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Veteran Caregiver & VA Employee Well-being

Library of Research Articles on Veterans and CIH Therapies

January 2021 Edition

Veteran Caregiver & VA Employee Well-being

Bui E, Blackburn AM, Brenner LH, Laifer LM, Park ER, Fricchione GL, Sylvia LG. Military and Veteran Caregivers' Perspectives of Stressors and a Mind-Body Program. Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2018 Oct;39(10):850-857

There are over one million post-9/11 military caregivers in the United States who face a variety of stressors inherent to caring for an incapacitated loved one. Mind-body interventions, such as the Stress Management and Resilience Training Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (SMART-3RP), have been shown to reduce stress and improve overall health and functioning. The present qualitative study aims to explore stressors experienced by military caregivers in their caregiving role and to assess attitudes towards the virtual delivery of the SMART-3RP. We conducted two focus groups with a total of 13 caregivers [M (SD) age = 41.25 (11.49); 92% female], and participants subsequently completed a survey on their caregiving experiences. Focus groups were conducted remotely via Google Hangouts by two doctoral-level clinicians, transcribed verbatim, and coded using inductive thematic analysis. Themes related to stressors of caregiving included: logistical stressors faced by caregivers, demands of the caregiving role, concerns about children, worries about the future, exacerbation of the caregiver's physical/mental health concerns, social dynamics, sacrifices made for their veteran in the caregiving role, and relationship dynamics between the veteran and caregiver. Military caregivers found the SMART-3RP logical and felt as though it could be helpful to them. Caregivers expressed interest in a brief, virtual version of the SMART-3RP. Using the findings from the current study, we are adapting the SMART-3RP to be administered virtually as a podcast-based intervention.

Freeman RC Jr, Sukuan N, Tota NM, Bell SM, Harris AG, Wang HL. Promoting Spiritual Healing by Stress Reduction Through Meditation for Employees at a Veterans Hospital: A CDC Framework-Based Program Evaluation. Workplace Health Saf. 2019 Sep 20:2165079919874795.

Background: Employees in the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital experience psychological stress from caring for vulnerable veteran populations. Evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation decreases stress in health care employees and military personnel. The purpose of this worksite program was to explore the acceptability of a mindfulness meditation program among VA workers. Methods: Chaplain residents developed the "Promoting Spiritual Healing by Stress Reduction Through Meditation" (Spiritual Meditation) program for employees in a VA hospital. To evaluate acceptability, a 13-multiple-choice-item survey with an open-ended question was administered after the intervention. Descriptive statistics and qualitative content analysis were performed. Findings: In 29 participants, 70% to 100% agreed with positive statements for the personal learning experience, program components, teacher quality, time to practice, and place to practice. Two categories emerged from qualitative responses: "positive practical experience of Spiritual Meditation" and "perceived values from Spiritual Meditation." Conclusion/Application to Practice: Occupational health nurses are uniquely positioned to lead and collaborate with chaplains to deliver Spiritual Meditation in their workplace setting.

Gragnani CM, Fitzgerald IK, Mullur R. The Use of Experiential Learning Modules to Teach Integrative Medicine Approaches. J Grad Med Educ. 2018 Dec;10(6):688-692. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-18-00351.1. PMID: 30619530; PMCID: PMC6314377.


Complementary, alternative, and integrative medicine (CAIM) are considered important in shifting toward whole person care. Residents remain limited in their understanding of CAIM approaches, preventing effective utilization.


We created modules to expose residents to available CAIM approaches in a Veterans Administration setting, using conceptual frameworks for experience-based learning.


In June 2016, 38 internal medicine residents at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System were randomized to 45-minute small group sessions. One cohort received an experiential module incorporating 10-minute practices of yoga, biofeedback, and acupressure. The other cohort received a standard lecture focused on CAIM use and outcomes. Participants completed a 6-question quiz to measure their understanding of CAIM use and an 8-question survey to assess their satisfaction of teaching, exposure to CAIM, and anticipated practice change. Referrals to CAIM modalities before and after the learning modules were counted to assess practice change.


All 38 residents completed the study, with 25 residents completing the experiential learning modules and 13 completing the standard lectures. Initial postquiz scores were similar. Five months postintervention, residents who participated in experiential modules were more likely to refer patients to CAIM modalities than those who received standard lectures (3.4 per month versus 0.6 per month, P = .018).


This study highlights the advantages of experiential learning of CAIM approaches for residents. It reinforces existing literature suggesting that physicians who experience CAIM are more likely to incorporate these approaches into practice.

Haun JN, Ballistrea LM, Melillo C, Standifer M, Kip K, Paykel J, Murphy JL, Fletcher CE, Mitchinson A, Kozak L, Taylor SL, Glynn SM, Bair M. A Mobile and Web-Based Self-Directed Complementary and Integrative Health Program for Veterans and Their Partners (Mission Reconnect): Protocol for a Mixed-Methods Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Res Protoc. 2019 May 13;8(5):e13666.


Complementary and integrative health (CIH) is a viable solution to PTSD and chronic pain. Many veterans believe CIH can be performed only by licensed professionals in a health care setting. Health information technology can bring effective CIH to veterans and their partners.


