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Minnesota National Guard
Recovery at the VA Medical Center

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on the Minneapolis VA Medical Center The next two issues will focus on specialty units

Sgt Ian Ralston is lying in the spinal cord injury unit at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, recently paralyzed from the neck down from an IED attack in Iraq a month ago His life, and the lives of his mother, father, sister and girlfriend, changed in an instant

Ralston is just one of hundreds who arrive at the VA seeking recovery

Brig General Jerry Lang and Chaplain Kelly Adelsman of the 34th Infantry Division had a firsthand look last week at what the Minneapolis VA Medical Center is doing to help veterans and military personnel who are returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and other deployments

It was an opportunity for a military leader to see how the decisions he and others at the top affect the lives of so many And how the medical staff at the VA are working to aid in their recovery

It was also an opportunity for a chaplain, who will be deployed next spring, to better understand the physical, mental and spiritual repercussions

“We’re a very integral part of a complete healing,” Adelsman said

The Minneapolis VA Medical Center (VAMC) is one of four polytrauma units in the United States

With the exception of organ transplants and delivering babies, the VAMC performs all types of surgeries with expertise in cardio thoracic surgery

It has 3,500 employees and 1,200 volunteers and is extremely self-sufficient

The VAMC also hosts one of the largest research programs in the VA health care system and works closely with the University of Minnesota

According to the VAMC Public Affairs Officer Ralph Heussner, the VA is focusing on suicide prevention, expediting the benefits process, homelessness and mental health

The VAMC has several specialty areas, such as the traumatic brain injury unit, a spinal cord injury unit and a transitional unit The facility has had more open heart surgeries than any other VA in the US And has recently been designated as a regional amputation center

“We see more amputees who are more active than ever,” VAMC Polytrauma Director of Operations Jack Avery said

The staff at the VA are dealing with veterans who are suffering from injuries related to blasts, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chronic pain, hearing loss, and other mental and physical issues

But one of the most difficult issues for the patients is the mental aspect

“It’s easy to blame a physical action, they can accept that,” Avery said

Dr Mike Armstrong said, “Sixty percent of combat-related TBI (traumatic brain injuries) often suffer beyond what we expect for recovery time”

Armstrong pointed out that many returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may not have a brain injury, but have been exposed to blasts

Those blasts cause headaches, insomnia and memory issues when they return to civilian life

“The fact that we’ve educated families, do you think that has helped?” Lang asked

“Absolutely,” Armstrong said However, while there may not be as many “fires ablaze” there are more “smoldering” problems Fortunately, veterans are seeking help sooner

Another factor is post combat accidents The VA is seeing more veterans coming in due to accidents at home on ATVs, motorcycles, vehicles, etc

“I can’t believe the number of motorcycle accidents,” Lang noted The veterans were used to high-risk situations during deployment and seek that same adrenaline at home

“How do you replace that adrenaline rush?” the general asked

The transitional unit at the VAMC, which was completed within a year, is a continuam of care for patients

“It provides a big spectrum of recovery,” Dr Larisa Kusar said “Prior to this we had limited resources for those who didn’t need the hospital, but needed supervised care”

The majority of those severely injured go home with loved ones The transitional unit helps families learn how to deal with the new needs of that individual

It can take six months to a year to relearn how to live

“Our miracles might be a little more subdued,” Armstrong said “But when you see them on the verge of death and they may never walk or talk again, and they go to using public transportation

“The private sector might discharge you when you can walk We’ll discharge you when you can run”

Lang asked how the VA maintains its expertise as it prepares for the next conflict

Armstrong said staff retention and education allows them to stand ready

“The next war may be totally different We have to be flexible,” Armstrong added

Gen Lang asked of every administrator, doctor, specialist and nurse he met at the VA, “What can we, as leaders, do for you?”

It was obvious by the smile on Sgt Ralston’s face as Lang spent time visiting the Soldier one of the most important thing leaders can do, is listen to the men and women on the front lines

By Dawn Reede
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Minnesota National Guard leaders visit traveling tribute in Austin

Posted: 2018-05-22  10:16 AM
Traveling Wall AUSTIN, Minn. - A replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was on display May 16-20, in Austin and leaders of the 347th Regional Support Group took the opportunity to visit during the event's closing ceremony.

The display, dubbed the American Veterans Traveling Tribute, was hosted by Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Austin and featured a near-replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C.

"It was an honor to be part of this humbling and moving tribute to our Vietnam veterans," said Col. Stephen Schemenauer. "The traveling Vietnam Wall is a powerful display, and this event provided an opportunity to meet, and thank, service members from WWII to present-day conflicts. Regardless of their branch of service, or the era or conflict in which they served, we all share a common bond."

Minnesota Aviators lead multi-state National Guard partnership for NTC rotation

Posted: 2018-05-21  03:51 PM
2-147 NTC FORT IRWIN, Calif. - The Minnesota National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 147th Assault Helicopter Battalion is working together with aviation units from four different states to provide support to the Tennessee-based 278th Armored Calvary Regiment during a rotation at National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.

Making up Task Force Ragnar is Utah-based B Company, 1st Battalion, 211th Assault Reconnaissance Battalion; Nevada-based B Company, 1-189th General Support Aviation Battalion; Michigan-based C Company, 3-238th GSAB; and Minnesota-based A, D, E and Headquarters Companies, 2-147th AHB and F Company, 1-189th GSAB.

"Early coordination with the units across four states combined with exceptional unit leadership and motivated Soldiers helped us to quickly build the task force when we closed on Fort Irwin," said Lt. Col. Kevin O'Brien, Task Force Commander. "I was thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and teamwork of task force Soldiers. This was an outstanding training opportunity that challenged every Soldier to grow as individuals and units daily."

Deployed Minnesota Guardsman honors grandfather, Hmong heritage

Posted: 2018-05-17  09:57 AM
Brandon Xiong CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - "My heritage is Hmong," said 21 year-old Minnesota National Guard Spec. Brandon Xiong from his desk at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. "A low-key culture that originated from southern Asia. Hmong is not a place, but it is a people."

Xiong, the eldest grandson of the late Col. Song Leng Xiong, is deployed in Kuwait as an information technician for Area Support Group - Kuwait.

"We were not nomadic, but have been in many different conflicts," said Xiong. "Many places I go, I am questioned about my nationality and when answered, end up being even more confused. There is a movie called, "Gran Torino", where Clint Eastwood is introduced to the Hmong culture and I think it portrays the Hmong people not so terribly."

Month of the Military Child recognizes contributions of military kids

Posted: 2018-04-07  01:54 PM
Minnesota National Guard FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 7, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn.- The month of April is designated as the Month of the Military Child to recognize the contributions and sacrifices military children make so their family members can serve. An estimated 15,000 children in Minnesota have been affected by the deployment of a parent.

"Military children bear a lot while their family members serve," said Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard. "It is up to us to support these resilient kids and help to lessen their burden."

An event to honor military kids in Minnesota will take place April 13, 2018, at the Mall of America rotunda from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Activities will include appearances by the Teddy Bear Band and meet and greets with Nickelodeon characters.

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