Welcome to the fifth edition of The Fourteener, the official digital newsletter for the Veterans of VA ECHCS. We are proud to serve YOU!

ECHCS Interim Director Duane B. Gill, FACHE
Greetings! My name is Duane Gill and I am the Interim Director of VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS). I want to take a minute to introduce myself to all of you. I have been with ECHCS for just short of two years. I am a United States Navy Veteran and have dedicated 16 years of federal service to the Veterans Administration. I am committed to hearing from all of you and focused on improving your experience at all of our sites of care. In this edition, we will explore your new Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder Center located at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center!
SCI Courtyard
We have both outpatient and inpatient services for our Veterans available at our Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder Center. Services offered include:
  • Interdisciplinary Team Evaluations
  • Specialty Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACT) or Primary Care
  • Focused Evaluation and Care
  • Rehabilitation Interventions
  • Specialty Medical Interventions
  • Comprehensive Integrated Inpatient Rehabilitation Program
  • Health and Wellness Planning
  • Peer Support Program

VA ECHCS opens State-of-the-Art Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder Clinic

By Brandy Morrison, Public Affairs Officer

Former VA ECHCS Director Sallie Houser-Hanfelder (center) and members of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) cut the ribbon to open the new Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder (SCI/D) Center at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center on April 9.

The VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS), in partnership with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), cut the ribbon to open the highly anticipated Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder (SCI/D) Center at the new Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center on April 9, making this the 25th SCI/D Center in the VA’s health care system. The ceremony took place in the specialized courtyard designed in collaboration with PVA. Not only was the sun shining bright upon this event, but excitement radiated from both staff and Veterans alike.

PVA Executive Director Carl Blake began his speech with, “This is the best of VA right here,” and there was not a person in attendance who would disagree with him. Former ECHCS Director Sallie Houser-Hanfelder echoed Blake’s remarks regarding the facilities but also spoke about her own profound pride in the work that Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), especially PVA, did to make this day a possibility, stating, “It is important to always know who the people are that make it happen.” Hanfelder has made it a mission of hers to connect ECHCS with the VSOs in Colorado, who were crucial to completing this project. She also thanked the staff for their hard work and their commitment to making this day a reality.

The commitment for this patient population was palpable among the staff, but the passion for life exuding from the Veterans was remarkable. U.S. Army Veteran David Ortiz said, “As long as there is life, I’m going to live it.” As an SCI/D Veteran, he said he was there “celebrating the opening of this great facility,” and added, “(This is) great for Veterans of Colorado because now we don’t have to go to Albuquerque anymore.”

The new SCI/D Center has 30 inpatient beds, an incredible rehabilitation gym, therapy pools and an outdoor skills course. The state of Colorado attracts Veterans interested in adaptive sports and it is the hope of this center that the state-of-the-art facility will attract Veterans for their SCI/D needs from all over. It will become the hub for five different sites of care, receiving VA SCI/D patients from Cheyenne, Wyoming; Fort Meade/Hot Springs, South Dakota; Grand Junction, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Sheridan, Wyoming.

Dr. David Coons, Director of the new SCI/D Center said, “In 2017, (VA) took care of more than 27,000 Veterans with spinal cord injury.” The pride for his unit, staff and the Veterans they serve exuded from him, especially when he spoke about their patients. With pride in his voice, Coons said, “This is the best population to work with…You get to see their courage and resilience.”

Resilience is something very familiar to SCI/D patients. It is figuratively and literally about getting back up every time. Marine Veteran Allen Bodine was seen walking around the SCI outpatient center in a Hocoma Andago, an assistive device that helps with walking, a task that not all patients can do independently or at all. When asked how it felt, Bodine said, “It’s incredible to be up and walking around. To feel unassisted, to have the opportunity to be up and walking around again and have the knowledge that I won’t end up on the floor.”

