Lou Graul Eisenbrandt was one of only 13 women aboard her Army-chartered flight to Chu Lai, Vietnam, in 1969. She, like many service members, had a limited understanding of the war as she deployed overseas (pictured above). She quickly learned why they were needed, once arriving on the ground.

The registered nurse worked at the 91st Evac Hospital. She treated everything from malaria to massive head traumas in the upcoming year.

“I saw pretty much every injury you could imagine, and even survived some early morning rocket attacks,” she said. “After coming home, I wanted to use my experiences to educate others.”

For the past 30 years, Eisenbrandt has been open about her time as a female Veteran. She has used her medical training to raise awareness about women’s health and child nutrition. In 2015, she wrote a book – “Vietnam Nurse: Mending and Remembering – which details how “a small town girl from Illinois decided to join the Army to help others and see the world.”

“I couldn’t say the word for a week”

Her most recent advocacy, though, is more personal: Parkinson’s disease.

“I was diagnosed in 2003 and my first question was why?” she remembered. “Couldn’t even say the word Parkinson’s for nearly a week after my diagnosis because it was so scary. I didn’t go through denial. I went through depression.”

Today, Eisenbrandt is a steadfast champion for the Parkinson’s Foundation and routinely leads discussions about the disease. The nonprofit is an international organization that focuses on caring for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

In 2020, VHA partnered with the Parkinson’s Foundation to promote access to more resources and better care for Veterans who doctors diagnose with the chronic neurological disease.

Parkinson’s Foundation’s digital resources, training materials, and online forums are raising awareness among health care professionals who treat Veterans, both inside and outside the VA health system.

Partnerships play an extremely important role

The resources also help strengthen work the six VHA Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers (PADRECCs) and 51 affiliated Consortium Centers are doing across the country.

“Partnerships like the one between Parkinson’s Foundation and VHA play an extremely important role in caring for Veterans diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich, the nurse executive for VHA’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships (HAP, formerly OCE). “It amplifies the services VHA provides and reaches Veterans who are not currently enrolled with VA for their care.

“As we prepare to observe Parkinson’s Awareness Month this April, we will engage in future partnerships to benefit Veterans faced with battling a wide variety of diagnoses.”

For more information on HAP’s work or to contact HAP for partnership opportunities, visit: VA.gov/healthpartnerships. To learn more about the PADRECCs, Consortium Centers, and Parkinson’s disease care available through VA, visit parkinsons.va.gov.

Randolph C. Moler is a licensed clinical social worker with the National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships.

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