VA invites Women Veterans to Chat Online

Women Veterans Call Center Employee

VA invites Women Veterans to Chat Online

Women Veterans! VA has a new, online, one-to-one chat just for you.

The new service enables women Veterans to go online and anonymously chat via real-time text with a trained representative. All the representatives at the Women Veterans Call Center are women, and many are Veterans themselves.

The new feature provides women Veterans with another avenue to ask general questions about benefits, eligibility and services specifically for women Veterans.

Questions? We have the answers

Do you know your Veteran status? Do you have a Veteran ID card? Should you receive any benefits from VA, like the GI Bill? Do you know what health care benefits you have earned? If you do not know the answer to even one of these questions, VA has established the Women Veterans Call Center (WVCC) just for you.

The WVCC staff is trained to provide women Veterans, their families, and caregivers about VA services and resources. We are ready to respond to your concerns. The call is free, and you can call as often as you like until you have the answers to your questions.

The Call Center is available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET, and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. ET.

What will happen when I enter chat? You will be connected to a trained VA woman staff member.

New chat feature

WVCC chat is available by visiting the Women Veterans Health Care web page at and clicking the “Chat with the Women Veterans Call Center” icon. The chat function is anonymous — please do not use personally identifiable information such as social security numbers. WVCC Chat is available Monday through Friday 8 AM – 10 PM ET, and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. ET.

She’s your guide to VA

All the representatives at the Women Veterans Call Center are women, and many are Veterans themselves. In addition to linking women Veterans to information, the Women Veterans Call Center makes direct referrals to Women Veteran Program Managers (WVPM) located at every VA medical center. The Women Veteran Program Manager helps women Veterans coordinate services.

What will happen when I call the WVCC?

  • You will be connected to a trained VA woman staff member.
  • Call center staff will conduct a brief screening to assess your needs.
  • Women Veterans will be provided personalized information regarding health care services, VA benefits and services, and a package of information will be sent to their home.
  • You can call for yourself or for a women Veteran you know.
  • The call is free and confidential.
  • Contact information will be requested so staff may follow-up.

Over 345,000 women Veterans served

VA has found that women Veterans underutilize VA care, largely due to a lack of knowledge about VA benefits and available services and their eligibility for them. In response, the Call Center contacts women Veterans to let them know about the services they have earned.

Since April 2013, the WVCC has reached out to over 310,000 women Veterans and has received calls from over 35,000 women Veterans. The WVCC receives, on average, 80 calls per day and makes on average, 1,000 calls per day.

Women Veterans Call Center Campaign Add

In addition to receiving calls, WVCC reaches out to women Veterans to let them know about the services they have earned, and staff can help connect them to benefits they deserve.

What will happen when I receive a call?

  • A trained WVCC staff member will identify themselves as working for the VA and ask if it is a good time to talk.
  • She will then ask if you are aware of your eligibility for benefits.
  • Women Veterans will be provided with information regarding health care services, VA benefits and services available, and a package of information will be sent to their home.
  • Contact information will be requested so staff may follow-up.

Women Call Center Add

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who can use the Women Veterans Call Center?
Any women Veteran or person that has questions about services and benefits available to women Veterans in the VA.

2. Can I call the Women Veterans Call Center if I am not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care?
Yes, any women Veteran can use the Women Veterans Call Center, even if you are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA health care.

3. How do I know when I should call the Women Veterans Call Center?
You should call the Women Veterans Call Center if you have any questions about VA services or health care available to women Veterans. You may also call the Women Veterans Call Center if you have concerns about your current VA health care services.

4. How would I know if I am considered a Veteran?
You may be considered a Veteran If you served on active duty in the armed forces of the United States and was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. You do not need to have wartime or combat experience to be considered a Veteran.

5. How do I use the Women Veterans Call Center service?
Simply call 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636) to be connected with a Women Veterans Call Center representative. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET and Saturday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

6. How do I use the Women Veterans Call Center chat feature?
Women Veterans can access WVCC chat through the Women Veterans Health Care website ( The Women Veterans Call Center chat tab is located on the right hand side of the website.

7. Is there a cost to call the Women Veterans Call Center?
No. The telephone number is a free service.

8. Who answers my call to the Women Veterans Call Center?
VA contact representatives are women, and some representatives are Veterans. All representatives are trained to provide information as it relates to services and benefits available to women Veterans.

9. Can I contact the Women Veterans Call Center if I am already receiving care in the VA?
Yes. If you prefer, the Women Veterans Call Center representative can help coordinate care with your regular health care providers by connecting you with the Women Veteran Program Manager at the VA Medical Center closest to you.

10. What happens when I call the Women Veterans Call Center?
When you call the Women Veterans Call Center, you will receive direct assistance from a trained VA contact representative. Representatives are here to assist you with your questions, concerns and provide you with resources. The contact representatives will work with you to provide you with the best course of action. To better serve you, they may ask for information such as your name, telephone number and your address. Contact representatives can provide direct referrals for VA services and help fast-track appointments with a Women Veterans Program Manager.

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Veteran Golden Age Games Underway in Detroit

Veteran throwing Javelin at Golden Age Games

The games are the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the United States.
The Veterans Golden Age Games has become a model for other senior sports events.

Hundreds of senior soldiers are in Detroit this week for the National Veterans Golden Age Games.

