“I was a walking billboard for pain before I met Ms. Dobson,” says Reverend James Mitchell of Bluefield, WV.

After several foot surgeries, sciatic nerve issues and 40 years of smoking, Army Veteran Mitchell was using a walker, was stressed out and his quality of life was at its lowest point. Then he started his Whole Health journey with Nicole Dobson, Whole Health coach at the Beckley VA Medical Center in West Virginia (pictured above with Mitchell).

Pickle ball with Pastor Mitchell

“I was in so much pain, and I just knew that God did not want me to live like that,” he said.

Mitchell explained that he did not want to be defiant, but when he was prescribed pain medications, he said there had to be a better way. Dobson worked with Mitchell to take a deep dive into the Circle of Health, a tool used by VA Whole Health coaches and others to help Veterans see what areas of their life they are doing okay.

And which areas could use some improvement

“She asked me what I wanted to accomplish,” Mitchell said. “At that point, [I said] it was to quit smoking, manage the pain and have a better quality of life.”

“Mr. Mitchell was very dedicated and he really got to know himself,” said Dobson, a certified international health coach. “When it came to him giving up the smoking, it was an example of him stepping out on blind faith. Smoking was almost like a best friend to him, yet he was motivated and ready to change. He is the one who did the work. I was just there letting him talk out his challenges.”

He committed to the hard work of setting goals, weekly coaching sessions, acupuncture and yoga. Mitchell has been 18 months smoke-free and no longer uses a walker or even a cane

Pain is manageable and life has blossomed

Mitchell is a pastor for the IPS Memorial Chapel in Bluefield, WV, a service officer for the Disabled American Veterans and a fierce advocate for Whole Health.

“I would recommend any Veteran work with a Whole Health coach,” he said. “Talking with Ms. Dobson once a week really helped me when I decided to quit smoking. She said, ‘You have the mindset to quit and I have the desire to help you.’ She worked with me even when I slipped and helped me identify triggers and barriers to achieving my goals.”

The ways Whole Health coaches help Veterans

“I would recommend any Veteran work with a Whole Health Coach.”

VA has trained close to 2,000 staff to be Whole Health coaches across the VA Health Care System. Coaches work with Veterans one on one and sometimes in groups to help them in the following ways:

  • Develop a personalized health plan that is based on what matters most to the Veteran. The plan is based on the Veteran’s own goals, values, preferences and lifestyle.
  • Partner with the Veteran to proactively take action toward behavior change that is present and future oriented.
  • Recognize that health is much broader than the absence of disease. The emphasis is on health enhancements and strengths rather than disorders and weaknesses.
  • Seek to support the Veteran in achieving the Veteran’s standard of optimal health that takes into account the mental, physical and social well-being of the Veteran.

Dobson works with about 15 to 20 Veterans every week, helping them to set and achieve their goals and referring them to health care options that were once considered “alternative” but are now complementary to traditional clinical care.

Cutting edge approach

Whole Health is VA’s cutting-edge approach to care that supports your health and well-being. Whole Health centers around what matters to you, not what is the matter with you.

This means your health team will get to know you as a person before working with you to develop a personalized health plan based on your values, needs and goals.

Find out how you can #LiveWholeHealth from home through VA’s ongoing self-care blog series. This series highlights Whole Health resources that you can follow along with at home to live healthier and happier. Those resources include video sessions for yoga or meditation.

“God is my support group,” Mitchell said. “My Whole Health coach is the person who helps me live my best life and give back the way I want to. We need more Veterans to learn about Whole Health, and I will be the billboard for its success.”

Find more information on Whole Health and access to Whole Health service.

Andrea Young is a FIT consultant for the Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation.

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Published on Jun. 23, 2021

Estimated reading time is 4 min.

Views to date: 272


  1. Mark Alan Johnston aka Maxine Arianne June 23, 2021 at 5:00 pm

    I am a transgender MTF veteran and a survivor of the COVID-19 period of isolation, thanks largely to the encouragement, friendship and support of my VA whole health coach, Elisa Johnson. In the last two years, I have endured homelessness, the loss of my 92 year-old. Mother, due to congestive heart failure, the alienation from family and friends because of my gender transition, and other losses over which I continue to grieve. Immediately following my mother’s passing, it was critical that I find a support group to help me through my early grief, which I subsequently did until that source of support was lost because of the pandemic. Since that time, I have been with my VA health coach, who has referred me to various other sources that the VA provides, and I have successfully completed, such as the MOVE! Program, and mindfulness classes which I continue to attend on a weekly basis. These resources have inspired me to pursue a new path of meaning and purpose in my own life; namely, a goal of becoming a whole health coach myself, who specializes in grief counseling for other veterans like myself, who are also part of the transgender community. How does one receive training to become a whole health coach and what level of education is required to achieve my previously stated Goal?

    • Olivia June 24, 2021 at 11:59 am

      Amazing story Mark. Thank you for your service! I am delighted that you too found Whole Health Coaching a great benefit to you in exploring your own Mission, Aspiration, and Purpose and setting personal goals to overcoming some trying times for you. Best of luck and thank you for sharing your story.

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