The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

January 26, 2014

Healthy Veterans, Healthy Communities

Veterans’ health benefits are an important part of honoring our military for the sacrifices they made for our freedom. In keeping with the continuing provision of health options, the Veterans Health Administration is employing a team approach to providing excellent care.

Debbie Voloski, Beckley VAMC public affairs officer, describes how educators work hand-in-hand with each patient’s Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) to provide for the immediate health concerns of our nation’s veterans, with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health promotion.

The PACT involves a collaboration of medical professionals establishing familiarity with each veteran’s health profile. When a veteran has a visit for a medical reason, he or she sees the same providers, ensuring continuity of care.

Carol Tate, RN, BSN, program manager, and Lorri Lambert, MSW, LICSW, health behavior coordinator, are Beckley VAMC educators who work with patients and PACTs to identify specific health goals and to provide the support necessary to achieve them. Their platform is simple and relevant to veterans and nonveterans alike, a consistent focus on nine simple Healthy Living messages, including “Be Tobacco Free” and “Manage Stress.”

At check-up or procedure time, the PACT team identifies which healthy living principles veterans have an interest in making a goal and review progress toward previously established goals. Carol, Lorri and the other PACT members then devise strategies including educational opportunities to get them started or keep the positive momentum going.

“The program is to help veterans take control of their health while we still can get it in a preventive stage. Medicine is becoming more proactive now than reactive,” Lorri explains.

“We want them to take control and do what’s best based on what they feel they’d like to accomplish,” echoes Carol.

Their “Striving for a Healthy Weight” message for those who choose weight loss as a primary goal is especially popular, including those patients attempting to manage their Type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise.

One veteran who identified to his PACT team that weight loss was a goal received education on how best to permanently and sensibly take off pounds. Adopting the educators’ “eat wisely” strategies into his personal diet plan, he lost 30 pounds, Debbie explains, as one of many success stories.

HbA1c (glycosylated hemoglobin test) results revealing a patient’s average blood glucose over a three-month period are moving more toward normal for class participants, says Carol. Part of the reason for success of their classes and individual counseling is involvement of the spouse, she explains, something that is strongly encouraged within the program.

“For the majority of these men, it’s the wives who are doing the cooking,” Carol states, a point especially important for diabetics.

Carol and Lorri hold different classes each day of the week except for Fridays. In addition to tips on healthy eating, there are also classes devised for managing hypertension, diabetes and other chronic conditions and for information on screening tests and immunizations. All education sessions are free to veterans.

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There’s no reason veterans and nonveterans can’t choose goals from the Nine Healthy Living principles to make their own.

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