Lifetime dedicated to military and Veterans’ health
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, MD, Ph.D., VHA’s Whole Health advisor, belongs to a multi-generational military family with a longstanding tradition of active duty service. Over the span of his military career, he held many assignments, including as practicing hematologist and, most notably, as 42nd surgeon general of the U.S. Army and commanding general of U.S. Army Medical Command.
At the start of his career, the idea of Whole Health did not exist. He was first captivated by the idea of physical fitness and mental wellbeing during his time with the Army when he found solace in running. He also credits his wife for forging his interest in meditative mindfulness and the science behind complementary practices, such as acupuncture and yoga.
Transforming how we think about health
During the Chats with the Chief video, Schoomaker describes the concept of Whole Health. He quotes the VA website saying, “We are moving from what’s the matter with you to what matters to you.”
He emphasizes that health care is just one component of our overall health and wellbeing. Whole health involves every aspect of our lives, including our sense of purpose, how we see ourselves in our community, our state of mental health and whether we are spiritually grounded.
“All these factors are more strongly coordinated with our overall wellbeing,” he said.
Science behind Whole Health
Schoomaker notes that Whole Health incorporates complementary practices, including yoga, acupuncture and hiking, activities that increase our working memory, attentiveness and retention of information.
These activities are “tailored to the individual’s needs for wellbeing.” For instance, practicing mindfulness through meditative yoga can significantly reduce stress. Acupuncture and Tai Chi are extremely effective in reducing chronic pain when compared with prescriptive opioid treatments.
It starts with you, the Veteran
VA’s goal with Whole Health is to prevent Veterans from becoming patients by improving their overall wellbeing. Whole Health personalized programs begin at the transition from service, as Veterans prepare for a big life change.
Steps you, the Veteran, can take
“At the center of VA’s Whole Health programs is the Veteran’s own individual aspirations of their health and wellbeing,” Schoomaker described.
Veterans can reach out to trained individuals at their VA facility or they can complete a Personal Health Inventory self-assessment. This allows the VA health team to get to know the Veteran as a person before working with the individual to develop a personalized health plan based on their values, needs and goals. This way, VA is putting emphasis on individual aspirations of their health and wellbeing by identifying and enhancing their skills and strengths. The approach is “transformative, not just for VA, but for everyone,” Schoomaker said.