Health Highlights: April 28, 2008

VA Official Denies Cover-Up of Veterans' Suicide Statistics

A Department of Veterans Affairs official has testified that his agency has not tried to cover up the number of suicides committed by veterans, the Associated Press reports.

Testifying last Thursday at a trial in a San Francisco federal court, VA undersecretary for health Dr. Michael Kussman said the discrepancy in the number of suicides his agency reported to Congress and the number found in VA documents was because of different veteran categories included in the statistics.

VA Secretary James Peake had reported in February that 144 combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide between October 2001 and December 2005, the AP reports. But the plaintiffs' lawyer produced internal VA e-mails indicating that 18 veterans a day were committing suicide, the wire service says.

The discrepancy, Kussman testified, is that the internal emails included all 26 million veterans, and that Vietnam veterans were killing themselves in increasing numbers, possibly because of having more health problems as they age. The lawsuit was brought by two veterans groups who allege government neglect in providing timely and adequate health care for returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, the AP reports.

"I disagree with the premise that there was some effort to cover something up," the wire service quotes Kussman as testifying. "We don't obfuscate."

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Blood Vessel Laser Scanner Gets U.S. Government Approval

After its initial submission for approval more than two years ago, a cardiac catheter using a laser to scan for the best place to implant a stent has received U.S. government approval, the New York Times reports.

The LipiScan laser catheter, made by InfraReDx of Burlington, Mass., will be able to show images of arterial walls and help doctors keep from placing coronary stents in arteries that could actually cause a heart attack, the newspaper reports.

Stents are thin, metal mesh tubes placed in a blocked blood vessel -- usually an artery -- in a procedure called angioplasty that opens up the artery, providing better blood flow. One of the problems in stent implanting, the Times reports, is that an improperly placed stent could cause the rupturing of vessel walls called lipid pools. When a lipid pool ruptures, a heart attack is likely to occur, the newspaper reports.

The LipiScan emits a laser light that can give a clearer image of lipids in blood vessel walls, which should help surgeons determine where to place a stent or to decide whether angioplasty is actually necessary, the Times says.

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Lexington, Ky. Tops 100 Spring Allergy Capitals

Gesundheit!

Lexington, Ky., sits atop the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's 2008 ranking of the leading 100 spring allergy capitals.

Trailing Lexington on the annual list are: Greensboro, N.C.; Johnson City, Tenn.; Augusta, Ga.; and Jackson, Miss.

Least likely to make you sneeze and wheeze among the top 100 is Spokane, Wash, preceded by the California cities of San Francisco and Bakersfield, Sarasota, Fla; and Lancaster, Penn.

Spring is the worst season for many of the more than 35 million Americans with hay fever, medically called allergic rhinitis. The AAFA said it based the rankings on criteria including seasonal pollen counts, use of over-the-counter and prescription allergy drugs, and the number of board certified allergists in each city.

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