFLU

In addition, after the Walgreens pharmacist administers the vaccine Walgreens will transmit that information securely to VA where it becomes part of the patient’s electronic medical record.

VA is committed to keeping Veteran patients healthy, and during this flu season, vaccination is the best way to prevent the spread of flu.  No matter where you live, visit your local VA clinic or Walgreens to get a no cost flu shot.