Veterans Compete in National Wheelchair Games

Wheelchair basketball game

Veterans Compete in National Wheelchair Games

Last year, Navy Veteran Jeff Deleon of Salem, Oregon, signed up for seven events and announced that he planned on taking home seven gold medals.

That’s the spirit of competition that hundreds of Veterans bring each year to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

It’s the 37th year for the event, being held this year in Cincinnati July 17 – 22.

The purpose of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games is to provide Veterans with physical disabilities an introductory experience to a variety of wheelchair sports and expose them to the numerous organized wheelchair sports and recreation activities available nationwide.

The games serve to encourage Veterans to become aware of their abilities and potential while promoting a spirit of healthy activity and camaraderie.

The games are presented each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America with additional support from numerous corporate and community sponsors.

At the games, Veterans compete in:

  • 9-Ball
  • Air Guns
  • Archery
  • Basketball
  • Boccia
  • Bowling
  • Handcycling
  • Field Events
  • Motor Rally
  • Power Soccer
  • Quad Rugby
  • Slalom
  • Softball
  • Swimming
  • Table Tennis
  • Track
  • Trapshooting
  • Weightlifting

Participation is open to Veterans having spinal cord injuries, amputations, multiple sclerosis or other neurological conditions who require a wheelchair for athletic competition and who are eligible to receive care at a VA medical facility.

Volunteers make it happen

To accommodate the needs of the athletes, more than 3,000 local volunteers are required to assist with all aspects of the games, from helping with transportation, to event set-up, water distribution, assistance with meals, and numerous other activities that will help guarantee a successful event.

Quality of life and better health

The games demonstrate the therapeutic value of sports and competition. As presenters of the event, Paralyzed Veterans and the VA are committed to improving the quality of life for Veterans with disabilities and fostering better health through sports competition.

While past games have produced a number of national and world-class champions, the event also provides opportunities for newly injured Veterans to gain sports skills and be exposed to other athletes who use wheelchairs.

Since the games began in 1981, thousands of disabled Veterans have enjoyed the health benefits provided by sports participation and have revitalized the spirit of competition within themselves.

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Getting homeless Veterans tested for Hepatitis C

A member of the VA Central California Health Care System’s Hepatitis C Clinic approaches a homeless person’s tent in Fresno, Calif.

A member of the VA Central California Health Care System’s Hepatitis C Clinic approaches a homeless person’s tent in Fresno, Calif. They go out looking for homeless Veterans and ask them if they would like to be tested for Hep C and receive assistance.

As a concerned citizen, neighbor and someone who really cares, she knew there was a large population of Veterans who, for whatever reason, were not coming into the VA hospital to get tested for Hepatitis C.

As a clinical pharmacist at the VA hospital, she also knew how dangerous the Hep C virus is if left untreated and how curable it is if identified early and treated with the latest and most effective medications.

But what could she do to help? That’s the question that was keeping her awake at night.

And then it dawned on her. Jennifer Siilata decided that if these high-risk homeless Veterans in California’s Central Valley were not coming into the VA hospital in Fresno to be tested for Hep C, she would go to them.

“For a number of reasons, our homeless Veteran population was not being tested,” Siilata said, “mostly because of things like transportation issues, mental health concerns and drug use.”

There had to be a better way. So Siilata stomped her feet and told her supervisor and the VA Central California Health Care System’s administration team her idea – go out and find the homeless Veterans wherever they are, explain to them what Hep C is and how it affects them, and get them tested and eventually treated.

“It only made sense. It’s one of the only viruses that’s 100 percent curable,” Siilata said, “and the VA pays for all our Veterans to be tested and treated.”

Miguel Luna, advanced medical support assistant, approaches an area frequented by homeless Veterans in Fresno, Calif. When the team locates homeless Veterans, they ask if they would like to be Hep C tested and if there is anything else they need.

Siilata got the approval she needed very quickly and soon she and a small team from pharmacy services were out scouring the city and surrounding areas, working with local homeless organizations like WestCare California as well as the VA social services’ Homeless-Patient Aligned Care Team and looking for homeless Veterans.

