Everyone experiences discomfort from time to time. But imagine suffering from wrenching shoulder pain that impacts your quality of life for more than 50 years. Little did a Veteran know the impact a physical therapist would have on his life.

One Veteran who reached out to the Suicide Hotline in despair lived this reality. Until he met Los Angeles VA physical therapy resident Roberta Brehm and became her first patient.

A successful private practice Doctor of Physical Therapy, Brehm knew she wanted more from her career.

She chose to train at VA to both further her education and serve the nation’s Veterans.

Finding hope

After reviewing the extensive case notes and diagnostics, Brehm was acutely aware that her treatment plan needed to address mental health needs to gain her patient’s trust.

She wanted to help him embrace a holistic healing process, especially after such long-term suffering.

Jasmin Jimeno, DPT, OCS (left) with physical therapy resident Roberta Brehm, DPT.

It was also important to show progress quickly. Her resident supervisor and mentor, Jasmin Jimeno, concurred with her approach: “Physical therapy is like engineering for biomechanics. We have to identify the pathology and find a way to change the movement.”

When they met, Brehm learned that one of her patient’s passions is fishing which requires his shoulder to move fluidly.

When Brehm’s hands skillfully moved the Veteran’s shoulder back into its proper position, he immediately felt the pain diminish and realized he could move his arm above his shoulder.

Fishing was once again possible.

Such immediate progress increased the patient’s trust in Brehm who gave him homework to build strength on his own and becoming actively engaged in his own healing.

This months-long process that Jimeno described as beginning “with no medicine, just Roberta’s hands and some hope” continued until the Veteran was successfully released from care.

Treating pain through holistic care

The LA VA Physical Therapy program drew Brehm, in part, because its instruction blends kinesiopathology (movement of the spinal bones) and traditional orthopedic physical therapy.

Residents learn about Movement Systems Impairment (MSI) syndromes. Repetitive movement and sustained alignments can induce pathology, causing MSI. They learn the evidence-based approaches to treating patients with these conditions.

Brehm quickly recognized the benefit of the holistic services that VA provided her first patient.

“I know he would not have gotten better with solely the knowledge that I had prior to my VA residency.”

Satisfying training experience leads to career with VA

Brehm completed her VA residency program and is now a full-time physical therapist at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. She describes this next step in her career as a dream come true and looks forward to serving Veterans like her two grandfathers.

As a physical therapist, Brehm is one of more than 120,000 health professions trainees who train and care for Veterans at VA each year in over 40 professions. VA is the largest health care training system in the country.

VA conducts its training programs in affiliation with over 1,800 educational institutions, including 97% of U.S. medical schools. These academic affiliations, some of which began 75 years ago, are coordinated by VA’s Office of Academic Affiliations.

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Watch this video to find out more about VHA’s academic mission.

By Kimberly Medland is a writer with Aptive Resources.

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Published on Aug. 19, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.9 min.

Views to date: 221


  1. Melinda August 20, 2021 at 11:06 am

    This goes to show that the VA does NOT care about veterans or trying to help them. There is no excuse for them not having a provider that should have seen his shoulder was out of place and fix it properly. Instead they chose to let him suffer in pain for years. Same goes for the other commenter. They refuse to listen to him and help him. All the VA has ever wanted to do is cram meds down veterans’ throats and call them fixed after over medicating them so they can’t function at all. Those of us who know there is a better, non medicated way are refused care and essentially forced out.

  2. Giovanni Insolia August 19, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    I too relate to that patient. I have been agonizing for years shoulder pains particularly left shoulder. I refuse meds and meds and meds, I take the pain.
    Same with acute PTSD that gets worst as I age (75). All they want to give me meds, meds, and meds. I say NO NO NO. Offer me therapy and they answer meds meds meds.
    Happy to hear about this physical therapist Roberta Brehm and the results she achieved with her patient.
    Doctor Brehm may you could reccomend me one of your peers here in Chicago area. I am a former patient of HINES, and present patient Great Lakes Federal Health Facility in North Chicago.
    Giovanni Insolia

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