Wheelchair Prescription course helps staff make a difference in the lives of Veterans - VHA SimLEARN
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Wheelchair Prescription course helps staff make a difference in the lives of Veterans

By Gerald Sonnenberg
EES Marketing and Communication

ORLANDO, Fla. – Approximately 100 VHA staff from Veteran Integrated Service Network medical facilities (VISN) participated in a “hands on” wheelchair prescription course July 24-26 at the VHA SimLEARN National Simulation Center (NSC). It was sponsored jointly by the Rehabilitation and Prosthetics Services Program Office, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service (PM&R) and the Spinal Cord Injury and Disorders Program Office.

This is the second year this type of training took place at the NSC. But unlike last year’s assistive technology course, this training “concentrated on wheelchair prescription including basic manual wheelchairs, custom manual wheelchairs, scooters, power wheelchairs, specialized sports wheelchairs and handcycles,” said Bill Wenninger, MS, PT, a rehabilitation planning specialist at PM&R Central Office based at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center (VAMC). He is the primary planner and coordinator of the event.

Veterans with mobility issues require specialized equipment and interdisciplinary care delivery to optimize their care and function. Clinicians in these specialized clinics need to collaborate closely with prosthetic and sensory aids service representatives to obtain the most appropriate mobility device for the Veteran. This face-to-face conference provided attendees the opportunity to handle, manipulate and program the various wheeled mobility devices to help them understand set-up, application and educational needs as they relate to Veterans with disabilities.

“Unlike last year, this training was provided to both clinicians and prosthetics staff who were teamed together to ensure an understanding of both the clinical and administrative processes required in obtaining a mobility device,” explained Wenninger. “Competencies were assessed after each breakout session, and an action plan was formulated by each team in attendance.”

The organizers partnered with Veteran Service Organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) so attendees would have a chance to hear from the “front line” consumers. Veterans like Jim Sursely, former National DAV commander, talked about the training. “It’s truly been an opportunity for me to be here; a real eye-opener to be involved with a program that’s designed to make sure that our Veterans receive the type of wheelchairs and power equipment they need.” For a video with more from Mr. Sursely, click here.

Sonjia Averitte, a 33-year VA employee and prosthetics representative at the Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Wilmington, North Carolina, also attended the training.

“I’ve learned a lot; a lot that I’ll take back and share,” said Averitte. “We just started a new wheelchair clinic in Wilmington, and there is a lot that I’ve learned even though I’ve done this for all these years.” To hear more, click here.

“So, if there’s one message, more than anything, that I’d like to get across to people is when you look at my legs and look at this chair, I want you to remember one thing; this is not a piece of equipment; these are my legs,” said Shaun Castle, deputy executive director for PVA, while describing the importance of wheelchairs to Veterans. “When you’re dealing with men and women who come into your facility asking for chairs; asking for adaptive equipment, and they say, ‘I need this,’ keep in mind that every day they are using this to get around.” To hear more, click here.

One of the more popular breakout sessions was demonstrated by staff from the Orlando Adaptive Sports Program in Tampa, Florida in partnership with the Director of the National Veterans Wheelchair games. They addressed something that many people may not realize is available; adaptive technology to participate in sports. Staff demonstrated a variety of Handcycling equipment that can help Veterans become more active, and equipment use in various other wheelchair sports such as Quad Rugby, Wheelchair Track and Wheelchair Basketball.

The plan now is to hold more training in the future, not only in Orlando, but in other areas of the country and include a wider array of VISN staff.

“It’s not a luxury item we’re trying to get to people,” explained Wenninger. “It really makes a difference in their independence and their overall function. I value the opportunity to provide this type of education to a wide variety of disciplines and include our prosthetic service partners who procure this equipment for the Veterans.”

To learn more about simulation training, click here.
To learn more about SimLEARN, click here.