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Stress & Well-being

Library of Research Articles on Veterans and CIH Therapies

January 2021 Edition

Stress & Well-being

Bokhour BG, Haun JN, Hyde J, Charns M, Kligler B. Transforming the Veterans Affairs to a Whole Health System of Care: Time for Action and Research. Med Care. 2020;58(4):295-300. doi:10.1097/MLR.0000000000001316

As part of the national movement towards value-based and accountable care, health care systems are working to incorporate patient-centered approaches to improve patients' wellness and increase engagement in self-care.1,2 In 2001, the Institute of Medicine identified patient-centered care as one of the 6 pillars of quality of care, and defined it as "providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual preferences, needs, and values and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions."3 Patient-centered care shifts away from a disease-focused care model, and changes the conversation from "What is the matter with you?" to "What matters to you?"

Bolton RE, Fix GM, VanDeusen Lukas C, Elwy AR, Bokhour BG. Biopsychosocial benefits of movement-based complementary and integrative health therapies for patients with chronic conditions. Chronic Illn. 2018 Jan 1:1742395318782377. doi: 10.1177/1742395318782377. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29914264.


Complementary and integrative health practices are growing in popularity, including use of movement-based therapies such as yoga, tai-chi, and qigong. Movement-based therapies are beneficial for a range of health conditions and are used more frequently by individuals with chronic illness. Yet little is known about how patients with chronic conditions characterize the health benefits of movement-based therapies.


We conducted focus groups with 31 patients enrolled in yoga and qigong programs for chronic conditions at two VA medical centers. Transcripts were analyzed using conventional content analysis with codes developed inductively from the data. Participants' descriptions of health benefits were then mapped to Engel's biopsychosocial model.


Participants described improvements in all biopsychosocial realms, including improved physical and mental health, reduced opiate and psychotropic use, enhanced emotional well-being, and better social relationships. Changes were attributed to physical improvements, development of coping skills, and increased self-awareness.


Patients with chronic illnesses in our sample reported multiple benefits from participation in movement-based therapies, including in physical, mental, and social health realms. Providers treating patients with complex comorbidities may consider referrals to movement-based therapy programs to address multiple concerns simultaneously, particularly among patients seeking alternatives to medication or adjunctive to an opiate reduction strategy.

Combs MA, Critchfield EA, Soble JR. Relax while you rehabilitate: A pilot study integrating a novel, yoga-based mindfulness group intervention into a residential military brain injury rehabilitation program. Rehabil Psychol. 2018 May;63(2):182-193.


This preliminary, pilot study assessed the effectiveness of a group-based, mindfulness intervention in a residential, rehabilitation setting with specific focus on assessing participants' self-report of perceived benefit of the intervention on overall health, pain, sleep, mood/anxiety, attention, and self-awareness, as well as implementing modifications needed for successful intervention application among a diverse, clinical military population.


Participants were 19 veterans and active duty service members with a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI; 63% severe) who completed a mindfulness-based group intervention during inpatient admission at a Veterans Affairs Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Program (PTRP). Mindfulness and yoga skills were taught in a required, weekly group incorporated into participants' rehabilitation schedule. Opinions and attitudes about mindfulness, as well as pertinent self-report outcome measures, were obtained pre- and postgroup participation.


Results suggested that participation in the group was positively associated with individuals' self-reported belief about the benefit of mindfulness in the areas of overall health, physical health, mood, focus, and self-awareness. The more groups attended, the more positive the participants' beliefs about potential impact on overall health and mood became, even while controlling for length of rehabilitation stay. Additionally, several specific group modifications relevant to this population (e.g., physical/environmental modifications, repetition, ignoring/reorienting) were implemented to support successful participation.


These preliminary and exploratory findings suggest that it may be worthwhile for psychologists, clinicians, and other health care providers working with a mixed TBI population, and more specifically a military population with TBI, to consider introducing mindfulness skills as part of multidisciplinary rehabilitation.

Elwy AR, Taylor SL, Zhao S, McGowan M, Plumb DN, Westleigh W, Gaj L, Yan GW, Bokhour BG. Participating in Complementary and Integrative Health Approaches Is Associated With Veterans' Patient-reported Outcomes Over Time. Med Care. 2020 Sep;58 Suppl 2 9S:S125-S132. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000001357.


