Whole Health - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Whole Health

Whole Health Retreat

Whole Health Well Being Retreat

Veterans, family and staff are invited to discover many of the health and well-being tools and resources available at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

What is Whole Health?

Whole Health is a system-wide cultural shift that empowers and equips Veterans and staff to take charge of their health and well-being. It includes both delivering excellent healthcare, and designing a system with a new focus. The goal of Whole Health is to shift the mindset from the disease at hand to the reasons we want our health in the first place by asking "What matters most to you?"

Why Whole Health?

Health care to this point was built upon a "find-it-fix-it" model with the goal of prolonging life. Yet globally, the U.S. spends the most annually on health care and is ranked 37th in life expectancy. Whole Health aims not only to prolong lives, but also make them fuller, richer, and more joyful. Dr. Tracy Gaudet, former Director of the VHA Office of Patient Centered Care, further explains why this approach is being implemented nationally across the VA system in this video, Radical Redesign of Health Care.

Whole Health Q & A

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A: A Veteran can attend the 2 hour Introduction to Whole Health sessions we hold each month at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. You don’t need a referral to attend. Click here for info on upcoming sessions. Veteran peers and staff will guide you through your personal health inventory and help you create your personal health plan.

A: Your journey on Whole Health is totally up to you. There is no pressure! You can further explore your plan in the “Taking Charge of My Life and Health” sessions we will offer here. You can sign up for those by calling the Wellness Hotline at 414-384-2000, ext. 43611.

In those classes, you can discover the “Circle of Health” and explore each area of wellness to help you achieve your personal health and life goals. You can also be assigned a Whole Health coach. We have two coaches on the Whole Health staff – and more on the way -- who will help you, offer suggestions and give encouragement to keep you healthy.

A: You may wish to practice self-care through programs and classes that relate to the Proactive Components of Health & Well-Being. They include spirit, soul and power of the mind (stress reduction, mental health & happiness, and mindfulness); working the body (VA’s MOVE! Weight management program); recharging (sleep and restoration); food and drink (nutrition class); personal development (financial health session); and family, friends and coworkers (healthy relationships class).

We currently offer yoga, Tai Chi, biofeedback, functional restoration, acupuncture and pain psychology for alternative approaches to pain management.

It’s important to understand all of these conventional and holistic programs are all connected. Improving one area can benefit other areas in your life and influence your overall physical, emotional, mental health and well-being.

Some of the Well-being programs are referral-based and you will have to talk with your primary care or mental health manager. We can help you by going over all the options available and refer you to the experts.

A: Whole Health is not mandatory and you don’t have to participate.

A: Absolutely not. Because this is your life plan, you pick and choose what will work best for you. You are completely in the driver’s seat. We realize we offer many different programs and types of care, but some of our Veterans may not be aware of everything available to them. By creating a Whole Health program, it can help us tailor treatment and care, and offer different things Veterans might not be aware.

A: Whole Health allows you to explore what really matters to you. It offers you the opportunity to really explore your values, mission and aspirations. Instead of being a passenger in your health care, you become the driver. We encourage you to explore proactive approaches to self-care and self-healing based upon what matter most to you.

A: VA has always taken the lead in health care by giving Veterans options such as the Walk A Mile or More program or even MOVE!, which gives people the tools they need to lose weight and be active. That is just one out of the many well-being components we offer. This is a Veteran-driven program that puts them at the center of their well-being, and not any disease.

Whole Health is a health system focused on Veteran self-empowerment, self-healing and self-care.

A: We believe Whole Health can be broken into four parts:

  • Me: The equation begins with you, the “Me” at the center of our Whole Health circle. Your story is unique and your whole health begins with you. Starting here will help empower you to take charge of your health.
  • Self-Care: Each of us has the power to affect our well-being, but we may not have the skills or support to make those changes. It starts with looking at all the dimensions of your whole health. Even people who cannot be cured can often experience a deeper sense of meaning, peace, joy or comfort.
  • Professional Care: Your health team is there to help with the prevention and treatment of disease and illness.
  • Community: Just as there is a “Me” at the center of the circle, there is a “We” that enfolds it. Your Community is however you define it and often includes where you live, work, and worship, as well as all the people and groups you connect with.

When we connect all four of these elements it makes up the Whole Health Circle.

A: We suggest you take these steps in … well, steps:

  • Look at the big picture: Think about the big picture when you think about your health. Ask yourself, “What matters most to me? What do I want my health for?” Reflect on the factors in your life that affect your well-being. It could be the amount of sleep you get, your relationships at work and home, or your food and drink. We will help you focus on the factors you want to address to support your whole health.
  • Have a conversation: Your health team will consist not only of health care providers, but also of peers, well-being teachers, and coaches who may serve as your Whole Health Partner. Your Whole Health Partner will want to know who you are, what is important to you, and what you need. The path to whole health begins with you and what matters most in your life. You can start by having a conversation about you with your health team so they can help you achieve the things that are most important to you.
  • Set your goal: By questioning what matters most to you, your health team can help you discover what gives you a sense of meaning and purpose in your life and partner with you to design a personal health plan that focuses on YOUR goals.
  • Build your personal health plan:

    A: This runs the gamut, but the idea is to take care of yourself! Self-Care includes all the choices you make each day that affect your physical, mental and spiritual health, because it all comes into play in helping you heal and making you a healthier, happier person!

    For some it might be a two-hour, sweat-inducing workout in the gym. For others, it’s a massage, a brisk walk around the block or finding a quiet place with a book.

    Some areas we suggest are:

    • Working out your body: Get outside and take a walk join some of our VA programs, such as WAMM, OT Lifestyle Coaching, open swim or open gym.
    • Recharge: A nap, a quiet place to reflect, yoga, soft music, meditation, mindful awareness or simply giving yourself permission to pause and slow down.
    • Food and drink: Eat healthy foods that aren’t going to weigh you down. If you eat a lot of sugary, carb-laden or processed foods, you will feel sluggish. Instead, focus Colorful fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low fat dairy. Food is fuel for the brain and body. Speak to your dietician to learn more.
    • Family, friends and coworkers: Don’t isolate! Spend time with those who make you feel good. People who isolate or don’t socialize tend to have higher rates of depression. Positive social relationships are healthy. It’s good to talk to people who care about you and listen.
    • Surroundings: For some, it’s a crowded outlet mall that gets you feeling great. For others, it’s a quiet place in the woods with the birds chirping. Or maybe it’s even taking your dog to the dog park. What are some things you can do and places you can go that make you feel better?
    • Personal development: Have you been putting off that last college class? Sign up at a community college, or learn a new hobby at your library or senior center.
    • Spirit and soul: For some, this could mean church, praying, spiritual reflection, meditation or chanting. No matter where you are in life, your personal and work life is very important. How do you spend your time and energy during the day? Do things give you energy or make you tired? Do you spend time doing what matters most to you?
    • Power of the Mind: Learn to use the connection between your body, brain, and mind. Warriors and athletes use the power of the mind to visualize a successful mission or event. Mind-body practices tap into the power of the mind to heal and cope.

    A: Whole health encourages you to connect with others at home, work, or in the community to support each other as you work on your goals. It can be as simple as finding other people to talk to, go to the gym with, meditate with, or engage with in a shared interest.

    Findings from one VA study show after only eight weeks in the Whole Health program, Veterans report improvement in their physical and mental health symptoms, use less medication, and have greater overall satisfaction with their health care.

    Of course, you’re not just taking charge of your health care — you are becoming part of a VA community that will support your health and well-being. Through whole health peer-to-peer groups you can connect with and learn from other Veterans who have shared similar experiences. These healing relationships can be pivotal on your journey to well-being.

    Support extends beyond VA’s walls as well. The VA is creating healing communities through the expansion of partnerships that support the arts and humanities for Veterans and their family members. You can also take advantage of telehealth services, the Whole Health Online Library, the Veterans Health Library, the VA Tobacco Quitline (1-855- QUIT-VET), and more to remain connected to a supportive community.

    As part of your personal health plan, your health team will help you decide if and which wellness, self-care, and complementary treatments might be a good fit for you. Some possibilities either at VA or in your community outside VA are:

    • Acupuncture
    • Animal-Assisted Therapy
    • Art Therapy
    • Biofeedback
    • Chiropractic Care
    • Chronic Disease Self-Management
    • Counseling
    • Diabetes Prevention
    • Massage
    • Meditation
    • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
    • Movement Therapy
    • Music Therapy
    • Physical Activity
    • Tai Chi
    • Therapeutic Journaling
    • Tobacco Cessation
    • Weight Management
    • Yoga

    A: Our national team and local offices will be working hard to add new materials to help on your Whole Health journey. Here are a few to get start you off:

    • Guided meditation podcast: This is an intro on mindfulness and using the Personal Health Inventory. It’s 22 minutes long.
    • Personal Health Inventory: Print it out and bring it to your next VA appointment to start.
    • Personal Health Short Version: Not as detailed, but can help you start your own personal assessment.
    • Personal Health Wallet Card: Not as detailed, but can help you start your own personal assessment.

    A: Call the Whole Health Wellness Hotline at 414-384-2000, ext. 43611

    A: Call the Whole Health Wellness Hotline at 414-384-2000, ext. 43611

    Speak to your VA provider to request a referral to Whole Health.


    Stacy Olson
    Milwaukee VA Medical Center
    414-384-2000 Ext. 43611

    Whole Health Calendar
    Jan. 1-March 31

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    Click image for downloadable calendar