Carmen Schiavoni, 92, is there and has been going to the games since 2003. Schiavoni was a navigator on a B-17 Flying Fortress running missions over Germany during WWII. Read his story.

Carmen Schiavoni, 92, ready to take on any of the “kids” at the game

Carmen Schiavoni, 92, ready to take on any of the “kids” at the game

Also participating is super motivated Marine Veteran John Martinez, 2014 recipient of the George Gangi Inspiration Award – the top award at the Golden Age Games. He is there with the team from Fresno, Calif.

Since 1990, the Golden Age Games has chosen one participant each year as the “Most Inspirational” person to compete. That Veteran exhibits excellent qualities of fitness, sportsmanship and competitive skill. In 1995, the award was renamed to honor the late George Gangi, a participant at the Games in Dallas that year.

The games, now in the 30th year, offer sports and recreational competitive events for Veterans 55 years of age and older. It is the largest sports and recreation competition for this age group of military Veterans in the world and continue to serve as a showcase for the rehabilitation value that wellness and fitness provide in the lives of older Americans.

Swimming cometition

The games are the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the United States.

The National Veterans Golden Age Games is the premier senior adaptive rehabilitation program in the United States, and the only national multi-event sports and recreational seniors’ competition program designed to improve the quality of life for all older Veterans, including those with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. The VA challenges and encourages senior Veterans to be proactive in embracing a healthier lifestyle.

“The games help our Veterans maintain active and healthy lifestyles, and provide them the unique camaraderie of being surrounded by fellow Veterans who share common bonds of service,” said Carla Carmichael, director, National Veterans Golden Age Games. “Through sports and exercise programs and healthy living initiatives, VA continues a long history of providing Veterans with opportunities to stay active, healthy and involved.”
Events at the games include:

• Air Rifle
• Badminton
• Basketball
• Boccia
• Bowling
• Cycling
• Horseshoes
• Golf
• Nineball
• Swimming
• Table Tennis
• Track and Field
• Shuffleboard

Veteran bowling from his wheelchair

The Veterans Golden Age Games have become a model for other senior sports events. 

A “fountain of youth” for America’s rapidly aging Veteran population, the games provide a multi-event sports and therapeutic recreation program for eligible Veterans receiving care at any VA medical facility. They reflect VA’s mission – to provide quality programs and health care for older Veteran population.

Over the years, competitive events at the Golden Age Games have been adapted to meet specific needs of the participants. There are separate age groups and gender divisions and because many Veterans also face medical challenges, events were added for those who use wheelchairs and those who have visual impairments.

To accommodate the varying degrees of physical conditioning, motor and cognitive skills of the participants, basic competition rules were adapted. The modification of rules and use of adaptive equipment in many events allow non-ambulatory and visually impaired Veterans to participate.

This has made the National Veterans Golden Age Games a truly adaptive therapeutic sports competition that has become a model for other local, state and national senior sports events.

And one Veteran describes it, “It’s a total wellness program. You get physical exercise, mental exercise and I think spiritual in the sense of the camaraderie and fellowship with your teammates. I think it keeps a lot guys out of the hospital.”

National Veteran Golden Age Games Logo

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Dying Veteran Emotional Last Request

Image of Veteran outdoors with friends and his horse

Dying Veteran’s Emotional Last Request
And the VA Team that made it happen

Like many other young men in the late 1960s, Roberto Gonzalez answered when Uncle Sam called. He was drafted by the Army for service in June of 1969, a week after finishing school. Gonzalez, from South Texas, found himself going to Army basic training instead of working on the family ranch and going to summer graduation parties.

Gonzalez was a member of the 25th Infantry, and on one mission, was selected to be on point during a patrol. What he didn’t know was they were walking into an ambush of North Vietnamese soldiers lying in wait. They sprung up from a trench, firing on the 14-man squad. With Gonzalez on point, he took the brunt of fire, being hit three times: through both lungs, a bullet hitting and shattering his leg below the knee, and the last striking his abdomen, fragmenting and hitting his spine, creating the shrapnel that led to his paralysis.

He described his wounds with much less bravado and even a little sense of humor. “I had three shots with an AK-47 and had a thousand little ones,” Gonzalez said. “I had holes all over my body, but I made it,” he said, grinning while describing the horrendous attack.

The fighting was so intense, they transported him a few miles away to a landing zone (LZ) to be medevac’d. Although the chopper was finally cleared to land, Gonzalez wasn’t in the clear yet. “Every time the chopper lifted off, my blood pressure dropped rapidly,” Gonzalez explained. He said they did this numerous times before they flew him out of the hot zone.

Out of his original 14-man squad, Gonzalez was one of only three that had survived. The fellow soldiers he left behind left an imprint on his memory, even 45 years after he returned home, making his face sullen as he described the experience. “I saw a lot of bad things over there,” he murmured. “I saw a lot of dead people.”

One of the first patients at Audie Murphy Hospital

Gonzalez finally came back to the U.S. in 1970, spending the remainder of the year rehabilitating until he could be safely moved. Along the way, he made stops at hospitals in Saigon and Japan, befpre ending up in Memphis, Tenn. at a specialized VA hospital for paraplegics. He rehabilitated for 18 months until he finally got back to Premont, Tex.

“I had holes all over my body, but I made it.”