“We knew the numbers were high,” said Siilata, who has been with VA for more than 12 years. “It is estimated that about 40 percent of homeless people in the U.S. are Hep C positive, and our data suggests that here in Fresno and across the Central Valley, about 29 percent of the homeless Veterans are infected with the Hep C virus.”

By getting out and meeting these Veterans face-to-face, Siilata believed she could lower those numbers. And so far, it is working.

Jennifer Siilata, clinical pharmacist, confers with a co-worker on plans to reach more homeless Veterans.

Over the last few weeks, Siilata and her team have gone out a half dozen times or more in search of homeless Veterans. Each time, the team carefully coordinates and plans their movements and search methods. Using zip codes to divide coverage into sectors, Siilata and her team hit the streets. When a homeless person is approached, one of the first things they do is determine if the person is a Veteran and then ask if he or she would like to be tested.

“It’s really about caring and compassion. We bring water to hand out, hygiene kits to give to them, anything we think they might need. We talk with them, take their questions, get to know them and help with their needs,” said Siilata, who holds a Doctorate of Pharmacy degree from the University of Pacific.

After the team explains the importance of Hep C testing and what the VA can do to help, it is up the Veteran on what they want to do next.

A lot of times it’s not that they don’t know about Hep C. They do know, she said. A lot of them say they had friends who died from Hep C. It’s the leading cause of liver cancer, for example.

Siilata believes they are making a difference, one person at a time. Of all the homeless Veterans the team was able to locate thus far, she said about 25 percent got into the vehicle with them and rode back to the VA hospital to be tested.

And she wants to take it a step further. The VA Central California has a mobile clinic that is used for special events like health and safety stand down days in the Central Valley as well as other events and missions. Siilata wants to take the mobile clinic out to the field and conduct Hep C testing on the spot. And eventually she said she wants to expand their reach, both north and south, across the entire Central Valley.

Hep C Team (l
eft to right): Lisa Canty, Annie Xang, Jennifer Siilata. VA Central California Health Care System’s Hepatitis C Clinic and the entire staff working hard to raise Hepatitis C awareness.

“She has done some amazing work in conjunction with our social services team and other organizations,” said Dr. Wafa Samara, the Chief of Pharmacy at the VA Central California Health Care System. “Thanks to her, our team has unofficially adopted the motto: ‘If they won’t come to us, we’ll come to them.’”

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Pittsburgh Veterans Celebrate the Fourth of July

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Veterans with Back Pain Have Treatment Options

Illustration of back muscles

Back pain is one of the main reasons people go to a doctor, accounting for more than 24 million visits each year in the U.S.

There’s a revolution in the treatment of back pain now that research shows that physical therapy, spinal manipulation, and yoga can help as much as surgery or drugs — with far fewer risks. That advice is backed up by a new nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of 3,562 back-pain sufferers.

It found that more than 80 percent of those who had tried yoga or tai chi or had seen a massage therapist or chiropractor said it had helped them. Altogether, a higher percentage of people in our survey who saw a yoga or tai chi instructor, massage therapist, chiropractor, or physical therapist said the advice or treatment was helpful compared with those who said they saw a doctor.

Injured Back as Combat Soldier in Vietnam

One of these individuals is Army Veteran Thomas Sells. Note that a typical week for Sells includes acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, and a couple of hours with a massage therapist and sometimes a chiropractor. You might think that the retired bank vice president and business manager in Southern California is simply enjoying a pampered spa lifestyle. But Sells gets most of those services through the Department of Veterans Affairs — all for his aching back.

Those VA programs are more necessity than luxury, says Sells, who first injured his back carrying heavy packs as a combat soldier in the Vietnam War. “None of these therapies were available to me back then,” he explains. “Had I known then what I know now, I could have avoided decades of debilitating pain.”

It used to be that those treatments were considered fringe, but no more. Growing research shows that a combination of hands on therapies and other nondrug measures can be just as effective as more traditional forms of back care, including drugs and surgery. And they’re much safer.

