4 things you can do today to support your heart health

(BPT) – On the path to good health, it pays to follow your heart — literally. A healthy heart is essential to supporting good overall health, yet many people ignore the warning signs that their heart is not as healthy as it could be.

A 2016 survey from the American Academy of Family Physicians, conducted by Harris Poll, found that nearly three in 10 men and women reported they had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. This result mirrors the findings of research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings translate to an estimated 75 million people with high blood pressure, and just slightly more than half have the condition under control.

“This finding is concerning because we know that high blood pressure and heart attacks or chronic heart failure are so closely related,” said John Meigs, Jr., MD, president of the AAFP. “According to the CDC, seven out of 10 people who have a first heart attack have high blood pressure. Seven out of 10 people who develop chronic heart failure have high blood pressure. So it’s important that people know what their blood pressure is.”

To lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health, the American Academy of Family Physicians offers these recommendations.

* Be deliberate with your diet. Fruits and vegetables are essential, but pay special attention to their color too. Vegetables and fruits of different colors offer different nutrients, so mix them up. At the same time, avoid heavily processed foods and those high in sodium. You should also make sure you’re drinking plenty of water rather than soda or energy drinks. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses every single day.

* Balance your BMI. If you don’t know your BMI, a quick Internet search can lead you to several easy-to-use BMI calculators. And once you do know your BMI, you can start taking steps to reduce it, if necessary. According to the American Heart Association, losing just 5-10 percent of your body weight can dramatically reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. And that leads us to …

* Jump start your heart with aerobic exercise. Your heart is a muscle, and like other muscles in your body, exercise strengthens it. So put your heart through a workout with activities like walking, biking or hiking to increase your heart rate. Exercise can also lower your risk of developing plaque in your arteries, allowing your heart to be more efficient in delivering blood and nutrients to other parts of your body.

* Stop the stress. Aside from a poor diet, there may be no larger culprit for high blood pressure than stress. Successful stress management has been proven to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. So relax, exercise, meditate, breathe deep or just have some fun. Whatever you do to burn off stress, make it an essential part of your day. You and your heart will be better for it.

“Get your blood pressure checked,” says Meigs. “If you have high blood pressure, work with your doctor to treat it and lower your risk factors. That same advice applies to knowing what your blood cholesterol levels are.”

To learn more about how you can reduce your blood pressure and improve your heart health, have a conversation with your family doctor today. Your doctor will be able to give you an accurate assessment of your current health and offer ideas on where and how you can improve. And to find more heart-healthy tips, visit familydoctor.org.

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Volunteers bring healthier smiles to kids in need

(BPT) – Did you know half of all children in this country enter kindergarten with tooth decay? Tooth decay is the number one chronic infectious disease among children in the U.S., affecting 42 percent of children aged 2 to 11 years old, according to the National Institutes of Health. In addition, nearly half of minority children and children receiving Medicaid benefits suffer from untreated tooth decay.

Good oral health is connected to good overall health. In fact, problems in the mouth can impact the rest of the body. If the tooth decay isn’t fixed — or prevented in the first place — the consequences are much broader; children with untreated tooth decay often have more school absences, difficulty paying attention in school and lower self-esteem.

The good news is that with proper management and intervention, early forms of tooth decay can actually be stopped and reversed. Oral care habits start at home. Children should:

* Brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste;
* Floss once a day;
* Eat healthy meals;
* Visit the dentist once a year.

Unfortunately, despite improvements in children’s access to dental care, many children continue to suffer. Leading the charge to address the gap in children’s oral health care is Give Kids A Smile (GKAS), a national grassroots movement of passionate volunteer dental professionals and dental industry employees who work tirelessly behind the scenes to address this problem.

Dr. Timothy Kinnard, dental director at the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic, has seen GKAS in action first hand. “The Give Kids A Smile program gives children critically necessary dental treatment they may otherwise may not be able to access,” Kinnard says. “It’s a wonderful demonstration of how access to dentistry helps reduce the oral health disparities that exist in underserved communities.”