He needed continuous care, and the only availability was a hospital in Houston and returns to Memphis for his specialty care. All of that changed when Gonzalez could be seen at the newly-established Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital that was dedicated in November 1973. The new hospital was more convenient for him and he became one of its very first patients.

Gonzalez cuts the ribbon to the new elevated walkway

Gonzalez cuts the ribbon to the new elevated walkway connecting the Audie Murphy hospital with the UT Health Science Center in 1980. He was one of the first patients at hospital after it was dedicated in November of 1973. (Photo courtesy of San Antonio Express News)

It’s one of the things that led to former hospital director, Jose’ Coronado to nominate Gonzalez and his new wife, Rosario, to cut the ribbon on the new walking bridge between the Veterans hospital and the University of Texas Health Research Center in 1980.
Ranch in the family since 1800s
Besides being hospitalized in 1975 for kidney issues, Rosario said Gonzalez was rather healthy, working the 20,000 acre ranch near Premont that has been in the family since the late 1800’s.

When Gonzalez fell ill again in 2015, they transported him to a hospital in Corpus Christi, but were delighted the stay was temporary, and that they would be returning to Audie Murphy. “There are some really good nurses in this ward,” Rosario said of the spinal cord unit.

Gonzalez added that he wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. Rosario thinks the specialized training the spinal cord staff receives makes the difference.

Veteran celebrating his birthday from his hospital room

In the fall of 2015, Roberto Gonzalez’s large family came from near and far to celebrate his birthday. (Photo by Steve Goetsch)

In the fall of 2015, after a couple months at Audie, the Gonzalez family held a special birthday party for Gonzalez and his younger brother George, who shares the same birthday. They brought enough food and drink to supply a small army because they included the staff and inpatients on the ward they consider part of their family. “We’ve met so many great families from guys that have been hurt with spinal cord injuries,” Rosario said.

Rosario herself was a fixture on the ward, staying nearby at the South Texas VA Fisher House by the campus. His mother, Elodia, who might have been responsible for her son’s resiliency, came up frequently, despite being three hours from the hospital. “His mom is 92 years old,” Rosario exclaimed. “She is a feisty lady, and she is something else.”

Does resilience come with spending four decades in a wheelchair, refusing to give up, or is it bolstered by the 10 supportive siblings that help with the ranch and who drove from all over south Texas in inclement weather to celebrate their brothers’ birthdays? Whatever the case may be, one of the things that kept Gonzalez going were his horses.

Wanted to be on the ranch…with his horses

Despite becoming fixtures at the hospital, and lauding the care they received there, there was only one place Gonzalez wanted to be…back on the ranch, with his horses.

His face lit up when he talked about them. From traveling through several states to show and sell racehorses, to the short-legged cows he raised and attempted to describe to a naïve city slicker. He missed his ranch and getting into his “big truck” every morning and doing what he did for decades, with his father and grandfather by his side.

The Gonzalez family was holding down the ranch, awaiting his return. “They keep us informed,” Rosario said, speaking of the many nieces and nephews that stepped up in Gonzalez’s absence.

This most recent visit to Audie was taking a toll on Gonzalez. He was tired. It was a different Gonzalez than Rosario was used to. “He was very independent, it’s just recently that his body has worn down,” Rosario said. “He used to transfer on his own; he just started needing help.”

Gonzalez experienced some complications and began losing his battle. He had liver problems, and his kidneys began to shut down. The time came when the staff began to prepare the family. If Gonzalez couldn’t get to the ranch, the Gonzalez family wanted to bring the ranch to him. There were two horses that were favorites of Gonzalez: Sugar and Ringo, but bringing them into a hospital would take some planning.
Brought his bed out to the parking lot
Dr. Seth Chandler, chief of Audie’s Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) unit, with Nurse Manager Louis Nwojo and their team, consulted with the family and worked out the logistics. With safety being paramount, the decision to facilitate the visit was granted. Nwojo said the team did a safety check of all medical devices, and brought the bed out to the parking lot and the two waiting equine friends to say goodbye.

Surrounded by Rosario and his family, the horses gently greeted Gonzalez in a quiet, somber gathering. He passed away May 23, just two days later. Gonzalez leaves quite a legacy; Vietnam Veteran, Silver and Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, faithful husband of 40 years, the only Texas paraplegic horse trainer, Veteran of the Month and patriarch of one of the biggest, most supportive families you could ever meet…Roberto Gonzalez was not a casualty of war.

Rest in peace, Roberto, and thank you for your service.

(Author’s note: This story is based on interviews conducted with Roberto in the fall of 2015.)


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Wheelchair Games are about Living Healthy Lives

Veteran competeing in Wheelchair games in an Archery match.

Games highlight fitness and social networking

Wheelchair Games are about Living Healthy Lives

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are presented each year by VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) with additional support from numerous corporate and community sponsors.

The Salt Lake City Health Care System and PVA are hosting the 36th edition of the games in and around Salt Lake City June 27-July 2.

The games are a rehabilitation and wheelchair sports program empowering Veterans with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, amputations and other neurological injuries to live more active and healthy lives through wheelchair sports and recreation.

Each summer, Veterans from across the United States and a team from Great Britain travel to a new community hosting the games. During the week, Veterans compete in 18 wheelchair sports events while providing encouragement and mentoring for new Veterans. Veterans at the games educate newly disabled Veterans on what is possible and those witnessing the events realize that limitations are only state of mind.

