Office of Community Engagement
OCE Partnerships and COVID-19
VA partner encourages at-home and virtual interactions with animals for Veterans’ and families’ well-being
A Veterans Health Administration (VHA) partner, Pet Partners, is offering families of Veterans and service members an opportunity to keep their school-aged children excited about reading, whether or not they are attending school during the coronavirus pandemic. This is in addition to the other programs offered through the partnership.
Pet Partners works with VHA to develop opportunities for Veterans to take part in pet visitation, clinical interventions with therapy animals, and other activities. These experiences can foster the human-animal bond, which is the mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals. Research shows that spending time with animals can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, and feelings of isolation.
Now, as many families are challenged by the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pet Partners encourages families and children to read to their pets as part of the “We Are All Ears” project. Many children feel more at ease reading to animals, according to research reported by Pet Partners. This encourages reading, increases comfort with reading aloud, and provides another opportunity for structured family time. The organization has created a pledge form that families and children can sign and, on the “We Are All Ears” website, families can find reading logs, bookmark templates, and other activities and resources.
Pet Partners’ volunteer handler and animal teams have visited Veterans at VA facilities across the country. Some volunteer handlers are sending pictures of their animals to Veterans even as they are unable to visit them in VA facilities, and Pet Partners’ Facebook group can help Veterans virtually experience the benefits of the human-animal bond.
The VHA Office of Community Engagement (OCE) manages VHA’s partnership with Pet Partners. This and other partnerships supported by OCE focus on the health and well-being of Veterans, including those that foster the human-animal bond. OCE is also focused on partnerships that bring Veterans greater access to the social determinants of health (SDOH), which are conditions in the environments in which Veterans live, learn, play, worship, and age. Physical and mental health and well-being are among the SDOH that are positively influenced by the human-animal bond.
“During these challenging times, it is important for Veterans and their families to have resources that promote mental and physical well-being,” said Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich, OCE’s nurse executive. “This partnership with Pet Partners increases access to tools to enable Veterans, their families, and caregivers to experience the benefits of the human-animal bond while promoting reading and education.”
For more information on OCE’s work, please visit www.va.gov/healthpartnerships.
Posted April 12, 2020