Veterans Affairs is dedicated to providing a Whole Health approach to care, including offering complementary and integrative health (CIH) approaches to Veterans.


The objective of this study was to examine the association of CIH participation with Veterans' patient-reported outcomes over time.

Research design

A survey of patient-reported outcomes at 5 timepoints: baseline, 2, 4, 6, and 12 months.

Subjects: Veterans participating in any type of CIH approach at 2 Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Measures: Mixed hierarchical models with repeated variables were used to test the hypothesis that participating in any CIH approach would be associated with Veterans' overall physical/mental health [Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System 28 (PROMIS 28)], pain intensity, perceived stress (Perceived Stress Scale-4), and engagement in their care (Patient Activation Measure-13), controlling for age, male sex, site, participation in other CIH approaches, and surveys completed.


We received 401 surveys from 119 Veterans (72% male, age range: 29-85 y) across all timepoints. Yoga participation was related to decreases in perceived stress (P<0.001), while tai chi participation was associated with improvements in overall PROMIS 28 physical and mental health functioning (P<0.02). Specific types of CIH were associated with significant improvements in PROMIS 28 subscales: meditation participation with physical functioning at 2, 6, and 12 months; tai chi participation with anxiety at 2 and 6 months, and ability to participate in social role activities at 2 months. No CIH approach was associated with Veterans' pain or engagement in their care.


As specific CIH approaches are associated with improvements in patient-reported outcomes, clinicians, Veterans, and family members may use this information in discussions of nonpharmacological options to address health and well-being.

Gaddy MA. Implementation of an integrative medicine treatment program at a Veterans Health Administration residential mental health facility. Psychol Serv. 2018 Nov;15(4):503-509. doi: 10.1037/ser0000189.

A 4-week interdisciplinary integrative medicine program was recently added to the core treatment offerings for veterans participating in the Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Program at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The new integrative medicine program teaches veterans about using meditative practices, nutrition, creative expression, tai chi, hatha yoga, sensory and breathing techniques, and lifestyle changes to enhance well-being. The groups are run by professionals from a variety of disciplines including recreation therapy, art therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, and nutrition. For the first 42 veterans to complete the program, the Short Form 12-item Health Survey was administered before and after participation in the integrative medicine program to assess the potential effectiveness of the program in enhancing physical and psychological well-being. In addition, a brief semistructured interview was used to assess veteran opinions about the program. Results suggest that the program was well received and that both physical and mental health scores improved from before to after treatment in this sample of veterans with complex behavioral health concerns. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

Haun JN, Paykel J, Alman AC, Patel N, Melillo C. The Integrative Health and Wellness Program: Development and Use of a Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clinic for Veterans.  Explore (NY). 2019 Aug 12. pii: S1550-8307(19)30444-6


Transforming Health and Resiliency through Integration of Values-based Experiences (THRIVE) is an evidence-based 14-week curriculum-based group medical appointment clinical program. THRIVE is based on principles of integrative medicine, positive psychology, and acceptance and commitment therapy. The goal of this paper is to review findings from a local THRIVE program implementation piloted in the Women's Health outpatient clinics on mental and physical health indicators.


Pilot data were obtained for 14 THRIVE cohorts of female veterans enrolled from outpatient clinics at the James A. Haley veterans' Hospital in Tampa, FL between 2016 and 2018 (N = 201). THRIVE assessments were conducted as part of the THRIVE program, at the first visit (baseline), mid-way, and at the end of the program. Data were collected using self-administered paper-pencil method on standardized scales for physical and mental health (Patient Health Questionnaire, Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire, Acceptance and Action Questionnaire-II, Satisfaction With Life Scale, and the physical and mental function components of the Short Form Survey). Linear mixed effects models were used to examine change in physical and mental health scales over time while adjusting for age, race (white vs. other), and cohort. In addition, we examined whether the rate of change differed by age or race.


