Not too many things can get in the way of Veteran Jennifer Yarbrough, of Nashville, living her best life. She was in a dark hole just over a year ago. It was a motorcycle and a unique relationship with a Whole Health coach that pulled her out.

A triple threat, Yarbrough says she is a “military brat,” a Veteran and the spouse of a Veteran. She is very proud of her status as a woman Veteran. In the years after 9/11 she was drawn to service. “I adore this country, and one day I came home and told my husband ‘I’m going into the service,’” she said.

Yarbrough is a disabled Veteran with multiple injuries from her time in service, leading to isolation and agoraphobia. Already a two-time cancer survivor, four years ago she was again diagnosed with stage four cancer (now in remission).

Whole Health coach helped her get her life back

Whole Health is VA’s approach to care that supports Veterans’ 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. For more information on Whole Health visit:

Just over a year ago, Yarbrough began to work with Health and Wellness Coach, Chad Hunley at the Tennessee Valley VA Health Care System. She attributes their relationship and his understanding of her as the catalyst that helped her get her life back.

Yarbrough likens it to a newly planted tree. “When you plant a new tree in your yard, you put stakes around it for support so it doesn’t blow over in the wind or wash away,” she said. “You are the tree and Whole Health is the stakes that are there to support you until you’ve grown to a point where you don’t need the stakes to hold you up anymore.”

Hunley says the important thing in working with Veterans is to find out what matters to them.

“Jennifer said she rides a motorcycle and, since I do too, I know how freeing that can be,” he said. “We took a step back and I asked her what would help her to ride and she said to get stronger. She came up with a plan and started to work out in her living room, and now she goes to the gym religiously.”

Hunley says the most important part about being a coach is to build a core trust with the Veteran, and he does this by finding common ground.

The relationship between the coach and the Veteran is unique in the VA system. Yarbrough says it is not at all like a physician relationship but one of more equal footing.

She says that Hunley approached things differently. He didn’t tell her what she needed to do, but instead asked her what she wanted to do and helped her to get there. “He pulled me out of that black hole that cancer put me in,” she said.

Through VA, Yarbrough found many opportunities to practice self-care skills. She does regular journaling and practices yoga. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she attended a painting group and joined the Guitars for Vets program.

“Hope is a four letter word.”

She has embraced all these activities that have helped her cope with the trauma that cancer brought into her life.

Thanks to Whole Health, she has regained that hope and is back to being her joyful self. “Hope is a four-letter word,” she said.

VA has trained more than 2,500 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 these 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 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.

More information on Whole Health.

By Andrea Young is a field implementation team consultant with the Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation

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Published on Sep. 27, 2021

Estimated reading time is 3.7 min.

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One Comment

  1. Willard G Prevost September 27, 2021 at 11:19 pm

    love the pod-cast from the members of the VA

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