PVA-VA Partnership

Since 1985, PVA and VA have joined forces to work collaboratively to organize and execute the Games, enabling the strengths of both organizations to come together to make them one of the largest annual wheelchair sports programs and truly a world class event.

This is not just a one-week experience. VA Rehabilitation Programs and Paralyzed Veterans of America chapters across the country work to empower Veterans to be more active and healthy in their daily lives by getting them involved in sports and recreation programs highlighting fitness, social networking, and community involvement.

Sports and recreation reinforce critical values necessary for health while combating the risk of isolation, depression, and other factors associated with health. That is what the Games are about.

There are dozens of remarkable stories about the Veterans participating. Here is just one.

Family and Faith Helped Him Survive

by Jill Atwood
Public Affairs Officer
SLC VA Medical Center

Fifty years ago the United States was at war in Vietnam. In 1966 American Forces stationed in Vietnam reached 389,000 by the end of the year. More than 6,000 American troops were killed and 30,000 wounded in that year alone. On Jan. 30, 1968, the Tet Offensive kicked off one of the largest military campaigns of the war that launched a wave of surprise attacks across the country striking more than 100 towns and cities.

Marine Corps Veteran Mike Johnson


Mike Johnson joined the Marine Corps at the height of the Vietnam War. On Jan. 30, 1968, while out on patrol, one of the men in his unit triggered a booby trap. Mike lost both of his legs in that explosion and spent months in the hospital recovering. He earned two purple hearts and a bronze star.

His game plan: never quit.

Family and faith helped him survive his life-changing injuries. Mike is a father of eight. “I have a strong belief system. I think this is all temporary.” Mike stayed active and took up wheelchair basketball and track and field. His drive to be the best in any adaptive sport he tried eventually earned him an invitation to the 1976 Paralympic Games in Toronto. He took home four medals: a gold in table tennis and lawn bowling, a silver in the 100-meter dash, and a bronze in the javelin.

“I like to compete. I don’t like losing.”

This will be his 4th Wheelchair Games. “I still like it, I still like to compete and I am a terrible loser. I don’t like losing.” Today, while training is still a huge part of Mike’s life, his passion lies with teaching. He has been a coach and school teacher for 34 years.

His game plan: never quit. Events he will compete in at the Salt Lake City Games: hand-cycling, slalom, air rifle, table tennis and 9-ball.

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Butterflies Symbolize Hope for Paralyzed Veterans

Image of a Monarch butterfly on a flower

Flowers and Sunshine help revive dozens of cold, grounded butterflies during a special ceremony
at the Milwaukee VA’s Spinal Cord Injury building in early May.

On a cold but sunny morning in early May, about 30 patients and staff gathered on the front patio of the Milwaukee VA’s Spinal Cord Injury building. Many of the patients were in wheelchairs.

“We were there to release some butterflies,” explained Army Veteran Scott Griffith. “It was Ependymoma Awareness Day, and we wanted to give our Ependymoma patients an emotional boost. For us the butterfly symbolizes change, and hope.”

“I’m still alive because of the VA.”

The event was put on by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the organization Griffith works for.

“I was diagnosed with Ependymoma 18 years ago, and I’m still alive because of the VA,” he said. “A lot of Veterans with this disease and other spinal cord injuries are still alive because of the VA. I know they’ve been getting a lot of bad press lately. But I have to say, when you’re looking for something the VA does right, this is one of them. They offer superb care for Veterans with spinal cord injuries. No one does it any better.”

Ependymoma is a cancerous tumor that forms on the brain or spinal cord. Its cause is unknown. Nearly 700,000 Americans had been diagnosed with it as of 2010.

Image of Veterans and Butterflies in the sun during a special ceremony

They were holding hope in their hands

“The box that I opened had about 150 Painted Lady butterflies in it,” Griffith said. “They were shipped in from Texas. The idea was for them to all flutter into the air at once, but they were a little slow to wake up. They didn’t want to come out of the box.

“Apparently the Texas butterflies did not have a fondness for our Wisconsin weather,” he concluded. “The ideal temperature for releasing them is 70 to 75 degrees. It was about 58 here that morning.”

Not only did the sleepy little guys not fly; most of them ended up on the turf.

“They don’t move when they’re cold, so when we opened the box they just kind of flopped to the ground” said Dr. Kenneth Lee, an Army Veteran who heads up the Milwaukee VA’s Spinal Cord Injury unit. “They were just sitting on the grass not doing anything. It was sort of funny.”

But Lee, who was badly injured while serving in Iraq, knows how to find the silver lining in any situation.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise that they didn’t just fly away, because everyone started picking them up and putting them in the Veterans’ hands,” he said. “The symbolism was awesome… all these Veterans in wheelchairs, holding butterflies in their hands, watching them try to move their wings. It was like they were holding hope in their hands.”

Scott Griffith agreed. “You’ve got all these injury-hardened Veterans sitting in their wheelchairs, but then someone puts a fragile little butterfly in their hands and you can see these guys soften right up. They start grinning from ear to ear, like they were playing softball with their granddaughter or something.”

One of those smiling Veterans was Mike O’Leary, an Air Force Veteran and a patient at the Milwaukee VA.

“Some of the butterflies came individually packaged,” he said. “They were inside these little origami things, these little paper pouches. You held it by the corners and pulled it open, and there was your butterfly.”