Bodine used to walk seven miles a day as a United States postal worker before he was impacted by a SCI/D, but this has not slowed him down and it appears as though nothing can dampen his spirit. Bodine beamed from ear to ear when he shared, “I won’t let this define me. My life is really good. I’ve been very blessed in my life and I still am.”

Bodine closed it out stating, “This is just a beautiful facility. All the staff I have met are just incredible. They are caring, they have a lot of great knowledge and abilities, and this new facility has caught a lot of grief, but I look at it and watch what they are doing and I can’t imagine not being happy with every penny they spent.”

ECHCS SCI/D accepted its first inpatient Veteran the following day. Staff are excited about the future of the center and the difference it will make in many Veterans’ lives.

* * *

MISSION Act empowers Veterans, enhances their health care

For more info, copy and paste this address - www.missionact.va.gov - to your browser.

The MISSION Act puts Veterans first, so how will it enhance my care at VA?

  • Provides you with more options for health care
  • Offers an improved community care process
  • Provides a new Urgent Care option
  • Helps you get access to the care you need at the right place and right time
  • Offers you great service through a nationwide network of high-quality care
  • Provides more Veteran-to-Veteran specialists
  • Expands the program to support Veteran caregivers

* * *

Army Strong Colorado National Guard Veteran Circles back to the Moment with Life Skills

By Terri Rorke, Public Affairs Specialist

Do you remember the moments you loved most as a child?

For Stanley Vigil, it’s the day he received a bag of miniature Army Soldiers for Christmas as a 7-year-old boy.

Later in life, Vigil became an actual Soldier who served 23 years in the Colorado National Guard. But when he got out, his military time followed him in the form of nightmares. Despite experiencing distress daily, Vigil found a way to live with the same symptoms he once fought. How? By way of his ever-growing figurine collection. But it’s not just a hobby—it’s a practice that helps Vigil circle back to the present moment.

“For my [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and Bipolar, I have been having problems after the Gulf War, but I got into Life Skills back in 2011 and have been coming ever since,” Vigil said.

Working on his 64,000-piece army is one of the exercises Vigil learned through the VA’s Life Skills Center at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center—a place where eligible Veterans enrolled with the Veterans Health Administration and receiving care through the Eastern Colorado Health Care System can attend weekly semester-styled classes based on a tailored mental health recovery program.

“For my [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and Bipolar, I have been having problems after the Gulf War, but I got into Life Skills back in 2011 and have been coming ever since,” Vigil said.

Life Skills is a transitional learning center (also known as the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center) that incorporates the whole person and their individual goals into the program. In fact, it’s so individualized that attendance is completely voluntary.

When a Veteran walks in to the Life Skills Center, they are assigned an advisor and equipped with a team consisting of a psychologist, social worker, recreational therapist and a nurse. The team shares a goal to inspire and assist participants by instilling hope, validating strengths, teaching skills and facilitating community involvement so everyone can attain meaningful self-determined roles in their communities. These self-determined roles can be as simple as finally going on a date or reconnecting with a family member.

“I have a Veteran whose goal it was to go downtown for the first time in 15 years,” said Center Social Worker Ronit Rosen. “We supported her by explaining the bus schedule and took that first ride with her. It’s about the small wins. Navigating public transportation might feel like a barrier to some Veterans, so we help build their confidence to go on their own,” Rosen added.

The center works with countless regional partners that offer a range of activities for Veterans to include fly fishing, bowling, walking club, art class, equine therapy and more.

While using a working definition of recovery as “a process of change through which people improve health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential”, the center’s recovery model is based on four major dimensions:

  • Health—overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.
  • Home—having a stable and safe place to live.
  • Purpose—conducting meaningful daily activities and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
  • Community—having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.

This holistic approach creates a safe support network where Veterans don’t have to feel alone in their challenges.

Army Veteran Stanley Vigil with his 64,000-strong figurine collection.

According to Life Skills Center Director Allison Douglas, “about 70 percent of our Veterans have PTSD and at least one other diagnosis.”

