10th Anniversary of VA’s Polytrauma Program

Adam Anicich and Dr. Joel Scholten sitting outside around a metal picinic table

Adam Anicich (L) and Dr. Joel Scholten reflect on Adam’s journey during a break at VA’s Polytrauma and Blast-Related Injury Executive Committee Annual Meeting at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

Veterans Adam Anicich and Andrew Clark appreciate, more than most, the significance of the 10th anniversary this week of VA’s Polytrauma treatment program.

The both served in Iraq and both experienced explosions that left them with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Anicich: “I sustained a TBI when I fell from the top of a piece of cargo handling equipment after a mortar hit near our position. The driver likely jerked the steering wheel in response to the explosion, causing me to fall about 20 feet onto the hard-packed gravel.”

Clark: “During my second deployment, we were getting mortared on a daily basis. Most of the rockets shattered upon impact, thankfully, because I was only a couple of feet away. Unfortunately some went off close enough so that the power of the concussion knocked me down.”

“These people listened and cared.”

Polytrauma System of Care

For ten years, VA has dedicated a unique program to treating Veterans with TBI and other health issues.

Beginning in 2005, VA developed the integrated nationwide Polytrauma System of Care that provides world-class rehabilitation services.

It ensures that Veterans and Servicemembers transition seamlessly between Department of Defense and VA medical facilities and back to their home communities.

The Polytrauma System of Care programs specialize in medical rehabilitation for TBI and polytrauma, which is defined as multiple severe injuries.

The services include assessment and treatment by teams of rehabilitation specialists, case management, patient and family education and training, psychosocial support, and advanced rehabilitation and prosthetic technologies.

Encouraging Veterans to Come Forward

Adam Anicich in uniform
Adam Anicich

Anicich, a native of Orange County, Calif., wanted to share his story, “In the hope that it encourages other Veterans to come forward, and I want it to bring positive light to the amazing work VA Polytrauma clinicians are doing for Veterans every day.”

“Dr. Joel Scholten and my Polytrauma Team at VA are my safety net. I know I can push myself as hard as possible in my recovery and treatment because I have a team of professionals behind me. Supporting. Coordinating. Facilitating. Helping.”

“Returning to the U.S. after deployment was challenging,” he explains. “I was unable to do the same type of rigorous work others were able to do. People knew there was something different about me — something ‘not right’ — but they were unable to put a finger on it. They could see the physical injuries in my movements, but did not understand the cognitive difficulties or how severe it was.”

Learn more about understanding TBI.

Anicich adds, “It was frustrating to have known my life and capabilities before Iraq, and now have to live with the ’new normal,’ having people around you tell you that everything will be fine. ‘Just give it time.’”

I returned home to California and tried my best to replicate my former life. To enjoy the things I did before. To have a sharp mind and never forget things like I did before. To remember names and faces like I did before. To be able to hold rapid fire conversations like I did before. To be able to interact and engage with people like I did before. To be the old me.”

“However, I was unable to find that person.”

Anicich realized he was having trouble concentrating, remembering people, places, names, and events. He had trouble with angry outbursts and losing his patience.

“I had challenges in cognitive functions and making decisions. The easiest of choices disrupted my entire day.”

Important to Understand the Signs

It has been said that traumatic brain injuries — caused by improvised explosive devices, mortars, vehicle accidents, grenades, bullets, mines, falls and more — may be the hallmark injury faced by Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even those who were not obviously wounded in explosions or accidents may have sustained a brain injury. It is important that Servicemembers, their families, and the community understand some of the subtle signs, and seek screening at their local military or VA health care facility.

Andrew Clark in uniform sitting next to an American flag.
Andrew Clark

Andrew Clark joined the Air Force in 2001 and served two tours in Iraq. He recalls his struggles after his combat concussion. “I can remember vivid details from some things in the service, but now I am often forgetting to eat, conversations, locations, and what day it is.”

“I struggle with speech at times, often dropping things. At times, simple math can be near impossible without a calculator. My frustration builds when I forget to do tasks in a timely manner: at work, getting ready in the mornings, and other around-the-house things.”

Clark adds, “Having to have a caregiver can be depressing, but I’m very thankful for this VA program which keeps me mostly independent and alive. Not understanding my medical issues was the biggest challenge I faced.”

“The VA literally saved my life. I keep in communication with one of the best neurologists in the country, Dr. Victor Dostrow, and I am blessed that the VAMC Asheville hired him.”

“And if it wasn’t for my VA mental health doctor, Dr. Bruce Purvis, who had me start a medical journal, none of my small seizures would have been identified and I would not have overcome the other challenges, struggles and frustrations.”