Shock and Awe

But O’Leary’s little yellow friend was apparently just as sleepy as the rest of his winged associates.

“That poor butterfly,” he said. “It was so cold. I think he was in shock. When I first opened up the pouch and saw my butterfly I was elated. Then when he dropped to the ground I wasn’t so elated. I was worried about him. So I picked him up off the cold ground and held him for a while to get him warm.”

It seemed everyone was busy scooping up comatose butterflies from the ground as fast as they could. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a VA staffer appeared with a flowerpot full of bright red flowers. (Butterflies like flowers.)

“Everyone started putting their butterflies on the flowers,” said O’Leary. “So I put my little guy on the flowers where he could be with his friends. That gave me a good feeling.”

Julie Kronenburg, who works at the Spinal Cord Injury unit, said she thinks all the butterflies survived the morning’s festivities.

“The flowers helped, and the sunshine certainly helped,” she said. “They started to wake up once they were in the sun.”

About an hour after the ceremony ended, Kronenburg decided to return outside and check on the butterfly herd.

“I went back out there and they were all gone,” she said. “They all flew away. They’re Texas butterflies, so I hope they like Wisconsin.”

To learn more about what the VA is doing for Veterans with spinal cord injuries, visit

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PTSD Help with Cognitive Processing Therapy

Male Veteran walking down a rural road surrounded by trees

Taking the Blinders Off:
Veteran Christopher Tyler’s experience with CPT

In observance of PTSD Awareness Month, June 2016, VA’s National Center for PTSD presents the following profile of a Veteran who is living with PTSD and has turned his life around with treatment.

Chris Tyler joined the Army in 1996, right after he graduated from high school. During his nine years of service he was deployed to Kosovo for six months and to Iraq for 17 months.

In Iraq he was part of the 168th Military Police Battalion. He did guard-tower duty. He transported fuel and ammunition. He worked the front gate of his base. But the most dangerous part of his job was prisoner transport.

“My main job was to pick up prisoners from Baghdad police stations and take them to be interrogated by Special Forces at the Baghdad airport,” Tyler said.

To get to the airport, Tyler drove “Route Irish” known at the time as the most dangerous road in the world.

“It was a little nerve-racking to work that road…constant watching of all directions,” he recalled. “Debris on the road could be a roadside bomb. There was a lot of heavy traffic…and then, holding prisoners…in the back of your truck, you don’t really stop for anybody.”

Tyler’s vehicle frequently came under attack. One incident in particular would haunt him for years to come.

When he got back home to Michigan, Tyler knew he had changed. He had a hard time making sense of civilian life. His marriage became strained. His friendships suffered. Work was difficult. He was depressed and angry. He thought about suicide.

“I was just a shell. I was kind of drifting through life,” Tyler said.

Identifying Negative Thoughts Called “Stuck Points”

Finally, eight years after leaving the military, Tyler sought help from the VA. He was diagnosed with PTSD and decided to enter a residential treatment program where he began Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). In CPT, patients are taught how the way they think can negatively affect the way they live, and how to recognize the thoughts that are making life difficult. Tyler would spend the course of his therapy learning how to reframe those thoughts. Though it sounds simple enough, to Tyler, it was fraught with risk.

Tyler carefully read through his Impact Statement, both on his own and with his therapist. The goal was to identify negative thoughts called “stuck points.”

“The stuff actually works. It’s very real.”

A stuck point is a thought or belief that people with PTSD just can’t get past and keeps them from living the way they want. It could be a thought like, “I shouldn’t have survived that attack.” Or “danger lurks around every corner,” Or “no one can be trusted.”

With the help of his therapist, Tyler would learn to recognize his own stuck points, and then learn the tools to understand and eventually defuse them.

Over the course of his therapy, Tyler used a variety of written worksheets to understand how his thoughts were causing him distress. Not only did they cloud over his days, but they cast a dark shadow over his past as well. Much like his cache of military treasures, Tyler had kept his most difficult memories tucked away.

Unpacking the Memory of a Traumatic Event

Under the guidance of his therapist, he would unpack and inspect the one thing he’d kept locked up tight: the memory of the traumatic event.

For Tyler, this moment would be pivotal.

The tools Tyler learned in CPT gave him a new perspective on how ingrained and rigid his thoughts had become. He became more flexible in his thinking. From this new vantage point, Tyler could see his traumatic event in a more realistic light. The dark clouds started to lift, and relief, at one time unimaginable, was in sight.

His life began to change for the better.

When Tyler began treatment, he worried that therapy would push him over the edge—that he’d come out worse than when he went in. Instead, Cognitive Processing Therapy helped him break the cycle of his negative thinking, and reframe his perspective on the past…and the present.

He became less suspicious of the world. He was able to engage with people, to make and keep friends. And he was able to see his military experience, even the darkest moments, in a new, more insightful way. It wasn’t easy, but Tyler came through CPT with his PTSD under control and ready to re-engage.

“I thought it’d be all smoke and mirrors and, you know, a dog and pony show like they call it in the military,” he said. “But, no, it’s definitely not a dog and pony show. The stuff actually works; it’s very real.”