But with the help of their peers, Veterans open up about past trauma.

“There’s a non-judgmental culture of respect here where Veterans connect through their shared experiences,” Douglas said. “Talking about trauma helps destigmatize mental illness and dissolves shame.”

That’s why peer support is so fundamental to the recovery model. Veterans support and challenge each other while buddying up at community events. Then when they graduate, many return and help their peers.

As a graduate himself, Vigil continues to build his army of Soldiers, tanks, Humvees, and artillery vehicles, while staying active at the center. “The VA is so important in my life … As long as I keep coming to the VA, I’ll be happy,” he said.

“Some of my Gulf War problems are kind of going away, but not all of it. But I understand about my illness. They talk about my illness. I know more about my PTSD and how to work with it and live with it,” Vigil explained.

Army Veteran Stanley Vigil

If you are a Veteran who’s interested in learning more about how Life Skills might benefit you, call 303-399-8020 or visit the center located at Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center, 1700 North Wheeling Street, Aurora, CO 80045.

* * *


Here's what's been happening around your VA!

Musicians on Call visit RMR VAMC inpatients every Tuesday evening

By Jamie Mobley, Public Affairs Specialist

“My name’s Dan, and I’m here to play a little music to lift your spirits.” This is how Dan Bradfield enters every patient room at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center (RMR).

Bradfield is a volunteer guitarist with Musicians on Call (MOC), a nonprofit organization established in 1999 with the goal of sharing the healing power of music with hospital patients. MOC volunteer musicians visit RMR every Tuesday evening to perform bedside concerts for Veteran patients. RMR is just one of the health care facilities visited by these troubadours.

On this February 12 visit, Bradfield is joined by India Nolen-Tuleja, a volunteer guide with MOC. Guides like Nolen-Tuleja help the musicians check in at the hospital and act as escorts to help them navigate around the facility. They also serve as icebreakers by introducing the bedside performance program and asking if the patients would like to hear a song. Tonight, Nolen-Tuleja knocks, pokes her head into doorways and says something like, “Hi, I’m here with a musician from Musicians on Call. Would you like him to play a song for you?” Patients are free to say yes or no, depending on how they are feeling.

Nolen-Tuleja said she enjoys seeing the Veterans warm up to the idea of an in-room performance. “Sometimes they may not be in the mood for music, but they are willing to take the chance. And when the music starts they just transform. Their eyes light up and their feet are tapping.”

Bradfield, whose father served in Vietnam as a Marine pilot, said he enjoys giving back to Veterans and their families. He said, “I’m happiest when they’re excited to hear the music, and they’ve got family in the room. I like to play for the families, too.”

Bradfield was in luck on this visit, because Army Veteran Joseph Coats was recovering from surgery in his room and his mother and father were visiting. Bradfield played a song about the love and support of family, and the song moved Coats nearly to tears.

Coats said, “I was specialized reconnaissance, so we were always, always gone. At that time, I was married; we were married five years. I probably knew my wife maybe seven months total. We were just gone all the time, so the relationships that we had were with the guys that you were always (deployed) with.”

After Bradfield finished playing, Coats said, “This is a good program. I like it. This is the first time I’ve ever had to be in the hospital like this, and this makes it nicer.”

Bradfield has been to RMR four times, and he intends to keep coming. “This facility is so nice for the Vets, and I enjoy giving back. It always feels good; it’s very fulfilling.”

Nolen-Tuleja, who has visited with MOC several times, added, “It’s a beautiful experience.”

If you’d like to learn more about Musicians on Call and their Bedside Performance Program, visithttps://www.musiciansoncall.org/.

* * *

* * *

Colorado Springs Butterfly Brigade Offers Veterans Beauty and Growth

By Richard McMullen, Webmaster

Much like a caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly, when a service member leaves the military and re-enters civilian life, they go through a major metamorphosis. At the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom VA Clinic in Colorado Springs, the transformation applies to both.

