Hines V.A. treating toxin exposure in veterans
CHICAGO - As we mark twenty years since the start of the Iraq War, veterans of that conflict are just beginning to receive specialized treatment for the toxins they encountered on the ground.
It’s offered at no cost because of the recent passage of the PACT Act (Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022).
Some of that treatment is taking place at the Hines V.A.
There’s no better way to see the benefit of the PACT Act, than by tagging along with Army veteran Dana Wheeler to his V.A. checkup.
"I developed tremendous tremors, shaking," said Wheeler.
As a helicopter mechanic in Vietnam, Wheeler was exposed to a toxic herbicide used by the U.S. military called "Agent Orange".
"We actually saw the planes coming overhead in the distance and spraying the vegetation, but I really knew nothing about what it caused," said Wheeler.
"What we have seen with these toxin exposures, is these veterans have Parkinson’s disease, parkinsonisms which are slightly different than the true idiopathic Parkinson’s disease…but we also see a lot of cancers. We see a lot of hypertension diabetes as well as neuropathies," said Dr. Kalea Colletta, a neurologist at Hines V.A.
Dr. Colletta is part of a nationwide team, researching treatments for conditions suffered by veterans who were exposed to hidden toxins.
They are veterans like Wheeler who are now eligible for treatment under the PACT Act.
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"This is actually one of the largest pieces of legislation that has opened the doors for many of our veterans to come back and get the care that they need," said Dr. Colletta.
The act covers those who served during Vietnam, the Gulf War and in the Post 9/11 era.
"She's helped me understand a lot of the things that happened in my body, don't happen to anyone else. It's just the nature of the disease," said Wheeler.
At Hines V.A., Wheeler is undergoing deep brain stimulation therapy.
Two electrodes were placed under his skin, that connect to his brain.
Dr. Colletta can program them either in person or remotely to control his tremors.
"I can drink cups of hot coffee now and not worry about hurting myself," said Wheeler. "It's been life-changing for my entire family," he added.
Other treatments include transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat depression and headaches, symptoms of toxin exposure.
"Our veterans are so deserving, they've given so much to our country and to be able to give them cutting-edge treatments at no cost to them is the best part of my job," said Dr. Colletta.
Veterans can apply for care under the PACT Act, by going to www.VA.Gov/PACT or by calling the toll-free number 1-800 MY VA 411.