You can see the entire AboutFace video “Therapy Story” about Christopher Tyler at

For more information on PTSD and ways to raise awareness throughout the year, visit the National Center for PTSD website, This site offers resources such as:

PTSD Coach Online and the award-winning PTSD Coach mobile app, which provide symptom-management strategies. The app is always with you when you need it.
Continuing Education (CE) and continuing medical education (CME) opportunities for providers on the best practices in PTSD treatment (CEs/CMEs offered), including the PTSD 101 curriculum.
AboutFace: An online video collection of Veterans talking about PTSD and how treatment turned their lives around.
Whiteboards: Short animated videos to learn about PTSD and effective treatments.
Subscribe to the PTSD Monthly Update: Stay up to date on new information about PTSD and trauma year round.

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Veteran has Tongue Cancer Surgery – Home in 3 Days

Two VA Doctors with their VA Patient after surgery

Dr. Babak Givi, Army Veteran Warren Katz and Speech Therapist Latimer Kells

Warren Katz, an Army Veteran and actor, recently came in feeling well and fit for a 10 day post-op appointment with Dr. Babak Givi. He had been treated by the surgical team for a cancerous base of tongue tumor. Dr. Givi says the treatment involved transoral laser micro surgery and a neck dissection. Katz spent only three days in the hospital.

A few years ago, the treatment likely would have been surgery involving cutting open the jaw and splitting the mandible to go to the base of the tongue. Katz is already back to full activity, auditioning for new parts in upcoming projects.

“I hope our new techniques make a positive difference for our heroes.”

Dr. Babak Givi has headed the Head and Neck Clinic at VA’s Manhattan Campus for three years and in that time has made a big difference in how complex problems can be solved with minimally invasive procedures.

His expertise in the newer less invasive techniques is having a direct, positive affect on patient outcomes, both by reducing the probability of complications and making recovery quicker.

Ultrasound Guided Biopsies – Saves Veteran Visits


Among the new diagnostic and surgical approaches Dr. Givi has introduced are ultrasound guided biopsies where targeted tissue samples are removed for analysis in clinic during the patient visit.

Dr. Rosemary Wieczurek in Pathology will then analyze the sample the next day and determine the diagnosis. This method saves the patient at least two visits and provides an answer in an expeditious manner, reducing the anxiety of not knowing if they have cancer or not. Before this new routine, it required at least two or three visits and two to three weeks to make a diagnosis.

Dr. Givi has also integrated the speech and language pathology therapy in the clinic. Latimer Kells, a dedicated speech therapist with a vast amount of expertise in treating head and neck cancer patients, evaluates patients before procedures to ensure that there is a clear concept in place about how surgery intersects with post-operative care. She then follows patients after treatment to provide valuable care in improving their speech and swallowing function.

As a surgeon, Dr. Givi introduced minimally invasive approaches to the removal of malignant tumors. This surgical procedure has now replaced the traditional more invasive and disfiguring facial incisions. Dr. Givi says, for example, “One of my patients was recently told by Memorial Sloan Kettering physicians that he needed a craniotomy for his skull base tumor. But, understandably the patient was very happy that with the help of Dr. Seth Lieberman, our rhinologist, and Dr. Dimitris Placantonakis, our neurosurgeon, we were able to successfully remove the tumor through the nose endoscopically. This meant a significant reduction in the chance of complications and the patient has recovered very well. .The patient was discharged from the hospital in three days with no tumor and no incision.”

Salivary Gland Treatment without Surgery

Dr. Givi is also expert in sialoendoscopy, a minimally invasive way of treating salivary gland problems. Guided by a scope measuring only 1.7 millimeters, Dr. Givi removes stones and opens narrowed passages, using the natural openings of the salivary glands. With this procedure, many salivary glands that used to be removed by surgery can be saved.

The Head and Neck Surgery Clinic treats all diseases of the skin, mouth, larynx, oropharynx, salivary, thyroid and parathyroid glands. Some are benign like vocal cord polyps, and thyroid goiters and others are cancerous, often related to smoking.

Dr. Givi: “I am very proud of the service we provide to our Veterans. They put their lives on the line for our country. The least we can do is to help them the best we can. I hope our new techniques and our attitudes make a positive difference for our heroes.”

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I was addicted and homeless. The VA took me in.

Image of a male volunteer handing out clothes to a male Veteran.

Vietnam Veteran Mike Doherty, once a patient at the Pittsburgh VA, now runs the clothing program there.

Photo by Bill George, Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System.

Mike Doherty had a good job driving a truck for a vending machine company. He had a wife and two beautiful daughters; a nice house in a pleasant neighborhood.

“I had it all,” he said. “Then it all went away.”


Doherty, a Navy Veteran who served in Vietnam, said things started going downhill after he injured his back at work.

“It seemed like I was constantly on pain medication,” he said. “All the medication led to my addiction to painkillers, and to alcohol. I was killing myself, and I was destroying my family. I ended up losing everything: my wife and kids, my job, my house.”

The Vietnam vet, then in his mid-50s, found himself sleeping on a friend’s couch.

“My friend was a Vietnam vet, like me, and he wanted to help me out,” Doherty said. “I slept on his couch for a year. But even your best friend’s hospitality wears out eventually. Finally one day he said to me, ‘You need help. I’m driving you to the VA.’ And that’s what he did. He drove me to the VA hospital in Pittsburgh.”
He added: “My friend’s gone now; he died of throat cancer a few years ago, but he’s the one who gave me the kick in the ass I needed. He was a good friend.”