Improvement was seen for most scales across the 3 assessments (p < 0.05) with the exception of physical composite score of the Short Form Survey (p = 0.487). Participants reported that pain interfering with work significantly decreased from "quite a bit" at baseline to "moderately" by assessment 3 (p = 0.042). Older ages had lower baseline scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire and Acceptance and Action Questionnaire than younger ages, but younger ages had a greater rate of improvement over the intervention (p for interaction 0.016 and 0.056, respectively). Whites reported greater improvement in life satisfaction than non-whites (p for interaction 0.043). For physical composite score, whites had higher baseline score, but did not report significant improvement in physical function over the assessment period, while non-whites had lower baseline score, but did report significant improvement in physical function (p for interaction 0.059). Non-white veterans reported more pain interfering with work relative to white veterans (OR 5.9, 95% CI 1.79-19.43, p = 0.004).


We found significant improvement on self-reported mental health scales as well as improvement in how much pain interferes with work in a pilot sample of women veterans over the 14-week program.

Hull A, Brooks Holliday S, Eickhoff C, Sullivan P, Courtney R, Sossin K, Adams A, Reinhard M. Veteran participation in the integrative health and wellness program: Impact on self-reported mental and physical health outcomes. Psychol Serv. 2018 Apr 5. doi: 10.1037/ser0000192. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29620393.

Complementary and integrative health (CIH) services are being used more widely across the nation, including in both military and veteran hospital settings. Literature suggests that a variety of CIH services show promise in treating a wide range of physical and mental health disorders. Notably, the Department of Veterans Affairs is implementing CIH services within the context of a health care transformation, changing from disease based health care to a personalized, proactive, patient-centered approach where the veteran, not the disease, is at the center of care. This study examines self-reported physical and mental health outcomes associated with participation in the Integrative Health and Wellness Program, a comprehensive CIH program at the Washington DC VA Medical Center and one of the first wellbeing programs of its kind within the VA system. Using a prospective cohort design, veterans enrolled in the Integrative Health and Wellness Program filled out self-report measures of physical and mental health throughout program participation, including at enrollment, 12 weeks, and 6 months. Analyses revealed that veterans reported significant improvements in their most salient symptoms of concern (primarily pain or mental health symptoms), physical quality of life, wellbeing, and ability to participate in valued activities at follow-up assessments. These results illustrate the potential of CIH services, provided within a comprehensive clinic focused on wellbeing not disease, to improve self-reported health, wellbeing, and quality of life in a veteran population. Additionally, data support recent VA initiatives to increase the range of CIH services available and the continued growth of wellbeing programs within VA settings. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Hull A, Holliday SB, Eickhoff C, Rose-Boyce M, Sullivan P, Reinhard M. The Integrative Health and Wellness Program: Development and Use of a Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clinic for Veterans. Altern Ther Health Med. 2015 Nov-Dec;21(6):12-21. PubMed PMID: 26567446.


A movement exists within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) toward incorporating complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as an integrative complement to care for veterans. The Integrative Health and Wellness (IHW) Program is a comprehensive CAM clinic offering services such as integrative restoration (iRest) yoga nidra, individual acupuncture, group auricular acupuncture, chair yoga, qigong, and integrative health education.


The current study intended to detail the development of the CAM program, its use, and the characteristics of the program's participants.


Using a prospective cohort design, this pilot study tracked service use and aspects of physical and mental health for veterans enrolled in the program.

Participants: During the first year, the IHW Program received 740 consults from hospital clinics; 325 veterans enrolled in the program; and 226 veterans consented to participate in the pilot study.

Outcome Measures: Outcome measures included data from self-report questionnaires and electronic medical records.


Veterans enrolled in the program reported clinically significant depression, stress, insomnia, and pain-related interference in daily activities and deficits in health-related quality of life. Regarding use of the program services, individual acupuncture showed the greatest participation by veterans, followed by group auricular acupuncture and iRest yoga nidra. Of the 226 veterans who enrolled in the program and consented to participate in this study, 165 (73.01%) participated in >1 services in the first year of programming. Broadly speaking, enrollment in services appeared to be associated with gender and service branch but not with age or symptom severity.


Results have assisted with a strategic planning process for the IHW Program and have implications for expansion of CAM services within the VHA..