Kids who attend one of 1,300 annual GKAS programs receive free oral health services including education, screening, preventive services and/or treatment from GKAS volunteers. GKAS is the largest children’s oral health charitable program in the U.S., already providing 5.5 million children in need with services since the first national event in 2003. More than 500,000 volunteers, including almost 140,000 dentists, have volunteered their time and resources at thousands of sites nationwide to help children who may not otherwise have access to dental care.

Taking action

More needs to be done to teach families how to prevent childhood tooth decay. GKAS volunteers are working year-round to educate kids and families in their communities, and to provide free dental care to kids in need. Give Kids A Smile is part of the American Dental Association’s Action for Dental Health initiative, highlighting the need for improved access to dental care for kids. The ADA Foundation continues to support GKAS volunteers so they can focus on what they do best — caring for those in need.

You can help. Find out more at ADAFoundation.org/GKAS.

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5 simple steps to boost your immune system now

(BPT) – Whether it’s battling the rampant germs of cold and flu season or maintaining wellness throughout the year, the immune system is your main line of defense. In order to feel good as often as possible — and recover quickly when you don’t — it’s important to keep your immune system strong.

“The immune system is the part of the body that monitors both internal and external environments,” says Dr. Chris Oswald, certified nutrition specialist and chiropractor in Hudson, Wisconsin. “It’s important to understand that both too much immune response and too little immune response, including inflammation, is not good, so maintaining that happy medium is the name of the game.”

To achieve that “happy medium,” Dr. Oswald recommends incorporating five simple steps into your daily routine:

Support natural sleep cycles

“Sleep is the time when our bodies repair and rejuvenate, so it is something to not be taken lightly,” Dr. Oswald says. “Generally speaking, the older we are the less sleep we need, but for adults 7-9 hours is usually the sweet spot.”

He says a good way to know if you are sleeping well is if you fall asleep within 30 minutes of lying down and you are able to wake at approximately the same time every day without an alarm clock.

“It is also very important to maintain regular hours as our body’s circadian rhythms do not like to be disrupted,” he adds.

Eat fermented and unprocessed foods

Dr. Oswald says the body’s microbiome health has a huge impact on the immune system. The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that inhabit the intestinal tract, creating a mini-ecosystem.

“Every bite of food we eat impacts microbiome balance, so it is important to eat foods that promote its health,” he says. “I like fermented foods and foods that are minimally processed or as close to their form in nature as possible. When the wrong foods are eaten, certain microbiota are able to ‘gain strength’ and offset the health promoting benefits of other more beneficial organisms.”

He adds that dietary fiber is also very important to maintaining the health of the microbiome. Additionally, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA help boost the immune system.

Use supplements to support digestive health

“The digestive tract is a barrier to the outside world which selectively allows molecules to pass through,” says Dr. Oswald. This is why a healthy gut is a big part of overall health — it filters out the bad while keeping in the good.

Eating plenty of probiotics in foods like yogurt and kefir helps maintain digestive health, but it can be difficult for the average person to get enough to make an impact. “Supporting digestive health with a comprehensive probiotic supplement such as Nordic Naturals Nordic Flora Probiotic Daily is a great foundational health strategy for everyone,” Dr. Oswald says.

Move your body

“Higher levels of fitness are definitely associated with improved immune function,” says Dr. Oswald. He recommends high intensity interval training (HIIT), where you alternate short periods of intense exercise with brief rest periods.

“I like people to choose any activity they like and have a nice gentle 5 minute warm-up followed by up to six 100 percent work intervals for 30 seconds with 60 seconds of rest,” he says. “Once complete with the circuit, a five minute cool down completes your workout in 19 minutes or less.”

Embrace mindfulness and meditate

Dr. Oswald says both acute and chronic stress have an effect on the immune system, which can potentially decrease your resistance to illness. One easy way to combat stress is to try to meditate every day.

