Winter Clinic World-Leader in Adaptive Sports

veterans participating in downhill skiing

Veterans participating in downhill skiing.

Nearly 400 disabled Veterans and active duty personnel are in Snowmass Village, Aspen, Colo., this week to make “miracles on a mountainside” at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.

Ray Hancock

Ray Hancock served in the Navy in Desert Storm. Watching his fellow Veterans in the different activities, he says, “These guys are just incredible, what they’re doing … wow!”

The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is a world-leader in adaptive winter sports instruction for U.S. military Veterans and active duty Servicemembers with disabilities.

Set in stunning Snowmass, Colorado, the clinic celebrates its 29th year, bringing nearly 400 Veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, and certain neurological conditions to the mountain.

Participating Veterans, seriously wounded while protecting our freedom, have an opportunity to pack more miracles into the weeklong, life-changing event than they ever dreamed possible. They are reminded of the wonder and achievement life still has to offer, despite their profound disabilities.

After conquering a snow-covered mountainside, everyday challenges of life seem much more surmountable for these participants who’ve lost a limb or sight, or endure paralysis. Our Veterans draw inner strength from this experience of a lifetime and use it to overcome life’s challenges head-on when they return home. They also inspire those without disabilities to catch their spirit and go after their dreams.

The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic is the largest rehabilitative program of its kind in the world today. It utilizes adapted physical activities as well as workshops and educational sessions to aid in the rehabilitation of severely disabled Veterans.

Just some of the adapted sports and activities that have been offered in the past 20 years include:

  • Alpine and Nordic skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Scuba diving
  • Fly fishing
  • Wheelchair golf
  • Wheelchair self-defense
  • Rock wall climbing
  • Sled hockey
  • Trap shooting
  • Blues harmonica instruction
  • Dog sledding
  • Goal ball for the visually impaired
  • Wheelchair fencing
  • Amputee volleyball

Jim Martinson

63-year-old Army Veteran Jim Martinson lost his right leg in Vietnam. He won a gold medal for downhill skiing in 1992 at the winter games and is now participating in the hockey competitions. He offers this advice to newly-injured Veterans, “Get out there, try it and don’t give up.”

The clinic targets disabled Veterans with spinal cord injuries, amputations, neurological disorders, and visual impairments. The Winter Sports Clinic experience improves physical well-being, mental health and self-esteem, thereby enabling Veterans with profound disabilities to rediscover life after disability.

The clinic assists in achieving higher levels of self-actualization and empowers the Veteran participant to live a happier, healthier and more productive lifestyle.

This innovative clinic when first introduced was not readily accepted by the conventional health care mindset. The concept of utilizing challenging adaptive activities in a winter outdoor environment was so new and outside of traditional medical care that many doubted it could succeed and be accepted as an alternative to routine medical intervention.

Kristian Cedeño

Kristian Cedeño sums it up for so many Veterans at the winter clinic: “It’s an opportunity to realize that you’re not done, you’re not over and you’re not broken.”

The National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports has drastically changed the lives of thousands of disabled Veterans, and just as important, has altered the perception the general public has of people with disabilities.

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Rehab Veterans volunteer for four-week lock down

person grabbing a door handle for entry

All it takes is for you to make the decision to enter.

Are you a Veteran with a drug or alcohol problem? Sick and tired of it?

Then a four-week lockdown at the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka, Kan., may be just what the doctor ordered.

Sounds a bit extreme, perhaps, but it may be the fresh start you’ve been needing.

“We’re not prison,” observed Dr. Sherry Martin-McCaughtry, who works on the unit. “We don’t do strip searches or anything, and you can leave any time you want. This program is 100 percent voluntary. But it is a locked unit.”

She’s means it. This is not your run-of-the-mill rehab program.

“We had a lot of Veterans coming here to Topeka for three to five days of detox,” explained Martin, an Army Veteran who served during the First Gulf War. “But following detox, we didn’t always have a good next step for them. So we came up with the idea of four weeks of intensive therapy in a secure environment.”