Kopacz MS, Connery AL, Bishop TM, Bryan CJ, Drescher KD, Currier JM, Pigeon WR.  Moral injury: A new challenge for complementary and alternative medicine. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Feb;24:29-33. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2015.11.003. Epub 2015 Nov 27.

Moral injury represents an emerging clinical construct recognized as a source of morbidity in current and former military personnel. Finding effective ways to support those affected by moral injury remains a challenge for both biomedical and complementary and alternative medicine. This paper introduces the concept of moral injury and suggests two complementary and alternative medicine, pastoral care and mindfulness, which may prove useful in supporting military personnel thought to be dealing with moral injury. Research strategies for developing an evidence-base for applying these, and other, complementary and alternative medicine modalities to moral injury are discussed.

Millegan J, Denninger JW, Bui E, Jakubovic RJ, Ram V, Bhakta J, Hiller Lauby MD, Mehta DH, Sager JC, Fricchione G, Sylvia LG. A mind-body program for pain and stress management in active duty service members and veterans. Psychol Serv. 2019 Jul 8.

The Mind-Body Medicine (MBM) program at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, created in collaboration with the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine and the Home Base Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, is a 7-week program designed to facilitate stress management habits into patient treatment plans. The aim of this study is to test the feasibility and acceptability of a mind-body program for service members and veterans. Participants (N = 239) were primarily active duty service members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps reporting significant perceived stress (Stress Resiliency (SR) group; n = 124), or meeting criteria for chronic pain (Pain Management (PM) group; n = 115). Participants completed measures at preprogram and post-program assessing for perceived stress, pain, functional impairment, quality of life, and psychological and somatic symptoms. Changes in self-reported psychological symptoms and knowledge and practice of mind-body principles were examined. Participants across groups had significant improvement in most outcomes (perceived stress, response to stressful experience, functional impairment, sleep disturbance, depression, PTSD, and anxiety symptoms; and each quality of life domain aside from social relationships), with p values < .0017 (Bonferroni corrected level of significance). The SR group demonstrated significant improvements in primary outcomes of perceived stress and response to stressful experience, and the PM group demonstrated significant improvement in pain severity, but not perceived stress. Significant change was observed in knowledge and practice of mind-body medicine principles, and high satisfaction was reported. Results suggest that a mind-body program may improve physical and psychological functioning for service members, including those facing significant perceived stress and chronic pain.

Solloway MR, Taylor SL, Shekelle PG, Miake-Lye IM, Beroes JM, Shanman RM, Hempel S. An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes. Syst Rev. 2016 Jul 27;5(1):126. doi: 10.1186/s13643-016-0300-y. PubMed PMID: 27460789; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4962385.


This evidence map describes the volume and focus of Tai Chi research reporting health outcomes. Originally developed as a martial art, Tai Chi is typically taught as a series of slow, low-impact movements that integrate the breath, mind, and physical activity to achieve greater awareness and a sense of well-being.


The evidence map is based on a systematic review of systematic reviews. We searched 11 electronic databases from inception to February 2014, screened reviews of reviews, and consulted with topic experts. We used a bubble plot to graphically display clinical topics, literature size, number of reviews, and a broad estimate of effectiveness.


The map is based on 107 systematic reviews. Two thirds of the reviews were published in the last five years. The topics with the largest number of published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were general health benefits (51 RCTs), psychological well-being (37 RCTs), interventions for older adults (31 RCTs), balance (27 RCTs), hypertension (18 RCTs), fall prevention (15 RCTs), and cognitive performance (11 RCTs). The map identified a number of areas with evidence of a potentially positive treatment effect on patient outcomes, including Tai Chi for hypertension, fall prevention outside of institutions, cognitive performance, osteoarthritis, depression, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pain, balance confidence, and muscle strength. However, identified reviews cautioned that firm conclusions cannot be drawn due to methodological limitations in the original studies and/or an insufficient number of existing research studies.


Tai Chi has been applied in diverse clinical areas, and for a number of these, systematic reviews have indicated promising results. The evidence map provides a visual overview of Tai Chi research volume and content.