More than 80 percent of those who had tried yoga or tai chi or had seen a massage therapist or chiropractor said it had helped them.

“Tai chi helps with back pain in several ways,” says Benjamin Kligler, M.D., national director of the Integrative Health Coordinating Center at the Veteran’s Health Administration. “It strengthens the muscles in your abdomen and pelvic area that are crucial to supporting the lower back; it improves your balance and flexibility; and it makes you more aware of your posture when you sit, stand, and walk.”

Back pain strikes most of us at some point. It’s one of the main reasons people go to a doctor, accounting for more than 24 million visits each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than one of four in our survey said that an episode of back pain “severely” interfered with their daily life.

But there’s good news. “Even though back pain can be severe at first, it almost always gets better,” says Kligler. But “what has been considered ‘conventional’ care, including prescribing opioid pain medication, can short-circuit healing,” he says.

“I feel better now than I did as a much younger man.”

These drugs include opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. As a young combat soldier, Sells says he turned to alcohol and illegal drugs to numb his back pain. “That took me down a dangerous road,” he recalls. “I became addicted.” With help from recovery programs, he says he has been clean and sober for 30 years. But even with his attempts to self-medicate, his low-back pain continued to worsen over time.

“It became so bad I could barely walk,” Sells says. “I consulted with surgeons but I worried about the risks, and given my history, I didn’t want to take opioids.” Instead, he looked for something safer, and came across a class at VA in tai chi, which combines slow, gentle movements with deep breathing and meditation.

Soon he noticed improvements, gradually adding more exercise and hands-on therapies, which he says manage his pain while keeping his “mind, body, and spirit strong.” And he’s become so good at tai chi that he now studies with a grand master. “It’s given me back my life,” Sells says.

Success stories like this, combined with new research, convinced the agency to make nondrug therapies a foundation of its pain treatment strategy. As a result, VA has cut overall opioid use by 25 percent since 2012, according to a March 2017 analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Thomas Sells says that a combination of approaches has worked for him. “I feel better now than I did as a much younger man,” he notes. “Mentally, physically, and spiritually, I’m in the best place in my life.”

Watch this 4-minute video and hear directly from Thomas Sells about his experience.

This article is a portion of the complete Consumer Reports story, republished with permission from Consumer Reports.

Note: The information on that page is not the work of VA doctors or VA programs and in no way represents an endorsement of that information and has been provided for your convenience and education.

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Fresno VA Medical Center's Nurse of the Year

Doca Merdjanoska, surgical department nurse at the VA Central California Health

Doca Merdjanoska, surgical department nurse at the VA Central California Health Care System’s main hospital in Fresno, removes a dressing from a patient’s foot.

VA has an exceptionally talented team of outstanding employees. We would like you to meet them, continuing this week with our regular feature on VA’s Top Nurses. 

Becoming a nurse and helping people is something she always aspired to do, even as a young girl in her home country of Macedonia. But being recognized as the best nurse for an entire health care system is something she never dreamed might happen.

Doca Merdjanoska, a surgical department nurse at the VA Central California Health Care System’s main hospital in Fresno, was recently selected as VACCHCS Nurse of the Year.

For Merdjanoska, it’s not about being the best. She said she just wants to be there to help people who need her assistance.

“Helping patients, especially Veterans, is what I enjoy. I always want to help people and make people happy. Nursing allows me to that.”

Before working at the VA, the Licensed Practical Nurse worked at an assisted living home in Fresno for seven years and before that she worked at an Ears, Nose and Throat specialty clinic in Macedonia for three years. With that much experience and her desire to help people, it’s no surprise Merdjanoska was selected as Nurse of the Year.

“It’s a huge honor for Doca to be selected as Nurse of the Year,” said Michael Provencher, Chief of Nursing at VACCHCS. “I’m very proud of her.”

“I hired her and she was a star from the first day she started working at VA. We’re very lucky to have her on our staff,” said Provencher.

