Local veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other military-related conditions have a new voice in Sacramento fighting for their physical and mental well-being.
The Sacramento Veterans Health and Wellness Council is a new support organization for veterans that is helping the Veterans Association improve its outreach to veterans and their family members.
Meeting every Tuesday at the Sacramento VA Medical Center in Mather since July, the council is an independent body of volunteers. However, the council falls under the purview of and works with the Veterans Health Administration.
“We’re the voice of veterans,” said retired Lt. Col. Harrison Jack, the council’s chairman. “We’re comprised of veterans and work for veterans.”
Jack, who retired from the U.S. Army and lives in Woodland, said the group is one of 63 independent councils across the country that collaborate monthly with the VHA via conference calls to share information and best practices adopted at various medical centers.
However, he said what makes the Sacramento council different from similar bodies is that they are committed to helping veterans cope with any aspect of medical care that impacts their mental health and physical well being, including emergency room visits, pharmacy concerns, broken appointments or even when a veteran just doesn’t feel safe on hospital premises.
He said the VHA’s new philosophy, called “Patient-Centered Care,” is quickly becoming a model of support from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“Rather than simply seeing veterans and diagnosing their problems, the VHA is becoming more sensitive to veterans being more involved in their treatment plan,” Jack said.
The VHA is overworked and understaffed, yet doing the best it can for veterans, he said. And while the VHA can only do so much for its patients, Jack said the council is in place as an additional resource for both the VHA and the veterans it serves.
Retired Lt. Col. Phil Litts of the Air Force, a Lodi resident, is the co-chairman of the council. He said the Sacramento veterans hospital council is becoming the best in the country in regards to meeting the needs of its patients.
“If a veteran has an active part in their own recovery, triage or diagnosis, the hope is their primary care will become more personal,” he said. “This will have a more profoundly positive impact throughout the VHA system.”
The council is promoting more personal care for veterans by suggesting new treatment plans to the VHA.
One plan the council has suggested includes introducing more holistic medical practices instead of prescribing additional drugs.
Wayne Bailey, an Elk Grove resident, Navy combat veteran and master-at-arms on the council, said the VHA has a tendency to simply hand out medication to veterans as treatment for a lot of their conditions.
“We’re the ones getting the drugs,” he said. “And when you start getting more than you are happy taking, this is a great way to approach the issue.”
Another treatment method the council has introduced to the VHA is the Emotional Freedom Technique, which involves relieving the intensity of a stressful situation while repeating an affirmation and tapping or rubbing certain energy points of the body.
The technique can be very therapeutic for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma, Jack said.
Besides suggesting new medical treatments for veterans, the council will present a monthly Certificate of Appreciation to hospital employees who go above and beyond when it comes to caring for a veteran.
Jack said the certificate is not only a recognition of effort from the council, but from patients, their families and co-workers. He added the council has received very good feedback from hospital staff and administration for the award.
The council has begun to get hospital patients involved in their own care by giving a survey to patients about their issues or concerns at the hospital.
About 40 surveys have been collected. The council will review the comments, make recommendations to hospital administration and create a task force to start making positive changes in patient care.
The council has had as many as 20 attendees at meetings and has about 65 members on an email list.
Molly Alptekin, a former nurse and training operations sergeant in the Army, said the council’s meetings have helped her obtain more information about what the VHA is doing and what new programs they have to offer.
“I was looking for a group just to talk to,” she said. “I’d go to the hospital, and before I could say three words they would just give me a referral to a doctor. I didn’t want that.”
Alptekin said the council not only provided a forum where veterans could voice their concern with the VHA system, but also a support group where they could simply vent their frustration about anything affecting their well-being.
The meetings are open to male and female veterans of all eras, from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Litts said the oldest veteran who has attended their meetings is 82 years old.
Jack said the council is excited and and enthusiastic about its mission.
“The council members are helping their own recovery, just by being on the council or coming to the meetings,” he said. “We’ve been where these new veterans have been. Helping fellow veterans is a critical part of our recovery process, and we’re committed to doing that.”
The Sacramento Veterans Health and Wellness Council meets every Tuesday from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in Building 722 at the Sacramento VA Medical Center in Mather, 10535 Hospital Way.
For more information, call Jack at 530-867-7071 or Litts at 209-329-6970.