(160) Zap Me, Baby: Healing the VA

Miss Molly profile

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Sitting in the VA waiting room, the chime alerted me to a message from Robert McDonald, Secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs. Mr. McDonald wrote “On the Need to Reform the Veterans’ Appeals Process.” He referred to the existing compensation appeals process as “cumbersome and clunky.”

“VA will need legislation and resourcing to put in place a simplified appeals process that enables the Department to resolve the majority of our appeals in a reasonable timeframe for Veterans.”

Robert A. McDonald

McDonald was appointed to his VA role in July 2014 with the charge to reform a system that is reported as failing Veterans. In his email blast, he reported that the VA reduced its disability claims backlog from 611,000 in March 2013 to an existing backlog of 82,000. Going paperless, his media release indicated the VA eliminated 5,000 tons of paper per year. Admittedly, 440,000 Veterans currently sit on the appeals list with an average wait of three years through the Veterans Benefits Administration and an average of five years for appeals that reach the Board of Veterans Appeals.

One cannot blame Mr. McDonald for the turmoil within the VA, as he came to his role recently. He focuses on major reform of the VA with a history of success in reforming Procter and Gamble, a corporation of 120,000 employees. In fact, the VA boasts of 314,000 employees, according to the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank. Certainly, this is an unwieldy organization just by its size, regulations, and decentralization.

Holistic Healing of Equines and Canines 

After my husband’s VA appointment, we ate Chinese while I caught an article in Petacular that led with the story of a therapy horse needing treatment for trauma when his rider suffered a seizure and fell from the horse. Yes, it was the horse that needed intervention.

“Basically we needed to help the horse release the trauma he experienced, without making him relive it.”

Dawn Cox

The story explained that Ms. Cox is a practitioner for Healing Touch for Animals. The program emerged from the Healing Touch program originally created for humans. Healing Touch focuses on the energy field surrounding the patient, which is disrupted with injury or trauma. Practitioners use the energy field to stimulate healthy cells in the body to promote self-healing. Animals do well with the therapy because, “they tend to be more receptive to energy-medicine because of their instinctual nature,” said Ms. Cox.

But Can it Work for the VA? 

Molly rushed to William, as we returned home with two boxes of leftover Chinese food. Molly and I pondered the notion of holistic healing and the predicament Secretary McDonald finds himself in with reforming the VA. There is no denying that holistic healing has helped equines and her fellow canines overcome their trauma. The process even sounds similar to the VA’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for PTSD patients.

As I munch on an eggroll and Molly drools over a piece of chicken hanging from the doggie bag, we wonder if holistic healing can be used to heal the VA. Instead of calling it CBT or Healing Touch, why not call it the VA Vac—suck it up and start from scratch.

Excuse my Satire 

I hear many horrible stories from Veterans about their care at the hands of the VA. Today, however, I overheard an elderly Veteran tell his wife how much the VA has improved over the years. Having been the spouse of a Veteran for over 20 years, I agree. There are many positive aspects to the VA, including amazing doctors, caring nurse practitioners, and helpful receptionists and schedulers. In fact, our new VA clinic is located atop a beautiful hillside that carries one away in the sweeping views of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains—a view well deserved by our warriors. Health care workers show sincerity and commitment for my husband’s care.

If Secretary McDonald could bottle this model, he could hold success in his hands. Molly agrees—except for the hands part because she doesn’t have any and that makes life ruff for her.

Post your Comments: 

If you could reform one thing in the VA, what would it be? Please reply below. 

Sources cited:

  • Edwards, Chris. “Number of VA Employees,” as retrieved at http://www.cato.org/blog/number-va-employees on January 27, 2016.
  • Massey, Leslie. “A Special Touch: Holistic approach to helping animals heal through energyin Petacular, Winter 2015/16.
  • VA US Department of Veterans Affairs. “Statement from VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald On the Need to Reform the Veterans’ Appeals Process,” dated January 27, 2016.

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.