“Helping patients is what I enjoy.”

Doca Merdjanoska and family
Doca Merdjanoska and family

When she’s not working at the VA, Merdjanoska, who is married and has two children, enjoys going outside with her family and exploring the great outdoors, she said. She and her family like to ride bicycles and visit the parks and forests. She’s also an avid runner.

As far as the honor of being named VACCHCS Nurse of the Year, just like running Doca takes it all in stride.

“I feel honored. It’s a nice feeling,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Here’s an additional shout-out to the other VACCHCS Nurse of the Year Nominees:

  • Kimberly Cinco (ICU)
  • Lupita Sanders (ER)
  • Erika Sutton (Medicine Dept.)
  • Maria Lara (Inpatient Psychiatry Unit)
  • Jessica Greene (Quality Management)
  • Vilma Barba (Medical Surgical Unit)
  • Geraldine Ignacio Saechao (Primary Care Dept.)

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Veterans: Protect Your Skin and Your Hearing

Putting sunblock on your skin

Do you know the difference in Ultraviolet B and Ultraviolet A sun’s rays? And what is a safe decibel (dB) level of noise? Here are a few quick handy answers just in time for summer.

Ultraviolet Radiation

Protecting your skin from the harmful effects of the sun is very important during the spring and summer months. During the warmer months, the Earth is tilted in a way that allows more of the sun’s Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to make it the surface. More UVB rays means hotter temperatures and an increased risk to skin. The sun’s Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays reach the Earth’s surface year round.

Harmful Effects

Ultraviolet A and B radiation from the sun can cause or contribute to a number of harmful effects to your skin including painful sunburn, cancer and aging. For those with fair skin, lupus, or those who take medications such as antibiotics or antihistamines, the risks are greater.


To protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun, consider wearing protective clothing such as hats, long sleeves, pants, or even sun-safe clothing, which is designed to provide even more protection. Also, consider sunblock for UVA radiation or sunscreen for UVB radiation. To ensure maximum protection, choose a product that will protect against both UVA and UVB.

Hearing Protection

Noisy Activities

Warmer months mean more opportunities to engage in activities that could result in noise-induced hearing loss. These activities include boating, motorcycling, sporting events, music concerts, or even mowing the lawn.

Harmful Effects

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) sets safe noise levels at 85 dB. Noise levels higher than this can result in Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) or tinnitus. Those with NIHL have difficulty understanding other people when they talk, especially on the phone or in a noisy room. Tinnitus is a constant ringing, buzzing or roaring sound in one or both ears. The bad news is NIHL and tinnitus can be permanent, but the good news is they are preventable.

  • Typical Lawn Mower – 85 to 90 dB, hearing damage occurs in 8 hours at this level
  • Speedboat – can exceed 90 dB
  • Motorcycle – can exceed 95 dB
  • Sporting Event – as much as 115 dB, hearing damage can occur in 15 minutes

As a rule of thumb, if you have to shout to be heard by the person standing next to you or notice your ears are ringing after exposure, your environment is too loud.


Hearing protection is useful when you cannot or choose not to avoid noise exposure. The two most popular forms of hearing protection are earplugs and earmuffs. Earplugs are inserted into the ear canal and earmuffs cover the ears. You can use one or both to protect your hearing. Both forms of protection work by decreasing the volume, or dB, of the noise reaching the sensitive structures in your inner ear.

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A Veteran's Final Hours at a VA Hospital

Portrait of the Graves family.

‘C.A.’ and Carol Graves on their wedding day, 32 years ago

Carol Graves knew she needed to get her husband to a hospital in a hurry. His heart rate was over 150, and climbing rapidly.

“When we got to the VA Medical Center in Shreveport his heart was racing at over 300, I think,” she said. “He had bronchial emphysema.  I brought him in on a Friday and a week later, he was gone, but it wasn’t because of anything the doctors did.  They did everything they could for him.  They were right on top of everything that happened.”