“Meditation is a very powerful option and I firmly believe that all should find some way of increasing mindfulness,” he says. “It is important to remember that meditation is different for everyone.”

Meditation can be sitting quietly with eyes closed, staring at a flame, walking in the woods, etc. Try something that feels right to you that allows you to relax and be mindful of the present.

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6 steps to improve indoor air quality

(BPT) – Spring and summer have a reputation for being allergy seasons, but actually two-thirds of allergy sufferers experience symptoms year-round, according to a study conducted by Isobar. Throughout “closed-window season” the lack of ventilation can cause irritants like dust, pet dander, and mold spores to linger and build up inside homes and offices, causing allergen-related discomfort to flare up. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can also build up when fresh air is not circulating and can result in airway irritation as well as other discomforts.

In some areas of the country with warmer climates, pollens can be a constant concern with plants blooming throughout the year. In cooler climate areas, temperature fluctuations can also cause pollen to be present when you least expect it.

“Many people automatically reach for an over-the-counter antihistamine when they experience allergy symptoms due to indoor or outdoor allergens,” says Dr. Bob Geng, a board-certified allergist/immunologist and medical advisor for Honeywell Air Purifiers. “However, by first evaluating your home environment and taking steps to remove or minimize allergens and allergen sources, you can reduce your exposure naturally and may be able to limit the need for medication or allergy shots.”

Reducing indoor allergens

Indoors, irritants can come from numerous sources. Take these steps to reduce allergens and irritants inside your home all year long:

1. Dust and other airborne particles can cling to window treatments, upholstery, throw pillows and other soft items that don’t get vacuumed regularly. Help minimize dust by reducing excessive amounts of fabrics in your home.

2. Wash sheets, pillow covers and mattress covers weekly in hot water of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Frequent laundering in hot water can reduce the presence of dust and dust mite waste.

3. Vacuum carpets at least weekly using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove allergens that can settle deep into the fibers. Vacuuming can stir up, or aerosolize particles, so try to have a non-allergy sufferer do the vacuuming, or wear a disposable dust mask. Run an air purifier to supplement weekly vacuuming and to help capture airborne particles before they settle on surfaces.

4. Three in 10 allergy sufferers have allergic reactions to dogs and cats, according to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). Detectable levels of pet dander are present in nearly every U.S. home, even those without pets, as these allergens can easily be carried into the home on clothing and shoes. Limit your pet’s access to bedrooms, and keep them off upholstered furniture.

5. Common household items including soaps, detergents, perfumes, cleaning supplies and building materials like paint and varnishes can emit gases in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). For many, especially for allergy and asthma sufferers with airways that are typically already inflamed, exposure to VOCs can cause nasal passage, lung and throat irritation. The EPA reports that VOC levels inside homes are two to five times higher than levels outdoors.

6. Consider using an air purifier to remove contaminants from the air. Honeywell True HEPA Air Purifiers capture up to 99.97 percent of microscopic airborne particles that pass through the filters, including airborne grass, weed and tree pollens, dust, smoke, pet fur/dander, mold spores, and certain bacteria and virus. Activated carbon pre-filters can also trap common household odors and VOCs.

To learn more about air purifiers, visit honeywellpluggedin.com. For more information on allergies and allergens, visit the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America website, aafa.org.

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Win with water [Video]

(BPT) – Whether it’s to quench your thirst or to help keep your energy up, drinking water is always the best choice. Watch this video to learn why.

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American Legion Auxiliary aims to improve veterans’ lives

(BPT) – Eva Wallace never enlisted in the U.S. military, has never been on active duty and never endured life-altering injuries protecting American freedoms. However, as a military spouse she has found another important way to serve our country — advocating for veterans’ rights.

Each February, Wallace and more than 500 other members of The American Legion Family, descend on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., to meet with Congressional representatives and their staff. American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) members share and discuss pressing issues and legislation that affects veterans and their families, including increasing support of homeless veterans, upholding and expanding the advancements made by the GI Bill and improving Veterans Affairs hospital care for veterans in need. Members of the Auxiliary also appear alongside The American Legion before a Joint Session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs to advocate for key issues and promote accountability for legislative actions.