Today, Andrew is a photographer and active with the Disabled American Veterans, “An incredible organization that gave me a purpose in life.”

Over 100 Treatment Sites

map of the United States showing the various polytrauma and tbi treatment locations
VHA Polytrauma and TBI System of Care.

VA has 110 specialized Polytrauma rehabilitation sites across the country:

  • 5 Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers (comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation)
  • 23 Polytrauma Network Sites (comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation)
  • 87 Polytrauma Support Clinic Teams (comprehensive outpatient rehabilitations)

Adam Anicich remembers when he first came to VA for help. “I walked into the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and within five seconds, a VA greeter asked me how I was doing and how they could help. I murmured that I think something is wrong, and I might need to talk with someone. They immediately sat me down with a great team of clinicians who began the arduous task of reviewing where I was with regards to treatment and recovery, and identifying the areas in which VA could help.”

“Who were all these people and why were they so interested in helping me? These people listened and cared. They were interested in a resolution.”

Today, Anicich focuses his efforts on bringing awareness to issues affecting returning Servicemembers as an advocate for Veterans afflicted with TBI and PTSD, as a speaker on reintegration topics, and as an advisor to VA on polytrauma and pain management.

As he puts it, “The most exceptional reward I can ever get is a ‘thank you’ from a Veteran for something I have done.”

Learn more about VA’s Polytrauma System of Care.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/May/10th-Anniversary-of-VAs-Polytrauma-Program.asp

Veteran Re-Connects with Other Women at Vet Center

Woman standing in front of a lake at sunset near Epcott Center

Former sergeant Josie Beatty found support group at a VA Vet Center

Josie Beatty’s nightmares began some time before she left military service in 2006. She’d spent 15 years in the Air Force, a lot of those years working in the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

“My unit handled mass causalities, and most of them were coming in from Iraq and Afghanistan,” she explained. “Sometimes, when they unzipped the body bag, the person inside looked peaceful, like they were just sleeping. Other times, it was the opposite, especially if they’d been killed in an explosion, a helicopter crash, or something like that. Sometimes they weren’t even in one piece.”

Nonetheless, a Servicemember’s remains still needed to go through a carefully orchestrated process in order to be positively identified. It required a team of specialists.

“It’s not like anything you could ever imagine,” Beatty said. There’s fingerprinting, dental records, x-rays, and DNA work. Then you have the autopsy and the embalming. It was my job to escort the body throughout this whole process, taking them from station to station. I watched over them. It was a very long day, 13 or 14 hours. But of all the jobs I did in the Air Force, I viewed this one as the most honorable.”

With each passing day, however, more and more disturbing images were accumulating in Beatty’s mind.

“When you feel safe, the walls start to come down. You can begin to heal.”

No Delete Key

“The images go in, but they don’t come out,” she said. “When you’re working around death all the time, you learn to detach yourself. You know this is someone’s brother or sister, someone’s son or daughter, but you have to detach or you’ll end up getting hysterical.”

But detachment, as a coping mechanism, only works for so long.

“After a while I began to have trouble handling what I was seeing,” said the 44-year-old. “And I didn’t have anybody to talk to about it. I was a tech sergeant E6, and a supervisor, and I didn’t want anyone thinking I couldn’t do my job. I didn’t want to be the one person in my unit who came up short. So you end up carrying it all around inside you.”

After leaving the Air Force, Beatty landed a job doing administrative work for the Department of Defense at Fort Belvoir, Va. But by then, the repeated trauma she had experienced during her mortuary work had begun to noticeably manifest itself.

“I was having trouble sleeping,” she said. “I was having unexpected flashbacks, and I was having nightmares. It affected every aspect of my life. The relationship I was in fell apart because I was emotionally shut down. I’d spent years detaching myself, shutting down my emotions so I could protect myself and do my job. But now I was stuck in shutdown mode. I knew something was wrong with me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.”

But people around Beatty knew something was wrong.

“I was getting progressively worse,” she said. “Finally one day my boss came to me and suggested that I talk to someone. He recognized that something wasn’t right with me. So in 2013 I went to the VA outpatient clinic at Fort Belvoir and they referred me to a Vet Center. They told me someone there would be able to help me.”

two women facing each other having a discussion

Ten Minutes Away

As fate would have it, there was a Vet Center just 10 minutes down the road from where Beatty worked at Fort Belvoir.

“When I walked in there, everything changed for me,” she said. “I had individual sessions with a female therapist, and 12 weeks of Cognitive Processing Therapy to specifically address my PTSD. I also completed a 12-week trauma group that was designed for women Veterans. I had always felt alone in my trauma, but being surrounded by supportive women who understood what I was going through was comforting. It helped me a lot.”

