VA hospitals present their dedicated professionals with one of the most challenging settings in health care. Not only are the resources of VA facilities under great strain, but the needs and number of their patients are increasing every day. The Veterans they care for may struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), severe physical disabilities, substance abuse, chronic illness, homelessness, poverty, and a system that at times is not able to meet their needs. Unfortunately, the Veterans’ frustration can be directed at those who care for them.
The humanities can make a difference in this setting, as we have seen in the Maine and Vermont VA hospitals. The Chief of Staff at Maine’s Togus VA Medical Center wrote: “I have first hand knowledge of the value of this program to the staff of the VA Medical Center in Augusta, Maine. I am convinced that the reading and discussion of these works has enhanced our staff’s empathy for the veterans we serve, and has reduced the potential of provider burn-out.” A physician from the White River Junction, Vermont, VA, a national trauma center, writes: “The Literature & Medicine group attracts a range of people at the hospital who might not have much opportunity to talk and reflect with one another. This is very important, especially as the VA is undergoing a lot of changes. We are all being tested and stressed in new ways as we move from treating a primarily geriatric population who faced combat years ago to veterans in their 20’s, many with young families, who may only have been out of the war for a few weeks. This shift raises many ethical issues and demands a change in our approach. The Literature & Medicine group provides an outlet for us all to talk about these issues, and this is very helpful.”
The humanities councils that have partnered with Maine to take Literature & Medicine to a VA facility within their state include: Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont.