VA offers “whole health” to veterans
The Tomah VA Medical Center has recently been transforming the way it provides health care calling it “Whole Health,” which according to Whole Health Program Manager Cassandra Towns, focuses on what’s important to the patient such as their values, goals and complete health as opposed to focusing on specific illnesses or injuries.
The services have become so popular at the VA that it has taken an existing space that was not being utilized and transformed it into a Whole Health Integrative Wellness Center for veterans. According to Towns, there were a lot of renovations completed within the facility to create a healing environment.
The VA was identified as a designated site for whole health in 2017 and in 2018 staff was able to secure more funding for the program.
“We were doing whole health before we knew it was whole health and it was really exciting to find that out but we needed a physical space to be able to continue offering those things and to expand on what we were already doing,” Towns said. “Some of these services, like tai chi, require a lot of room and we needed to expand to be able to offer the best care possible for our veterans.”
Traditional health care models are focused on preventative care and lowering risk of illness and disease. Whole Health is more than that; it focuses on what is important to the patient in their life and how they achieve living their best life.
Veterans can access services through three points; the whole health pathway, well being programs and whole health clinical care.
The whole health pathway is a partnership with veteran peers trained to empower an individual to explore their mission and purpose and begin their personal health plan. Well-being programs focus on self-care implementing therapies like yoga, tai chi and mindfulness.
Whole Health clinical care is provided by an interdisciplinary team integrated to seamlessly deliver clinical care. All providers and clinicians throughout the VA have begun to work with veterans equipping them to take care of their own well-being and health in order to live their lives to the fullest.
“We are really working to integrate all aspects of healthcare in a variety of ways by training a lot of our staff from all across the medical center in what whole health really means,” Towns said. “It really is a philosophy and approach to care of what matters most to our veterans.”
Through the wellness center, veterans will be able to access battlefield acupuncture, which provides relief for acute and chronic pain and fights opioid abuse. The therapy eliminates the risk of addiction and can be used without restrictions.
Other services include whole health coaching, mindfulness groups similar to meditation, healing touch energy based therapy, in which practitioners use their hands to support and facilitate physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and countless other services.
“We’re not here to tell you what you need. We’re here to help you make the changes you want to make,” Towns said. “We’re really getting these services off the ground and people are loving them. Our best advocates have been veterans that have been through these services.”
“There are barriers such as preconceived notions and misconceptions but we have had some really incredible results with some of our services,” she added.
The VA has been collecting its own data on how the services are working for enrolled veterans.
According to Towns, 66 percent of veterans participating in healing touch therapy reported they had a more than two-point reduction in their pain score and 88 percent experienced a two point or more reduction in anxiety.
Of veterans participating in battlefield acupuncture for treatment of pain, 49 percent had a two-point or greater reduction in their pain score.
The grand opening of the facility will be held this Saturday, March 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a ribbon cutting ceremony, experimental sessions where providers will talk about services and give demonstrations and open enrollment throughout the day for veterans interested in participating in the whole health experience.
Towns said the grand opening is a wonderful opportunity for veterans to come and get a good feel for what whole health is and what the VA offers.
“It’s been a really interesting and exciting experience and we’re seeing incredible growth in engagement of this. We’ve seen an increase in vets using the services and not only enjoying it but experiencing some really incredible health benefits,” she said. “They feel better about themselves, they walk better and there have been some really great transformations throughout our medical center regarding whole health. It's really exciting to see what the vets are getting out of it.”