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Vietnam Vet: What Veterans Day Means to Me

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Army Veteran declares victory on a 50-year battle

Army Veteran Clinton Lanier, first graduate of Savannah’s STAR program

Army Veteran Clinton Lanier, first graduate of Savannah’s STAR program

Last November, Vietnam War Veteran Clinton Lanier, Jr. walked into the Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic on a mission to change the course of his life. Lanier began using opium, heroin and marijuana while deployed to Thailand and Vietnam in the late 60s. The drugs, he said, were a respite from the horrors he witnessed during the months he spent in theater. However, Lanier had no way of knowing his antidote to war would spiral into an addiction lasting 50 years.

But late last year, everything changed for the 70-year-old.

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I stopped because I wanted to stop. Even a cancer diagnosis in 2007 didn’t stop me,” Lanier says of his drug habit. “I stopped because I didn’t even know what it felt like to be sober.”

Lanier’s decision to get clean could not have come at a more opportune time. At the end of last year, the Substance Treatment and Recovery program, or STAR, was just taking shape at the Savannah VA clinic. After completing a 45-day detox program at the Dublin VA Medical Center, Lanier was quickly accepted into the program.

“I made a decision that I wanted to succeed at this thing,” Lanier said. “When I came here, I was offered the STAR program. It’s helped me out a lot and it keeps me on the right track.”

Lanier’s commitment has paid off. Earlier this year, the Army Veteran became the first graduate of the Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic’s Substance Treatment and Recovery (STAR) program.

Savannah’s STAR program is an intensive, outpatient substance abuse treatment program that offers individual assessment and treatment plans for Veterans struggling with addiction. Participants are required to complete a comprehensive four-week, 36-hour curriculum that teaches them recovery skills to help cope with addiction and pointers for how to set realistic goals. A primary goal of the program is equipping Veteran patients with the tools they’ll need to manage a healthy, clean lifestyle and avoid relapses.

Formerly called the Substance Abuse Treatment Clinic, or “SATC”, the program has been a staple at the main VA site in Charleston for several years. It functions on a smaller scale at the Myrtle Beach and Hinesville outpatient clinics.

Psychologist Walter Ware and Senior Social Workers Angela Taylor and Pamela Rawdon, mental health providers in the Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic STAR program

The Savannah VA Outpatient Clinic’s program kicked off in January 2017. Over the past year, the dedicated staff of the STAR team worked together to develop the program. The team is comprised of Dr. Walter Ware, clinical psychologist; Angela Taylor and Pamela Rawdon, senior social workers; and Charles Henry, a certified peer support specialist. This summer Psychiatrist Dr. Rachel Maree joined the team to provide evidence-based medication management for STAR patients. The coordinated care provided by Savannah’s multidisciplinary team provides Veterans with a myriad of tools and resources to help them combat substance misuse.

STAR program participants must complete four sessions of nine separate classes taught three days a week. They are also required to attend a weekly Aftercare group, which provides a more relaxed setting where attendees can “get real” about the issues they are facing in a less class-oriented environment/

Peer Support Specialist Charles Henry leads several Aftercare sessions and has been helping Savannah Veterans fight substance addiction for the last two years. He’s passionate about helping Veterans in the STAR program and offers an element of sincerity these patients may not get in a typical recovery setting. A recovering addict with more than 20 years sober, through his role as a peer support specialist, Henry has been trained to counsel fellow Veterans struggling with addiction.

“My grandchildren are always there to keep me on the path I’m on.”

“Peers are walking, talking, evidence-based proof that recovery works. I’ve been in these Vets’ shoes. I’ve been homeless. I was addicted to alcohol, to crack cocaine. Estranged from my family,” Henry explains. “All the things that they go through, I feel their pain because I was there.”

Recovery is an ongoing battle that every addict continues to fight every day, but the always-dapper Lanier remains completely dedicated to maintaining his sobriety. Today the Army Veteran has been sober for eleven months and credits his success so far to encouragement from his instructors and mental health providers, and the camaraderie he feels with other Veterans enrolled in the program.

“I’ve been used to doing things on my own for a long time,” Lanier says. “But it’s a good feeling to have someone pat you on the back.”

Lanier remembers his days of getting high, and recalls how quick-tempered and angry he was then. During the lonely half-century Lanier spent hiding his habit, he avoided being around his family – always afraid that they’d see who he really was.

“But now, I’ve always got by my grandchildren and great grandchildren around me. They’re always there to keep me motivated and staying on the path I’m on.”

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Veteran: “Art is an awesome outlet.”

Veteran Anthony Jones and his works of art

Veteran Anthony Jones and his works of art

“Art therapy is no different from working out at the gym. It is an awesome outlet to resolve your issues,” according to U.S. Army Airborne Infantry Veteran Anthony Jones.