The program was launched in early November 2014.

A Fighting Chance

“We’re a locked unit because even though you’ve detoxed, you’re still at high risk,” Martin emphasized. “And if left unattended during this vulnerable period, you have a much higher risk of relapse. So we don’t want you being by yourself while you’re here with us at Fresh Start. You can have visitors, of course, but a staff member is going to be around at all times.”

At all times? You bet.

“If you have the wrong kind of visitors coming to see you, then you’re in danger of relapsing,” the doctor explained. “We don’t want that happening. We want a staff member with you at all times to help you make the right decisions.

“It’s all about reducing your opportunity to drink or drug as much as we can,” Martin continued. “We’re trying to give you a fighting chance. We’re trying to give you the best environment we can to help you succeed.”

Martin said the Fresh Start program incorporates a lot of healthy things into a patient’s schedule: recreation therapy, nutrition classes, daily living skills, relapse prevention, music therapy, even a little pet therapy from time to time. But then there’s also the hard work of mastering your addiction.

“From 9 to 11 a.m. is our core issues group where we engage in cognitive behavioral therapy,” Martin said. “It’s the core of our program. It’s where the real work gets done.”

So, when you’re in Fresh Start, do you ever get a moment by yourself?

“You’re in your own room only when you’re sleeping,” Martin said. “The rest of your day, we want you with people.”

“Even when you’re sleeping, they come around and check on you every half-an-hour,” said David, a retired Air Force major who recently graduated from Fresh Start. “It didn’t bother me at all. The social workers, the psychologists, the nurses — the entire staff was very kind. They bent over backwards for us. They were very dedicated to us.”

 The doors are locked not to keep you in, but to keep bad influences out. 
Dr. Sherry Martin-McCaughtry

Group of four individuals in a small meeting

Cognitive behavioral therapy. “It’s where the real work gets done.”

Photo by Robert Turtil

Best Decision He’s Ever Made

Dave, who flew an F4 Phantom fighter-bomber during Operation Desert Storm, described himself as a binge drinker who would often go for long stretches without alcohol.

“Normally it takes some negative event to trigger it,” he explained. “I was dating this girl for about four years and we recently broke up. That was my trigger.”

But after his last binge, the 63-year-old Veteran decided enough was enough.

“My blood alcohol content was 0.38,” he said. “That’s pretty high.”

The former pilot said checking into the Fresh Start program was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

“We had one girl and about 15 guys in the program,” he said. “I became good friends with the girl. We’d exercise together by walking up and down the hallway every day. Sometimes they’d let us go outside and play some basketball — with a chaperone, of course.”

Multiple Detoxes but She Made it Through

Dr. Alicia Wendler, a psychologist who leads discussion groups at Fresh Start, said the comradery that develops among the patients is a significant factor in the program’s effectiveness.

“The Veterans help each other,” she said. “They support one another. When people are in a secure environment together for 30 days, they get to know each other very well. You’re all going through the same thing.

“We had a female Vet in the program who’d had multiple detoxes in the last year,” Wendler continued. “But she made it through this program. I believe it’s because she had these 30 days of being away from any triggers, any stressors, and having that 24-7 support from our team as well as her fellow Veterans.”

“It’s four weeks of a commitment to being sober, and figuring out how to stay that way,” observed Dr. Gina Graham, Chief of Psychology Services at Topeka. “But you have to be ready for it. It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t voluntary. It wouldn’t work if it’s something you were told to do. You have to do it when you’re ready to do it.”

Need help for a drug or alcohol addiction? Search VA’s Substance Use Disorder Program Locator to find the help nearest you.

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Veterans with PTSD Reclaiming Their Lives

US Army Veteran Ron Whitcomb

US Army Veteran Ron Whitcomb

AboutFace is a website dedicated to improving the lives of Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  It’s where Veterans can learn about PTSD, explore treatment options and, most importantly, hear real stories from other Veterans and their family members and get advice from clinicians who have treated thousands of cases of PTSD.

