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Veteran finds support in Whole Health

Army Veteran Jennifer Yarbrough

Army Veteran Jennifer Yarbrough

Monday, May 24, 2021

Not too many things can get in the way of Nashville Veteran Jennifer Yarbrough living her best life today; but she was in a dark hole just over a year ago. It was a motorcycle and a unique relationship with a Whole Health coach that pulled her out.

A triple threat, Jennifer says she is a “military brat,” a spouse of a Veteran and a Veteran. She is very proud of her status as a woman Veteran and joined the Army in 2008, a bit older than most. In the years after 9/11 she was drawn to service. “I adore this country, and one day I came home and told my husband ‘I’m going into the service,’” she said.

Jennifer is a disabled Veteran with multiple injuries from her time in service, leading to isolation and agoraphobia. Already a two-time cancer survivor, four years ago, she was again diagnosed with stage four cancer (now in remission). Just over a year ago, she began to work with Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, Chad Hunley at the Tennessee Valley VA Health Care System, and attributes their relationship and his understanding of her as the catalyst that helped her get her life back. She likens it to a newly planted tree, “When you plant a new tree in your yard, you put stakes around it for support so it doesn’t blow over in the wind or wash away. You are the tree and Whole Health is the stakes that are there to support you until you’ve grown to a point where you don’t need the stakes to hold you up anymore.”

Chad says that the important thing in working with Veterans is to find out what matters to them. “Jennifer said she rides a motorcycle, and since I do too, I know how freeing that can be,” he said. “We took a step back and I asked her what would help her to ride and she said to get stronger,” he said. “She came up with a plan and started to work out in her living room and now she goes to the gym religiously.” Chad says that the most important part about being a coach is to build a core trust with the Veteran and he does this by finding common ground.

The relationship between the coach and the Veteran is unique in the VA system. Jennifer notes that it is not at all like a physician relationship, but one of more equal footing. She says that Chad approached things differently, he didn’t tell her what she needed to do, but instead asked her what she wanted to do and helped her to get there. “He pulled me out of that black hole that cancer put me in.”

Through VA, Jennifer found many opportunities to practice self-care skills. She does regular journaling and practices yoga. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she attended a painting group and joined the Guitars for Vets program. She has embraced all these activities that have helped her cope with the trauma that cancer brought into her life. “Hope is a four-letter word,” she said. Thanks to Whole Health, Jennifer has regained that hope and is back to being her joyful self.

VA has trained more than 2,500 staff to be Whole Health coaches across the VA Health Care System. Coaches work with Veterans one on one and sometimes in groups to help them in the following ways:

  • Develop a personalized health plan that is based on what matters most to the Veteran; the plan is based on the Veteran’s own goals, values, preferences, and lifestyle.
  • Partner with the Veteran to take action toward behavior change that is present and future-oriented.
  • Recognize that health is much broader than the absence of disease. The emphasis is on health enhancements/strengths rather than disorders/weaknesses.
  • Seek to support the Veteran in achieving the Veteran’s standard of optimal health that takes into account the mental, physical, and social well-being of the Veteran.

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