As soon as licensed massage therapist Terry Smith starts to knead Veteran James Davis’s neck and shoulders, Davis begins to relax.

“That feels so good,” says Davis, a patient in the Community Living Center (CLC) of the Columbia VA Health Care System.

Smith, a U.S. Army Veteran, volunteers her hours at the Columbia VA Medical center. She is known as the massage therapist with the “healing hands.”

“It’s amazing what that sense of touch can do for a person. Especially when they don’t get to experience it much anymore,” Smith said.

Healing hands

One Veteran in the CLC, a diagnosed Alzheimer’s patient, kept his hands tightly clenched. As Smith began to massage his hands and wrists, the patient slowly began to release his fingers. Another Veteran seemed to be asleep in his wheelchair. As Smith massaged his shoulders, arms, and hands, the patient started to wake up and said that he thought he was dreaming about Smith’s touch.

Smith, a Desert Storm Veteran from Mount Vernon, New York, joined the military to travel and see the world. Eventually, she found a career path as a medic in nutritional care at West Point.

“Even though I am from New York, I had no clue about West Point or any other type of military posts or bases that were in my state,” Smith said. “Plus, not knowing a lot about the military before I enlisted made each assignment that I had a new experience for me.”

Massage therapist healing hands

“This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of a person” (Photo credit: Jennifer Scales)

After a varied post-military career, Smith decided to use the GI Bill to study massage therapy. By 2012, when she obtained her license, she knew she had found her calling.

Helping others

“I love what I do,” Smith said. “This is the type of treatment that gets to the heart of the person. I can oftentimes feel the stiffness in their muscles when I begin my massage, and it is my goal to work it out.”

Carrie Jett, a Columbia VA recreation therapist, notes that Smith is the facility’s only volunteer massage therapist. “The patients really appreciate what she does, and the word is spreading,” said Jett. “Even those Veteran patients here who don’t participate in other therapeutic events eagerly await the day and time of Smith’s arrival to get a massage.”

When asked what makes her massages so special for Veterans, Smith replied, “I touch them with the spirit of love.”

Jennifer Scales is a public affairs officer at the Columbia VA Health Care System Public Affairs

Photos by Jennifer Scales

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Published on Aug. 9, 2019

Estimated reading time is 2.3 min.

Views to date: 139


  1. massage September 1, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Transfer your massage gun slowly along the muscle.

  2. Oliver Warren Folsom August 14, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    12X10 is 120

  3. Oliver Warren Folsom August 14, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Wish VA would or could provide massage therapy. Had a soldier roll a GP Med. Tent on top of my head and crushed vertebrae when I in was in Arny Guard and I traveled 20 miles 1 way almost weekly for deep massage. I keep me going until could retire. Got to start back, $45.00 per visit. My neck pain is killing me today.

  4. Perla Pereda Heflin August 13, 2019 at 10:36 pm

    Glad massage therapy is great for Veterans.
    Being a Navy veteran, I have always relied on deep tissue massage, once a month to keep myself active.

  5. john f. Gusich Jr August 13, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    I have requested massage therapy from my PCP but she stated that the VA does not offer massage therapy. I find it somewhat contradictory if the VA education benefit offers it then it should be offered to veterans in need.
    Thank You156

  6. Honor Parrish August 13, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    This is truly AMAZING that Massage Therapists are finally receiving the recognition that is deserved. In 2012, here in Jacksonville, Florida I offered the same services and was denied; after sharing all the benefits for the overall well-being of veterans. I love to read positive and inspirational stories:)

  7. Williams Jasy August 12, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    is this a true life story??? Its awesome.
    I nearly cried

  8. Master August 9, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for the helpful skills

Comments are closed.

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