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War Related Illness and Injury Study Center

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CA WRIISC's Staff

Who We Are

The War Related Illness and Injury Study Center at the Palo Alto, CA Campus of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (CA WRIISC), established in 2007 is the third such center funded by VA. We provide consultation services for post-deployment Veterans with a complex medical history that includes tests and treatment with little to no symptom improvement; possible deployment related environmental exposures; and for primary care physicians (PCP) who desire a second opinion using a multi-specialty team approach.

Our center utilizes a team of clinicians, researchers and educators who thoroughly review the history of the current complaint and offer recommendations for further testing and treatment. Veterans are referred to our clinic by their PCP through the WRIISC consult process in the VA Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS).

Our Staff

 

Wes Ashford, MD, PhD
Wes Ashford, MD, PhD
  • Position: Director

Dr. Ashford is the Director of the WRIISC at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, a Clinical Professor (affiliated) in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, a Senior Research Scientist at the Stanford/VA Aging Clinical Research Center and Alzheimer's Center, and a staff psychiatrist at the VAPAHCS. Dr. Ashford is an authority on Alzheimer's disease, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and experienced in the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of these and numerous other neuropsychiatric disorders. He has contributed major innovations to the fields of neuropsychological testing, brain imaging, and dementia treatment, with more than 100 scientific publications on Alzheimer's disease, MCI, genetic factors in Alzheimer's disease, and testing methodologies.

Dr. Ashford is a Scientific Board Member of the Northern California Alzheimer's Association and Chair of the Memory Screening Advisory Board for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Dr. Ashford's training includes a BA from UC-Berkeley; an MD from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; and a PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA, where he set up the Alzheimer's PET Scan Study. He is a prolific scientific writer and speaker as well as a frequent presenter at international conferences.

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Peter Bayley, PhD
Peter Bayley, PhD
  • Position: Associate Director of Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr. Bayley serves as a neuroscientist at the WRIISC. He has a research background in basic neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience and his research interests focus on memory disorders. He performed graduate research at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) where he studied memory disorders in patients with various forms of dementia. He completed his postdoctoral training at UCSD in the study of learning and memory in patients with brain lesions using brain imaging and neuropsychological techniques.

His current research interests include the identification of objective measures of traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder using both brain imaging and cognitive testing. He also has an interest in early detection of dementia and is a member of the Memory Screening Advisory Board for the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, and is an Associate Editor for the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Sandra Bell (Scaling), MSN, RN, CNL
Sandra Scaling
  • Position: Deputy Director of Clinical Care

Sandra Bell is Clinical Coordinator of the California War Related Illness and Injury Study Center at the VA Palo Alto.  She received her Master's Degree in Nursing from the University of San Francisco in 2011.  Additionally, Ms. Bell is a certified Clinical Nurse Leader and a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.  Ms. Bell is honored to have the opportunity to serve America's Veterans.

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Jauhtai Joseph Cheng, MD
Jauhtai Joseph Cheng, MD
  • Position: Neurologist

Dr. Cheng is a staff neurologist at the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System and is the primary neurology consultant for the CA WRIISC. Dr. Cheng received his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati, completed his internship in internal medicine and residency in neurology at the Mayo Graduate Clinic in Minnesota, and a fellowship in neurology at the University of California, Davis.

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Valerie Darcy, RN, PHN
Jauhtai Joseph Cheng, MD
  • Position: Nurse

Valerie Darcy is an Registered Nurse and licensed Public Health Nurse. She holds a BS in Nursing from San Francisco State University and a BS in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California at Berkeley. Ms. Darcy is also a certified Rehabilitation Nurse and member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Ms. Darcy manages referrals and general inquiries to the CA WRIISC, is involved with the coordination of clinical evaluations, and supports clinical trials evaluating the use of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) for the treatment of conditions including pain, depression and cognitive impairment. She has worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs since 2008, including three years on the inpatient Polytrauma ward in Palo Alto where she took care of service members and Veterans with combat-related and other traumatic injuries.

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Timothy Durazzo, PhD
Timothy Durazzo, PhD
  • Position: Neuropsychology

Dr. Timothy Durazzo provides his expertise in neuropsychology and brain imaging research to the CA WRIISC team. He oversees neuropsychological screening and evaluation for CA WRIISC patients as needed.

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Ansgar Furst, PhD
Ansgar Furst, PhD
  • Position: Associate Director of Neuroimaging Laboratory

Dr. Furst is Associate Director of the Neuroimaging Laboratory at the WRIISC in Palo Alto, California and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University Medical School.