“The military community is constantly evolving and changing, so the veteran community is changing along with it. Returning from the conference, members are armed with new information on important issues that we can share with those who are interested in making a difference in the lives of veterans,” says Wallace, whose husband served for 24 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. “We return to our communities ready to shine a light on the true veteran experience.”

Last year, ALA advocacy helped preserve programs for disabled veterans and veterans’ widows. They also played a role in helping make care for veterans more accessible, especially for those who live hundreds of miles from their Veteran Affairs medical facility.

“The conference encourages important conversations with policymakers and explores new ways to collaborate and promote the mission of the ALA,” says Carol Harlow, director of the ALA Washington, D.C office. “When members depart Washington, D.C., they leave feeling empowered, inspired and ready for new challenges.”

The ALA is the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization and one of the nation’s most prominent supporters of veterans’ rights. The nonpartisan organization, founded in 1919, helps to advance the mission of The American Legion and provides service to veterans, military and their families.

The ALA encourages non-military members to also get involved. To learn more about the legislative bills the ALA supports visit: legion.capwiz.com/legion/issues/bills/.

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Knowing your options if you are denied the cardiovascular medicine you need

(BPT) – As we approach American Heart Month, one important topic must be addressed: improving access to innovative therapies for patients suffering from cardiovascular disease (CVD).

When prescribed a medication by a physician, most individuals expect to receive the medication without jumping through hurdles. However, for many people affected by cardiovascular disease across the country, this is increasingly not always the case. According to Symphony Health Solutions, commercial payers deny up to 90 percent of initial claims submissions for patients with CVD, with the final rejection rate for patients at 73 percent.

Many of these patients who are rejected have high cholesterol and/or familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), which is an inherited form of significantly high cholesterol and one of the most common genetic diseases, affecting at least one in every 200 to 500 people. Thus, these patients are exploring new treatment regimens because they have not been able to get their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), or “bad” cholesterol, under control despite treatment with a statin — the current standard of treatment. Additionally, many patients living with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), which is caused by a build-up of cholesterol-rich plaque in the arteries, are unable to get their LDL-C under control with current treatment options.

With CVD being a major public health concern in the U.S, it is imperative to lower bad cholesterol for patients who have already had a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke, as well as patients with FH who require additional treatment options to lower their LDL-C levels along with their statin. Yet, there is a growing concern that many patients with uncontrolled LDL-C levels continue to face challenges in accessing PCSK9 inhibitors their physicians have prescribed based on the approved indication. PCSK9 (or proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9) inhibitors are human monoclonal antibodies that block the protein PCKS9, which prevents the body’s natural system from eliminating “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or LDL-C) from the blood.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration carefully determined which patients would be appropriate for PCSK9 therapy given the clinical trial information, many payers have implemented restrictive prior authorization processes using stringent utilization management criteria, which is resulting in many patients being denied access. This is not unique to PCSK9s though; we have seen these restrictive authorization practices affecting patients seeking hepatitis C and heart failure treatments as well.

Being denied access to the medicine you are prescribed is tremendously frustrating and can leave patients feeling hopeless. However, it is important to know that, as a patient, there are certain things you can do to take action if this happens to you:

* Talk to your doctor. If you are denied access to vital treatment, talk with your physician about what you can do to receive the therapy you need.

* Share your story. Patients and physicians should feel empowered to speak out and engage with their networks, sharing their stories to help drive attention and awareness to the issue.

* Engage advocates. Seek out advocacy groups and patient networks that have resources.

Now is an opportune time for patients to be aware of the options available, especially when they are denied access to treatments prescribed by their physicians. In keeping with the spirit of American Heart Month, make wellness a priority. If you or a loved one suffers from CVD, talk with your physician to ensure you are receiving the appropriate medical care. For more information, please visit www.advancecardiohealth.org.