Beatty said being in the company of other women enabled her to finally begin letting her guard down.

“When you leave military service, you lose that comradery you had. It was like having a built-in family, so when you lose that, you miss it. But going to the Vet Center has helped me feel reconnected. Everyone there is searching for the same thing: to feel whole again. And you can start to feel whole again when you’re in a comfortable space. When you feel safe, the walls start to come down. You can begin to heal.

“I still have a long way to go,” she added.

Beatty said she has only one regret: that it took her seven long years before finally deciding to reach out for help.

“I think I was my own worst enemy,” she said. “In the military they teach you to be strong, to carry on and do your job no matter what. So that’s what I did. But at the Vet Center I learned I don’t have to be super human. I was reminded that I’m a human being who was traumatized, and that I don’t have to handle it all alone.”

To learn more about what Vet Centers can do for you, visit www.vetcenter.va.gov

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/Veteran-Re-Connects-with-Other-Women-at-Vet-Center.asp

Veterans’ Real Stories of Strength and Resilience

make the connection website

Make the Connection: By Veterans for Veterans.

Mental Health Awareness Month

The two things that might occur to some Veterans listening to Nicole and Brent and Tim tell their stories are, Yes, I get it … been there; and, How brave these Veterans are to sit there and tell their very personal stories.

They share their experiences because they want other Veterans to know that help is out there and that Veterans with mental health challenges should reach out for that help. They did and they are taking their lives back.

“My daughter didn’t know me … she wouldn’t come to me.”

While overseas, Nicole did her job and focused on surviving. Back home, her children were affected by the stress of having two military parents. When she returned, Nicole came face-to-face with her families’ challenges and had to deal with her own issues, too. Learn how Nicole found support and resources for herself and ways to help her family thrive.

“I drank a lot to try to forget.”

After returning from deployment, Brent’s battle had only just begun. He turned to drinking to deal with stress. He bounced between jobs and relationships while trying to cope with flashbacks, financial problems, and depression — until he finally reached out to VA and learned how to get his life on course to a better place.

“I could feel myself losing it.”

While teaching a science class, Tim suddenly had a flashback to his experiences in Vietnam, remembering some gruesome things he had seen. Fortunately, an assistant principal who was a fellow Veteran understood his experiences and was on hand to help him get through it.

You can find their stories and dozens more on the Make The Connection website.

The Make the Connection website was created because we all have the ability to influence a friend or loved one in a positive direction. VA wanted Veterans to be able to tell their personal stories of mental health treatment and recovery to as many of their fellow Veterans as possible, hoping those who need help will see an inspiring video on the website and decide to reach out as well.

“It’s amazing what they can do once you get beyond those emotions.”

Make the Connection is a way for Veterans and their family members to connect with the experiences of other Veterans — and ultimately to connect with information and resources to help them confront the challenges of transitioning from service, facing health issues, or navigating the complexities of daily life as a civilian. Make The Connection is an approachable online resource that links Veterans to personal stories from their peers, to VA resources and support, and to reliable information about mental health and resilience.

You can customize the site to reflect your personal situation and experience.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. VA uses this time to raise public awareness about Veterans and mental health and about VA’s mental health programs and resources available to Veterans and their families and friends.

veterans aof various ages sitting around a table having a discussion

VA Offers Tools to Help Veterans Cope

Self-help tools can build coping skills. Try these yourself in the privacy of your own home to learn ways to manage, and more:

On the Make The Connection site, you will hear one Veteran say, “I do go to counseling now. It’s amazing what they can do once you get beyond those emotions.” Visit Make the Connection to hear more true stories of Veterans who served their country, faced challenging life events and experiences, reached out for support, and are now living more fulfilled lives.

They made the connection. You can, too.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/Veterans-Real-Stories-of-Strength-and-Resilience.asp

Veterans’ Real Stories of Strength and Resilience

make the connection website

Make the Connection: By Veterans for Veterans.

Mental Health Awareness Month

The two things that might occur to some Veterans listening to Nicole and Brent and Tim tell their stories are, Yes, I get it … been there; and, How brave these Veterans are to sit there and tell their very personal stories.

They share their experiences because they want other Veterans to know that help is out there and that Veterans with mental health challenges should reach out for that help. They did and they are taking their lives back.

“My daughter didn’t know me … she wouldn’t come to me.”