Getting it Right

Doherty said he was pleasantly surprised by how he was treated by staff at the Pittsburgh VA’s Highland Drive Campus.

“I was apprehensive going in there, but they didn’t judge me,” he said. “They told me they were going to help me. They said, ‘We’ll get it right. We’ll get it right.’ I remember them telling me that over and over.”

The Navy Veteran said one VA nurse in particular stands out in his mind.

“She was one of the first people I met there,” he said. “She’s a saint. Her name is Mary Francis Pilarski, and she always had a smile. I don’t know how she was able to smile all the time. I remember her because she was just so helpful. She was always there for me.”

Green Acres

Doherty said it wasn’t long before he was transferred to the Pittsburgh VA’s transitional housing unit in Cowansville, Pa.

“It seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “It’s way out in the country, surrounded by farms and cows. It used to be a women’s prison. I guess that’s why my room had a steel door and no windows. But you know what? It was a step up for me. I had been sleeping on someone’s couch and now I had my own room.”

Doherty said not all of his fellow patients at Cowansville appreciated the rural aspects of their new environment.

“I was raised on a farm, so this felt like I had come home,” he said. “But some of the Veterans couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It’s not for everyone. But I liked it. That’s why I stayed there for two years.”

Doherty said volunteers from the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) would drive him and his fellow patients from Cowansville to the Pittsburgh VA’s Center for the Treatment of Addictive Diseases.

“We were there every day from 9 to 3,” he explained. “I think I liked group therapy the best. You got to see how other people ended up being in the position they’re in. It gave you some perspective. It made you feel like you weren’t so alone.”

Troy Polamalu

All that was 10 years ago. Today Doherty has his own apartment, a black cat named Troy Polamalu (after the former Pittsburgh Steelers’ strong safety), and a classic 1985 Crown Victoria he uses to get around in. Most importantly, he has his two daughters back in his life.

“I just tried to progress a little bit at a time, as best I could.”

“They turned out great,” he beamed. “I missed out on some of their birthdays and dance recitals when they were growing up, and I have no one to blame for that but me. But they turned out good. One just turned 19 and the other just turned 22.”

He added: “I feel lucky I was given a chance. That’s why the VA is so important to me. They gave me a chance, and I’m grateful to them. So now I’m trying to give back. That’s why I’ve spent the last 10 years volunteering here at the VA.”

Doherty said that 10 years ago the Pittsburgh VA had no formal clothing program, so he decided to start one.

“I know what it’s like to show up here with nothing,” he said. “I look at some of these Vets and I say to myself, ‘That was me.’ They don’t have decent clothes or shoes or a winter coat. Now, whatever item of clothing you need –socks, underwear, anything—we can get it for you. I can’t hold your hand once you leave here, but I can make sure you have proper clothes on your back. I reach out to the VFW, the Purple Heart organization, the American Legion, places like that. They give us all the clothes we need. ”

He continued: “Some of the homeless Vets I’ve given clothes to work here now. They’re VA employees. That gives me a good feeling.”

The Vietnam Vet, who will soon turn 65, said helping his fellow Veterans is what keeps him going.

“It’s what gets me up at 3 o’clock every morning,” he smiled. “I’m here every day handing out clothes. I’m here on holidays. I’m here on Christmas Eve.”

To learn more about VA’s effort to end Veteran homelessness, visit

Are you a Veteran battling substance abuse? Know a Veteran who is? Find out how the VA can help by visiting


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You get to choose how you will handle MS.

World MS Day, 25 May 2016 - Logo

I Have MS but MS Does Not Have Me

Every day I wake up, just like everyone else, and see the sun shining and the birds chirping and have the promise of the entire day set before me – 24 hours, 1,440 minutes – just like everyone else. The only thing that makes my waking up a little different than your waking up is that “I have multiple sclerosis (MS), but MS does not have ME.” I believe in the poem “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest…

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

Capt. Philip White

Capt. Philip White

MS is just on the journey with me to do what is part of my DNA – teach, mentor, and lead. These three things have been part of my life career as a Retired Captain in the US Air Force and a community volunteer. You can do anything you set your mind to do and like any challenge, you get to decide every day how you will overcome the obstacle.

I have a “use it or lose it” philosophy about the cognitive and physical aspects of my disease. We all have a bank of mental and physical energy with which to get it done – and every day we get a new deposit to spend anew. Life with MS is a choice to be healthy and to choose how to spend my energy account. I have learned to listen to my body and know how to space out my activities to maximize my output for the results I seek to achieve, whether it is celebrating the centennial of my fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., serving as the Gateway MS Ambassador, or giving out over 15,000 school bags to students in the St. Louis Public Schools, I choose how to maximize my energy resources.

I continue on and so can you

When I wake up and my body or my mind act like they want to hold me back, I remind them that I am directing this destiny and I do not say, “I can’t” because “can’t” only means “constant act of not trying.” I refuse to let that be a part of my life story. It may mean that I choose to do one or two things instead of the three or four that I might normally do, but I continue on and so can you. MS means “MOST STUFF” to me, that on most days I can do most things.

I refuse to let “can’t” be a part of my life story.

You have a choice, remember that, you did not choose MS, but you do get to choose how you will handle MS. Living with a chronic illness is only limiting if you believe “I can’t” instead of “I can.” You must monitor your energy level, think of your longevity, and keep your mind sharp. Read a book, go to museums, challenge yourself with a new task, eat a healthy diet, and exercise daily. I choose every day to put one foot in front of the other and use my 24 hours for the greatest good instead of allowing MS to stop me.