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Enjoy your life again: Fix your hearing

(BPT) – Think what it would be like, if after a lifetime of enjoying the taste of your favorite meal, seeing your children smile, smelling blooming flowers, or feeling the comfort of fresh, soft sheets on your bed, you lost one of your senses. You’d probably be devastated, and want to pursue every option for recovering at least part of what you lost. Yet, when it comes to beloved sounds like music or lively conversation, the common response is to wait years before treating hearing loss or to ignore it entirely. Why isn’t the loss of hearing — a sense just as important to quality of life as the other four — as much of a motivator to seek help?

Hearing loss is sneaky

Rather than an abrupt, noticeable loss like one you may experience from a cataract, age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) steals hearing a little at a time. It’s easy to miss that you can’t hear quieter sounds anymore, such as your car’s turn signal. By the time you (or a family member) notices you’re unable to hear the television or struggling to keep up with conversations, you’re likely to have developed subconscious coping mechanisms, such as lip reading. Even after it’s obvious that you’ve lost a significant amount of hearing you might not realize just how many sounds you’re missing, because it’s been so long since you heard them clearly — or at all.

Coping with hearing loss

People deprived of their sense of taste simply have to resign themselves to never enjoying eating like they used to again. However, if it’s your hearing that’s diminished, you can develop workarounds like depending on a family member to serve as your de facto translator at restaurants, performing tasks like repeating the server’s questions. Or you might start avoiding social situations, such as going to a bar or restaurant with friends, altogether. Maybe you think you’re managing fine, but in reality you’re placing limitations on your life that keep you from fully enjoying it.

Cost of treatment versus price of not hearing

Whenever there’s a discussion of why people don’t get hearing aids, someone inevitably points to expense as a significant factor. It’s true that one of the reasons glasses are ubiquitous is that they’re available in a wide range of prices, and many types are effective and affordable even when insurance doesn’t cover them. However, a comparison of glasses to hearing aids doesn’t bear up under scrutiny. Even the most expensive glasses have limited functionality and components, and correcting vision typically doesn’t require more than a single annual visit to an eye doctor.

Conversely, hearing aids are high-tech devices loaded with miniaturized components that do much more than magnify sounds. Hearing is a complex sense to correct, requiring not just appropriate volume adjustment but addressing an individual’s specific frequency loss. If you have tinnitus (unexplained ringing in the ears) that adds yet another layer of complexity. Hearing aids also have to adapt to your changing surroundings by detecting and distinguishing what you want to hear and reducing background noise. They’re also capable of advanced functions like wirelessly streaming audio from Bluetooth(R)-enabled devices.

Many hearing care professionals offer hearing aids at a wide range of price points. It’s very possible that your hearing loss could respond well to a pair of hearing aids that are far more affordable than you might expect.

You don’t have to simply accept a loss of hearing. Talk to a hearing care professional today and learn what options are available to restore this vital sense.

Signia, one of the leading hearing aid brands, has a compelling offer. They are producing an internet reality series this fall and are looking for Americans who have hearing loss but have never worn hearing aids. If you are selected, you will receive your hearing aids at no cost. You will have to agree to be filmed during the process for their series.

Signia is selecting just three participants, and there is no guarantee you’ll be one of them, but you have nothing to lose. If you are interested, you can read about the contest at castingcall.signiausa.com/.

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Over 50? You’re at Increased Risk for Shingles

(BPT) – A few years ago, a Harris Interactive-sponsored poll* found that Americans consider 50 to be the “perfect age” to live forever in good health. For many, the half­-century mark can be a time when experience and opportunity balance perfectly — as told by the saying “50 is the new 30.” At 50 there may be more time to spend on your hobbies or other activities that interest you.

At 50, the last thing anyone would want is to be blindsided by illness. Yet risks of certain medical conditions increase with age. For example, shingles is a condition caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox — a virus that 98 percent of adults have had according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even after recovery from chickenpox, the virus never leaves the body. At some point later in life, it can unexpectedly reactivate and emerge as shingles — a painful blistering rash that can last for 30 days.