While overseas, Nicole did her job and focused on surviving. Back home, her children were affected by the stress of having two military parents. When she returned, Nicole came face-to-face with her families’ challenges and had to deal with her own issues, too. Learn how Nicole found support and resources for herself and ways to help her family thrive.

“I drank a lot to try to forget.”

After returning from deployment, Brent’s battle had only just begun. He turned to drinking to deal with stress. He bounced between jobs and relationships while trying to cope with flashbacks, financial problems, and depression — until he finally reached out to VA and learned how to get his life on course to a better place.

“I could feel myself losing it.”

While teaching a science class, Tim suddenly had a flashback to his experiences in Vietnam, remembering some gruesome things he had seen. Fortunately, an assistant principal who was a fellow Veteran understood his experiences and was on hand to help him get through it.

You can find their stories and dozens more on the Make The Connection website.

The Make the Connection website was created because we all have the ability to influence a friend or loved one in a positive direction. VA wanted Veterans to be able to tell their personal stories of mental health treatment and recovery to as many of their fellow Veterans as possible, hoping those who need help will see an inspiring video on the website and decide to reach out as well.

“It’s amazing what they can do once you get beyond those emotions.”

Make the Connection is a way for Veterans and their family members to connect with the experiences of other Veterans — and ultimately to connect with information and resources to help them confront the challenges of transitioning from service, facing health issues, or navigating the complexities of daily life as a civilian. Make The Connection is an approachable online resource that links Veterans to personal stories from their peers, to VA resources and support, and to reliable information about mental health and resilience.

You can customize the site to reflect your personal situation and experience.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. VA uses this time to raise public awareness about Veterans and mental health and about VA’s mental health programs and resources available to Veterans and their families and friends.

veterans aof various ages sitting around a table having a discussion

VA Offers Tools to Help Veterans Cope

Self-help tools can build coping skills. Try these yourself in the privacy of your own home to learn ways to manage, and more:

On the Make The Connection site, you will hear one Veteran say, “I do go to counseling now. It’s amazing what they can do once you get beyond those emotions.” Visit Make the Connection to hear more true stories of Veterans who served their country, faced challenging life events and experiences, reached out for support, and are now living more fulfilled lives.

They made the connection. You can, too.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/Veterans-Real-Stories-of-Strength-and-Resilience.asp

Veterans’ Real Stories of Strength and Resilience

make the connection website

Make the Connection: By Veterans for Veterans.

Mental Health Awareness Month

The two things that might occur to some Veterans listening to Nicole and Brent and Tim tell their stories are, Yes, I get it … been there; and, How brave these Veterans are to sit there and tell their very personal stories.

They share their experiences because they want other Veterans to know that help is out there and that Veterans with mental health challenges should reach out for that help. They did and they are taking their lives back.

“My daughter didn’t know me … she wouldn’t come to me.”

While overseas, Nicole did her job and focused on surviving. Back home, her children were affected by the stress of having two military parents. When she returned, Nicole came face-to-face with her families’ challenges and had to deal with her own issues, too. Learn how Nicole found support and resources for herself and ways to help her family thrive.

“I drank a lot to try to forget.”

After returning from deployment, Brent’s battle had only just begun. He turned to drinking to deal with stress. He bounced between jobs and relationships while trying to cope with flashbacks, financial problems, and depression — until he finally reached out to VA and learned how to get his life on course to a better place.

“I could feel myself losing it.”

While teaching a science class, Tim suddenly had a flashback to his experiences in Vietnam, remembering some gruesome things he had seen. Fortunately, an assistant principal who was a fellow Veteran understood his experiences and was on hand to help him get through it.

You can find their stories and dozens more on the Make The Connection website.

The Make the Connection website was created because we all have the ability to influence a friend or loved one in a positive direction. VA wanted Veterans to be able to tell their personal stories of mental health treatment and recovery to as many of their fellow Veterans as possible, hoping those who need help will see an inspiring video on the website and decide to reach out as well.

“It’s amazing what they can do once you get beyond those emotions.”

Make the Connection is a way for Veterans and their family members to connect with the experiences of other Veterans — and ultimately to connect with information and resources to help them confront the challenges of transitioning from service, facing health issues, or navigating the complexities of daily life as a civilian. Make The Connection is an approachable online resource that links Veterans to personal stories from their peers, to VA resources and support, and to reliable information about mental health and resilience.

