It’s hard to quit smoking. VA understands this. Also: VA can help anyone start the journey toward a smoke-free life.
The message to Veterans from the VA New England Healthcare System is that VA can help Veterans access the resources and one-on-one support needed to quit.
“There are a lot of options to help you quit,” said Jonathan “Johnny” Lee, a psychologist with VA Bedford Healthcare System’s Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass. Lee manages the smoking cessation program at VA Bedford and assists medical centers throughout VA New England with strategies to help Veterans kick the habit.
“Combining medication and counseling can triple your chances for success compared to going it alone,” Lee said. “You are not alone. We are here to help you every step of the way.”
Below are comments from Lee and Ariel Laudermith, a clinical psychologist and VA smoking cessation program manager at VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, about their approach in helping a person who smokes to quit.
Three Veterans who recently quit gave us permission to talk about their journey. They are Jean Larouche, a Navy Veteran from Granby, Mass.; Kimberly L. Merrill, an Army Veteran from Dover, N.H.; and Mike Neely, an Army Veteran from Marblehead, Mass.
All three smoked a pack-a-day or more and have had chronic health conditions due to a lifetime of smoking. But they quit the habit with VA help and credit VA’s smoking cessation program for removing tobacco from their lives and reducing their cancer risk.
The clinicians and Veterans recently described the important reasons to quit and how VA can help Veterans live a longer and smoke-free life. Here is a snapshot of our conversation.
What’s important about the approach the VA takes with smoke cessation?
Mike Neely, Army Veteran
Ariel Laudermith: It’s important to meet Veterans where they are in their journey of quitting smoking. The approach is to help increase motivation and increase confidence in Veterans that they have the ability to quit. We guide Veterans through evidence-based counseling for smoking cessation while also providing individualized care.
Mike Neely: With COVID, you can’t breathe. That got me to quit smoking. I quit in April. I would tell myself I am going to quit many, many times before. And I actually did quit many times. Then I’d start back up. You’ve got to want it more than anything other than life itself.
What’s good about the VA program is that it is so multi-faceted. I told myself, I’m going to avail myself of every resource VA offers. The counseling, the prescriptions, the patches. The important thing is to not stop trying. And that’s the thing and the VA understands this – they work with you.
Kimberly Merrill, Army Veteran
Johnny Lee: You don’t have to want to quit immediately when meeting with us. We want to help you develop a plan to give you the best chance for success and that means taking a carefully planned approach to quitting rather than just jumping in. Success is not due to willpower or luck. The average number of attempts it can take, according to data from the CDC, is eight times before someone is successful for the long term. This is because we learn about what works and what doesn’t as we are going through the process. So, don’t quit quitting! I like what Mike said, you only fail if you stop trying.
Kimberly Merrill: The support that is offered is really important. I’m in a group with other Veterans that meets every Tuesday and I look forward to it. I get a lot of support from this group. It’s inspiring. There is maybe a half a dozen of us that meet.
You got to have people to encourage you, whether it’s Dr. Lee or the Veterans I meet. And then for me, it’s been my church, my family and VA. My faith has really helped. You can’t do this alone.
What do you want Veterans to know about the program?
Jean Larouche, Navy Veteran, pointing to scars on his neck from carotid stenting
Ariel Laudermith: We don’t force anyone to quit or make anyone feel bad about where they are on their journey. We work alongside Veterans to help them achieve their goals. Whether a Veteran is ready to quit or not we can speak to them and discuss options for treatment as well as meet with them to enhance motivation.
Jean Larouche: You got to want it. If you don’t want to quit, you’re not going to want to quit. I believe whether you are young or old, it’s important to realize we have a short time on this earth. Why cut it short and deprive our loved ones of our presence?
I know I didn’t see it that way when I was in the midst of the addiction of smoking, but I can see it today. And I hope other Veterans see it too before it’s too late.
Where can Veterans get more information?
Johnny Lee: You can go online to VA’s “How to Quit” page for more information. Veterans can ask their primary care team or any treatment provider for a referral for tobacco cessation. Every VA medical center in New England has a designated tobacco cessation lead clinician to ensure every Veteran gets all the resources he or she needs to quit.