Whole Health changes can help veterans improve quality of life

Wounded warrior and U.S. Army veteran Allyssa Martin worked with Wounded Warrior Project to manage the stressors of post-service life. Photo credit Wounded Warrior Project

For Allyssa Martin, a U.S. Army wounded warrior, managing the stressors of post-service life was a daily struggle.

To accommodate an increased professional workload while juggling family responsibilities, Allyssa stole hours from activities that supported her personal health and wellness. It didn’t take long for the consequences to her health to appear. Her sleep dwindled, and soon she was only getting two to three hours daily. Allyssa knew she needed help balancing her priorities and setting personal wellness goals, but she didn’t know where to start.

Allyssa’s story is common. As wounded, ill, or injured veterans age, their health care needs can change dramatically. At Wounded Warrior Project, we are regularly reminded of veterans’ evolving health and wellness demands, as more than 71 people register for our free programs and services daily.

For veterans who suffered injury or illness from military service, time is not on their side. As they advance in age, debilitating injuries they were once able to mitigate through medical and other interventions may eventually resurface, requiring adjusted treatment. In other cases, injuries or illnesses that may have gone unnoticed are more likely to emerge as veterans age. These conditions can vary in urgency and the level of care they demand, and they are also likely accompanied by other health and wellness issues. The impact on an injured veteran’s quality of life can be considerable. The good news is that addressing the total well-being of veterans can help.

It is important to understand the interconnected health challenges that impede injured veterans’ ability to live full lives so that we can counter them with targeted, long-term treatment. WWP’s 2022 Annual Warrior Survey states that two major health factors are chronic pain and sleep quality. The survey found 3 out of 4 (75.8%) WWP warriors regularly experienced moderate to severe pain. Nearly 8 in 10 (78.1%) reported sleeping fewer than the recommended seven hours per day — a stark contrast from the average U.S. adult population, where 3 in 10 (32.8%) get less than seven hours of sleep.

Sleep and chronic pain are often treated as secondary issues that result from more serious physical or mental health conditions. Still, research on the relationship between the two highlights their direct impact on overall health. For example, when a wounded warrior experiences chronic pain and sleep loss simultaneously, more severe symptoms are likely to develop. These can include increased pain levels for longer periods of time and more intense levels of depression and anxiety. The relationship between the two conditions can also be complementary—when you improve one, you can relieve the other. This is why it is so essential to address the habits and behaviors that enhance quality of life.

Success stories from wounded warriors highlight the benefits of this approach.

For Allyssa, change meant working closely with WWP’s Physical Health and Wellness team to develop a whole-health routine that served as a roadmap to increase her quality of life. Allyssa’s plan included committing to 20-minute daily walks and weekly meal preps that helped her to cut fast food from her diet. Her walks progressed into longer durations and eventually evolved into jogging, an old hobby of hers. Meeting her daily goals reintroduced her love of running, helped to reduce fast-food cravings, and increased her daily sleep average to 6½ hours. These simple changes even led to a decrease in her chronic back pain.

Justin Fisher, a U.S. Army National Guard wounded warrior, also found results through a multifaceted approach to health. He worked closely with WWP to create a whole-health plan to address his service-connected chronic back pain by improving his sleep. Justin created a daily sleep hygiene routine that included simple interventions such as increasing physical activity, limiting naps, developing mindful breathing habits, and cutting back on TV and cell phone use before sleep. By focusing on improving his sleep quality, Justin boosted his physical function. He gained surprising improvement in his core strength, which helped him achieve his goal of reducing his movement-based pain. This reduction in pain increased his physical activity and helped him lose 17 pounds.

National Wellness Month (August) is a great time to set a health goal and commit to the habits and behaviors that will help achieve a healthier lifestyle. It will pay dividends years from now. If you are a post-9/11 injured veteran interested in free physical health and wellness programs that can aid you in this journey, organizations like WWP can help.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Wounded Warrior Project