MS also challenges our cognitive abilities and I choose every day how to keep my mind sharp. I keep busy through volunteering with the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring Reading Program, along with my work with the VA, and serving as the Upsilon Omega Foundation Vice President and the Omega Center Manager (community service center). As an active member of my fraternity, I was challenged in 2011 to plan a huge centennial conference in St. Louis, some thought it couldn’t be done, but “I DID IT!”

What can life with MS look like? It looks like a man who was Area Captain for four states and who traveled to make history. It looks like a man, for the second time, who donned a tuxedo to attend the inaugural balls for the nation’s re-elected first black president. It looks like a man sitting proudly in the blue section of the inaugural ceremony. It looks like a man who mentors through the Boys and Girls Club, who reads at Lexington Elementary School, and who recruits through Team 100. It looks like 1,440 minutes of “I CAN.”

Every new day is a new opportunity to be greater than your limitations. Remember, “I have MS, MS does not have me.”

About Captain White

Captain (Ret). Philip White is a native of St. Louis, MO. For 26 years he served proudly with the United States Air Force, stationed in several U.S. posts and countries including Korea, Japan, Philippines, and Germany. Following his retirement from military service, he returned to his teaching roots at Whitman Air Force Base, accepting a position as Director of Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC). After retiring from his position as Director, he accepted a volunteer position as a member of Team 100, with Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring.

May 25 is World Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Day.

A day to celebrate global solidarity and hope for the future.

It brings the global MS community together to share stories, raise awareness and campaign for everyone affected by multiple sclerosis.

In 2016, the theme for World MS Day is ‘Independence’. It’s all about how people with MS can be independent.

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A Smart Home for Veterans with Brain Injuries

Fictional image of neurons of light firing in the brain

A Smart Home for Veterans with Brain Injuries

VA researchers are doing amazing things to improve the lives of Veterans.

Here’s just one example: the Smart Home. This unique project uses advanced technology to help patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) independently plan, organize and complete everyday activities.

Some Veterans with TBI have lost the ability to manage basic tasks like doing the laundry or taking out the trash.

Smart Home has been described as a “cognitive prosthetic.”

VA’s Smart Home helps them relearn those skills by tracking their movements around their house and then sending them text or video prompts when they get off track. The remarkable indoor tracking technology can pinpoint the Veterans’ location to within six inches.

 Ben “Ty” Edwards and wife Anna Edwards

Ben “Ty” Edwards and wife Anna Edwards

The Tampa VA Medical Center has installed the high tech equipment in five apartments housing 10 Veterans. It has a system that not only tracks their locations but has sensors that monitor the use of appliances. For example, the washing machine sensors determine when the Veteran puts soap in the machine and also shows when he or she empties the machine after the load is completed. If the user forgets to do either, a nearby screen prompts them to complete those steps. The Smart Home can also notify a caregiver if an activity is not completed.

Other sensors in the bathroom determine how long a patient has been shaving and if they are taking too long, they are prompted to finish that task and move on.

The technology promotes Veterans’ independence by providing reminders for the management of other daily activities such as medication, meal planning, and other necessary tasks.

Smart Home has been described as a “cognitive prosthetic” with the goal of rehabilitating Veterans with TBI so they can function normally in society.

A powerful feature of the Tampa Smart Home is the precision of the customized therapeutic information that can be provided to the recovering Veteran. Data for every interaction with clinical and medical staff are recorded continuously and analyzed, helping the staff visualize subtle but therapeutically significant behavioral changes. Reports are sent back to the clinical team on a weekly basis

This helps to better inform treatment plans and potentially prevent problematic medication effects on Veterans’ memory, as well as gait and balance.

 Joseph “Pepper” Coulter and wife Jill Coulter

Joseph “Pepper” Coulter and wife Jill Coulter

A little more technical information? The Veteran patients and VA staff wear wrist tags linked to a real-time location system that tracks the tags using wall sensors. It’s ultra-wideband technology. The wrist tags broadcast their ID on a 6-to-8 gigahertz channel and uses time-delay-of-arrival and angle-of-arrival methods to determine position in three dimensions.

The Smart Home innovation recently received third place in VA’s Brain Trust summit. The national summit brought together the public and private sector, Veterans, caregivers, clinicians and innovators to tackle the issues of brain health.
Dr. Steven Scott, co-director of VA's Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research

One of the leaders of the project is Dr. Steven Scott, co-director of VA’s Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. Scott is a nationally known expert in the fields of physical medicine and rehabilitation with research expertise in polytrauma and traumatic brain injury. Much of his work focuses on the rehabilitation and reintegration of Veterans who have experienced blast-related injuries.

Advances like this are being celebrated this week, Research Week, at VA medical centers around the country.

Join us as we celebrate 91 years of research excellence and attend one of the many activities being conducted nationwide.

For more than 90 years, the VA’s Research and Development program has been improving the lives of Veterans and all Americans through health care discovery and innovation.

VA research is unique because of its focus on health issues that affect Veterans. The groundbreaking achievements of VA investigators—more than 60 percent of whom also provide direct patient care—have resulted in three Nobel prizes, seven Lasker awards, and numerous other national and international honors.


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