Video featuring Major Joshua Brandon

Major Joshua Brandon has been an Infantry Officer with the U.S. Army since 2002 and he has PTSD. Difficult memories were triggered when he was driving to the grocery store in Tennessee and he would smell the smoke from backyard fires.

“I started looking for threats in all directions. My adrenaline would spike. I had to pull over and talk myself out of it.”

Major Brandon has the courage to talk about his experience and how VA has helped him with his PTSD on the website AboutFace. Learn about posttraumatic stress disorder from Veterans who have experienced it. Hear their stories. Find out how treatment turned their lives around.

You’ll see other Veterans from different eras and diverse backgrounds, of all ages and experiences — willing to share their stories to help other Veterans with PTSD.

 I’m enjoying life again. I’m having fun. 

It’s just one of the many resources available to help Veterans learn about PTSD and to seek treatment.

As Dr. Sonya Norman says, “A key message I want to get across is that effective treatments are available for PTSD and they help people recover and feel better.” Dr. Norman is VA’s PTSD Consultation Program Director with the National Center for PTSD.

What is PTSD? What are your treatment options? You can find some quick and easily accessible information here. What is “Cognitive Processing Therapy?” There’s a short video there which explains it. It can help you break the negative thinking that’s holding you back.

Video featuring Dr. Sonya Norman

Take the mystery out of PTSD treatment. The VA clinicians on this site tell you what to expect and make taking that first step a lot easier. Learn more about what getting treatment actually entails and hear VA clinicians talk about treatment that can help Veterans make the decision.

Dr. Norman describes how, “Veterans tell me ‘I’m enjoying life again. I’m having fun. I love holding my baby.’”

There are several effective treatments for PTSD and information about these can be found here.

Video featuring Lt. General James B. “Jim” Vaught

Lt. General James B. “Jim” Vaught will tell you they called it “battle fatigue” when he fought in the Korean War. And anybody can have it.

“PTSD, it doesn’t give a damn about your rank. It’s going to knock hell out of you every now and then.” Listen to his story here.

General Vaught served in the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1983 in Germany, Iran, Japan, Korea, Turkey, United States, and Vietnam.

If you want to learn more, look these at different materials available.

Here you can also get started learning some tools to help with PTSD on your own. It’s a PTSD Coach Online for anyone who needs help with upsetting feelings. Trauma survivors, their families, or anyone coping with stress can benefit from PTSD Coach Online.

(This site isn’t a substitute for recovery oriented treatment but offers some great tools to help people with their symptoms.)

What can I do if I think I have PTSD?

Finally, here’s more background information about PTSD and why it’s important to get treatment.

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These Veterans lost a LOT of weight. You can too!

jogger's feet on a natural running path

Get the MOVE! Coach and get active

Veteran Michael Hollemon lost 107 pounds using the MOVE! Coach app.
“I found it at just the right time. It’s awesome.”

 Veteran Jerry Phelps uses the MOVE! Coach app to keep his weight under control. “Talking to someone every time I finished a guide was great motivation.”

Veteran Warren Pennington lost 45 pounds with the MOVE! Coach app.
“When I started MOVE! Coach, I got serious.”

They did it. You can too and now there’s an app to help you do it.

main screen of the MOVE! Coach mobile application

MOVE! Coach Main Screen

It’s called MOVE! Coach and it’s a phone app that offers a new way to participate in MOVE!, the national weight management program designed by the VA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention to help Veterans lose weight, keep it off and improve their health.

What is MOVE! Coach?

MOVE! Coach is an easy-to-use, self-guided program that provides everything you need to set, track, and achieve your diet, physical activity, and weight goals. The app walks you through a series of self-management guides, for a total of 19 weeks.

It’s easy to participate. All you need is an iPhone or iPad with iOS version 6.0 or higher.