You can customize the site to reflect your personal situation and experience.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. VA uses this time to raise public awareness about Veterans and mental health and about VA’s mental health programs and resources available to Veterans and their families and friends.

veterans aof various ages sitting around a table having a discussion

VA Offers Tools to Help Veterans Cope

Self-help tools can build coping skills. Try these yourself in the privacy of your own home to learn ways to manage, and more:

On the Make The Connection site, you will hear one Veteran say, “I do go to counseling now. It’s amazing what they can do once you get beyond those emotions.” Visit Make the Connection to hear more true stories of Veterans who served their country, faced challenging life events and experiences, reached out for support, and are now living more fulfilled lives.

They made the connection. You can, too.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/Veterans-Real-Stories-of-Strength-and-Resilience.asp

Veterans’ Real Stories of Strength and Resilience

make the connection website

Make the Connection: By Veterans for Veterans.

Mental Health Awareness Month

The two things that might occur to some Veterans listening to Nicole and Brent and Tim tell their stories are, Yes, I get it … been there; and, How brave these Veterans are to sit there and tell their very personal stories.

They share their experiences because they want other Veterans to know that help is out there and that Veterans with mental health challenges should reach out for that help. They did and they are taking their lives back.

“My daughter didn’t know me … she wouldn’t come to me.”

While overseas, Nicole did her job and focused on surviving. Back home, her children were affected by the stress of having two military parents. When she returned, Nicole came face-to-face with her families’ challenges and had to deal with her own issues, too. Learn how Nicole found support and resources for herself and ways to help her family thrive.

“I drank a lot to try to forget.”

After returning from deployment, Brent’s battle had only just begun. He turned to drinking to deal with stress. He bounced between jobs and relationships while trying to cope with flashbacks, financial problems, and depression — until he finally reached out to VA and learned how to get his life on course to a better place.

“I could feel myself losing it.”

While teaching a science class, Tim suddenly had a flashback to his experiences in Vietnam, remembering some gruesome things he had seen. Fortunately, an assistant principal who was a fellow Veteran understood his experiences and was on hand to help him get through it.

You can find their stories and dozens more on the Make The Connection website.

The Make the Connection website was created because we all have the ability to influence a friend or loved one in a positive direction. VA wanted Veterans to be able to tell their personal stories of mental health treatment and recovery to as many of their fellow Veterans as possible, hoping those who need help will see an inspiring video on the website and decide to reach out as well.

“It’s amazing what they can do once you get beyond those emotions.”

Make the Connection is a way for Veterans and their family members to connect with the experiences of other Veterans — and ultimately to connect with information and resources to help them confront the challenges of transitioning from service, facing health issues, or navigating the complexities of daily life as a civilian. Make The Connection is an approachable online resource that links Veterans to personal stories from their peers, to VA resources and support, and to reliable information about mental health and resilience.

You can customize the site to reflect your personal situation and experience.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. VA uses this time to raise public awareness about Veterans and mental health and about VA’s mental health programs and resources available to Veterans and their families and friends.

veterans aof various ages sitting around a table having a discussion

VA Offers Tools to Help Veterans Cope

Self-help tools can build coping skills. Try these yourself in the privacy of your own home to learn ways to manage, and more:

On the Make The Connection site, you will hear one Veteran say, “I do go to counseling now. It’s amazing what they can do once you get beyond those emotions.” Visit Make the Connection to hear more true stories of Veterans who served their country, faced challenging life events and experiences, reached out for support, and are now living more fulfilled lives.

They made the connection. You can, too.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/Veterans-Real-Stories-of-Strength-and-Resilience.asp

Planting Cabbage on Earth Day in a Healing Ground

Sign in front of the garden with the words the healing ground dedicated July 2012

Healing Ground is a Safe Haven for Veterans.



All photos by Linda Wondra

Veterans at the Jonathan M. Wainwright VA Medical Center in Walla Walla, Washington, celebrated Earth Day by planting broccoli and cabbage in the medical center’s Healing Ground garden. Located on a hill next to the VA’s historic chapel overlooking a field where early morning sightings of deer are common, The Healing Ground is tended by Veterans for the fourth consecutive year.

The idea to start back up a garden after years of dormancy came from a brainstorming session between the chief of Home and Community Based Services and her administrative officer while considering new ways to introduce the Complementary and Alternative Medicine program started in 2011. The 2,725 sq. ft. plot of fertile soil was a natural place to plant, and staff members worked with community partners to get the project started.

Walla Walla Community College students helped to construct a fence. An AmeriCorps volunteer with gardening experience assisted in getting the project off the ground. Over time, Veterans started attending daily morning gardening classes, seeking the sunshine and the peaceful environment as a place to heal from their physical and emotional pain, thus aptly named The Healing Ground.