When Edwin DePeiza discovered he had shingles, he learned the meaning of the adage: “You don’t miss something until it’s gone.” DePeiza, who is in his 60s and resides in Massachusetts, first noticed a burning sensation on his torso. By the time he saw his doctor, a rash had developed. Upon seeing the rash, his doctor quickly diagnosed it as shingles.

DePeiza, a passionate guitar player, witnessed how shingles can interrupt the moments that matter in life. His guitar playing had taken him all over the world, but the intense pain of shingles forced him to put his passion on hold.

“The things I love to do most I couldn’t do, like playing in the band and spending time with [my wife] Marylou,” DePeiza recalls. “The sensation of having shingles for me was like being scalded by hot water, [or] having hot cereal spill on you. I have never experienced that kind of pain or burning sensation.”

According to the CDC, one in three people will get shingles in their lifetime, and every year, about 1 million cases are diagnosed in the United States. Adults aged 50 and older are especially at risk for shingles, as the risk increases with age due to naturally declining immune systems. There is no way to tell who will get shingles, nor how severe the case will be.

Shingles most commonly surfaces on a single side of the torso, but it can appear anywhere on the body — even the face. For most people, after the shingles rash and blisters heal, the pain and itch subside — though some people may experience permanent scarring even after the rash heals. In some cases, shingles can cause complications like postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a long-­term nerve pain that can last for months or even years after the blisters heal and the rash disappears.

Speaking with a healthcare professional to understand one’s personal risk for shingles is important. Learn more about Edwin’s shingles experience, and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about a vaccine that can help prevent shingles. For more information go to www.ShinglesInfo.com.

* Poll was not sponsored by Merck

VACC­-1148024-­0019 – 12/16

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The best ways to support veterans in 2017

(BPT) – As the new administration and Congress settle into office, many organizations are working hard to put America’s 21 million veterans at the top of the nation’s “to-do” list.

“Veterans share a common thread — regardless of where they served or for how long — they are driven to protect our country and ensure freedom for all citizens,” says DAV (Disabled American Veterans) National Commander Dave Riley. “At the same time, they face unique challenges, from health problems related to their military service to translating their job skills into meaningful employment opportunities. It’s our nation’s duty to support veterans once they return home.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that 20 percent of veterans who served since 9/11 are estimated to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Twenty veterans take their lives every day, most of whom never seek help from the VA, and many veterans struggle to find employment, often leading to homelessness.

To help change the lives of countless veterans and their families, DAV has suggested three priorities for our country’s leaders in 2017:

* Ensure veterans have access to quality and timely health care, including effective mental health services. Changes in the health care system for veterans are critical according to leading veterans service organizations like DAV and VFW, as well as bipartisan leaders in Congress. They all agree the best path forward is to create local, high-performing health care networks, led by the VA, which combine the best of VA with the best of community care.

* Give needed benefits to the caregivers of veterans. While caregivers for veterans who served after 9/11 receive benefits and resources, caregivers of veterans who served in earlier conflicts, such as World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, do not receive them. This law must be amended and made inclusive.

* Educate employers about the value of hiring veterans, particularly those with disabilities. A recent survey of employers released by DAV, Monster.com and Military.com reveals 30 percent of employers worry about hiring veterans with PTSD. However, the vast majority of employers who have hired veterans with disabilities report it’s been a positive and productive experience.

You can support U.S. veterans.

You can be a positive voice for veterans and support changes in your communities. Start by speaking up on important veteran issues and write your elected officials in Congress. Volunteer with your local VA hospital or drive veterans to medical appointments. And, if you own a business or are a hiring manager, be sure your organization considers veterans’ unique talents and strengths.

America made a promise to care for its veterans, those men and women who sacrificed for everyone’s freedoms. Now the nation’s leaders must live up to that promise. For more information about important veteran issues and how you can help, visit www.dav.org.

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