Madison veterans embrace yoga and gardening in health care

Whole Health at the Madison VA asks, “What matters to you?” not “What’s the matter with you?”
Thousands of veterans in the Madison area are joining the cultural shift towards prioritizing self-care and wellness.
Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 4:15 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2023 at 7:10 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Thousands of veterans in the Madison area are joining the cultural shift towards prioritizing self-care and wellness.

Whole Health at the Madison VA is a comprehensive approach to well-being. Seen around the country, the program goes beyond the idea of conventional treatment at a hospital. It includes classes for tai chi, yoga, meditation and mindfulness.

“In America, we often say, ‘Health care is something that I seek out when there’s something wrong with me,’” Sarah Rogers, a Whole Health program manager, said. “This is different. This is that wellness and health are part of our life every day, and so we have tools and approaches that each of us use every day to support us living our healthiest life.”

“The VA has turned healthcare on its head,” Karl Gutknecht, one of roughly 4,000 veterans who get Whole Health care at the Madison VA, said. “Normally, when I would go to a clinic before I came to the VA, I would be asked, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ At the VA I’ve been asked, ‘What matters to you?’”

For Gutknecht, who is a Vietnam War veteran, “what matters” includes family, friends and “being able to make a difference.” Whole Health patients get personalized health plan tailored to those motivators.

Gutknecht now practices yoga three times a week and Pilates once a week. Yoga began as a way to help him with his post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Everything I do in Whole Health is a practice,” he said. “I don’t have to do it perfectly, but I keep doing it as regularly as I possibly can because, after all, it’s given me a new way to cope and a new way to make a difference in my life.”

While the Madison VA has had integrative health and wellness services since the early 2000s, the programs expanded with funds in 2018. Rogers explained, veterans have been receptive of the relatively newer model for health care.

“The wounds veterans carry from their service-- they are visible and invisible,” she said. “When people are trying to live their fullest lives, they embrace whatever works.”

“I’ve gone from being irritable, restless and somewhat discontent to be more happy, more joyous and have more freedom in my life,” Gutknecht said.

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