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Sharing Whole Health: Peer-to-Peer

Jerry, one of VA's Whole Health Peer Facilitators, coaches a group of Veterans about VA's Whole Health approach.

Jerry, one of VA's Whole Health Peer Facilitators, explains VA's Whole Health approach and how each Veteran, and their mission, aspiration and purpose, is the center of this model.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Across the country, Veterans are exploring their missions, aspirations, and purposes in life and are led by special people uniquely qualified to help– their peers. November 14, 2018 is Whole Health Peer Facilitator Day, where the unique skills of Peer Facilitators, who give their time and talents helping fellow Veterans take control of their health and well-being, are recognized.

“Having done what I did in the Army, I find my voice, my example, my pitch, and my display really helps a lot of Veterans have confidence in what I’m saying – to get involved in the system,” says Jerry McClain, a former US Army Ranger and Whole Health Peer Facilitator at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

Jerry has left the Army, but he has not stopped serving. He is a pastor, husband, father, grandfather, and a tireless supporter for his fellow Veterans. He became a Peer Facilitator to share the Whole Health benefits he experienced with other Veterans.

Whole Health encourages Veterans to develop a Personal Health Plan, set goals based on what is important to them and work to achieve those goals in partnership with their health care teams. Many plans include well-being programs such as yoga, aquatic therapy, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, or creative writing classes. The aim is to empower Veterans to take control of their care and equip them with what they need to reach their goals.

When Jerry first learned about Whole Health over three years ago, he was looking for ways to manage pain resulting from a shattered right femur he suffered while in the service. The injury left him with hip, back, and knee pain and unable to walk or run as he had before. He found himself gaining weight, battling depression, and concerned about using too much medication to manage the pain. When he learned about VA’s Whole Health approach to care he was ready to “try anything they were willing to give” him. This is when he was introduced to mindfulness, a practice he found extremely beneficial in dealing with his issues.

He likes the way Whole Health encourages Veterans to think about their health in a new way and consider what matters most to them. As people who have served, Veterans are accustomed to working on a mission. Whole Health encourages each person to look at how their health and well-being helps them achieve their life mission. As a Peer Facilitator, Jerry has seen Veterans practicing Whole Health move away from, or significantly reduce, the use of pain medication. “I’m one of them,” he says.

He’s now leading Whole Health courses in his community at the American Legion in Pelham, Alabama. With more than 25 students in his first class, he says Whole Health makes him feel good about encouraging Veterans to come to the Birmingham VA Medical Center and gives him the opportunity share information about benefits and services other Veterans may not realize they are entitled to.

The VA currently has more than 1,200 Whole Health Peer Facilitators nationwide, bringing this innovative approach to care to their fellow Veterans. Learn more about Whole Health and Whole Health Peer-Facilitator training and contact your local VA Medical Center to get involved.

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