Dr. Furst, a native of Germany and former officer in the German air force, received his MSc and PhD degrees in England where he trained with some of the leaders in short-term memory research Professors Graham Hitch and Alan Baddeley. He discovered his passion for neuroimaging during his post-doctoral training at the Henry H. Wheeler Brain Imaging Center at the University of California, at Berkeley (Director: Professor Mark D’Esposito). His initial research focused on basic science functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) but he was later given the unique opportunity to work on a novel positron emission tomography (PET) diagnostic tracer for amyloid called Pittsburgh compound-B (PiB), under the mentorship of Prof. William Jagust, a renowned leader in imaging of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). This breakthrough in diagnostic imaging of AD allows the in vivo quantification of beta-amyloid plaques (one of the hallmarks of the disease) through a PET brain scan.

Together with his close collaborator Dr. Gil Rabinovici, Dr. Furst published the first west coast publication using PiB in 2007 demonstrating the usefulness of the compound in distinguishing AD from Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD) another common neurodegenerative diseases. His work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals and has received praise from the American Academy of Neurology and multiple awards from the Alzheimer’s Association. Dr. Furst has recently joined the editorial board of the medical journal Neurology and recently co-edited a book on neuroimaging of Alzheimer’s disease. He also serves as Associate Editor for the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Currently his research interest has expanded into Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) for studying Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). He is exploring the feasibility of DTI as a tool for improving early diagnosis and long-term outcomes of Veterans with TBI.

Dr. Furst is also a Tai Chi instructor and teaches Tai Chi to Veterans and VA employees as a VA volunteer.

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Jennifer Jennings, MD
Jennifer Jennings, MD
  • Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr. Jennifer Jennings has joined the CA WRIISC to to focus on post-deployment research on traumatic brain injury, neurodegenerative disease and chronic pain. This is a return to Palo Alto, where she graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Human Biology.  Prior to medical school, Dr. Jennings interned at the Native American Women’s Health Research Center on the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota and worked for 2 years with Americorps at the South of Market Health Center and the Homeless Prenatal Program in San Francisco. She earned a MD at UTHSCSA (University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio) in her home state of Texas, where she did rotations at the VA and Brook Army Medical Center.  She completed a 7 year residency in Neurosurgery at SUNY Upstate (State University of New York) in Syracuse, NY.  During her research years, she studied the effect of selective NMDA blockers on TBI in CamKIV knock-out mice.

Dr. Jennings  served as the Chief of Neurosurgery of the Syracuse VA and a Clinical Associate Professor at SUNY Upstate for 2 years, specializing in Spine surgery as well as Deep Brain Stimulation for Neurodegenerative disorders such as tremor and Parkinson’s disease and subsequently worked as a minimally invasive spine surgeon in Cooperstown, New York and Sacramento, CA before refocusing her efforts to TBI and Neurodegenerative diseases and returning to serve the Veteran population.  

Ronit Katz, MD, FACPM
Ronit Katz, MD
  • Position: Occupational Medicine, Camp Lejeune

Colonol Ronit Katz, MD is Board Certified in Preventive, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and is a Fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Katz provides her expertise in occupational and environmental medicine to the CA WRIISC team. Colonel Katz emigrated from Israel after receiving a medical degree from Tel Aviv University, Sackler Medical School. She completed a fellowship in cancer research at Tufts-New England Medical Center, and later served as a Faculty Member at the Harvard University School of Public Health. She is a recipient of Lawrence Livermore National Lab's (LLNL) “Certificate of Excellence” for outstanding performance in support of the Health Services Department and was selected as one of the "Top Doctors in Silicon Valley". In 2007, Dr Katz received The American Medical Association’s “Excellence in Medicine and Leadership Award”. She serves on many Boards and Committees for local and national professional organizations including serving as chair of the AMA-IMG Leadership Development Committee, and chair of the AMA-IMG Governing Council. Colonol Katz, MD is also a Clinical Associate Professor at Stanford University Medical Center where she was awarded the "Excellent Teacher Award".

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Theo Lee, LCSW
Jauhtai Joseph Cheng, MD
  • Position: Social Work

Mr. Lee is a part-time clinical social worker for the WRIISC program. He has found it an honor to have worked with Veterans for the past 4 years through the Mental Health Clinic and the HUD VASH program. He received his bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of California, Davis, and his Master’s in Social Work from San Jose State University.