To download the MOVE! Coach app:    


  • From the Apple App Store, select the “iPhone Only” filter, and
    search for “move coach” in the search box.

MOVE! Coach has great features and benefits

MOVE! Coach Self Management Guides

Read Self-Management Guides

  • 11 specialized guides to help you manage your weight and get healthier
  • Daily diaries for tracking how much you weigh, what you eat, and how much exercise you are getting
  • Tools to help you set and meet your personal goals for weight, diet, and physical activity
  • Personalized graphs for tracking your long-term and daily weight loss, daily food intake, calories, and physical activity
  • Educational videos—including 11 on physical activity—and a variety of games and worksheets make it easier for you to succeed
  • Calculators to determine how many calories you consume and burn
  • Progress and summary reports to help you keep track of your goals
  • Problem-solving tools help guide you past common weight management challenges
  • Links to additional handouts that provide even more information to help you succeed

 Do it, just do it! It’s the only thing that’s worked for me! 

Learn More About MOVE! Coach

In addition to the help sections within the App, more resources such as a Quick Start Guide, Slideshow and FAQs, can be found on the VA Mobile Health training site.

Questions? Here you’ll find 17 helpful FAQs with answers to questions like these:

Do I need to be a Veteran to use the MOVE! Coach mobile app? 

Will the information I enter be shared? 

For more information, visit the MOVE! Coach website at

MOVE! Coach Diet Entry screen

Track your diet

MOVE! Coach offers the support and motivation you need…with some great rewards. As Veteran Warren Pennington puts it, “Do it, just do it! It’s the only thing that’s worked for me!”

Help Desk information

If you have questions or need assistance with using the MOVE! Coach App, dial (877) 327-0022 to speak with a help desk representative. The Help Desk is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET).

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You Can Make the Most of Your Whole Health

physician reviewing health information with a patient

We begin with “What matters to you?”

You are the expert on you.

The first and most important step in dealing with your “Whole Health” is to ask: What really matters to me? What do I want or need?

What is “Whole Health?” Whole health is every aspect of life that affects your health and well-being.

VA has developed a “whole health” approach to care. Instead of starting the conversation with “What’s the matter?” it begins with “What matters to you?”

Doctor Tracy Gaudet

Dr. Tracy Gaudet

VA’s Dr. Tracy Gaudet says, “Whole Health doesn’t start with the disease or the condition — it starts with you!  By exploring what matters most to you, and then addressing all areas of your life that impacts your health, you can live your fullest life and optimize your health.

“It is an approach informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches and emphasizes self-care, at all points along the spectrum of health and disease.”

Dr. Gaudet is Director of VHA’s Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation.

Central to the idea of improving management of chronic disease and health conditions, VA’s approach to whole health includes mind-body, nutritional, and complementary health strategies to improve the well-being of Veterans.

How do you participate in “whole health”? On this website, you will find a Personal Health Inventory to help you think about where you are on the path to whole health, where you want to be, and what you are willing to do to enhance your overall well-being.

Together, you and your health care team can develop a plan that achieves your goals. To get started, read it over, print it out, and bring it to your next appointment.

What really matters to me? What do I want or need?

Start a conversation with your health care team. The Personal Health Inventory helps you and your team talk through what matters most to you and find the right kind of care for your needs.

Here’s a sample of what you will find in the Personal Health Inventory that will help you start to take charge of your “whole health.”

The Areas of Self-Care

Self-care is often the most important factor in living a healthy life, which in turn allows you to live your life fully, in the ways that matter to you.

Self-care includes all the choices you make on a daily basis that affect your physical, mental, and spiritual health. In fact, how you take care of yourself will have a greater impact on your health and well-being than the medical care you receive.

Evidence shows that each of the eight areas of self-care in your Personal Health Inventory contributes a great deal to your overall health and well-being. They can also affect your chances for developing diseases as well as the seriousness of that disease.

  • Working your body
  • Surroundings
  • Personal development
  • Food and drink
  • Recharge
  • Family, friends, and co-workers
  • Spirit and soul
  • Power of the mind

Taking stock of where you are now and where you want to be in each of these areas is the first step in living a healthier life.

It’s the rest of your life. Why not take care of it?

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Change Your Mind about Brain Injury

veteran using assistive technology

TBI treatments are guided by an individualized rehabilitation plan

Last week, Dr. Joel Scholten suggested to a gathering of medical professionals that it is time to “Change your mind about brain injury.”

Treatment and understanding of traumatic brain injury (TBI) is improving every day and VA is helping to lead the way.

Scholten is the acting national director of VA’s Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Program Office. The occasion, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, was an Educational Forum on Best Practices and Current Research to mark the opening of Brain Injury Awareness Month.

The month is dedicated each year to raise awareness, promote prevention and provide education and support.

Here are the brain injury statistics for OEF/OIF/OND* Veterans from 2007 to September 30, 2014:

  • 883,883 have been screened for possible mild TBI
  • 166,049 screened positive and consented to follow-up comprehensive evaluation
  • 124,751 completed comprehensive evaluation
  • 73,469 received confirmed diagnosis of mild TBI

Not all TBI cases are combat related as explained here.

Dr. Joel Schloten

Dr. Joel Scholten

According to Scholten, “The hallmark of TBI rehabilitation is the development of an individualized care plan delivered by an interdisciplinary team of professionals in collaboration with the Veteran and their family.”

Scholten briefed the forum on VA’s Polytrauma System of Care which has 110 specialized rehabilitation sites across VA including five Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers, 23 Polytrauma Network Sites, and 87 Polytrauma Support Clinic Teams around the country providing the full continuum of Traumatic Brain Injury care services.

Beginning in 2005, VA developed the Polytrauma System of Care to provide world-class rehabilitation services and to ensure that Veterans and Servicemembers with polytrauma would be able to transition seamlessly between Department of Defense and VA and back to their home communities.

VA’s Polytrauma System of Care case managers have been nationally recognized as a successful and innovative case management program.

This integrated network of over 100 programs across four echelons of care specializes in clinical rehabilitation services, including:

  • Assessments and treatments by interdisciplinary teams of rehabilitation specialists
  • Specialty care management
  • Patient and family education and training
  • Psychosocial support
  • Advanced rehabilitation and prosthetic technologies. 

At the location closest to the Veteran’s Home

VA staff member observing veteran using assitive technology

Assistive Technology

VA’s Polytrauma System of Care balances access and expertise to provide specialized polytrauma and Traumatic Brain Injury care at the location closest to the Veteran’s home with the expertise necessary to manage his/her rehabilitation, medical, and psychosocial needs.

The course of rehabilitation for TBI and polytrauma may vary significantly by patient based on the severity of injury, time since injury, and current needs and goals. Treatments are guided by an individualized rehabilitation and community re-integration plan of care and are delivered by an interdisciplinary team of rehabilitation specialists in collaboration with the Veteran and the caregiver.

Polytrauma case managers ensure seamless coordinated care for Veterans and Servicemembers in need of services such as:

  • Specialized inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation
  • Emerging consciousness program
  • Transitional rehabilitation
  • Assistive technology labs
  • Polytrauma telerehabilitation
  • Vocational services
  • Community re-entry programs

VA’s Polytrauma System of Care case managers have been nationally recognized as one of the most successful and innovative case management programs working to improve healthcare across the care continuum.

As Dr. Scholten noted, “The vast majority of individuals who sustain a mild TBI will completely recover.  For those with persistent symptoms, VA has developed a system of care that supports Veterans throughout the care continuum with TBI specialists delivering state-of-the-art care.”

*OEF/OIF/OND: Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

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VA and DoD Meet for Patient Safety Awareness Week

surgical suite featuring nurse and surgeon with a patient

Each employee is urged to maintain a questioning attitude.

