Beckley VAMC duo improving quality of life for Veterans diagnosed with diabetes

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – Two Beckley VA Medical employees have been dedicated to improving the quality of life for many Veterans diagnosed with diabetes with an innovative class that has been recognized as a best practice within VA.

Registered Nurse Faith Bragg and Clinical Social Worker Lorri Lambert make up the dream team behind “Cutting Edge Diabetes Management.” This class is a six-week, two-hour class that educates Veterans on management of diabetes. Topics covered within the course involve a multidisciplinary approach including primary care, mental health, whole health, pharmacy, and education.

“It’s so rewarding,” said Bragg, Veteran Health Education Coordinator. “It’s so amazing to see these changes in such a short time. There’s no denying this changes lives for the better.”

When an individual’s diabetes is out of control, it can delay greatly needed procedures and surgeries. A person’s A1C can indicate if diabetes is at an acceptable level or not. The A1C test measures what percentage of hemoglobin proteins in a person’s blood is coated with sugar. The higher the A1C level, the poorer blood sugar control and the higher the risk for diabetes complications. Generally, a patient needs to be under 8 to be considered for many procedures and surgeries.

“We had one patient who badly needed a hip replacement. He was in obvious pain. Within three weeks – only halfway through the course – he went from a 14.9 to a 7!” said Lambert, who serves as the Health Behavior Coordinator for Health Promotion Disease Prevention. “He went from being in a wheelchair to cruising along with a walker, then only a cane, then with no assistance at all!”

Many Veterans in the course qualify to receive a LibrePro, a glucose monitoring system sensor. It collects data on blood sugar every 15 minutes for 14 days and maps their blood sugar information. The device can connect via BlueTooth so Veterans can monitor their readings right from their smart device. The information is downloaded and then a Beckley VAMC pharmacist reviews the information and consults with their provider to make changes to their treatment plan.

“One Veteran have been able to come off insulin entirely,” Bragg said.

Another aspect of the class focuses on mental health as Veterans have intense reactions after finding out they’re diabetic and as they manage their new lifestyles.

“We ask the Veterans, ‘When your doctor told you were diabetic, how did you feel?’ Often, they say depressed, anxious, shocked, – the difficult emotions run the gambit. One Veteran said he felt shame because he “let himself become diabetic,” Lambert said.

The Whole Health Program is an integral part of this process, involving yoga, Tai Chi, and relaxation practices like mindfulness and meditation. Stress can affect blood sugar significantly so learning ways to reduce it is critical for success.

In building healthier lifestyles, Veterans learn to read nutrition labels like a pro. They’re taught how to build meals, deal with special occasions like weddings, and how to moderate successfully. Caregivers and partners are included as part of a team in this part as many do the grocery shopping and cooking at home.

Even after the course ends, the team keeps in contact with them to ensure they’re on track. Many Veterans also have Whole Health Coaches they work closely with.

“This class truly makes a difference. There are real numbers to back up its effectiveness and impact,” Lambert said.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Veterans are still meeting in-person, wearing masks, and sitting six feet apart. As the waiting list grows, Beckley VAMC is looking to begin holding a morning and an afternoon class soon.

If you have questions about the diabetes class, Lorri Lambert at 304-255-2121, ext. 4179 or Faith Bragg at ext. 4280.

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