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Louise Mahoney, MS, RYT
Louise Mahoney, MS, RYT
  • Position: Deputy Director of Education and Risk Communication
    Program Director, WRIISC Yoga Wellness & Yoga Telehealth Programs

Ms. Mahoney directs and develops educational and risk communication projects for the CA WRIISC, and founded the WRIISC Yoga Wellness program at the VA in Palo Alto. She is a co-investigator on a VA-DoD funded study to explore yoga and a group education program as treatment for chronic pain in Veterans from Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield (ODS/S) and has a deep interest in contributing towards the evidence base for yoga as treatment in medical settings.

Ms. Mahoney has a MS degree in molecular and developmental genetics, is a registered yoga instructor, and a Level II iRest teacher in training. Among other duties, she directs the WRIISC Yoga Wellness program that provides yoga classes to Veterans at the Palo Alto VA and its associated Community Clinics collaborating with the VA Palo Alto Clinical Video Telehealth program.

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Angela Malenfant, MSN, NP
Angela Malenfant, MSN, NP
  • Position: Nurse Practioner

Ms. Malenfant has been helping Veterans at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System since 2013 and joined the CA WRIISC team in August of 2016. She earned a BS degree from the University of Connecticut, was employed as a nutritionist at the Yountville VA beginning in 2000. In 2003 Ms. Malenfant earned a graduate degree in nursing from the University of San Francisco and was employed by both Kaiser and the University of California, San Francisco medical centers. During her free time, Ms. Malenfant spends time with her family and friends, enjoys the outdoors, and volunteers at local schools.

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Windy McNerney, PhD
Windy McNerney, PhD
  • Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr. McNerney is a post-doctoral fellow at the WRIISC and the Stanford School of Medicine. She received her PhD from the University of Notre Dame on the neural signaling of memory formation, and her BS from UC Davis. She then went on and completed a 3 year postdoc appointment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and also for the Tahoe Institute for Rural Health Research.

At WRIISC, Dr. McNerney is focusing on neurotrophic and neurotransmitter signaling as it relates to brain function in diseases commonly associated with veterans, such as TBI, PTSD, and Alzheimer’s disease. She hopes to utilize her discoveries to develop effective therapeutics for patients.

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Stacy Moeder, MHA, MBA
Stacy Moeder, MHA, MBA
  • Position: Program Officer

Ms. Moeder started with the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1994 as an Administrative Fellow at the VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California. In 1995, she transferred to the VA Health Care System in Palo Alto, California as an Employee Relations Specialist. In 2000, Stacy became the Administrative Officer for Surgical Service and in 2003, she moved to Research Service. In 2007, she became the Administrative Officer for the new WRIISC. In her personal time, Stacy enjoys spending time with her two young daughters and husband.

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Mark Perlow, MD
Mark J. Perlow, MD
  • Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr. Mark Perlow received his Bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and an MD degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. Following an internship and a Neurology residency, he completed a Sleep Disorders Medicine Fellowship. He served as a Major in the US Army at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and a Staff Fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Dr. Perlow is Board Certified in Neurology and Sleep Medicine and practices both specialties. He has co-authored numerous publications on sleep and biological rhythms, neuroendocrinology, and neural transplantation. Dr. Perlow is interested in geriatric neurology, sleep disorders medicine, traumatic brain injury and other war-related neurological and psychiatric illnesses.

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Ravi Ponnusamy, PhD
Ravi Ponnusamy, PhD
  • Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr. Ponnusamy is a behavioral neuroscientist, and his research incorporates rodent behavior models, pharmacological and molecular techniques to investigate the neuronal circuitry and molecular cascades that underlie the learning and memory. Specifically, his research focuses on molecular mechanisms underlying the fear extinction, a preclinical model for behavior therapy for anxiety disorders, including PTSD. Using animal models of Gulf War Illness, he currently investigates the role of trophic factor signaling in pain processing.

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Dana Waltzman, PhD
Dana Waltzman, PhD
  • Position: Neuroscience Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr. Waltzman has an interest in examining the pathophysiology of normal aging, traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and other neurodegenerative disorders in order to help inform possible interventions and identify early predictors of cognitive decline by elucidating the pattern of cognitive and neural change.

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Jerome Yesavage, MD
Jerome Yesavage, MD
  • Position: Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health

Dr. Yesavage is the Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health and Chief of Psychiatry, VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) and the Executive Director of the VAPAHCS WRIISC. His research focuses on Alzheimer's Disease (senile dementia), Age-Associated Cognitive Decline (normal changes in cognitive function seen in older adults), depression in aging, sleep disorders in aging and lifespan changes in complex tasks such as aircraft pilot performance. He has authored numerous papers covering topics in Geriatric psychiatry including Alzheimer's disease, cognitive assessments, and aviation safety.