This week, dozens of VA and Department of Defense (DoD) clinicians will meet to discuss how to make your hospital experience safer.

This is Patient Safety Awareness Week, but for these professionals, patient safety is critically important every day, every week. And the people who take care of you will spend this week learning more about how to make your stay in the hospital even safer.

According to Beth King, “The VA-DoD collaboration provides a forward-looking way to learn from each other to advance patient safety.” King is a program manager at the VA National Center for Patient Safety.

The presentations are technical and complex, but the bottom line is they all lead to a positive safety culture — for you, the Veteran.

Tamara Passut from the Fayetteville, N.C., VA Medical Center will talk about “Reducing Falls of Frequent Fallers.” Ever had that problem?

Commander Scott Wallace of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego will discuss “Continuous Respiratory Depression Monitoring for Adult Inpatients in a Non-Critical Care Setting.”

These are behind-the-curtain complicated medical areas that never quite reach the headlines. But each of them is very important to our Veteran patients … what seems technical to most people, are for these professionals, subjects they discuss in depth all the time to keep our Veterans safe … and healthy.

It’s all about patient safety.

A positive safety culture is one in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Based on a collective commitment to success and mutual trust, VA staff members are encouraged to improve teamwork and commu­nication.

Regardless of professional background, technical expertise, or position within an organization, each employee is urged to maintain a questioning attitude and be respon­sive to change.

The goal of a patient safety program is to prevent harm to patients by significantly improv­ing the probability that a desired pa­tient outcome can be achieved. This goal can only be accomplished by taking a systems approach to prob­lem solving, focusing on preven­tion, not punishment.

More than a decade ago, VA took the lead in developing pro­grams and initiatives — rooted in successful approaches developed by highly reliable organizations such as aviation — that have been shown to enhance a positive safety culture.

VA has shown that sys­tematic approaches to reporting, analyzing, and correcting patient care systems are essential to de­veloping a positive safety culture. Whether it is through the use of human factors engineering meth­ods, practice-based educational programs using high-fidelity simu­lators, or developing toolkits and cognitive aids, the goal has been the same: the reduction of harm to patients as a result of their care.

 VA staff members are encouraged to improve teamwork and commu­nication. 

Veterans: You can become part of the patient safety team

For our patient safety program to be truly effective, we need you to be fully informed and actively involved in your care. Here are some important Patient Safety Tips for Veterans.

What does your involvement in patient safety mean to you and your family?

  • It means we need you to provide detailed information about your condition.
  • It means that you should clearly understand your diagnosis and treatment plan and know what to expect.
  • It means keeping us informed of any changes in your condition, good or bad, such as an allergic reaction to a drug.
  • It means we want you to speak up when you have a question about any aspect of your care.

We want you to become a partner in the development of a safe care plan.

Stop, Look and Listen

Remember what our parents used to tell us before crossing the street? Before you proceed: “Stop, look and listen.” Our parents’ aim was to involve us in making the right decision. They didn’t want us to be harmed because we were caught off guard.

Patient safety can be that simple for you and your family.

  • Stop and learn the facts about your condition and your medications.
  • Look carefully through your care plan with us so that we all fully understand and concur on its course.
  • Listen closely to what you’ll need to do to continue your care plan at home.

Bottom line: As a well-informed patient, you can help us create a safer VA health care system.

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    You can have MS but MS does not have you

    Veteran Brian Pettyjon working with a horse

    Veteran Brian Pettyjohn helps disabled Veterans with mental and physical challenges through outdoor experiences that include working with horses.

    Sequim Gazette photo by Patricia Morrison Coate

    Veteran Brian Pettyjohn retired from the U.S. Army, but has not retired from life. 

    He retired after 20 years in the Army serving as Sergeant Major with the 2nd Psychological Warfare Group, Washington, D.C. He traveled all over the world and also served in the 19th Special Forces Group.

    His B.A. in French and Spanish from Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth, Texas was beneficial as he worked for the U.S. Army Language School.