Her 76-year-old husband was known to everyone simply as ‘C.A.’ He was an Army Veteran who, three decades earlier, had been fortunate enough to marry the girl of his dreams. 

“There was no doubt in my mind how much he loved me,” Carol Graves said. “He was an awesome man, and he loved me completely. Even if I got mad and wanted to argue, he would not argue with me.  Even if I wanted a good fight, he would not give me one.  We had 32 really good years.”

About a week before their final trip to the VA together, C.A. confided something to his wife. “He told me he was ready to meet his Lord,” she said.  “He didn’t want to die, but he wasn’t afraid to die.”

She added: “He had suffered for so long.  “Now he’s in a better place.  He can breathe again.  He can walk again.”

Army Veteran ‘C.A.’ Graves, his wife Carol and granddaughter Taylor Sky 

The Gary, Texas, resident said she was deeply moved by the care and attention her husband received at the VA.

I got lots of hugs

“The love and caring we experienced was above and beyond anything you can imagine,” she observed. “During that week we were on three different floors — the medical ward, the intensive care unit and finally hospice — and everyone was the same on each floor.  All the doctors, nurses and staff cared as much about me as they did about C.A.  I got lots of hugs.”

Graves said she stayed by her husband’s side during the entire week, returning home only once or twice to check on their house and their pets.

“I slept in a chair beside his bed,” she explained. “They made sure I was comfortable.  They gave me blankets, a pillow, everything.”

And there’s another big reason she’s grateful to the VA. 

“Some time ago they had given him a chairlift so he could get his wheelchair into the back of his truck,” she said. “I think that really saved him, because it allowed him to continue driving. He was able to go to church.  He was able to go shopping for groceries, which he loved to do.  The VA just saved him with that lift.”

That final week spent with her husband may have been an emotional blur, but Graves said she’ll never forget one particular incident that occurred as her husband was entering his final hours.

“One time he didn’t want to take his medicine,” she said. “Several doctors and nurses came in, and they were all so kind and patient with him.  He was giving them a hard time.  But they were doing everything they could to talk him into taking his medicine.  They were so nice to him that he finally gave in and took it.

“I want them all to know how much their kindness means to me.”

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VA and Healing Powers of Nature Rescue Vet

People Kayaking

Bramblett enjoying boating with friends

Air Force Veteran Christopher Bramblett has an appreciation for national parks and public lands that goes back to his youth. Members of his family were large National Park and public land supporters so he grew up hiking, camping, and spending time in the outdoors.  Bramblett, resident of Ocean Springs, Miss., said his mom was also a seasonal park ranger and a Veteran (Air Force) as was his grandfather (WWII, Army), so in keeping with family tradition, he joined the armed forces.

Bramblett served 10 years in the Air Force.  Using the GI bill, he started working toward his degree in U.S. history.  The transition from military to civilian life wasn’t as smooth as he had hoped and soon Bramblett found himself in, as he describes it, a dark place.

“It’s hard to describe my mental state at that time,” Bramblett said.  “I was depressed, unemployed, and not sure what to do with myself.  But I knew I had to do something.”

Bramblett was living in Charleston, S.C., at the time so he decided to reach out to the staff at Fort Sumter National Monument and see if they had some volunteer work he could do.  They did and that began his circle back to well-being.

Mountains are calling and I must go

“I always think about the author and environmentalist John Muir and his famous quote – ‘The mountains are calling and I must go.’ That rings so true for me.  I can go out in the woods and be the only person around.  It’s a spiritual thing for me.  Our forefathers had the brilliance to protect the beauty of our public lands but they also created an escape for us, away from the hassles of everyday life.  There is so much healing that goes on when you are alone surrounded by nature,” he said.

Air Force Veteran Christopher Bramblett

By now, some of Bramblett’s co-workers were encouraging him to apply for an internship with the National Park Service, which he did. Between the experiences he received in the internship and volunteering, he began applying for jobs in the Park Service and he eventually landed a position as a Park Ranger in New Mexico at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  He and his wife later moved to Ocean Springs, Miss., when he accepted a position with Gulf Islands National Seashore (NS).