Many Veterans have been touched by their experiences in the garden. Working in the garden is considered a form of therapy — spending time there is recorded in a patient’s medical chart. From March through October Veterans are encouraged to come voluntarily to the garden during class time. Those who come most often are residents in two inpatient rehabilitation programs which last from 30-60 days.

On any given day there can be as few as one Veteran in class, or as many as nine, and they come expecting different things from their hour. For the new Veteran, the social worker who facilitates the experience gives them an overview of the garden and an idea of different tasks they can choose from. When asked what they hope to get out of their experiences, common answers are “Getting my hands dirty in the ground,” or, “I want to enjoy being outside on this sunny day,” or “To think about an issue I’m having, with the clarity of fresh air.”

Before
After

Veterans will sometimes work in the garden together in small groups so they can talk to each other. Because they spend a lot of time together in classes and groups, they obviously share common goals striving to be addiction-free as well as working towards being well-balanced and integrating mindfulness tools they have learned. Working in the dirt — pulling weeds, planting seeds, harvesting vegetables — may facilitate conversations more naturally than in a clinical setting.

On days when there may be only one Veteran in the garden, it’s possible the Veteran will open up to the social worker about personal things because he or she is looking at the ground — not face to face. During these experiences it is evident that the act of gardening is a way to work on self-compassion and forgiveness, to move on and feel empowered to change what they can.

Veteran Micheal Cox has been coming to the garden faithfully for the past two years. He says working in the garden gets his mind off the constant pain he deals with and has a calming effect. Micheal has been dealing with traumatic brain injury (TBI) ever since he fell 24 feet while working for a construction company in 2006.

His TBI issues weren’t diagnosed by private doctors and he went through a difficult period trying to understand why he couldn’t get past the pain and constant spinning in his head. He dealt with depression issues, wanted to get off all the painkillers, ended up getting incarcerated, was homeless for a period, and had to deal with cancer.

Veteran with a dog laying on the grass
Veteran Micheal Cox and Bug take a break in the Earth Day sunshine.

It was VA that finally diagnosed Micheal with TBI. Spending time in Walla Walla VA’s Residential Rehabilitation Unit programs has helped him understand everything that he has been dealing with. He was also prescribed to get a service dog, Bug, who is always by his side. Bug can sense when he is losing control and jumps into action to help calm him.

The Healing Ground has brought out many community partners. Plant starts are donated by Welcome Table Farm, a local organic establishment, and some seeds have been donated by the Walla Walla Community College Agriculture Center for Excellence. Volunteer groups from Whitman College and AmeriCorps come out to prepare the ground in the spring and put the garden to bed in the fall. The produce that the Veterans don’t eat is donated to local food banks. In the past several years, thousands of pounds of produce were donated to Blue Mountain Action Council for local consumption.

Jill Juers, coordinator of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine program and overseer of The Healing Grounds garden, says working in the garden is therapeutic for everyone involved. Being able to see Veterans come full circle from not being able to identify a particular vegetable, to harvesting and then tasting it for the first time is very satisfying. Each spring, the garden is a blank slate and a new experience for all involved.

Micheal continues to come to the garden, sometimes bringing along his little friend Gabriel, who is the grandson of a friend and family who helped him get back on his feet when he was homeless. Gabriel likes to help with the planting, and then wants Micheal to watch him roll down the hills.

Micheal loves to spoil kids, and says getting down to a kid’s level helps him leave that bad place in his head when he is having trouble coping with too much stimuli. “I’m much better today,” says Micheal. “I take it one day at a time, and coming to this garden is a safe haven for me.”

Read our other 2015 Earth Day stories.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/Planting-Cabbage-on-Earth-Day-in-a-Healing-Ground.asp

Veterans and Medical Centers Celebrate Earth Day

two police officers riding electric scooters

The Martinsburg VAMC Police Department has been using the T3 Patroller since 2010 because of its ability to provide rapid response and access to narrow or restricted spaces. The elevated deck allows for a better field of view.


Martinsburg VA Medical Center Hosts Earth Day Celebration and Open House

The Martinsburg Veteran Affairs Medical Center in West Virginia is inviting the community to attend its fifth annual Earth Day open house on April 22.

The event will highlight the medical center’s green initiatives. We are expecting the participation of five local schools. Visitors will have a chance to see a few of the recent green innovations during bus and walking tours around the campus.

The tour highlights include the green renovations, electric vehicles and solar charging station, food waste composting program, nature-based therapy techniques such as our greenhouse, sun tubes, on-site recycling initiatives, as well as advanced storm water management techniques.

In recent years, the medical center was recognized with the GreenGov Presidential Good Neighbor Award and the VA Sustainability Achievement Award for its programs and efforts to protect the environment.  The most recent award was the 2014 Green Award presented to the Green Environmental Management (GEM) Committee by the Berkeley Community Pride in March 2015.