    His M.A. in Public Administration from Webster University, St. Louis, Mo., helped in his command positons and served him well after retirement as he managed various organizations.

    After his second retirement as CEO of a travel agency, he got involved in numerous nonprofit groups. Pettyjohn has “always believed in giving back to his community.” He was involved in many volunteer groups in Texas, but once he moved to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State he seemed to follow the old adage, bloom where you are planted. And he definitely blossomed into the nonprofit leader for various causes.

    Changing Lives as His Life Changed

    Pettyjohn’s excellent leadership and business skills have changed lives in the midst of his own life changing due to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. He says that having MS — and all of the changes that occur with this disease, such as challenges with mobility and home care — did not change his desire to help others. Pettyjohn is Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 9 for Clallam, Jefferson, and North Kitsap counties in Washington, along with being active with the Clallam County Veterans Association. He organized several programs for Veterans’ families and Veterans with disabilities.

     Bloom where you are planted. 

    He works with the Angels Brigade on the Olympic Peninsula program, which helps eligible surviving spouses and minor children of deceased Veterans submit applications for VA survivor benefits. The Christmas at Discovery Bay program partners with DAV to build programs to help disabled Veterans with mental and physical challenges through outdoor experiences and working with animals, specifically horses. The equine therapeutic program focuses on bringing Veterans together with horses to help with emotional healing and moving forward. This program is based on the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) model.

    Believes in Making a Positive Difference

    Pettyjohn also organized the North American Hay Bank to help with abused and neglected horses nationwide. In his spare time, he writes, is senior editor with Brazos River P&R Publishing Company, and is very involved with The Exchange Club providing college scholarships for students. All of these volunteer opportunities are intermixed with numerous visits to the VA medical center to help stabilize his ever-changing MS.

    Army Veteran Pettyjohn is an upbeat guy who, despite living with multiple sclerosis, is working to make a positive difference in people’s lives. March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Learn more at

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    Roots of VA Health Care Started 150 Years Ago

    patients inside a Civil War era hospital

    Civil War era soldier’s hospital

    Photo by Matthew Brady

    The Department of Veterans Affairs evolved from the first federal Veterans’ facility established for Civil War soldiers and sailors of the Union Army, known initially as the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

    On March 3, 1865, a month before the Civil War ended, President Abraham Lincoln signed a law to establish a national soldiers and sailor’s asylum. Renamed the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1873, it was the first government institution in the world created specifically for honorably discharged volunteer soldiers.

    The first National Home, known as the Eastern Branch of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, opened November 1, 1866, near Augusta, Maine.

    As the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Congress established new benefits for World War I Veterans that included programs for life insurance, disability compensation, prosthetics, vocational rehabilitation, and hospitalization, along with new federal agencies to administer them. Federal Veterans medical care shifted from lifelong residential care to short-term treatment in general or specialized hospitals, supplemented by job re-training or disability pensions. 

    General Omar Bradley took the reins at VA in August 1945 and steered its transformation into a modern organization. In January 1946, Public Law 293 established VA’s Department of Medicine and Surgery, along with numerous other programs like the VA Voluntary Service to provide better services to Veterans. The law enabled VA to recruit and retain top medical personnel by modifying the civil service system, establishing medical research, and affiliating VA hospitals with medical schools to place Veterans’ medicine on par with the private sector.

    VA continues to meet Veterans’ changing medical, surgical and quality-of-life needs.


    President Reagan signing document that elevates VA to Cabinet Level

    President Reagan Elevates VA to Cabinet Level

    Photo by Michael Moore

    1988 – Veterans Administration becomes Department of Veterans Affairs

    VA was elevated to a Cabinet-level executive department by President Ronald Reagan on October 15, 1988. Vice President George H. W. Bush hailed the creation of the new Department, saying, “There is only one place for the Veterans of America, in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America.”

    The Veterans Administration was then renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs, but continued to be known by the general public as “the VA.”

