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This Issue: The Aging Veteran | Table of Contents: Summer 2017 | Download this issue

From the Chief Research and Development Officer

Honoring our aging heroes

Rachel B. Ramoni, D.M.D., Sc.D Rachel B. Ramoni, D.M.D., Sc.D
Chief Research and Development Officer

Six months ago, I packed my bags and moved from New York City to Washington, D.C. One of the many good things about living in this city is that it is dotted with reminders about the importance of honoring our Veterans and the sacrifices they have made.

For those of you who have not seen it, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a stark wall of polished black granite cut in the shape of a "V." The names of the 58,318 U.S. service members who are missing in action or lost their lives for our country are carved into the surface. Millions of people visit the memorial each year, running their fingers over the names of these lost service members who were also daughters, sons, and vital members of their communities.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Wall. To honor the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen who gave their lives so valiantly, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Fund is hosting a ceremony in November that will include reading each and every name on the wall out loud, taking an estimated 65 hours over a four-day period.

As VA researchers, we strive to honor Veterans as part of our mission. In this issue of VA Research Quarterly Update, we focus on research that focuses on our aging Veterans. In the fall of 2017, the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics projects that there will be 1.9 million Veterans between the ages of 60-64, 2.3 million between the ages of 65-69, 2.6 million between the ages of 70-74, 1.6 million between the ages of 75-79, 1.3 million between the ages of 80-84, and 1.6 million above the age of 85.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall by Michael Kleinberg
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall (Photo by Michael Kleinberg)

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall (Photo by Michael Kleinberg)

Certain illnesses, like cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, are much more prevalent in Veterans who seek care through the VA health system than in the general population. Cirrhosis can have serious neurological complications, and VA researchers are taking what might at first seem a surprising approach to combating these complications. In this issue, VARQU speaks with Dr. Jasmohan Bajaj, a liver transplant specialist and researcher at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia. Dr. Bajaj is pioneering the use of fecal transplants to improve the health of Veterans who suffer brain damage due to a failing liver. It is truly revolutionary research: an early study showed that people who received the transplants had better cognitive function and fewer hospitalizations.

While Dr. Bajaj's study might seem surprising, other VA research builds upon and quantifies common sense. Neurologist Dr. James Morley, a Career Development awardee at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, is studying the effects of a structured exercise program on Parkinson's disease (PD). At present there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, only drugs to treat motor symptoms. However, aside from the more recognized symptoms like tremor and poor balance, many Veterans with PD also suffer from impaired thinking and mood disorders. Dr. Morley says research is beginning to demonstrate that exercise can have positive effect not just on heart disease, but also on neurological disorders like PD. "We really push physical activity in the clinic," he says. "We tell patients to think of it like another very powerful medicine."

VA researchers are very often leaders, both in their respective fields and in their communities. For this issue of VARQU, we have included a new section called "New & Notable." In it we review not just academic awards, but also editorials written by VA researchers that were published in major medical journals.

I am excited to share the work that we are doing, so I could go on and on about the contents of this issue of VARQU. They range from a new initiative to grade the quality of care at VA-contracted nursing homes to studies that show the protective benefits of "young blood" given to aging mice who display Alzheimer's-like symptoms. We do this work to honor the lives of Veterans by finding ways to improve their health and well-being. I hope you find this information useful, relevant, and worthy of sharing with your colleagues and fellow Veterans.

Rachel B. Ramoni, D.M.D., Sc.D.

Chief Research and Development Officer

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