This paper describes the rationale, design, and methods of the Mission Reconnect protocol to deliver mobile and Web-based complementary and integrative health programs to veterans and their partners (eg, spouse, significant other, caregiver, or family member).


This three-site, 4-year mixed-methods randomized controlled trial uses a wait-list control to determine the effects of mobile and Web-based CIH programs for veterans and their partners, or dyads. The study will use two arms (ie, treatment intervention arm and wait-list control arm) in a clinical sample of veterans with comorbid pain and posttraumatic stress disorder, and their partners. The study will evaluate the effectiveness and perceived value of the Mission Reconnect program in relation to physical and psychological symptoms, global health, and social outcomes.


Funding for the study began in November 2018, and we are currently in the process of recruitment screening and data randomization for the study. Primary data collection will begin in May 2019 and continue through May 2021. Projected participants per site will be 76 partners/dyads, for a total of 456 study participants. Anticipated study results will be published in November 2022.


This work highlights innovative delivery of CIH to veterans and their partners for treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

Lara-Cinisomo S, Fujimoto EM, Santens RL. Feasibility of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Caregivers of Veterans: A Pilot Study. J Holist Nurs. 2019 Dec;37(4):322-337.

Purpose: This pilot study aimed to assess the feasibility of conducting an 8-week mindfulness-based intervention with caregivers of veterans and to examine the effectiveness of the intervention to improve mindfulness using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire compared with waitlist controls. Design: In this randomized controlled trial, 23 caregivers of veterans were assigned to either the intervention or waitlist group. Method: Compliance with mindfulness instruction and attendance was assessed among those in the intervention. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests compared within group pre- and post-intervention scores and Mann-Whitney U tests compared difference scores (post-pre) by group type. Effect sizes were also calculated. Compliance variables were correlated with difference scores in the intervention group only. Findings: Of the 23 participants, 11 were assigned to the intervention; 100% of participants were retained. There was significant improvement from pre- to post-intervention in four of the five facets of mindfulness (p < .05) in the intervention group. Significant between-group differences (p < .05) were also observed in two of the five facets. Effect sizes ranged from small (.44) to large (.89). No significant improvement was observed in the waitlist control group. Conclusions: A mindfulness-based intervention is feasible and acceptable to improve mindfulness in caregivers of veterans.

Leary S, Weingart K, Topp R, Bormann J. The Effect of Mantram Repetition on Burnout and Stress Among VA Staff. Workplace Health Saf. 2018 Mar;66(3):120-128.

In this study, the authors determined the effect of a structured Internet-delivered Mantram Repetition Program (MRP) on burnout and stress of conscience (SOC), stress related to ambiguity from ethical or moral conflicts among health care workers (HCWs) within the Veteran Affairs (VA) Healthcare System. A secondary purpose was to determine whether practicing meditation prior to the study combined with MRP affected burnout or SOC. The MRP teaches the mindful practices of repeating a mantram, slowing down, and one-pointed attention for managing stress. Thirty-nine HCW volunteers who provided direct patient care completed the Internet-delivered MRP. The outcomes of burnout (i.e., exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy) and SOC (i.e., frequency of stressful events and troubled conscience about those events) were measured at baseline (T1), postintervention (T2), and 3-months postintervention (T3). Repeated measures ANOVA indicated that exhaustion significantly ( p < .05) declined between T1 and T3; professional efficacy and cynicism did not change during the study. The same statistical model also indicated the frequency of stressful events significantly declined between T1 and T2 and troubled conscience declined between T1 and T3. Secondary analysis demonstrated that individuals who did not practice meditation at baseline ( n = 16, 41%) significantly decreased exhaustion, frequency of stressful events, and troubled conscience between T1 and T3, and improved professional efficacy between T1 and T2. Individuals who practiced meditation at baseline ( n = 23, 59%) did not demonstrate significant change on any study outcomes. An MRP intervention may reduce burnout and SOC in those individuals who are naïve to practicing meditation.

Richards LK, Bui E, Charney M, Hayes KC, Baier AL, Rauch PK, Allard M, Simon NM. Treating Veterans and Military Families: Evidence Based Practices and Training Needs Among Community Clinicians. Community Ment Health J. 2017 Feb;53(2):215-223.

Little is known about the capacity of community providers to provide military informed evidence based services for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We conducted a regional, web-based survey of 352 community mental health care providers that sought to identify clinical practices, training needs, and predictors of evidence based treatment (EBT) use for PTSD. Overall, 49 % of providers indicated they seldom or never use a validated PTSD screening instrument. Familiarity with EBTs, specifically prolonged exposure (PE; χ2(4) = 14.68, p < .01) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT; χ2(4) = 4.55, p < .05), differed by provider type. Of providers who received training in PE or CPT (N = 121), 75 % reported using treatment in their practice, which was associated with having received clinical supervision (χ2 (1) = 20.16, p < .001). Widely disseminated trainings in empirically supported PTSD assessment and treatment, and implementation of case supervision in community settings are needed.