HARTFORD—The White River Junction V.A. Medical Center has joined seven other Veterans Administration (V.A.) hospitals in a program that interviews veterans about their life stories and makes the transcribed oral histories part of the patients’ medical records. The program, called My Life, My Story, uses stories to foster a sense of connection between health care providers and their veteran patients.
My Life, My Story was started by the V.A. hospital in Madison, Wis., in 2013, which until recently was the only facility offering this service. A grant from the V.A. Office of Patient-Centered Care & Cultural Transformation allowed the project to expand to six new sites around the country. The new sites, in addition to White River Junction, are Asheville, N.C.; Bronx, N.Y.; Iowa City, Iowa; Reno, Nev.; and Topeka, Kan.
Initial funding for the White River Junction V.A. program runs through the end of FY2015. The Veterans Education and Research Association of Northern New England recently received a $75,000 grant from the Byrne Foundation that will allow WRJ VA to extend the program for at least a full year.
Marine Corps veteran Michael Gundlach was recently interviewed at the Madison VA and said, “Being able to talk about my experience was a morale builder, first of all, for the acknowledgement of [my] service, and second of all—and more long-term—it gave me the chance to review my life. The way the interview was conducted felt very stress-free. I think the program is absolutely something that should be expanded.”
Doctors and nurses are often too busy to spend enough time with patients to learn about their past or anything beyond their list of symptoms. Madison VA therapist and My Life, My Story coordinator Thor Ringler has been with the project since it began. “I think it’s about people having a voice,” Ringler said. “The story is really a way to connect providers with veterans and have them connect over something that’s real and meaningful. I think there’s something missing in healthcare and this project is just one way to bring the spark back and remind us why we’re here–who we’re here for.”
Polly Boynton is a nurse practitioner at the Madison VA who consults the stories frequently. “I have taken the time to read each ‘My Story’ I have encountered in my patients’ charts and am grateful to have the additional dimension and background,” Boynton said. “It is a true pleasure to read these stories; I feel I gain such valuable insight into the humanity of my patients.”
Gundlach knows that for many veterans, it is not an easy thing to tell their story, but he encourages their participation. “I would highly recommend this to any veteran who is at a point in his emotional status where he can talk about it,” Gundlach said. “If you think that you don’t want to talk to people—say your friends and family—this is another way to release and talk about something that is so important. There’s absolutely no downside to participating in this.”
White River Junction V.A. has launched the My Life My Story program and has begun collecting veterans’ stories to be included in their patient records.
The Madison VA recently completed the 700th story, proving the remarkable impact that the program can have on patients and the hospital culture. Veterans are given the opportunity to provide information that is critical to who they are as people; the scope and depth of information that is shared is completely at the veteran’s discretion; and the veteran has the right to end the interview at any time, for any reason.
The Veterans Administration believes that as the program grows it will be a great resource for both providers and veterans. The program currently focuses on inpatients, but the V.A. hopes to expand to outpatient clinics soon.