Coming from an artistic family, he felt it natural to utilize the art therapy program after he enrolled in health care at the Martinsburg VAMC. “In 2015 I decided I needed to change, I dedicated myself to the health care and programs offered at the VA.” Jones said.

Nationwide, VA medical facilities use the creative arts as one form of rehabilitative treatment to help Veterans recover from and cope with physical and emotional disabilities.

Across the country each year, Veterans enrolled at VA health care facilities compete in a local creative arts competition. The competition includes 51 categories in the visual arts division this year that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits.

In addition, there are 100 categories in the performing arts pertaining to all aspects of music, dance, drama and creative writing. Through a national judging process, first, second and third place entries in each category are determined.

Jones participated in the Martinsburg VAMC Creative Arts Festival in 2016 and 2017, receiving first place both years in Fine Arts and Mixed Media. The festival provided him the opportunity to showcase his artwork and prepared him for a larger audience.

The annual competition raises the visibility of creative achievements.”

Recently Jones was given the opportunity to create a piece of artwork on his largest canvas to date by partnering with another local artist to showcase their art and vision on a tractor-trailer. “I’m very excited about it being out there.” Jones said.

Jones at work in his studio
Jones at work in his studio

He volunteers his time at the medical center Hobby Shop every other Friday providing motivation and encouragement to other Veterans. “I’m offering hope and inspiration that if you want something, it’s there.” He said. “The VA helped me get it together.”

Jones is currently enrolled at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College as a full-time student working toward a major in liberal arts and has opened his own studio.

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival is the celebration and grand finale stage and art show, which are the culmination of talent competitions in art, creative writing, dance, drama and music for Veterans treated in the VA national health care system.

The festival this year is hosted by the VA Western New York Healthcare System, Buffalo, New York and is presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Legion Auxiliary.

Approximately 120 Veterans will exhibit their artwork or perform musical, dance, dramatic or original writing selections in a gala variety show. A professional orchestra will accompany the performance. All Veterans invited to participate are selected winners of year-long, national fine arts talent competitions in which thousands of Veterans enter, from VA medical facilities across the nation.

VA medical facilities incorporate creative arts into their recreation therapy programs to further rehabilitation for both inpatients and outpatients. This annual competition recognizes the progress and recovery made through that therapy, and raises the visibility of the creative achievements of our nation’s Veterans after disease, disability or life crisis.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Information for Veterans

Staff at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center participate in a PINK OUT every Monday in October to promote breast cancer awareness.

Staff at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center participate in a PINK OUT every Monday in October to promote breast cancer awareness.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Louis A. Johnson VAMC Women’s Clinic has exciting news. The Women’s Clinic in its commitment to giving the best and most advanced screening detection has acquired a new state of the art 3D imaging mammography unit.

This new technology allows our Women’s Clinic to achieve superior imaging which leads to earlier detection combined with conventional 2D imaging alone.

What is 3D mammography?

3D mammography is an FDA approved advanced technology that takes multiple, layered images or X-rays of breast tissue to create 3D image of the breast. You may also hear it referred to as tomosynthisis, or tomography. It is different than traditional imaging because 2D mammography only gives a single image. Both are read on specialized work stations. These multiple images of tissue “slices”, (about one millimeter thick), give the doctors much clearer images of breast tissue. The goal is for earliest possible detection. The LAJVAMC Women’s Clinic is FDA Certified.

Who should get a mammogram?

In May 2017 the Veterans Administration announced it has adopted the American Cancer Society Mammogram Screening Guidelines. For the last 19 years the American Cancer Society (AMC), has recommended that women over 40-45 should get annual mammograms, and can change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55. Women should have a choice to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40 if they want to.

According to the CDC, women are at a higher risk with the following risk factors:

Family history of cancer, smoking tobacco , early menstruation, late or no pregnancy, menopause after age 55, not being physically active, overweight or obese after menopause, having dense breasts, hormone therapy, oral contraceptives, drinking alcohol and others.

Breast Cancer in Men

Yes men can get breast cancer. Breast cancer is about 100 times less common than women. For men the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.

Breast cancer 2D screening is available for men in the Women’s Clinic.

VA’S Commitment to Women’ Health

By adopting the ACS guidelines for breast cancer screening, The VA has made huge gains in consolidating care standards for women.

“It is important for our women Veterans to know that they are in control of their care and the care they receive from VA is consistent or exceeds care in the private sector,” said VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Adopting American Cancer Society standards gives Veterans further assurances that their care aligns with other health-care systems. Currently, 76 percent of women Veterans age 40-49 receive mammograms through VA.”

Breast Cancer PINK OUT

We invite everyone to participate in a PINK OUT every Monday in October to promote breast cancer awareness. Everyone is encouraged to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness and to remind the special women in our lives to talk to their provider about getting a mammogram.  