“I love the outdoors and here we have 160 miles of coastline – from here all the way to Destin, Fla., skipping Alabama.  We have hiking, kayaking, campgrounds, john boat tours, tours of old forts, and plenty of places to fish,” Bramblett said.  “Sometimes we need reminding of the healing powers of nature. I know I did.”

Bramblett receives his primary and mental health care at the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System.

“I love the outdoors and here we have 160 miles of coastline.”

As a note, individuals with a life altering disability are eligible to receive an America the Beautiful Access Pass that gives free access to all National Park Service and other public land sites around the country. Active duty military members can also receive a free annual pass.

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Veterans Conquer Depression with Equine Therapy

Male Veteran standing beside a horse.

Marine Corps Veteran Ruben Vargas and his pal Dandy.

Twenty-eight-year-old Katie Hudgin said she sometimes walks over to her favorite horse, Diesel, and buries her face in his neck.

“It’s like I’m giving him a hug and he’s hugging me back,” said the Army Veteran. “He’s my buddy. If he even sees me look at another horse he gets mad at me.  He doesn’t want me to love on other horses.”

Diesel and numerous other horses inhabit a magical place called Windhaven Therapeutic Riding near Vancouver, Wash. It was established back in January, after two years of preparation, for the sole purpose of providing equine therapy to Veterans. 

Not all of Windhaven’s clients are referred there by the VA, but a lot of them are, like Katie Hudgin.

Failing at Life

“I hurt my hip when I was in the service,” she said. “I have a three-year-old daughter and I couldn’t even get down on the floor and play with her.  I was flunking out of school.  I couldn’t hold down a job.   I felt like I was failing as a mother, and as a person.  I felt like I was failing at life.  I got to the point where I didn’t want to hurt anymore.”

Then she discovered Windhaven, and Diesel. Her depression has lifted; her pain has subsided. 

“I was taking seven or eight pills a day,” she said. “Muscle relaxers, anti-depressants, all kinds of pills.  Now I’m down to just two pills.”

“I got to the point where I didn’t want to hurt anymore.”

Hudgin said the healing connection between human and horse occurs during the grooming process, when the Veteran is in close physical proximity to the animal.

“Horses are like big mirrors,” she explained. “If I’m grooming Diesel and he’s antsy, it makes me look inside myself because he’s reflecting back what I’m feeling. He’s mimicking my emotions.  So I look inside myself, and change what’s going on inside me.  I calm myself down.”

Army Veteran Katie Hudgin and her favorite horse, Diesel

Army Veteran Katie Hudgin and her favorite horse, Diesel

Hudgin is currently on her way to becoming a full-time instructor at Windhaven so she can spend her days helping other Veterans who are in the same emotional boat she was in.

“This place changed my life,” she said. “It saved my life.”

And it seems life just keeps getting better. “Now my daughter, Sheri Kay, comes up to the therapy barn with me and helps me,” Hudgin beamed.  “We’ve bonded over horses!  We’ve connected.   I feel like I’m a good mother now.” 

By Veterans, For Veterans

Nancy McFarlane, a recreation therapist and yoga instructor at the Portland VA in Oregon, said equine therapy seems to be the perfect answer for certain Veterans coping with post-traumatic stress and other disorders, both mental and physical.

“When you treat horses well they connect with you,” she said. “They trust you. A relationship forms.  My patients who return from Windhaven tell me they haven’t felt so relaxed in months.  They tell me they’re sleeping better at night.  They can’t say why, exactly.  All they know is that they feel better…

“Another good thing about Windhaven,” she added, “is that it’s run by Veterans, for Veterans. The founders, Denice and her husband Rodger, are retired military.  Most of their volunteers are nurses or former military, and they’re very tuned in to Veterans with PTSD.  That’s great news for the patients we refer to Windhaven.” 

Nancy McFarlane 
Nancy McFarlane  

“The horses are the therapists here,” said Windhaven’s co-founder and Operations Manager Rodger Morrison. “You’re not just learning how to groom the horse, or ride the horse.  The horse is changing something inside you.”