Saving the Earth and protecting our environment.

Biloxi VA Wins Award for Environmental Excellence

Vetran Charles Yeager standing next to one of his award winning murals

Veteran Charles Yeager won the Earth Day Mural Contest in 2013. His murals are now displayed on recycle bins throughout the Biloxi VA Medical Center.

When it comes to saving lives, Veterans have learned to rely on VA and their team of health care providers. But when it comes to saving the earth and protecting our environment, did you know you can also turn to energy-conscientious employees of VA?

two eagles carved into old oak treeFlorida artist Marlin Miller used the remains of an oak tree struck by lightning as his canvas when he carved two eagles in front of the Community Living Center at the Biloxi VA Medical Center. VA employee Forrest Stevens had suggested that rather than removing the lifeless tree, it could be carved into a beautiful piece of art.

On April 3, 2015, the Biloxi VA Medical Center was notified by the Practice Greenhealth Awards Team of their selection as a winner of this year’s Partner Recognition Award for Environmental Excellence.  Practice Greenhealth is  an organization focused on environmental stewardship in the health care community.

The Biloxi VA Medical Center is part of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, located along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Our Environmental Management Service, in collaboration with Patient Safety and Engineering Services, developed environmental and sustainability goals for 2014 and made substantial gains in the following areas:

Energy conservation — 35 percent reduction in energy consumption.
Renewable energy — Completed major installation project for photoelectric arrays on three buildings in 2014, which can provide as much as 17 percent of energy needs during maximum production.
Reuse and recycling— Biloxi campus diverted 58 percent of its solid waste into recycling and reuse streams.
Reducing hazardous chemicals — 78 gallons of ethanol and 72 gallons of xylene were recovered through distillation.
Alternative fuel — Purchased 23 additional electric vehicles in 2014, bringing the total number to 104 operational units.

Every day is Earth Day

With the mindset that every day is Earth Day, our employees have identified the following goals for 2015:

  • Recycle grounds maintenance waste through recycling mulch, compost and reuse.
  • Set up a campus E85 fueling station to further reduce the amount of gasoline consumed. Install solar-powered crosswalk signage on campus.
  • Educate employees on benefits of recycling and keeping recyclable products away from landfills.

earth day april 22

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/Veterans-and-Medical-Centers-Celebrate-Earth-Day.asp

Do You Know How Much Salt is in that Soup?

Army Veteran George Lutz discusses healthy food choices and nutrition labels with dietetic intern Amanda Biondo

Army Veteran George Lutz discusses healthy food choices and nutrition labels with dietetic intern Amanda Biondo at the VA Medical Center in Bay Pines, Florida. Over the last five years, Lutz has lost more than 150 pounds with help from VA and his continued focus on personal health and well-being.



VA Photo by Jason Dangel, Public Affairs Officer, Bay Pines VA

Sometimes nutrition and nutrition facts labels can seem complicated. We are going to break it down to help solve the mystery of how to read them!

Serving Size & Servings per Container: The serving size is one of the most important items listed on a label. All of the values listed below the serving size only relate to one serving. Therefore, if you eat double the serving size, you are getting twice as much of everything listed! Different foods have different serving sizes, even within the same category of food. For example, one cereal box may have 1/2 cup as a serving size while a different brand cereal box may have 3/4 cup as a serving size. The servings per container indicates the number of servings in the container or package.

The vitamins/minerals listed on a nutrition facts label are required by law to be on the label

Percent Daily Values: This section is a reference for you. Daily values (DV) are the percent of a nutrient that is provided by a serving of the food you are choosing, and are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. For example, if the label lists 15 percent for calcium, it means that one serving provides 15 percent of the calcium you need each day. Use it to choose foods that are high in the nutrients you should get more of, and low in the nutrients you should get less of. Tip: 5 percent DV or less is low; 20 percent or more is high.

Calories: The calories listed are related to one serving of the food product. To calculate the number of calories, you multiply calories per serving by number of servings prepared or consumed. On some food labels, there is a section for “calories per container.”

nutrition labels

What’s the difference between saturated fats and trans fats?

Total Fat, Saturated Fat and Trans Fat: Indicates the total amount of fat in one serving of this product. Total fat is in a bold font because it is a category. Underneath total fat, saturated fat and trans fat are indented because they are sub-categories of total fat. The nutrients are included in the number listed for total fat. The healthy types of fat are unsaturated fats. These fats are not required to be listed on a nutrition facts label.

