Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Helping Veterans Lead Productive Lives
April is Occupational Therapy Month and VA salutes occupational therapists for their service to our Veterans.
Occupational therapists work with Veterans who suffer from a mentally, physically, developmentally or emotionally disabling condition, and help them perform daily activities such as dressing, bathing and grooming, as well as more advanced activities such as cooking, shopping, driving, parenting and returning to work.
Julia Newberry, a VA occupational therapist at the Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic, serves a wide range of patients from the elderly to those who were injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My goal is to make them functional, help them return to daily activities, manage their pain and increase their movement, strength and mobility,” said Newberry, who is one of four occupational therapists employed by the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.
Newberry delivers patient centered care, which is driven by the individual needs of the Veteran.
“We first do an evaluation of what their problems are and listen to what they’re saying and where they want to be,” said Newberry. “If they don’t have goals, we encourage them and set those goals with them so they’re involved in the treatment plan.”
Then she designs a specific treatment plan based on those goals.
“If their goal is to return to work or return to school, you strengthen their skills so they can be confident and return to the work force,” she said. “For some of our elderly Veterans, their goal is to be able to get up and get dressed in the morning, to be able to take their own showers, or use the toilet.”
Newberry said it is normal for patients to become discouraged when they can’t perform daily activities such as cooking as well as they could before an injury.
“The hardest part I find is that people kind of get discouraged or depressed because they feel like they’ve lost control of something,” said Newberry. “I help them achieve a feeling of control and self-worth that they can still accomplish things no matter what the changes have been.”
For Veterans who need adaptive equipment, such as a wheelchair, she works with Prosthetics Service to get them the equipment they need and then she trains them on its proper use.
Occupational therapists also help Veterans with their physical pain.
“I treat shoulders, hands and elbows just like a physical therapist would,” said Newberry. “We do the same kind of strengthening, body mechanics and joint protection.”
Army Veteran Warren Jackson, who had multiple shoulder surgeries during his 20 years in the Army, said Newberry has helped relieve pain in his shoulder.
“I didn’t have proper (shoulder) rotation before and she took the time to show me exactly how it works and how the shoulder actually operates,” said Jackson, a Desert Storm Veteran. “She would hit certain spots when she was stretching me and it would actually loosen everything up. She’s good and I’m not just saying that.”
Newberry is proud of her work to help Veterans and said a big part of her job is enabling them with the right tools to perform daily tasks.
“I had a patient who couldn’t spend time with his kids,” she said. “He was withdrawn and in severe pain. His vision had also changed. After working with him for three months, he was back hiking mountains, volunteering again and playing with his child. When you give them the tools, it makes a total difference in their treatment.”