Morrison said he and his team have a fail-safe method for hooking up each Veteran with exactly the right equine partner.

“We do join-ups,” he explained. “It’s where we put the Vets and the horses together, and eventually each horse gravitates to a particular Veteran. The Veteran doesn’t choose the horse; the horse chooses the Veteran.  And the horse is never wrong.”  

Sixty-two year-old Ruben Vargas is a Marine Corps Veteran who, like Kate Hudgin, was suffering from debilitating physical pain accompanied by depression.

“I look forward to going out to Windhaven every Saturday,” he said. “This place has been really good for me. It’s all Vets out there so we can talk to each other.  It’s like a family gathering.  It helps me a lot.”

And, like Katie Hudgin, Vargas has paired up with a horse who seems to be a perfect match for him.

“His name is Dandy,” said the former Marine. “He’s kind of like me, stubborn and hard-headed.  So we get along good.  And when I’m grooming him or walking him around I’m not thinking about my pain.  I’m not thinking about it at all.”

To learn more about Windhaven Therapeutic Riding, visit

To find out more about mental health programs offered by the VA, visit the Veterans Resource Center at

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Women Veterans: Help for Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression Affects One-in-Seven New Mothers

Postpartum Depression Affects One-in-Seven New Mothers

The birth of a baby is a life-changing event that can trigger all kinds of emotions from happiness and joy to jitters and fear. It can also lead to something you might not expect — postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression — a depression that occurs after having a baby — is the most common complication of giving birth. It affects one in seven new mothers. Left untreated, postpartum depression can have long-lasting negative results, harming the health of new mothers, their babies, and their families.

It could be the “baby blues” or it could be postpartum depression.

After giving birth, many women have the “baby blues,” which are feelings of worry, sadness, and tiredness that usually last a few days. Symptoms of postpartum depression are like those of “baby blues,” however, postpartum depression symptoms are more intense and can last for many months.

Are you at risk for postpartum depression?

Women Veterans commonly suffer from depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder after military service. Veterans who become pregnant have an increased likelihood of having a mental health issue, which puts them at a higher risk for postpartum depression. With more women serving in the military than ever before, it is important to support women Veterans by providing information and treatment options.

Postpartum depression is not your fault.

Postpartum depression is never anyone’s fault. Pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a child can be a challenge for all parents, physically and mentally. Postpartum depression affects more than half a million American women each year and can affect any woman who becomes pregnant — women with easy pregnancies or difficult pregnancies, first-time moms and mothers with one or more children, women who are married and women who are not, and women of any age, race, ethnicity, culture, education, or income.

Only about 15 percent of women who suffer from postpartum depression receive professional care. There are many reasons that women do not seek treatment, including misdiagnosis, denial, and lack of access to care.

Know the symptoms.

Postpartum depression can begin anytime within the first year after giving birth. Signs you have postpartum depression may include extended periods (two weeks or more) of:

  • Feeling sad, down, or depressed
  • Losing interest in what you usually enjoy
  • Difficulty in thinking or decision making
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of energy
  • Frequently thinking about death or suicide

If you think you may have postpartum depression, seek help.

VA and Women’s Health Services offers many care options to help you get treatment for postpartum depression:

MomMoodBooster. A free online program designed to help women Vets recover from postpartum depression. Women complete six sessions and receive calls from a phone coach.

Anonymous Screening Tool

Make The Connection. Kim, an Air Force Veteran, shares her experience with postpartum depression that went undiagnosed for years.

Women Veterans Call Center. Chat online or call 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636) Monday through Saturday to get help about VA benefits and services, including postpartum depression treatment.

Veterans Crisis Line. Chat online, send a text to 838255, or call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

VA Medical Centers Seek therapy and treatment options tailored to women Veterans’ needs.

Maternal Mental Health. Seek postpartum support during pregnancy AND postpartum. Online resources are available or call 1-800-944-4PPD (4773).

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