Interdisciplinary program provides education for amputee veterans

Greensboro, N.C. — At the Amputee Coalition National Conference, health care leaders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shared tips for holding successful support group meetings.

Farrah Thomas, PsyD; Joseph Boncser, MSPT/ARC; and Erin Arra, MS, RD, LD, lead the Shared Medical Appointment (SMA) group for veterans with limb loss at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center. The interdisciplinary program combines physical rehabilitation, psychological support and nutritional information to help veterans adjust to new amputations. Family members and caregivers are also encouraged to attend. The VA uses self-management techniques to work with veterans to determine their goals and help motivate them to become active and participate in their rehabilitation.

“We know that recovery is not just getting a prosthetic leg and wearing it. It is more than that,” Boncser said.

Farrah Thomas

Farrah Thomas

Joseph Boncser

Erin Arra

Erin Arra


The trio led session attendees through a mock SMA meeting and shared additional information about their approach to rehabilitation. A typical SMA meeting begins with an icebreaker in which attendees answer a fun question and then share their name, amputation type and situation that led to their amputation. In addition to getting to know one another, the goal of the meetings is to provide education. The leaders do this through games like “amputation Jeopardy,” a game that challenges attendees to answer questions in categories, such as nutrition, foot care, recovery and exercise.

Another typical meeting activity is reading food labels. Arra pointed to details, such as serving size, sodium level and calories, to show the large impact one item can have. She said nutrition information is important for new amputees to learn healthy dieting principles.

“I try not to be the food police. I talk to them about small changes,” she said, adding the group also cooks together. On a recent trip, the group went apple picking and then created oatmeal-stuffed baked apples.

Meetings can also include physical activities such as chair yoga, which Boncser said can help improve circulation and flexibility. The group also holds special events, like game days and golf outings.

Thomas said the VA brings in staff with a variety of specialties to work with amputees.

“This is not just one issue. It is not just a physical therapy issue. It is not just an occupational therapy issue. It impacts the whole person,” she said. – by Amanda Alexander


For more information: or 888-227-5669.


Thomas F, et al. Shared medical appointment: A novel approach for education and support of the veteran with amputation. Presented at: Amputee Coalition National Conference; June 9-11, 2016; Greensboro, N.C.

Disclosures: Arra, Boncser and Thomas report no relevant financial disclosures.

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