TBI Session at 2015 ARVO Annual Meeting Features Researchers
NAEVR and the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) were pleased to assist ARVO Trustee/Incoming President John Clark, Ph.D. (University of Washington) in planning the second Veterans Vision and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) session, held on May 2, at the 2015 ARVO Annual meeting in Denver, Colorado. The open session, which focused on research into the similarities between military blast TBI-related visual dysfunction and ocular pathology resulting from sports-related head injuries and age-related neurodegenerative diseases, was covered by the local ABC News affiliate, which broadcast a story about the session that evening. The 2013 session, held in Seattle, Washington, was covered by The Seattle Times.
The session panel from left: Colonel Donald Gagliano, M.D. (U.S. Army, Ret.) who moderated the panel, Ann McKee, M.D. (Boston University School of Medicine), Randy Kardon, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Iowa), Lee Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D. (Boston University School of Medicine), Glenn Cockerham, M.D. (VA Palo Alto Health Care System), who serves as the National Program Director for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Ophthalmology and the Interim Deputy Director of the joint Department of Defense (DOD)/VA Vision Center of Excellence (VCE), Army Staff Sergeant Sean Johnson (Ret.), Navy Chief Petty Officer Glenn Minney (Ret.), who serves as the Blinded Veterans Association’s Director of Government Relations, and Army Sergeant Shianti Lee (Ret.)
This year, the panel featured scientific presentations from researchers and first-person accounts from blind and visually impaired veterans who described how they lost vision during military service, their recovery process, and current life challenges. The veterans included Navy Chief Petty Officer Glenn Minney (Ret.), who now serves as the Director of Government Relations at BVA’s National Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, who was severely injured in 2005 when an Iraqi mortar exploded 30 feet in front of him; Army Staff Sergeant Sean Johnson (Ret.), injured in the line of duty by a mortar blast in 2006; and Army Sergeant Shianti Lee (Ret.), injured in 2005 when the vehicle in which she was riding was hit by explosives while accompanying Special Forces on a mission in Iraq.
Former Denver Broncos Running Back Terrell Davis, who attended the session at ARVO’s invitation, discussed his experiences with head injuries during his seven-year NFL career-all spent with the Broncos-and his concerns for his future health and that of his fellow players, both current and retired. He spent a generous amount of time having pictures taken with fans and speaking with the veterans.
At NAEVR’s invitation, district staff from three Colorado Congressional offices attended, including: Aaron Torres from the office of Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), Steve Strother from the office of Cong. Mike Coffman (R-CO), and Stuart Feinor from the office of Cong. Jared Polis (D-CO).
TBI is recognized as the “signature” injury of the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Upwards of 20 percent of the 2.4 million U.S. servicemen and women deployed since 2001 report experiencing a TBI, and upwards of 75 percent of all TBI patients experience short- or long-term visual disorders, including double vision, light sensitivity, inability to read print, and other cognitive impairments. More than 1.4 million civilians experience a TBI annually. Resulting changes in ocular function may serve as sensitive biomarkers of TBI, thus highlighting the eye as a diagnostic window to the brain.
The dedicated Vision Research Program (VRP) budget line in annual Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations, funded at $10 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, supports extramural vision research into these deployment-related eye injuries. The following Monday, May 4, NAEVR hosted its Defense-Related Vision Research Opportunities session in which past VRP-funded researchers offered insights into responding to an upcoming grant opportunity announcement that addresses DOD-identified vision gaps, which includes TBI-related visual dysfunction.
NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky, center, with Aaron Torres, left, from the office of Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Steve Strother, right, from the office of Cong. Mike Coffman (R-CO)
Terrell Davis, former Running Back for the Denver Broncos, speaks about his concerns for his health and that of his colleagues as a result of a career in the National Football League
BVA hosted a large group of its member veterans at the session, three of whom served on the panel to discuss their experiences. From left: Matt Slaydon (U.S. Air Force, Ret.), Shianti Lee (U.S. Army Ret.), Tom Zampieri, Ph.D., (BVA Board Member), Tim Hornik, (U.S. Army, Ret.), Sean Johnson (U.S. Army, Ret.), Steve Baskis (U.S. Army, Ret.) and Glenn Minney, (U.S Navy, Ret.) joined by session moderator Colonel Donald Gagliano, M.D. (U.S. Army, Ret.).