“It was good seeing his situation, losing an arm and a leg. And he’s not complaining so I’ve got nothing to complain about.”

VA’s Amputee Peer Mentorship Program pairs a new Veteran amputee with a peer mentor that has the same level and type of amputation as well as the same gender and age.

Servicemembers and Veterans with amputations ranked physical therapy and peer support as the two most important factors for recovery in a survey done at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Recently, when a Veteran amputee and a possible mentor were in two different towns, VA staff successfully arranged for them to meet via telehealth hook up.

“I liked it because you can talk to the individual and look at him and not get BS’ed.”

The VA Amputation System of Care has been partnering with the Amputee Coalition to provide a standardized Amputee Peer Mentorship Program to Veterans in VA since 2011. The success of a peer mentor visit often lies in the ability to match amputees, such as pairing a new Veteran amputee with a peer mentor that has the same level and etiology of amputation as well as the same gender and age. Having a limited number of peer mentors, particularly female and upper limb amputees, provides challenges to match amputees appropriately.

Such was the case at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, where a new Veteran amputee had lost his hand in a blast accident and was struggling with the recovery process. He expressed an interest in meeting with a peer mentor who was living with the loss of a hand. There were no upper limb amputee peer mentors at the Minneapolis VA, but that did not deter Grace Wilske, Amputation Rehabilitation Coordinator (ARC).

Grace reached out to her fellow ARCs to find a peer mentor with an upper limb amputation. Joe Boncser, ARC from the Cleveland VA Medical Center, identified and offered the services of a peer mentor at his facility.

Long Distance Help: Vet-to-Vet

It was obvious that the peer mentor visit could not take place face-to-face with the new amputee in Minneapolis and the peer mentor in Cleveland. However, both Grace and Joe have been involved in telehealth clinics at their facilities and knew the value of a peer mentor visit, so they decided to combine the two in order to meet the needs of the new Veteran amputee.

They scheduled a telehealth peer mentor visit for August 4, 2016. The day before the visit Grace and Joe ran a trial to ensure everything went well.

This was the first peer mentor visit by telehealth and everything went smoothly. Both Veterans were able to see and hear each other clearly and discussed a variety of topics including relationships, use of prosthetics, and leisure engagements. A sense of confidence was given to the Minneapolis Veteran amputee in seeing someone else who had experienced upper limb amputation functioning so well.

The peer mentor offered the new Veteran amputee his personal phone number and encouraged him to call with questions. Both Joe and Grace were present during the visit to manage any potential technological difficulties and answer any additional questions.

The first telehealth peer mentor visit was so successful that both Veterans requested a second visit which occurred on August 19. The peer mentor from Cleveland had created his own Power Point “How My Life Changed after Amputation” to share his “Pearls of Wisdom” from living life without a hand. Both Veterans discussed topics covered in the power point (adaptations and one-handed strategies) and their future goals.

Long Distance Help: Vet-to-Vet

The conversation invoked emotions of their trauma, and they reflected on the support they had received from their families, community, and VA. After the meeting the new Veteran amputee expressed his gratitude for the peer mentorship program, for being able to meet the peer mentor, and for the Minneapolis VA during his rehabilitation journey.

“I think it’s valuable that amps can talk to amps, someone that’s in your situation.”

Currently, VA has 157 certified amputee peer mentors including 155 males and 2 females, 9 mentors with upper limb amputations and 18 mentors with multiple amputations.

Congratulations to Grace and Joe for their service to the Veteran amputee population and their ability to think outside the box and use technology to meet the needs of our Veterans.

About the author: Cindy Poorman is the National Amputation Program Manager and Tele-Rehabilitation Lead

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Published on Oct. 18, 2016

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