WSU to Study Iraq Toxins' Effect

by Bert Caldwell

Research to examine how exposure might damage offspring of soldiers

Washington State University scientists will use a $1.7 million grant to study what multi-generation genetic damage might be done by toxins U.S. troops could encounter in Iraq.

The research using laboratory rats, not humans, will be the first for the military to examine the epigenetic effects of pesticides, herbicides and other compounds, said lead scientist Michael Skinner, director of the university's Center for Reproductive Biology.

Previous studies have looked at the health effects of other substances, notably the Agent Orange used to defoliate jungles in Vietnam, on the soldiers directly exposed, he said, not on their children or grandchildren.

"The science really had not caught up with the trans-generational stuff," said Skinner, one of several WSU pioneers in the field of epigenetic, or multi-generational, inheritance.

Besides herbicides and pesticides – which and in what combinations has not been determined – the study also will look at the effects of explosives residues, he said.

The four-year study will allow researchers to see how any changes in genetic chemistry that develop are passed along through two subsequent generations of rats, he said, noting that only the first two years of research have been funded.

Among the problems that might develop are kidney disease, or changes in the male and female reproductive organs, he said.

If any genetic markers are identified in rats, Skinner said, follow-up research could look at whether they might show up among members of the military as well.

That would be of particular interest to Dave Holmes, interim chief operating officer of the Institute for Systems Medicine, which was awarded the U.S. Department of Defense grant passed through to Skinner.

Holmes' son, Tim Hammond, did two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps.

"They sprayed all kinds of stuff on them," Holmes said.

Although the grant money, the first awarded ISM, will fund work in Pullman, he said the organization's supporters hope any subsequent clinical studies will be done in Spokane.

"There's a lot of excitement about making it happen," he said.
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VA Ratings Basics
by Thom Stoddert

  How does the VA come up with those wonderful percentages that often seem so stupid and don’t make any sense? The answer is very easy, ”It’s all very complicated!”
  The first concept to remember is  lack of

function.  Lack of function comes in many forms. For example a veteran is unable to extend his leg fully to 140 degrees. Lack of function can sometimes be measured by laboratory values; this is especially true for diseases like cancer. The VA always tries to rate a disability that a veteran has by the amount of the loss of function to the organ as well as  the social and economic efforts as shown by the evidence.

The first and most common are the bone and muscle impairments. The VA has a manual to aid them in determining how much function is measurably lost and what the appropriate rating percentage should be after a physical exam is given.

  Using the example of a loss of shoulder joint in the Rating Schedule, it goes something like this: Prosthetic replacement of the shoulder joint for 1 year following implantation of prosthesis, 100% for the dominant limb and 100% for the minor limb.
  The following rating will be considered for the chronic residuals of a shoulder replacement consisting of; severe painful motion or weakness in the affected extremity 60% major, 50% minor

  When there are intermediate degrees of residual weakness, pain, or limitation of motion, a minimum rating 30% for the major limb will be given and 20% for the lesser limb. The VA is supposed to also look at the loss of arm movement caused by the shoulder problem and so on for other related organs. Loss of numerical range of movement equates to the rating percentage.

Other organs have other ways in which to measure loss of function in a numerical form.

  A higher special compensation can be considered if there are issues such as the complete loss of use of a leg or foot, just as if it had been amputated. There are many laws that must also be considered and can earn a higher percentage at the same time the rating is made. The Rating Specialist must also consider the evidence; is the other limb/joint injured what other organs are affected by primary medical problem and what are the social and occupation issues?

  Look and read your rating letter carefully. It is supposed to tell you how you were evaluated and how a higher percentage of rating can be given. If you think something was missed, find somebody who knows the laws. There are many good online resources as well as your local Service Officer. You have one year to dispute any rating before it becomes final.

  The next question is what about those medical issues that can not be readily seen; how are they rated? The vet looks fully functional, but is rated/paid at the 100% level. These are usually mental health problems, such as PTSD, Schizophrenia and Traumatic Brain Injury. There is no loss of physical movement, but the evidence shows there is a major impairment to the veteran’s social and occupational efforts. The evidence is still compared against the Rating Schedule for an evaluation. The ratings for mental health issues range from 0%, to 100%.

  As an example, I know of a vet who attended college for years. However, after class he quickly left the building. He never really made any friends, even after years at school. When there were a lot of homeless or beggars around the area of the city where he worked, he was way too much on edge, though he felt very at ease sitting in the middle of complete strangers, if they were veterans.. He finally went to a vet center for help and this vet eventually quit all his jobs and non-veteran relationships because of trust issues. He once shared he could not stand being around any one he could not trust to guard his six-o’clock (his back).  This included even the people he liked at his jobs. Among other combat veterans, he was sociable, giving, gentle, and caring.

  This veteran was recognized by VA doctors as being unemployable after twenty years in the infantry.  A year later he moved up to the mountains in the Northwest, alone. His service time affected his ability to fully and normally function in both social and occupational spheres. His loss of functions was unseen.

  I said earlier, there are rating percentages that can be assigned based on laboratory values. A good example of this is cancer related illnesses. The amount of the body’s red blood cells and white cells found in the blood are the discriminating factors in this portion of the rating scheme. Some of the rating for this disease goes as follows.

“Recurrent constitutional symptoms, intermittent diarrhea, and on approved medication(s); or minimum rating with T4 cell count less than 200, or Hairy Cell Leukoplakia, or Oral Candidiasis...30%

  Following development of definite medical symptoms, T4 cell count of 200 or more and less than 500, and on approved medication(s), or with evidence of depression or memory loss with employment limitations...10%.”

There are special considerations for a veteran’s rating called Special Monthly Compensation. There are cases where a veteran is just 20% for his back. This probably engenders a mild loss of movement range, yet in reality the veteran is on several medications for pain and muscle spasms. The vet can not walk to the mailbox without tiring, nor can he drive very far. Essentially the vet is confined to his house. With medical evidence he or she may be considered for House Bound benefits. There are also even higher benefits that can be added to the rating called Aid and Attendance if the veteran is in need of special higher level medical care for daily needs.

  To help you to ensure that you got a fair rating, use the VA provided website, When you get there in the first box type your query and in the lower box select either, “Compensation and Pension 21”, or “38 Code of Federal Regulations.” This website is very thorough, so patience and time are essential.

  I hope this month’s article helps you understand a rating decision is all in what the evidence shows as lost function.