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ASPIRE Center Helps Veterans Get Their Life Back

Veteran Brandon Thompson at the Aspire Center in San Diego

Veteran Brandon Thompson at the Aspire Center in San Diego

As an Army Veteran of over six years with deployments to Iraq, Brandon Thompson tackled life like he conducted himself on the job: emotionless, with his problems tucked away to be dealt with privately. It was a personal mantra that served him well in uniform, but not so much when he honorably separated.

“I tended to push people away including my daughter, my girlfriend and my family because I saw myself in such a negative light,” said Thompson of his life after military service. “I wanted to be alone.”

As problems mounted, Brandon’s emotionless demeanor and aversion to others made him deeply concerned about his relationship with his daughter. He first attempted to find help through a six-week treatment program in Arkansas. In his short amount of time there, Brandon left with an understanding of his feelings, but with no tools to manage his life moving forward.

“I wondered how I can shift my self-destructive behavior into something more positive,” said Brandon. “I’m an alcoholic and I wouldn’t know how to process these feelings so I would drink to help me deal with it. Even going sober through the rehabilitation program, I didn’t have the answers I was seeking, which led me to the Aspire Center. I was ready for it.”

“I’m getting to a place where I can be present in the things that matter to her.”

VA’s Aspire Center, located in San Diego, Calif., is a 40-bed, 30,000 square-foot facility aimed at promoting recovery in Veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The center provides temporary housing and comprehensive interdisciplinary care including: psychiatry, psychology, addiction therapy, onsite primary care and nursing support, spirituality, social work services, recreational activities, financial counseling, vocational and occupational therapy for Veterans who need them.

Best Candidates Recognize the Need for a Change

“The best candidates for this program are Veterans who recognize the need for a change in their life, who are motivated and clinically ready, sober and abstinent, to put in the work needed to achieve their goals in recovery” said Dr. Lu Le, Medical Director at the Aspire Center.

The program can last from three to six months depending on individual needs. During the first phase of a Veteran’s stay, he or she is individually assessed and a plan is developed specific to the needs for recovery. Based on that plan, Veterans incorporate several daily hours of therapy specific to their individual needs using a multi-disciplinary team committed to a Veteran’s success.  

These sessions are mixed with group events that help Veterans grow while bonding with fellow residents. Outside of daily schedules, Veterans will be able to venture out to enjoy recreational therapy opportunities such as surfing, biking and hiking.

Veteran Salma Jackson uses a lathe during woodworking classes at the Aspire Center in San Diego.

During the final discharge phase of the program, Veterans start pursuing vocational and academic goals by venturing into the community to volunteer, interview for jobs, secure housing and take classes at local educational institutions.

“When we start, we ask every Veteran where they want to be when the program concludes,” said Dr. Le. “By offering them a structured environment and staff committed to success from beginning to end, we want to make sure they meet their goals and have a clear way forward when they leave.”

Calls His Daughter Every Morning

It was with concern for the relationship with his daughter that brought Brandon to the Aspire Center. Now with several months left in the program, Brandon misses and calls her every morning. With treatment and therapy, he understands the value of emotion in his life and it’s given him a way to look outward and focus on the needs of people around him.

“I think about being able to go to my daughter’s events without feelings of anxiety. She just started cross country running. Before, she did competition cheer and dancing and it would be hard for me to go watch those things. It would be hard for me to be there and enjoy myself with all the crowds and closed environment. I had to force myself to put on the appearance of being excited to be there when in reality, I was worried and watching for people acting strangely and looking for exits. Now, I can feel myself getting excited about going to her sports events, and I am enjoying hearing what’s going on with her when I call. I’m getting to a place where I can sit there with her when we talk and be present in the things that matter to her,” he said. “That’s a really great place to be.”

Here’s more information, or if you know someone who would benefit from the Aspire Center.

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VA Provides Comprehensive Care for Women Veterans

Women Veterans

Wendy Schuster, LPN, with Veteran Stacy Coleman getting ready for an appointment using telehealth technology at the Marquette VA Clinic.

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The fastest growing population group in the military today is women who currently comprise 14.5 percent of active duty personnel and 18 percent of National Guard and Reserves.

The face of VA healthcare is changing. Younger female Veterans are using VA services more frequently, including for maternity care, and having service connected disabilities, while older Veterans are using VA services for menopausal needs, geriatric care, and extended inpatient stays. 

From 2000 to 2013, women Veterans using VA services have more than doubled, from 159,000 to 390,000.

The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain and its seven Community Based Outpatient Clinics throughout the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin served and cared for over 1,100 women Veterans in 2016.  The VA provides a full continuum of care for women Veterans, including comprehensive gender-specific primary and specialty care, mental health services, disease prevention and screening, maternity care coordination, and urgent care services.

