Being a refugee from Laos is a catalyst to Sakuna Thongchanh’s compassion for caring for Veterans.
Sakuna Thongchanh sees a refugee’s and soldier’s experience on opposite sides of the same coin, one is running from war and the other running to war. She also sees the VA as a big healing machine that aligns her experience as a refugee with her intention to heal the wounds of war.
Since her arrival at VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Thongchanh has worked at the Seattle Campus Emergency Department as a registered nurse and unit coordinator, educator. She has a background in massage therapy and yoga and is the chair of the VA Puget Sound Evidence Based Practice Nursing Committee and the wellness champion for the Pathway to Excellence program.
Active in the Seattle Nursing Research Consortium for the last seven years, Thongchanh has been involved in multiple evidence-based and quality improvement projects. The non-profit organization, SNRC, brings together nurses engaged in direct patient care from local health care institutions to present and dialogue about research, evidence-based practice, and quality improvement. In 2015, she and her colleague were awarded the Best Evidence-Based Project Poster at SNRC’s annual conference.
Today, Thongchanh is the Whole Health program manager. Through Whole Health, Veterans gain skills and tools while proactively supporting their personal health plans. The approach considers the whole person – body, mind, spirit and emotions.
“My job as a nurse leader implementing Whole Health philosophy of care within VA Puget Sound aligns with ICARE values (integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, excellence) by offering Veterans the best evidenced-based, state-of-the-art health care that includes conventional, complementary and integrative medicine,” said Thongchanh.
At the heart of the Whole Health System of care is the intention of deeply listening to and engaging with Veterans as each explores their meaning, aspiration and purpose, explained Thongchanh. To jump-start this, Veterans are asked to complete an Personal Health Inventory and create a Personal Health Plan with their care team.
“The Whole Health model empowers Veterans to be part of their health care team—encouraging Veterans to engage and health care providers to really listen. What makes this model work is that both Veteran and clinician, actually everyone in the hospital, is invited to be a conscious and mindful participant as they engage in the VA community. Mindfulness practice is an evidenced-based practice.”
Studies have shown that mindfulness can have positive effects on depression, overall health, chronic illness, pain and anxiety. Whole Health strives to integrate mindfulness practice and other complementary and integrative modalities that are evidence-based with the great medical care that the VA is already providing.
“We really are determined to provide the best quality care for Veterans with all possible science-based resources,” said Thongchanh. “Whole Health provides a way for great healing for our nation’s Veterans, our staff, and our community.”
There are many powerful online Whole Health practices and resources easily accessible to Veterans—from tai chi and meditation to breathing exercises and tobacco cessation.
Veterans are encouraged to sign up for VA Puget Sound’s Introduction to Whole Health. It is a 2-hour educational and experiential session to expose participants to the foundational concepts of Whole Health, with time for self-care and exploration and completion of a Personal Health Inventory. It is by appointment with peer support specialist or on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 1-3 p.m. with Rehabilitation Care Specialty staff. To sign up or for more information, contact Lamont Tanksley, 206-716-5797, Lamont.Tanksley@va.gov or Rehabilitation Care Specialty, 206-764-2202.
Plus, Veterans can #LiveWholeHealth from home through VA’s ongoing self-care blog series. are invited to get started by enrolling in My HealtheVet. Once here, Veterans will have easy access to pharmacy, appointments, health records, and messaging their healthcare team. From My HealtheVet, Veterans can find out more about the virtual “Introduction to Whole Health” and “Taking Charge of My Health and Life” classes once they become available soon through Veteran Video Connect.
VA Puget Sound provides comprehensive care to more than 112,000 Veterans enrolled at one of its ten facilities in the Pacific Northwest (two divisions in Seattle and Tacoma; seven Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Bellevue, Chehalis, Federal Way, Mount Vernon, Port Angeles, North Seattle, Silverdale and South Sound; and the Community Resource and Referral Center). As the VA’s 5th largest research program, VA Puget Sound has research in virtually every major clinical department, including: TBI and multiple blast exposures; memory improvement and Alzheimer's Disease; PTSD and deployment health; Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes; cancer; substance abuse; lower limb prosthetics; genomics; and Health Services. Additionally, it has seven nationally recognized Centers of Excellence (in areas from limb-loss prevention and prosthetic engineering to primary care education and substance abuse treatment).