    VA’s Department of Medicine and Surgery, established in 1946, was renamed as the Veterans Health Services and Research Administration at that time. On May 7, 1991, it was changed to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

    A “Noble Dream” to Honor Our Patriots

    The National Homes were founded on the principles of Florence Nightingale and the U.S. Sanitary Commission. The noble dream of providing care for the nation’s patriots began as a simple idea to fill a need in the midst of war in 1863. The public wanted it, Veterans needed it, and our nation’s leaders legally authorized it on March 3, 1865. There was no model to follow; this kind of Veterans care didn’t exist in the world. What they created was unprecedented.  

    Today’s VHA — the largest of the three administrations that comprise VA — continues to meet Veterans’ changing medical, surgical, and quality-of-life needs. New programs provide treatment for traumatic brain injuries, posttraumatic stress, suicide prevention, women Veterans, and more. VA has opened outpatient clinics, and established telemedicine and other services to accommodate a diverse Veteran population, and continues to cultivate ongoing medical research and innovation to improve the lives of America’s patriots.

    The VA health care system has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930, to include 150 hospitals, 800 community-based outpatient clinics, 126 nursing home care units and 35 domiciliaries.

    Check out this website for an extended look at the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Source Article from

    81-Year-Old Veteran Chooses Rehab Over Surgery

    Veteran participating in physical therapy

    George Xenakis, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and Korean War Veteran Victor Ferentino

    Photo by Margaret Dessau

    Running has always been a passion for Victor Ferentino, 81, an Army Airborne Korean War Veteran. For 60 years, his exercise routine has involved running three to five times a week for at least 40 minutes.

    A year ago, he had an accident while jogging on Houston Street in Manhattan. “My leg gave out and I went flying.” Following this incident, Ferentino found he had trouble walking and suffered pain in his left knee.

    Unwilling to give in to pain, he persevered, running for a month until the pain became so severe he consulted an orthopedic surgeon. The physician took X-rays and diagnosed advanced bilateral knee arthritis and recommended surgery.

    Ferentino, a retired architect who ran a company importing wines from Italy and France before retirement, always researched problems, wanting to learn as much as possible in order to make an informed decision. He consulted two other orthopedists who also recommended surgery. “I like to know all about my condition and options before deciding on treatment.”

    He also contacted doctors at a sports medicine research center in Tubingen, Germany who advised physical therapy (PT) rather than surgery. Reading that there was only a one-percent chance of improvement with surgery, with equal results from intensive physical therapy alone, Ferentino says he opted for Synvisc injections every six months and physical therapy three times a week at VA New York Harbor’s Physical Therapy clinic at the Manhattan Campus.

    He also exercises three times daily at home. His routine included mini-squats, straight leg raises, and several stretches for his lower extremities. Instructed in this program by his physical therapist, the exercises change as Ferentino’s condition improves.

    Since he lives in a fifth floor walk-up apartment, it was essential for him to regain his balance and strength in order to perform activities for daily living. Although he’s had to give up running, Ferentino is strongly motivated. “It’s embracing life,” he says.

    He has proven to be a fast healer and credits much of his rapid success to George Xenakis, Doctor of Physical Therapy, and the new Clinical Coordinator of Rehab at VA’s Manhattan Campus. “Since George took over, it’s been tremendous. Not just physically, he’s helped me mentally. He draws the best out of the PT setting.” says Ferentino.

    Dr. Xenakis earned his DPT license at Rutgers and has nine years of experience in a variety of settings including private offices, nursing homes and clinics. Dr. Xenakis says he encourages patients to set goals with him as their clinician and buy into whatever it takes to accomplish these goals. “I begin patients with lots of education besides exercises, giving reasons and explanations. That improves compliance.”

    Veterans enrolled in the VA health care system can find the physical therapist at their VA medical center — here’s the locator.

    For physical therapists interested in a physical therapy career with VA, start here.

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