Enhanced maternity care is typically provided through arrangements made by the VA with local non-VA health providers. VA also provides maternity education and tools, childbirth preparation, breastfeeding support and lactation classes, breast pumps and other supplies, and care to the newborn for the first seven days after birth.

“We can offer our women Veterans comprehensive care in a single visit.”

The medical center and each field community clinic have designated health providers and nurses who are trained in women’s health.

“By having trained, gender-specific providers at the medical center and each of our community clinics we can offer our women Veterans comprehensive care in a single visit,” said Barbara Robinson, RN, Women Veterans Program Manager.

 Air Force Veteran Ann Kaya talks with Carrie Champion, LPN, during a recent appointment in the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Iron Mountain VA Medical Center.

Air Force Veteran Ann Kaya talks with Carrie Champion, LPN, during a recent appointment in the Women’s Wellness Clinic at the Iron Mountain VA Medical Center.

Women’s health services provided by the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center have continued to excel in clinical practices and care for women Veterans. This is evidenced by the independent External Peer Review Program’s clinic measures, which shows the Iron Mountain-based VA medical center consistently screened 85 percent or more of its age appropriate women Veterans for breast and cervical cancers and osteoporosis exceeding regional and national averages. 

“As the population of women Veterans grows, the number being treated for breast cancer continues to increase, so it is very important to us that our women Veterans get screened because when breast cancer is detected in its very early stage chances of a successful treatment are much higher,” said Robinson.

To provide more timely and comprehensive health care services to women Veterans, the medical center opened a separate Women’s Wellness Clinic in 2012, which also offers a private waiting area for women and their children while waiting for appointments.

Another enhancement to women Veterans healthcare is the establishment of the VA Women Veteran Call Center, which provides a one-stop contact for getting information on benefits, eligibility, services, and resources specifically for women Veterans. It also offers an online, one-to-one anonymous chat function via real-time text messaging accessible by going to and clicking on the icon labeled “Chat with the Women Veterans Call Center.”   

The call center is available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

Community based VA clinics are located in Sault Saint Marie, Manistique, Marquette, Hancock, Ironwood and Menominee, Mich., and in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.  

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My HealtheVet: Vital Resource During Emergency

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With VA Adaptive Sports, life has become a joy

Runner on the beach

Veteran Laura Ortiz
“With VA Adaptive Sports, life has become a joy.”
2017 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic

Veteran Laura Ortiz gets her strength and purpose from three words: faith, humility and service. Those three motivating ideals will be on full display this week at the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego.

“I feel so lucky and blessed to be here. Sometimes we just need a little push. I think once you try adaptive sports it becomes a motivator to challenging yourself. These clinics are great and we all need to keep supporting them.”

The Summer Sports Clinic offers adventure sports and recreational activities such as sailing, surfing, track and field events, kayaking and cycling (hand and tandem), to those who were recently injured.

Complimenting the therapy provided in daily rehabilitation programs, the clinic shares a glimpse of the many exciting recreational opportunities awaiting those Veterans who accept the challenge. With the variety of water and summer sports available at the clinic, this week-long journey hosts Veterans from all over the country who have a variety of injuries, ranging from traumatic brain injury and polytrauma, to spinal cord injury or loss of limb.

Its fundamental purpose is to provide early intervention for Veterans battling back from injury, not only strengthening their bodies but overcoming and improving their overall being and self-worth.

Veteran Rodney Blanton

Veteran Rodney Blanton says he died twice on the operating table, but somehow was able to pull through. After 12 days in a coma, Rodney woke up to the realization that his left leg had been amputated.

“I wasn’t about to give up,” the Houston native said, “so I kept walking to try to get back in shape.”

At the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, he met recreational therapist Jessica Dawson. She introduced him to the Paralympic Sports Club in Houston, and Rodney never looked back.

At the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, Jessica can’t help but be proud of his accomplishments.

“These clinics are great and we need to keep supporting them.”

She yelled out encouragement from La Jolla Beach as Rodney tried surfing for the first time. He waves and beams back a smile. Rodney had found a new sport to be excited about.

“She pushed me to try new things, and now I’m here.”

This year 130 Veterans, 94 who are first-time participants, will try their hand at sports they might have considered impossible before the event.

For Theotis D. Smith, Marine Corps and Army Veteran, the chance to represent the Veterans and employees of the Edward Hines VA Medical Center at the clinic is the culmination of his rehabilitation journey.

“I’m extremely happy to be given this chance,” Smith said. “Before working with VA Adaptive Sports, I was just at home looking at four walls and depressed. Now my life has become a joy. I want to try every program VA offers.”

When asked what event he was most excited about, the Chicago native said he couldn’t wait to go out sailing.

“I got to sail a few times in Chicago,” he said. “I have 10-inch rods running up and down my back, so when I got out on the water and looked at what God created for us – all of my pain goes away.”

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My HealtheVet has a New Look – Check it Out!

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