So when VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) Social Work James Petersen noticed five unused raised planting beds in front of the Lindstrom Clinic, he realized they could be the perfect home for a butterfly garden. When describing the need for such a creation, Petersen said, “I personally spent five years in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I returned, I found a lot of therapeutic value in gardening and even went through the Missouri Botanical Garden Master Gardener program. When I worked at the St. Louis VA last summer, I planted a Monarch butterfly garden. Several of the Veterans on my caseload worked with me in planting the garden, and they loved it.”

Petersen, along with Lindstrom Clinic staff, ECHCS Volunteer Services staff and volunteers, deemed the "Butterfly Brigade", filled unused four-foot by eight-foot planters with soil and flowers to attract butterflies. “The beds hadn’t been touched in years and filled with weeds, I thought it would be a great opportunity to engage our Veterans in planting one and creating a place for them to socialize in between appointments.”

Lindstrom Clinic Director Kim Hoge explained the team effort and contribution: “The PFC Lindstrom employees donated time, money and resources to provide a spiritual refuge to Veterans when visiting. This is a place to meditate, minimize stress, socialize and observe the many changes butterfly’s encounter much like our own lives.”

The garden is located on the south side of the Lindstrom building. It sits just beyond a common patio area where Veterans and staff can enjoy the colors of the flowers and the hopeful fluttering traffic of the butterflies. Petersen states the importance of making a safe haven for these delicate creatures. “The Monarch butterfly is endangered, declining almost 90 percent over the past 20 years. The site will be an official Monarch Butterfly migration pathway station, complete with a metal sign sent to us by University of Kansas' 'Monarch Watch' program.” The flower beds feature several varieties of milkweed, the Monarch butterfly’s host plant, as well as perennials and annuals for nectar.

Petersen noted the symbolism between the Monarch butterfly and Veterans receiving care at the clinic. “This garden will not only do our part for conservation, but we can also create a therapeutic place for our veterans to hang out. They will enjoy standing around it talking to each other, spotting caterpillars and Monarchs. They will appreciate the symbolism of transformation and metamorphosis, especially those dealing with traumatic histories.”

For Petersen, it provides him an opportunity to positively affect another Veteran community, but this time in Colorado Springs. He is excited for what the future holds. “Several of the Veterans on my caseload worked with me in planting the garden, and they loved it. If this is anything like St. Louis, it will be a huge hit with the Vets.”

Hoge also said she looks forward to the new garden. “To have the ability to implement a Butterfly Garden supported by employees for Veterans continues to show the commitment our employees have for improved Veteran health care.”

Stay tuned to the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom VA Clinic for information about upcoming "Butterfly Brigade" events.

* * *

* * *

Veterans, VA Staff Celebrate 2019 PRIDE PARADE

To honor our commitment to all Veterans, VA serves all who have served and continue to serve.

VA ECHCS once again stood in solidarity with our brothers and sisters to band together in support of our LGBT community while carrying the Old Glory down the Pride Parade route.

Veterans and VA Staff of all walks of life marched 1.5 miles together on June 16, 2019.

In a display of patriotism and togetherness, the American flag is carried in the spirit of inclusion.

Thank you to all of our Veterans, VA employees, family members, service members and Veteran Service Organizations who participated on June 16, 2019!

* * *

Have memorabilia to share?

Throughout the concourse of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora, we are showcasing our Veterans and their service to our country. The Concourse Art Committee is working with the community, employees and our Veterans to showcase various military memorabilia in 9 display cases along the concourse. In these cases, we plan to display items from all military branches/eras and family member keepsakes.

If you are interested in either donating or loaning items to be displayed, please contact the RMR Concourse Art Committee at:


Stay tuned in with ECHCS!

* * *

The Fourteener, VA ECHCS's Quarterly Newsletter, was created and edited by the VA ECHCS Communications Team.

Created By
Jamie Mobley

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a copyright violation, please follow the DMCA section in the Terms of Use.