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is found in all animal products. Examples include: beef, chicken, eggs, cheese, milk, fish, yogurt, and butter.

Sodium: Indicates the total amount of sodium (the mineral in salt) in one serving of this product.

Total carbohydrate: Total carbohydrate is in a bold font because it is a category. Underneath total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugar and sugar alcohol is indented because they are included in the value for total carbohydrate. If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, one carb choice or serving of a carbohydrate-rich food has about 15 grams of carbohydrate. Dietary fiber is very important for our heart health and to keep bowel movements regular.

Note: the vitamins/minerals listed on a nutrition facts label are required by law to be on the label. If you have questions about the amount of a vitamin or mineral that is not listed on the nutrition facts label, you can either check the ingredients list or contact the manufacturer directly.More information?

The National Institute of Health has some great food shopping tips.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/Do-You-Know-How-Much-Salt-is-in-that-Soup.asp

World War II Vet Says Volunteering Keeps Him Alive

92-year-old volunteer Orville Swett

Need your glasses adjusted? Head on down to the VA eye clinic in Daytona Beach, and 92-year-old volunteer Orville Swett will gladly help you out.



Photo courtesy of the Daytona Beach News-Journal. All rights retained and reserved

These days it seems that most of the graduate students at the VA eye clinic in Daytona Beach, Florida, are attractive young women.

It’s a happy coincidence that’s just fine and dandy with 92-year-old Orville Swett, who volunteers at the clinic.

A Woman’s Touch

“We have some students who are guys, but most of them are girls,” said the Army Veteran. “I share my war stories with them. They’re very interested in hearing the stories. I think it gives them some perspective. It helps them understand who their patients are; who it is they’re helping.”

“When I first started working back in 1947, we didn’t have any female optometrists,” said the retired optician. “But the women make good optometrists. Sometimes you need a woman’s touch.”

“Most of our externs and residents are 25 to 28-years-old,” said Dianne Kowing, chief optometrist at the clinic. “Orville interacts with them daily. He sits at the front check-in area so every morning he chats with them when they enter the clinic. He asks them how they are doing and finds out a little about their lives. He only talks about the war when they directly question him about it. When he does speak of his experiences, it helps them to empathize with the Veterans they treat.”

“Two days ago I was speaking with Orville about my Army service at Walter Reed,” said Darcy Eberle, an optometry resident at the clinic. “As we wrapped up our conversation, he mentioned that the next day was his anniversary.  I asked if it was a marriage anniversary. He nonchalantly said it was the anniversary of the day he landed at Anzio.”

Troubleshooting

Swett has been volunteering his time at the eye clinic for 25 years. He’s logged about 38,000 hours, most of them spent patiently adjusting eye glasses for Veterans who visit the clinic.

He refers to it as ‘troubleshooting.’

“Everybody seems to need their glasses adjusted these days,” he observed. “I don’t know why. I had a patient today from Indiana who had new glasses but he couldn’t see. I fixed them in five minutes. I knew just what was wrong. Especially on these progressive lenses, if they’re not adjusted properly, you can’t see.”

 It makes me feel good to help somebody. 
— Orville Swett, VA volunteer

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Swett said that during the course of 25 years he’s had to deal with all types of personalities, the vast majority of them pleasant, but a few not so pleasant.

“I know how to handle them,” said the tough old Veteran, who nearly died from a head wound during the Allied invasion of Italy. “I had one guy come in here and throw a pair of glasses at me. He told me he couldn’t see with them. So I picked up his glasses and threw them in the trash. He said, ‘Why did you do that?’ And I said well, you told me you can’t see with them, so what do you need them for?”

The disgruntled patient was more than a bit shocked.

“The guy got upset,” Swett said with a smile. “He told me he wouldn’t be able to drive home without his glasses, so I pulled them out of the trash and adjusted them for him. He was very happy. He said, “Hey, I can see!’ And I said, ‘Good. Now go home.

Feeling Good

Despite the occasional rough customer, there can be no doubt Swett takes great pleasure in his work. He arrives at the eye clinic early, every day.

“I do this because there’s a great need,” he said. “I’m here for the Veterans. It keeps me going, because it makes me feel good to help somebody. Helping these guys has done more for me than I’ve done for them. It helps keep me alive.”

At 92, does Swett ever think about hanging up his spurs as a volunteer?

“Probably not,” he said. “As long as I can use my hands, and my head, I’ll be here.”

To learn more about volunteering at a VA near you, visit www.volunteer.va.gov/directory.

Source Article from http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/April/World-War-II-Vet-Says-Volunteering-Keeps-Him-Alive.asp


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