Tucson VA starting new project with therapeutic benefits for vets

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Six years ago the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs started the Whole Health system. Locally, the program began at the Tucson VA about a year ago.

Whole Health is a three prong initiative centered around community and establishing a personal health plan for veterans. It aims to empower veterans to explore what matters most to them, to equip veterans with self care and integrative health methods, and to treat veterans with clinical care.

The push for the program comes from the U.S. ranking at 37 in terms of life expectancy along with the VA's mission to help veterans take charge of their health and well-being.

One of the ways the Tucson VA is aiming to do all of that for local vets is through gardening. The project to build a new garden and a ramada to go with it started on Monday.

"Having a garden, which seems like such an old fashioned thing to do, is actually documented to have healthy responses," said Roberta Lee, the Whole Health Medical Director.

Gardening is part of the integrative health aspect of Whole Health.

While the garden itself won't be too large, Dr. Lee says the benefits of it will be huge.  It's a skill that Dr. Lee says is much like yoga or tai chi, that can help to heal and provide veterans with a greater sense of peace.

Lee notes, "As a physician I'd like people to be aware that there's all sorts of medical research that supports that this event of having a garden."

The garden will allow veterans to grow vegetables and flowers while also learning skills that can help to improve their health. Learning those skills and habits to live a healthier lifestyle is of the utmost importance to the Tucson VA.

According to Lee, the goal of the garden is about, "Doing things in your lifestyle that are healthy. Like learning how to prepare food that's healthy instead of running to get the nearest fast food."

Learning will continue beyond the garden though.

The new ramada that the Tucson VA is building near the garden will be the spot where Tucson VA will teach the veterans how to cook the food they grow and what they need to grow a garden of their own. Dr. Lee says she hopes the veterans are encouraged to grow their own urban gardens. 

The Tucson VA says the garden won't be opening until fall, but once is ready for use they anticipate it having very positive benefits for veterans health and well being.

"You can learn how to grow plants. You can notice how you feel different when you're around plants. You can enjoy the fruits of your labor and the benefits of it as the person participating," said Dr. Lee.

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